On the notes for “All Around Man – Live In London,” there’s the usual litany of testimonials from the great and the good telling you how wonderful Rory Gallagher is. Slash, Jimmy Page, Bonamassa, and myriad others.

All true, of course; Gallagher is the best. The finest blues guitar player there’s ever been, but somehow, it’s fitting that this album has a cover from Irish graffiti artist Vincent Zara, who has stenciled Rory’s image across his home country. There has always been something a bit “man of the people” about Gallagher. I mean, yes, the adulation of peers matters, but as much as the adulation of the fans?

Anyway, whatever, “…..London” is special. Not only does it document a live period in Gallagher’s career that hadn’t been done before (December 1990) in support of what turned out to be his last record “Fresh Evidence,” these are all unreleased recordings. Recently unearthed, they’ve been Mastered at Abbey Road, and here now, they amount to two hours of utter genius (that for once, is no hyperbole, it’s the truth).

Rory and the band sound totally energised. They’d spent an unprecedented length of time in the studio making “….Evidence,” and they sound ready for these shows. “Fresh….” opening track, “Kid Gloves,” for example, races around on the back of some old-school rock n roll piano. “The King Of Zydeco” (his homage to Clifton Chenier) has a Latin infusion, “Middle Name” has an ominous, almost dark quality, and “Ghost Blues” – which finishes the main set here – is absolutely stunning.

They all are, in honesty, but towards the start of the set, they play “Heavens Gate,” a simple blues song on one hand, but here, shot through with gold. Among all the new songs, though, there’s “The Loop,” and to listen to this one is to listen to a band having fun and doing so with a total mastery of their craft. There’s something that you can’t quite define going on here. It’s there on all Rory Gallagher albums, especially live ones.

There are some of the classic tunes too. “Moonchild,” “Shin Kicker” (still the first one I heard when someone handed me a compilation CD and said “Here, you like the blues don’t you? You’ll enjoy this…. “) and a wonderful “Shadow Play,” but I’d argue that they maybe haven’t sounded like this before, not quite. There’s a different feel to these recordings.

Towards the middle of the album, there’s an acoustic section. There often is on Gallagher’s live albums, and it’s always to be savoured. Here is no different. “Out On The Western Plains” sounds as big and expansive as the starry skies, and the way he plays “Ride On Red, Ride On” is as good as anything you’ll hear.

Mostly, though, this is a rock n roller of a set. They come back for the encore with “Messin’ With The Kid,” a shining highlight, and the harmonica here from Mark Feltham is as good as it gets.

These shows sound like they would have been life-affirming; the version of “You Keep A Knockin'” has the most wonderful Little Richard-style piano from Geraint Watkins and ends with a riotous shuffle on its de facto title track “All Around Man.”

Yet it is the remaining one in the encore that most resonates. “Bullfrog Blues” never fails to astonish. Ever. And the drums from Brendan O’Neil here are jaw-dropping.

Back in May of this year, I went to see Walter Trout – the greatest modern exponent of the blues – and right at the end of the show, he said simply: “Let’s have a little fun and play the best.” He’d done that song (he did it justice too).

Rory Gallagher was 47 years old when he died. He was younger than I am now, and it is one of the biggest regrets I have that I never saw him play.

Hopefully, it brings those closest to him comfort that even after all this time, this 28 years later, his music means so much to so many. He still is all around, man.

And this is, without a doubt, the finest live album released in a very, very long time.

Rating: 10/10

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