The announcement of the death of Gary Moore was received with widespread shock and sadness when it was made public on Sunday 6th February. The keen sense of loss was perhaps summed up by Bob Geldof, who, while describing his playing as ‘exceptional and beautiful’, proclaimed that his like would not be seen again.
Perhaps Moore’s overriding achievement was to find and forge a clear link between rock and blues, primarily through the medium of the guitar, while not forgetting some explicit musical references to the music of his home country, Northern Ireland.
Moore would primarily be associated with the music of Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy, but his natural home was found as a solo artist. In this capacity he made two of the finest modern blues rock albums in Still Got The Blues and After Hours, released in 1990 and 1992 respectively. As an effective acceptance of his transition between the forms, After Hours featured guest slots from blues luminaries BB King and Albert Collins.
At an early age Moore knew the path he wanted his musical life to take, and a brief brush with Lynott in the band Skid Row was given a firm foundation years later in Thin Lizzy. By the time he left Skid Row, the band had enjoyed the privilege of supporting Fleetwood Mac, whose guitarist Peter Green saw Moore’s talent and sold him a Les Paul guitar.
Moore’s time with Lizzy was short but sweet, limited on record to 1979’s Black Rose album. In this the band succeeded in bringing elements of Irish folk music to their sound, with Moore’s guitar the chosen vehicle in Roisin Dubh, the translated title track, with its direct quote from Danny Boy as well as appropriations of other folk tunes.
Moore dipped between solo output, guest appearances with Lizzy, and brief stints in groups such as BBM, the fiery rock trio given the task of resurrecting the ashes of Cream. With Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, Moore lent his guitar to an intensely drilled rock album, but due to the strength of personalities involved, this was doomed to just the one record. In the 1970s he became part of the second incarnation of Colosseum, Colosseum II – teaming up with Jon Hiseman and Don Airey for a test of his musicianship in the field of jazz, with three quick fire albums fusing rock sensibilities with something more syncopated.
The best way to appreciate Moore’s class and musicality, mind, is to listen. Parisienne Walkways, his calling card, is a good place to start, despite its reputation as a cheesy slow dance. In the right context it is an emotive duet with Lynott, it succeeds because of Moore’s ability to wring maximum emotion from the minimum number of notes, working the guitar with subtle vibrato and portamento before allowing himself to fully cut loose in the solo. Toughest Street In Town, the second track from Black Rose, goes the other way, belting out a wall of shrill notes at a bewildering speed, while the title track spins itself into a circle as the folk tunes take hold.
In a solo context, Still Got The Blues manages the same as Parisienne Walkways but at the same time shows off Moore’s ability to be an emotive vocalist, a quality of his often overlooked. Cold Day In Hell, the lead track of After Hours, brings the brass to the fore, throws open the windows, and heads for simple but deadly effective blues rock.
Moore was a captivating if occasionally awkward presence onstage, but there was never a doubt about the musicality of his performance, nor its ability to amaze. At the Strat Pack concert held at Wembley Arena to celebrate the Fender Stratocaster in 2004, his contribution was an eye popping version of the Jimi Hendrix blues staple Red House, and it fair brought the house down.
Even Moore’s solo albums, all too easily derided by critics, contain moments of pure guitar virtuosity, virtuosity in the sense that notes are measured by their impact rather than sheer speed and technical difficulty. The pomp and circumstance of minor single hits After The War and Over The Hills is lifted by well chosen solos, the latter again hinting at traditional folk tunes around the edges, while even experimenting with drum ‘n’ bass on 1999’s A Different Beat was not doomed to complete failure, thanks to the guitarist’s uncommon ability to play himself out of trouble.
British rock and blues music, then, has lost one of its leading lights, for though it seemed Gary Moore had reached the apex of his musicality on record, the overriding feeling is that he had plenty more to give, not least in the live environment. Respected by his contemporaries both as a musician and a person, he will be greatly missed, as he takes the story of the blues to another shore.