1970’s Isle of Wight festival was one of the last great music festivals ever staged. It was also one of the most chaotic. Fences were torn down by people refusing to pay, the organisers were having nervous breakdowns, and to make matters worse, there was a shortage of doors on the portable toilets. But that’s OK, because young people were more resilient 45 years ago, being able to forgo such things as daily sanitation, mobile phone reception and even clean underwear.
Though despite these challenges, the line-up of the festival was indeed impressive, and would have more than made up for it: The Who, Ten Years After, The Doors, Procol Harum, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Tony Joe White, Donovan, The Moody Blues, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Chicago, Family, and of course Jimi Hendrix. Also on the bill was Taste, a band whose impact on the music scene in Ireland was considerable, no doubt thanks to Rory Gallagher’s combustible guitar playing, and bassist John Wilson and drummer Richard McCracken’s solid no frills backing.
The largely unknown Rory and his fellow band mates would impress the 600,000 plus audience with a blistering, down to earth set beginning with a storming “What’s Going On”, a song written by Gallagher, throughout which the guitarist unleashes a torrent of over-heated fury. And that fury continues on the bluesy “Sugar Mama”, where Gallagher pulls out just about every jack in the box he can think of, making his instrument wail and squeal like an electric Robert Johnson. To play as good as this, in a previous age, people would have definitely believed he had sold his soul to the devil.
On “Morning Sun” Rory almost seems as though he’s trying to alter the weather with his guitar, stretching his notes and creating a storm of his own. Gallagher goes all out on “Sinner Boy”, on which he sings like an Irish Muddy Waters, while all the while building the drama and tension, helped by some stinging slide guitar. The band break out into wild abandon on “I Feel So Good”, a song which absolutely makes you feel so good, that you almost want to dance around the living room.
The CD closes with a heavy “Catfish”, an interpretation Hendrix himself would have been proud of. If there was such a thing as Irish Delta blues, then it would likely resemble this.
Shortly after the gig, Taste would disband, partly due to mismanagement, and certain musical differences between all three members. Though there can be no denying the chemistry between all three members that day, so much so that that they found themselves playing five encores, something which this CD fails to capture in its entirety. But no matter, because what we get on this 1992 release is 50 minutes of exemplary blues-rock guitar that was as down to earth as the clothes Rory Gallagher himself was wearing. Watching footage of his performance, it seems that the young guitarist had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand – which isn’t surprising, considering that he was not only a great musician, but a consummate entertainer as well. Because when it came to Rory, it was either all or nothing.