It’s St. Patrick’s Day and here at Guitar Planet we’ve decided to pay homage to three of Ireland’s most innovative axe men. Who each made an indelible and completely contrasting mark on the history and evolution of guitar playing.
Now fear not, we haven’t forgotten the great Gary Moore; if you’d like to read about his career turn your attention to our loving Tribute.
There is no other place to start; Rory Gallagher is the definitive Irish guitarist. Over the course of a sadly shortened career Gallagher created a myth, a legend all of his own; an enticing mixture of bravery, excess and tragedy.
Born in Ballyshannon but raised in Cork Gallagher grew up on a steady diet of Leadbelly, Freddie King and BB King. Gallagher’s love for the blues proved insatiable and he obsessively amassed a collection of all the seminal American blues records in his youth.
As a musician Gallagher personified the wild extremes of the blues; he could lay down sprawling, eloquent eight minute epics with impeccable control just as easily as he could launch a blistering frenzied assault of uncontained, but never unstructured, blues.
It was this ability to launch from one end of the spectrum to the other at a moment’s notice that made Gallagher one of the greatest live performers of the seventies. Gallagher’s performances became legendary; beautifully chaotic, the raw bite of his assault could transform even a sterilized TV studio into raucous cesspit of swaggering blues rock.
Despite realising a string of acclaimed studio albums Gallagher was best captured by the exhilarating concert recordings Live In Europe and Irish Tour 1974. The latter became his definitive statement.
At the height of The Troubles British and Irish acts were boycotting Northern Ireland fearing for their own safety and scared of potential commercial backlash. Tours of the Republic were rare enough but Gallagher, a proud Irishman, would not abandon rock fans in Northern or Southern Ireland resolving to tour his home land at least once a year.
In 1974 Gallagher set course for Dublin, Cork and Belfast and the film maker Tony Palmer decided to capture the historic moment on film creating the acclaimed documentary titled the Irish Tour 1974. The resulting album is now considered Gallagher’s finest, highlighted by a heartbreaking rendition of “Million Miles Away”.
Gallagher who dedicated his life to touring and playing rock & roll died unmarried and childless aged 45 due to complications following a liver transplant in 1995. He will always be remembered in guitar folklore as the Irish guitarist; the talismanic blues man who never turned his back on his homeland, no matter the danger and no matter how many millions of records he had sold.
The American born, but decidedly Irish, Kevin Shield’s approach to music couldn’t be any more different from Gallagher’s. Shields was all about noise; loud ear bending noise. As the lead guitarist in My Bloody Valentine he twisted and warped the tremolo arm of his Fender Jazzmaster to make the hypnotic swirling walls of noise designed to engulf the tender melodies of My Bloody Valentine’s greatest work.
Shields experimentation began with 1989’s groundbreaking Isn’t Anything but would be perfected on 1991’s Loveless; a truly peerless album that marked a stark turning point in music history. His experiments contrasted noise and beauty, creating new layers of texture that could sound like violent droning chainsaws or a beautiful otherworldly whale song.
My Bloody Valentines music was so dense and three dimensional the listener could get lost within it. It was as if a hazy fog had descended and from it midst gorgeous melodies and piercing instrumentation would emerge, only to rapidly recede, creating a simultaneous sense of distance and ambiguity.
Shields may not be a conventional guitarist; he admits that he can’t recreate the exact sounds of Loveless live, making every live performance a unique and deafening experience (to create the wall of noise all the bands amps are turned towards the crowd, and ear plugs and safety warnings are handed out) but he is a true innovator.
For the last twenty years bands have been pinching his techniques to add an immersive texture to their records. His style has penetrated beyond rock’s domain to the world of electronica where studio wizards use hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of equipment to achieve what he did with a single guitar. It is hard to think of a single guitarist who has had a more pronounced influence on guitar playing in the 21st Century than Kevin Shields.
It has become fashionable to mock The Edge, the comedian Bill Bailey even made it a prominent part of his stand up routine in the mid-2000s, and while it may be fun to poke fun at The Edge’s lack of fret board speed; we shouldn’t diminish the important part he played in the evolution of guitar music.
The Edge comes from the impressionist school of guitar work. Rather than seeking to churn out crunching riffs and killer solos The Edge instead saw his guitar as a paint brush; an instrument for fleshing out sonic landscapes, filling wide open spaces with emotive textures.
He started out as a riff writer naturally enough providing the weighty riffs for “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “New Year’s Day”, but it wasn’t until he teamed up with Brian Eno in 1984 that he discovered his true calling.
On The Unforgettable Fire, The Edge was freed to write mammoth echoing layers of scratching shimmering guitar sound. From that moment on he never looked back using his sonic paint brush to fill huge arenas the world over.
After all, any guitarist can fire out blistering riffs that rock sweaty bars and ram packed academies, but creating a sound that connects with the fan sitting at the back of 60,000 seat arena just as strongly as it does with the screaming maniac in the front row is an unenviable task.
Even the most visceral of players can find his sound diluted as it evaporates into the empty expanse of a huge festival field, but The Edge ensured that U2 always sounded mammoth. Consequently every burgeoning indie band with stadium aspirations has turned to the Edge’s signature sound to help them make that giant leap to fill the sonic expanse.
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