Gerry McAvoy, (seen here second from the left), a Northern Irish blues rock guitarist chats with Kevin Cooper about how he coped during the lockdown, performing at The Powerhaus in Camden with support from Bonham-Bullick, his friendship with the late Ted McKenna and The Band Of Friends forthcoming tour.

Gerry McAvoy is a Northern Irish blues rock guitarist whose life was changed he says when he bought a second hand Muddy Waters album.

When playing in a band called Deep Joy he met Rory Gallagher who at the time was fronting Taste. When Taste broke up in 1970 Gallagher continued as a solo artist and it was then that he approached McAvoy to play on his self titled debut album. That was the beginning of a strong musical relationship and a firm friendship, which lasted until Gallagher passed away in 1995.

McAvoy has released two solo albums; Bassics in 1980 and Can’t Win ‘Em All in 2010. There are no plans to release any future solo work. In 2005 he also wrote a book titled Riding Shotgun:35 Years On The Road With Rory Gallagher And Nine Below Zero, which is currently being updated.

In 2011 McAvoy performed his last gig with Nine Below Zero and he went on to form Gerry McAvoy’s Band Of Friends which continue to tour and record today.

Whilst preparing for his forthcoming tour, Gerry McAvoy took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Good morning Gerry, how are you today?

I’m not too bad Kevin. How are you?

I’m very well thank you and before we move on let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

Absolutely, it’s not a problem at all. It’s always a pleasure whenever you and I get to chat so thank you.

We last spoke prior to your appearance at The Great British Rhythm & Blues Festival up there in Colne.

Really. Was it really that long ago now, good god (laughter).

And prior to that I managed to catch you at Butlins when you appeared with the late Ted McKenna and Marcel Scherpenzeel. In fact, I actually found myself interviewing Marcel after your set.

(Laughter) did you really. Well I hope that you managed to get some sense out of Marcel because let me tell you, I never could (laughter).

Let’s just say yes, and swiftly move on (laughter).

(Laughter) that to me, sounds like a plan.

I have to ask you, just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

What can I say, it’s getting better. Obviously, after the pandemic things are finally starting to lift and thankfully, we are now back out on the road again. We kick off next week in London, so it really is good to be able to get out there again.

How did you manage to cope during lockdown?

To be totally honest with you, we actually managed to do quite a lot of on-line stuff, which I have to say I found quite interesting. Obviously, it was quite difficult as the guys are all over the place; I’m here in France, Brendan (O’Neil) the drummer is in London, Paul (Rose) the guitar player is up there in Newcastle, our new guy Jim (Kirkpatrick) is up in Chester, plus, with the on-line thing I also use a couple of guys who I sometimes use when we tour the States. In the past I have used a guitar player called Davy Knowles who I have to say is a superb guitarist. Davy was heavily involved with the on-line thing, but as you can imagine, at times it really was quite difficult for us to get everything together.

Someone would be recording at 6 o’clock in the morning whilst someone else would be recording at 4 o’clock in the afternoon (laughter). Having said all of that, it was fun together with it being a learning process for all of us which I hadn’t really bothered with before but yes, it was interesting.

It’s the new world unlike back in the 1970s when you would be flying a master tape all over the world.

Exactly, exactly, but I have to be honest with you and say that at this moment in time I don’t know which is better (laughter).

You have briefly mentioned next week when you will be performing at The Powerhaus in Camden, on what would have been Rory’s (Gallagher) 74th birthday. Will it be an emotional evening for you?

I suppose that it will be, yes. I imagine so, as I would imagine that if Rory was still with us, I would imagine that he would be up there on stage with us playing. So, I guess that it really will be a little emotional, yes.

I have been looking into the history of The Powerhaus and I see that it was, in fact, originally Dingwalls when it first opened its doors back in 1973 and carried on supporting live music for the next thirty five years.

I have to say that I have been to Dingwalls to see bands on a few occasions, but I have never actually played there so this will be a first for me.

Are you absolutely sure about that? (Laughter)

(Laughter) go on, tell me. What have I let myself in for on this occasion?

My research leads me to believe that you and Rory actually played Dingwalls on 26th February 1985 during the Hungarian UK Tour (laughter).

(Laughter) really, are you sure, as I really cannot bring that to mind. You have certainly educated me regarding that today. I can only put it down to me having an old gentleman’s moment (laughter). You’ve got me there as I can’t remember that one (laughter).

I have heard today that the special guests for the gig at The Powerhaus are (Deborah) Bonham and Peter (Bullick) who are now touring as Bonham-Bullick. That’s quite a support act there.

Yes, that’s right; Deborah is coming along as our special guest which really is great for us. We have worked on a few things in the past and I know Pete quite well too. It will be nice to have them both there.

Peter really is a great guitarist, isn’t he?

Yes, that’s right, Peter really is a fine player, and he is a fellow countryman as well which really does help a little bit (laughter).

On an event such as that with emotions running high, getting down to the practicalities, just how difficult is it for you to put a set list together?

That’s a good question. Sometimes, it will all depend upon the evening. It will also depend upon the band, and I say that because the band at the moment, the new line-up, is an interesting line-up who all have something to bring to the table. So, putting together a set list can be hard work but at the same time it can also be an enjoyable experience.

On the 19tth January 2019 we lost your good friend Edward ‘Ted’ McKenna. At that point just how hard was it for you to carry on?

To be honest with you when we lost Ted things started to change around that time. It was extremely difficult for me personally to carry on because Ted and I were the instigators of the whole Band Of Friends thing. I think that Marcel found it difficult to carry on and move ahead as well after Ted passed. Marcel is now doing his own thing over in Amsterdam which is fine, and I wish him well with that. But we continue. I have to say that as far as getting a replacement for Ted, that wasn’t the issue; Brendan was the obvious choice simply because of his connection with Rory. Ted and I were very close you know; we had known each other for many years from our days with Rory.

Even after Ted left the band, we still kept in touch with one another. We would regularly meet up and if he was playing a gig in London which was close to me, we would make sure that the two of us would meet up. So there really was a bond between the two of us. Ted really was the anchor of the band. Marcel and I would have a spat every now and then if something wasn’t right on stage, and Ted was always the one who would jump in and say “come on lads” so Ted really was the anchor as far as Band Of Friends were concerned. I’m sure that Ted would agree that you don’t ever stop, you simply keep on going. Whenever I sit and think about it, Ted’s gone, Rory’s gone, so someone has to carry the torch (laughter).

When I last saw you play, Band Of Friends was a three piece. You are now a four piece, so will you stay as a four piece, or will it be fluid?

It depends; it really does depend upon what the current situation is at that time. We have done five tours of the States since 2017 and at first back in 2017 it was Ted, me and Davy Knowles and that in fact was the case for all of those American tours. There are many reasons behind that; one being that for a musician to get out to the States really is criminal; the cost of visas and stuff, it truly is criminal. So, the less amount of people that you have going over to the States, the better. That was one reason for it at that particular time. Having said all of that, with this current line-up we are trying to get over there next year.

We are thinking of doing a double-header over there with Davy’s band FM. It would be great if Davy could come onboard as well, perhaps joining us on stage for a couple of songs, that sort of thing. But I have to be totally honest with you and say that, at this moment in time, it is loose, it is all pretty loose. Funnily enough, I spoke to Davy a couple of days ago now, he’s actually out on tour at the minute in Phoenix, Arizona with his own band and he says that things are finally starting to ease up over there as well. So, all in all we can look forward to next year.

This is the new normal. We have just got to embrace it and get on with things.

Exactly, there is nothing that we can do about it; we have simply got to live with it.

Rory passed in 1995. Could you ever envisage that his body of work would still be as relevant today?

At the time when Rory passed, I wasn’t thinking about that at that time. Having said that, over the years Rory’s brother Donal has done a remarkable job keeping the flame alive. In fact, Donal’s son Daniel has taken over that mantle, and I have to say that he is doing a great job. Last year they released a limited-edition box set to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Rory’s 1971 self-titled first album; the first album in fact that I was involved with. Universal bought out this amazing package, which I must admit that it was a quite expensive package, but it really was a fantastic package. It included a CD, a video, some vinyl, and it also had a lovely booklet in there too. It was really nice.

There is so much warmth and love for Rory. Can you feel that when you are on stage?

You can, yes. Also, when you meet some of the people after the shows that are at the gig you really can feel that emotion. They really do want to keep it alive as well, and I’m not just talking about old fogies like myself, a lot of young people come along to the gigs as well, which really is fantastic. It’s so good to see teenagers and kids in their twenties; it’s fantastic to see them all appreciating the music.

Do you have a favourite Rory song to perform?

Wow, that’s a difficult one, as there are so many great songs to pick from. I think that Overnight Bag is a classic Rory track. It’s a track which steps away from the blues. Rory had this amazing talent where he could write pretty commercial songs; songs such as Tattooed Lady and Shadow Play is another one. Shadow Play really did show Rory’s punk side and I always did enjoy playing that. It was always a favourite to see just how much the audience were enjoying it too.

You say that was difficult. Putting you firmly on the spot, can you pick out one particular album that is your favourite?

I have to say, and I am sure that you have heard this before, but they are all my favourites. But an enjoyable album to make was Deuce, Rory’s second album. We had recorded and released the first album and Deuce was written and recorded in the same year, the end of 71 and the beginning of 72. In fact, there were three albums recorded in the same year; the first album, then Deuce and then Live In Europe. In my opinion, Deuce had a certain freshness about it. Rory had made the first album with me and Wilgar Campbell and there was a definite jazz influence on there. There was also folk, there was blues, and there was even a little pop thrown in there for good measure (laughter).

When Rory bought Deuce into the rehearsal rooms and I heard the songs I thought ’god almighty, he’s really branching out here’ (laughter). Songs like I’m Not Awake Yet and Crest Of A Wave really did depart from the bluesy stuff. It was rocky, not pop, but commercial and very listenable. I really did enjoy recording that album. It was interesting as well because during those recording sessions, over there in Dalston, Hackney, London, at the Tangerine Studios which were owned by Joe Meek, and sometimes when we would be doing a few shows in and around London, instead of going home after the show we would go straight into the studio because we still had that adrenalin going.

Because we were still buzzing, Rory wanted to capture that while he could so we would get ourselves back in the studio, quickly set up the gear together with a couple of microphones and do a couple of songs (laughter). I have to say that whilst it was unusual, it was also very interesting.

You had a working relationship with Rory for twenty years; there must have been some disagreements along the way?

Being totally honest with you; hardly any. Towards the end of my stay with Rory, there were a couple of small things that needled me which I felt that I had to make Rory aware of. But to have an argument with Rory really was impossible. He was just one of those guys who could calm a situation really easily. He really was just impossible to argue with (laughter).

Whenever anyone writes about Rory he is always portrayed as a hard drinking rebel rouser. What was the real Rory like away from the spotlight?

Away from the spotlight, we would enjoy going out for a pint and a meal but let me tell you, it certainly wasn’t like Rod Stewart and The Faces time. In the early days, from 1971 there was hardly any drink at all. We would all have a pint of lager and lime and that would be it, big deal (laughter). As the years went on, Rory had this terrible fear of flying, so he would have a little drink in order to calm his nerves. But as far as Rory being a hard drinking rebel rouser, no, that’s not how I saw him anyway.

Did the troubles in Ireland hinder the band’s progress?

Funnily enough, throughout the course of 1971 it was pretty hot in Ireland, especially in Belfast. However, it may have been hot but Rory, bless him, decided that we would do some shows there during the summer of 71. It really was an extremely dangerous time for us to be doing that. As you know, I’m from Belfast so I was probably a bit more aware of the situation and how the land lay at that moment in time. Despite all of that, Rory took the mantle and said “right, let’s go, let’s do it”. So, as far as the troubles affecting us, I would have to say not really. We actually played The Ulster Hall, and the audience was mixed which was fantastic. We had Protestants and Catholics all mixed together, enjoying the gig.

I have to say that the emotion from that audience was fantastic simply because at that time no one was coming to Ireland; no one was performing there. Van (Morrison) stayed away, Thin Lizzy stayed away, everyone who was anyone stayed away from Ireland but not Rory. We played The Ulster Hall every year right through the 70s.

You have been in the music business for fifty-five years now…

Oh my god (laughter).

have you enjoyed the ride so far?

I have and I have to say that I wouldn’t change a thing. Obviously there have been ups and there have been downs, plus there has also been a hell of a lot of emotion, together with a lot of arguments along the way but I wouldn’t change it, no.

Taking you back to 2005 and Riding Shotgun: 35 Years on the Road with Rory Gallagher and Nine Below Zero was that something that you wanted to do or was it something that you felt you needed to do?

That was something that I really wanted to do. I wanted to get everything down on paper; my story. My grandfather was a very interesting man; he was actually a private detective in Belfast, as my father was as well. My grandfather had all of these amazing stories, but you would have to coax them out of him. I could quite easily have written a book about my grandfather. I really wrote the book for my children, my grown-up kids so that they can read my story, warts, and all.

The book received rave reviews; did you enjoy the writing process?

I was helped with the writing process by a good friend of mine, Peter Chrisp who was the ghost writing, in fact being honest with you Peter basically wrote the book. I just related the stories over a couple of weeks, over a couple of pints, and that’s what came out of it (laughter).

Are there any thought on bringing it up to date?

Yes, it is being brought up to date as we speak. In the coming months there is going to be another chapter added simply because so many things have happened since the last edition was published back in 2017. Obviously, things have happened since then; we lost Ted, the band has changed, so there are a lot of things to be added, and we are busy working on that at the moment.

Is there any new Band Of Friends material in the pipeline?

Yes, there is, in fact we are actually writing at the moment. We are doing the same sort of on-line recording at the moment because Davy is also involved with the writing and as I said earlier, he is currently in Chicago. Because we are all spread out around the country, we are currently recording in the same manner that we recorded the on-line stuff during lockdown. We have nine tracks down already, so I feel that we need another four or five tracks in order to finish the album.

Do you have a window in mind for a release date?

Yes, we do. We are hoping for the end of September.

That will tie in nicely with the UK tour later this year.

It should do, yes, fingers crossed (laughter).

Are you looking forward to being back out on the road?

Absolutely, yes. As you know we kick off in London next week, and I really cannot wait.

Back in 2010 you released your second solo album Can’t Win ‘Em All. Are there any thoughts on recording a new solo album?

I’ve done that, in fact I have done two of them (laughter).

Is it a been there, done that, got the t-shirt sort of feeling?

Yes, it is, that’s enough for me (laughter).

On that note Gerry, let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been great. You take care and I hope to see you in Bilston.

Thanks Kevin, it’s been a pleasure and I will absolutely see you later. You take care now.