Jane Doe in the bay,
Now that’s Exhibit ‘A’.
Bloodstains on the dress,
Of the millionairess (Continental Op)
Well, it’s a long way from the pool halls,
To the rackets and the petty crime.
Well, you thought you were a tough one,
But you’ve bitten off too much this time.
You’ve stepped on the wrong toes,
Now look who you’ve upset.
Well, you walked on the wrong turf,
You got your picture on the police gazette (Big Guns)
Can you imagine a world in which a compilation of a dead artist’s work was handled sensitively with imagination and artistic integrity, where instead of just bundling the usual tunes up together with a couple of rarities and some stating-the-bloody-obvious sleevenotes? Can you imagine the artists’ songs being used as a springboard for new artistic endeavours united around a conceptual whole? well, until recently neither could I, then I bought my dad a Christmas present. Enter Rory Gallagher’s Kickback City.
My dad is all about the blues these days and I knew he liked Rory Gallagher and so I happened to spot a new compilation which was being released in 2013. The killer fact was that it was being curated thematically around Gallagher’s love of detective fiction and B-movies. Rory’s brother had approached Ian Rankin, who was a fan, to write a story for the collection, it was illustrated brilliantly by Timothy Truman and they had Aidan Quinn reading it. That’s what I’m talkin’ about!
As a result Kickback City is a really satisfying release, even on CD* which is nicely packaged in a book with a set of 4 postcards in addition to tall the three discs – studio, live and story. But we’re not here to talk about ancient and outmoded systems of musical reproduction. The double LP is just gorgeous, 180g vinyl, the booklet has been scaled up to A4 size, postcards are in there too and the story included as a CD – in a perfect pre-lapsarian world this would be a 3LP release, but I don’t really care** too much.
Oh and there’s some music and stuff here too.
The studio disc is a bit of a mixed bag to be honest, there is some great rocking blues, a wonderful ragtime shuffle (‘Barley & Grape Rag’) and a couple of tracks that sound a bit too over-produced and 80s, but then we have a couple of real classics to boot. Of the mid-ranking numbers I’d pick the tuneful ‘Kid Gloves’ as a real burner, about a jailbird boxer paid to throw a fight – which is probably why Ian Rankin used him as a character in ‘The Lie Factory’:
They sprung me out of Quentin,
I’m back on the mob’s payroll.
They can buy my body,
Sure they can’t buy my soul.
I’m working out of Stockton,
I’m weighing in at two-o one.
But there’s a man in the front row,
Sent down from the mob with a gun.
Of the classic cuts there is the straight up rocker ‘Big Guns’, which is just pure, blues rock perfection – there’s such awesome simplicity about Gallagher at his best, no unnecessary trimmings, no frills and no showboating. Sounds easy but so few players can manage it. The other classic for me is the Hendrix-like ‘Slumming Angel’, which I found myself playing 6 times in a row the other day – it’s the vocals that get me on this track there’s a numb, resigned quality to them – do I need to tell you how great the guitar is too? no, thought not.
The live LP features some really great cuts, some of which overlap with the studio versions too. Both ‘Continental Op’ and ‘Loanshark Blues’ are completely lit up and transformed by some truly incendiary soloing and the great jam on ‘Off The Handle’ is a thing of beauty, featuring some excellent harp playing too. Of course ‘Messin With The Kid’ is on here too, this live version is truly ferocious, Gallagher hammering on and off every note as though his very soul depended upon it. The sleevenotes are, weirdly, completely silent as to where the live tracks were recorded, or when, which I don’t understand. The other point to make here is the not-often-enough made one that Gallagher’s band are every bit as much Rory Gallagher as the man himself, the framework they lay down for him to strut his stuff was so important and he always chose some great players – I’m a big fan of drummer Rod De’Ath in particular^.
The real curio on Kickback City is of course the story ‘The Lie Factory’. It is, of course, excellent. Rankin puts us right in amongst every Chandler/Hammett story you’ve ever read before and we’re no worse off for being able to second guess most of it before it happens, the joy is in the journey not the destination. World weary PI? check. Ambitious, unpleasant DA? check. Powerful families embroiled in unsavoury doings? check. Curvy femme fatale with a hot sister^^? check. I’m very partial to a bit of spoken word and it is wonderfully well read by Aidan Quinn who gives nothing away.
It is a real pleasure to own and to listen to Kickback City, I just wish the legacy of more artists were looked after with such care and imagination as Donal Gallagher has looked after his brothers’. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m heading down to Poortown in my trench coat, I’ve got a date at the bar the cops call the Blood Bank with a stacked redhead who has a case for me.
PS. This is fricking brilliant, from 3:56 onwards is just sublime:
*which I also own, due to some strange glitch in the matrix/shift in the time-space continuum.
**meaning, it only keeps me awake one night in three.
^and not just because he was from South Wales. Although that is a factor.
^^they always have a hot sister.