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Rory Gallagher’s Kickback City a compilation done right

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It’s that most wonderful time of the year, but for music fans, it’s not always so jolly when the latest round of compilations hit the streets, collecting the same songs for the umpteenth time with maybe a new cover or a live track or demo thrown in for the sole purpose of making you dig into your pocket again.

Yes, that sounded very Scrooge-esque, but we all know it’s true. But then there’s Daniel Gallagher, the man who manages the estate of his uncle, rock guitar legend Rory Gallagher. He knows beyond the shadow of a doubt how the business works, but when it came time to release something this year from his uncle, who passed away much too soon in 1995 at the age of 47, he didn’t try to milk the fans; instead, he’s given something to them in the form of Kickback City that is a must have, not just for Gallagher devotees, but for fans of everything from crime fiction and graphic novels to audio books read by a respected actor.

Featuring 14 studio tracks focused on the crime themes Gallagher loved and seven live tracks, the music is worth the price of admission on its own, but renowned crime novelist Ian Rankin also contributed a 44 page novella – The Lie Factory – based on Gallagher’s lyrics that is illustrated by renowned graphic novelist Timothy Truman, and the third disc of the set is the audio book version of The Lie Factory read by Aidan Quinn.

“It really gets Rory’s songs and songwriting across with this great theme of crime writing,” said Daniel Gallagher. “For us, it was really pushing Rory’s songwriting out to people, because obviously everyone knows he was a great guitarist. It seems weird to keep saying it, but Rory is still underrated or unknown, and by doing something with so many great collaborators, it hopefully raises the attention to Rory.”

And the funny thing is, while Rory’s brother Donal believed that such a compilation would be a great way of showing off the range of his sibling’s songwriting, it was purely by chance that Kickback City kicked into gear, with every chance meeting along the way simply adding to the reach of the project.

“He (Donal) always thought that a good compilation to show Rory’s songwriting skills would be one based on crime-themed songs that he wrote,” recalled Daniel. “It was an idea that he’d always wanted to do a release of, but I always said with compilations you can’t keep doing them; you have to come up with something new. And while he was working on another record, the engineer at the time showed him that in three or four of Ian Rankin’s books, his main character Inspector Rebus would put on a Rory record at some point. Obviously it was a lovely tribute to have, so we sent a note to Ian Rankin, thanking him, and sent him some CDs and stuff. He said it was a pleasure, and we mentioned the idea of a crime compilation, and my dad said to him, ‘would you write the sleeve notes?’ He said he’d love to. And I sort of cheekily said, ‘well, go back to him and instead of sleeve notes, how about you write a story with Rory’s lyrics.’”

Rankin agreed and the ball was rolling.

“He seemed to love the idea, and he asked us to send over all the songs that we thought had some sort of reference to crime,” said Gallagher. “Some were very obvious, like “Loanshark Blues” and “Continental Op.” They really have that Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett vibe to them. And then other ones have references to DAs and cheating women and getting arrested for drinking and all the rest of it. We sent him about 50 tracks and the lyrics.”

As Rankin got down to writing, Milo, the owner of the Rory Gallagher blog Shadowplays, interviewed Truman about his Grimjack comic and his use of a character that resembled the Irish guitarist and sent it along to Gallagher.

“There was a character in there who looked exactly like Rory, and Rory was written on the headstock of his battered Strat, and he (Milo) had done an interview with Timothy and sent it to me and said ‘did you know about this?’ So I sent it to my dad again, and it was fantastic and we had a light bulb moment: We should get him to illustrate Ian’s writing. We flew to New York, and he loved it.”

With the novella in the bank, there would be another trip to the Big Apple though.

“Declan Quinn is a cinematographer and he’s very interested in doing a Rory film based on his life,” said Gallagher. “We’ve been speaking to him quite a lot, and when I received the draft from Ian, you couldn’t ask for anything else. It was so good. We said this would really work well as an audio book, but it needs to have that voice. Straightaway we thought of Aidan Quinn. He loved the story, we flew out to New York and got in the studio with him and we ended up with this package.”

Pardon the crime reference, but it’s a killer one. And you get the idea that Rory would have loved it.

“We took a photo recently of all his crime books with his Strat lying in front of them, which made the center spread of the vinyl release, and it looks beautiful,” said his nephew. “He had hundreds of crime novels, and he really loved the genre. So the idea that there’s a book written by a fantastic crime author that’s using his lyrics and his themes to get the story across, I think he would have got a huge kick out of it.”

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