ROUNDHOUSE, Dagenham, Saturday:
Even from 50 yards it was obvious he was a Rory Gallagher fan. The blue jeans, the no-nonsense red sweatshirt, the Gallagher hair-style — shoulder – length, black, wavy, parted down the middle.
“Excuse me,” he asked, “ can you tell me where Lodge Avenue is?” Going to Dagenham Roundhouse too.
“ You going to see Gallagher?” That’s right. He relaxed, heartened that he’d found a kindred spirit wandering about in the council house desert making up this part of the London Borough of Barking.
It turned out his name was Jerry and that he had in his possession every Gallagher album ever released — with the exception of the new Polydor compilation of oldies released in their ‘Flashbacks” series.
His feeling towards Gallagher was just what you’d expect. Not exactly hero-worship, since the Irishman is the most man of the people person in the music business.
It was more a sort of friendship, liberally laced with gratitude and perhaps with relief. Gratitude that Gallagher would probably happily play in a telephone kiosk if enough people wanted him too, and relief that he had “never sold Out,” in Jerry’s words.
The Roundhouse was predictably jam-packed with hundreds just like Jerry. Jeans were in the ascendancy, and there were quite a few genuine Rory Gallagher lumberjack shirts being spurted as well.
The line of people waiting to squeeze in moved slowly, maybe because the place was full already, and no one was going out of his way to make space for anyone else.
Gallagher could be just about made out above the seething mass of people, his cheery face, even from the back of the hall, obviously bathed in sweat.
Two minutes later I could see why. The heat: like I’ve always imagined a desert storm to be. Breathing hot pokers, standing about in a sauna fully dressed, the sweat erupting like a saline lava stream.
Fight through the serried ranks squeezing against each other. Here’s one guy in typical Gallagher drag telling his chick — the only person who’s actually sitting down in the place, everyone else is standing on their seats —about the last Led Zep gig he went to.
“When we came out we were sort of scuffling through the rubbish and you’d be surprised at the money we found. Fifty p. pieces, pound notes, the lot. ” She looked suitably unimpressed.
Time to infiltrate the crowds and move up front, hoping for a glimpse of Gallagher’s guitar. Given up trying to see keyboardist Lou Martin, who’s sitting, but he can be heard well enough and he’s playing, as they say, a blinder.
Better just use my imagination. I’m never gonna see any of the band. It’s like being a salmon swimming upstream.
I estimate I must be smack in the middle of the horde. To my right are three girls standing on one chair. A more enthusiastic member of the audience decides to join them. Three seconds later he falls off.
All the walls are liberally coated with human flies. God knows how.
Gallagher zooms into “Going To My Home Town” and the place erupts. Hundreds of centre-parted hairstyles nod wildly back and fourth, side to side. Thousands of jean-clad legs stomp on the beer splattered floor, crushing the plastic glasses thrown there by people unwilling or unable to put them anywhere else.
Millions of hands are clapping with the distinctive beat, raised high above heads. Voices singing along. Every damn person in the room knows the words.
Circles of male Gallagher devotees dancing, playing imaginary guitars, imaginary drums, imaginary basses, imaginary anything.
Up on stage, Gallagher is playing a real guitar and coaxing blistering solos out of the thing. Every time a song ends people turn around and look at each other, grinning madly, nodding approval. I find myself nodding like one of those dogs in the back window of a car right into the face of a denim clad giant.
“Bullfrog Blues” comes tearing out of the p.a. and the place goes even pottier. I notice that when the solos come in, that’s the moment for cathedral-like hush followed by wild approval.
What these guys like is pure physical effort. Bass solos must be mile-a-minute and drummers have to expend enough energy to push a Ford Transit half-way up Ben Nevis.
Gallagher and his band leave the stark stage. Not surprisingly, the roars for an encore thunder around the room.
The heat, the noise reaches a peak and Gallagher returns. The place goes barmy and I’m beginning to feel like one small, white grape in a wine press. Time to head for the door.
The cold night air strikes like a punch in the face after the Turkish bath atmosphere inside.
Let’s face it. there was nothing surprising about the evening. Gallagher’s fans love the noise, the sweat, the crush. Give ‘em backdrops and special effects and they’d squirm in their seats.