What happens when you combine bestselling crime author Ian Rankin, comics, film noir and the late, great Irish bluesman Rory Gallagher?
The answer is Kickback City, a compilation album of Gallagher's crime-themed songs (of which there were many) that includes a piece of short fiction from Rankin much more besides. We chatted with Rory's nephew Daniel Gallagher to find out more about the gritty project, not to mention what it was like growing up with one of Ireland's greatest guitarists as your uncle...
What was the genesis of Kickback City?
"It started with my father Donal. We'd talked before about a compilation of crime based songs. He liked the idea of doing that, and we'd noticed that Ian Rankin had mentioned Rory in a few of his Rebus novels. Inspector Rebus would put on a Rebus track, The Devil Made me Do It or something like that, in some of the stories. So we got in contact with him to thank him for mentioning Rory. There's a lot of rock and roll in the Rebus books, and he replied and said it was a pleasure.
"We mentioned that we were doing the crime compilation, and would he be interested in doing the sleeve notes for it. He said he would, and then seeing as we were on a such a good back and forth with him the next time we spoke to him we asked if he'd write a short story based on Rory's lyrics. I don't think at first he quite got how many tracks Rory had done with crime themes, so we pointed to all the titles and all the crime-related lyrics, and he said he'd love to give it a go. We put together about 40-odd tracks, printed out the lyrics for him and sent it up, and he got to work on it.
"While that was happening, there was a guy called Milo Carr who runs a really good Rory blog. He gets very interesting articles and interviews, and he'd come across Timothy Truman, who had done a comic called Grimjack. In one of the issues, his character was chaperoning this Irish rock star who looks exactly like Rory, with the checked shirt and the hair and everything. Milo gave me Timothy's email so we could say we'd seen the comic and it looked fantastic.
"Then when Ian's first draft came through of The Lie Factory, my dad and I had the same lightbulb idea of getting Timothy to illustrate it. Ian's writing is so descriptive, and unlike his usual writing this took much more of an Americana route. He took that route because Rory was a big fan of Raymond Chandler, and the first thing Ian Rankin ever won for writing was a Raymond Chandler award. He got sent to America and got a cheque for $20,000, so it's a genre he really likes as well. We passed on the novella to Timothy and he started cracking on with the artwork.
"The final piece was that my father isn't the best reader, and he was trying to get his head around how the plot worked. Even though it's a short story there's a lot of characters, it's very much a whodunnit. My dad prefers audio books, so I had the idea that we'd try and pull another favour and try and fine someone to do the audio book. You need that deep American accent to pull it off, and we were very lucky, we got in touch with Aidan Quinn and he agreed. So I went over to New York and recorded him reading Ian's book, and so we had Kickback City."
Did you have to do much work on the tracks themselves?
"Well we just remastered all of Rory's catalogue, so we went back to the original masters on all of Rory's albums and re-did them all. I used all of that new audio for this."
What was your relationship with Rory like?
"Rory was my uncle. I was 13 when Rory passed away, but he didn't have his own family and he and my father were very close. There weren't any other siblings. Rory lived up the road and we saw him every Sunday for a roast.
"We didn't know him in that way. My older brothers and I went to see him for the first time in 1987, just after that hurricane. A night later he was playing at the Hammersmith Apollo or the Hammersmith Odeon, and we got brought up by the stage and it all clicked into place.
"Up until that point my uncle had always said he was a musician to me, and I thought he'd said magician! At that point I went, 'ah, musician, right!' and worked out what he did for a living. I don't think I took the Rory t-shirt that I got off for the next week. He bought me my first guitar and showed me chords and stuff."
So you had guitar lessons from Rory Gallagher?
"I had a few! Sadly I didn't appreciate them. There are things I'd like to ask him now. When I was seven or eight he bought me a guitar for Christmas. He always thought that everyone should start on an acoustic first and he got me a little classical guitar. He just showed me chords and was trying to get my fingers to work. I remember freaking out because I couldn't get my head round it. He told me to calm down, and showed me how to do it.
"I remember one time around his flat, the first time I ever played an electric guitar. He just dropped it round my shoulders and plugged it into an amp and told me to start making noise. I think he was interested in seeing, you know, when you've got a kid who hasn't been told these are your scales, or this is what you should or shouldn't be doing, what they'd do. So I kind of banged away on the guitar. He was very good to all of us as a family."
Did you see him on stage a lot after that?
"I only really saw him one other time. My dad and Rory would be away on tour a lot. My dad managed him so they were always touring Europe. In the early '90s we didn't see them for a few months as they were off in American, Japan and Australia. Rory just toured incessantly. One of the fans has done a timeline of every Rory show that they know of, and it's just ridiculous. From the late '60s to his passing, he just didn't stop gigging, it's incredible. But I only got to see him twice live."
He must have left quite an impression
"Definitely that first one, being on the side of the stage and looking out. I didn't understand. As a kid, you're not that fussed when your parents say what they do. But then when you actually see something like that happening, a few thousand people going nuts, Rory duckwalking along the stage and machine gunning me and my brother with the guitar and stuff... I don't think he knew we were coming so he was beaming when he saw me rocking in my Rory t-shirt!"
What was he like off stage, when he was not in rock and roll mode?
"He was very generous, and very quiet. He'd always go and kick the football about with me and my brother. He was very relaxed around us as well. It was a very family thing like everyone has on a sunday, there was no rock and roll thing about it at all. He wasn't bringing round other stars or dropping in with girlfriends and dropping wads of cash, he was just very humble and quiet, and very generous to me and my siblings."
What do you think appealed to him about the sort of material that makes up Kickback City?
"He really loved reading, and I think those crime noir novels were his favourite. My dad says it stems from going to the cinema when they were kids and seeing gangster films. That really got into Rory. Sometimes it's that wishful other part of you. You've got a dedicated young kid on the guitar, and he's very quiet and very shy, he'd get a huge kick out of a James Cagney type character who's the complete opposite. I think he liked the idea of that other side, the complete opposite to him."
Kickback City is out now.
For more information visit the official Rory Gallagher website.