It’s hard to believe Taste broke up just prior to their Isle of Wight set in 1970. They never sounded more unified, synchronized, and downright glad to be performing.
Then again, maybe it was a case of “let’s go out with a bang.”
One certainly can’t tell the Irish band were technically a non-entity while watching footage of their electrifying show: Each of the three lads (all in their early twenties at the time) is astounding on his respective instrument, and together they forged a cohesive musical bond that spoke more to their four years together rather than their four minutes apart.
The 600,000 in attendance certainly couldn’t have guessed that guitarist Rory Gallagher and his mates were a non-entity (on paper, anyway). With only two studio albums to their credit, Taste weren’t exactly sitting atop the world like other bands on the four-day bill (Moody Blues, Chicago, The Who). Yet the throng called them back for an unprecedented three encores, with director Murray Lerner and his crew filming for posterity.
Now—for the first time ever—the whole of Gallagher’s Isle of Wight appearance with Taste is available in high-definition on Blu-ray and DVD, courtesy those rock and roll curators at Eagle Rock. What’s Going On: Taste Live at Isle of Wight is audiovisual retrospective of an historically important (but long-overlooked) band caught in the unusual position of experiencing both the zenith and nadir of their professional union within the span of a single hour.
It’s also a documentary of their short-lived collaboration, their pre-kaput concert, and their lingering influence on the generation of rockers that followed. Checking in to pay homage to the late Gallagher on the disc are Bob Geldof, The Edge (U2), Larry Coryell, and other luminaries.
“He was a magician,” effuses Queen guitarist Brian May, who as a teenage fan queried Gallagher about his gear (a VOX AC30 amplifier and a treble-booster pedal).
“I went and got the same stuff, so it was Rory that gave me my sound!” says May.
“They had done the impossible,” muses (fellow Irishman Edge) on Taste’s legendary performance. “They had gone all the way to play on the same stage as Jimi Hendrix.”
“Yeah, I’d put them in the top three for sure,” Geldof reflects in a separate interview.
Gallagher’s brother (and former manager) Donal shares how Rory “surfed” the radio dial as a boy (just like today’s kids browse the internet) to find songs to learn on his guitar. By his teens, Rory was playing in popular Irish “show” bands, but he aspired to be a real musician—not merely an “entertainer”—so he quit.
Within a year, he was testing his mettle at England’s Marquee Club with an early version of Taste. Modifying the lineup to include John Wilson (drums) and Richard McCracken (bass), Gallagher secured a recording contract with Polydor, who issued Taste’s two albums (and early live set).
Journalist Niall Stokes (Hot Press Magazine) opines that Gallagher identified with old-school bluesmen like Muddy Waters and guitar bad boys like Lonnie Donnegan and Chuck Berry specifically because America’s civil rights movement wasn’t unlike Eire’s own “Troubles.” Stripped of his vote in British-ruled Northern Ireland, Gallagher’s father often felt like a second class citizen. That angst wasn’t lost on his talented son, who expressed himself with his guitar.
“Rory was a hero,” says Stokes. “He crossed that sectarian divide.”
We also learn about Taste’s first trip to the United States, where they opened for Blind Faith (Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood) at the Philadelphia Spectrum. Although their stars were rising, their incomes weren’t: Gallagher and company never saw the fancy cars and mansions promised by their shady first manager. Financial woes would contribute to Taste’s dissolution even as the biggest and best Isle of Wight Festival loomed (August 1970). Donal recalls that that the trip to Seaclose Park was not fun because of the creative and economic tension.
“It all just stopped,” agrees Wilson. “We were at loggerheads.”
Yet the turmoil didn’t show onstage—and still doesn’t (45 years on) courtesy Lerner’s crisp, restored 16mm and 35mm reels. 22-year old Rory takes to his battered 1961 Fender Stratocaster like man possessed, wailing through “What’s Going On,” “Sugar Mama,” and “Morning Sun” as McCracken lays sturdy rhythms with his four-string and Wilson works his way in and around the brutish beats.
Watch Taste perform “What’s Going On:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOo_Zi1W2iE
Gallagher’s a competent singer, but his guitar prowess was good enough to rattle Hendrix. With his crackling tone, bluesy bends, controlled feedback, and soulful vibrato, the Irish whiz conjures the kinds of mind-blowing sounds that would later inform Eddie Van Halen and Johnny Marr. Halfway through the set, he trades his Strat for a Telecaster—which he then tortures with a glass slide.
“He was a great improviser,” Coryell remembers Gallagher. “He was right up there with the avant-garde jazz musicians.”
Watching the footage now, it’s easy to see the blues rock influence Taste had (or would have) on other threesomes—like Rush, The Police, Triumph…even their contemporaries in Cream. The chemistry seen and heard on “Sinner Boy,” “Catfish Blues,” and “I Feel So Good” demonstrate their acumen as the preeminent power trio of the day, and it’s a wonder their music never reached larger audiences after their ignoble breakup.
It’s also neat seeing the guys just do their thing on a massive stage littered with gear and backline equipment belonging to other acts, completely transfixed by the music, aware of—but not shaken by—the thousands of revelers sprawled as far as the eye can see. But we also see technicians and sound crew roaming behind the curtains, spot official festival photographer Charles Everest crawling around, and glimpse Lerner’s cameramen on either side of the stage whenever one inadvertently (and unavoidably) fixes the other in his lens.
“The Isle of Wight saw the clash of commercialism with the idealism of the music,” surmises Lerner. “And they [Taste] were just intense.”
Bonus materials feature Taste jamming for twenty minutes on T.V.’s The Beat Club, whereon Gallagher plays harmonica and saxophone (!) as well as guitar on the trippy “If It Happened Before, It’ll Happen Again.” There’s also concept videos for “I’ll Remember,” “What’s Going On,” and “Born on the Wrong Side of Time.”
The concert / documentary can be heard in your choice of Dolby Digital Stereo, 5.1, or DTS Surround Sound. The extras are mono only, but sound fantastic nonetheless.
This is how you do it, kids.
The DVD release corresponds with that of a new 4-CD best-of package: I’ll Remember: A Box of Taste. The set includes remasters of the two studio albums (Taste and On the Boards) plus demos, bonus BBC cuts, and other live tracks (with some unreleased goodies).
Watch Taste perform “Gamblin’ Blues:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbQy5GlMRyQ
Taste: What’s Going On Blu-ray / DVD at Amazon: