Saturday 20 July 2019

The Rankin Files: how Rory Gallagher inspired me

Ian Rankin always regretted not seeing Rory Gallagher play live. He tells Ken Sweeney the full story

HE only got one chance to see Rory Gallagher. But he admits he "fluffed it". Now best-selling crime writer Ian Rankin has more than made up for it by penning a new novella inspired by the music of the Irish blues legend.

Best known for his Inspector Rebus novels, the 53-year-old's latest work can be found on 'Kickback City', part of a new compilation of the Irish rocker's music.

"Rory Gallagher started for me back in school when someone lent me 'Taste Live', an LP by Rory's old band. I remember thinking what a guitarist, who is this guy?" said Rankin.

A couple of months later the future best-selling author got his chance to find out on an excursion to Edinburgh with school pals.

"There was a bus load of us from school. Half of us were going to see to Genesis, the other half Rory Gallagher.

"It is to my eternal shame I joined the gang going to see Genesis. That was my one chance to see Rory Gallagher and I fluffed it," he said.

But in the decades that followed, as Rankin became the UK's No 1 crime author, he more than made good by dropping Rory Gallagher references into a number of his best-selling Rebus books. References which came to the attention of Gallagher's surviving brother Donal, who last year approached Rankin to contribute to a new compilation of Rory's songs related to popular fiction.

"Donal knew that I was a Rory fan and that Rory had been a big fan of American crime fiction. What he wanted me to do for this new compilation, was write the kind of story that Rory would have wanted to read. A proper story of an American private eye set in the fifties," he said.

But the Edinburgh-based writer brought lyrics by the late Rory, who died in 1995, into the process by dropping it into the fiction, an addition he hoped would make the work resonate even more with Rory fans.

"The fans might not always have listened to the lyrics but they were every bit as good as Rory's guitar playing. Stories of hard working guys who drink too much and get in trouble, which is the essence the basis of American crime fiction," he said.

But the father-of-two, who has based all of his stories in Edinburgh, was worried that he might not be able to pull off the American dialogue used in the crime fiction beloved by Gallagher.

"I wanted something that sounded like it was written by an American.

"For all the success I've had, I wasn't sure if I could write something authentic. So when I finished the story, I sent it to a friend in the US, a huge fan of American crime fiction. They were brilliant telling me, 'well an American would never say that'. They helped me to totally 'Americanise' my story," he revealed.

The 44-page novella, titled 'The Lie Factory', is illustrated by graphic artist Timothy Truman, who once drew for DC comics and a Gallagher fan from as far back as 1973.

He said: "I remember being a junior in high school in West Virginia turning on the TV one night and seeing Rory playing on a TV concert. He immediately blew me away.

"I thought he was the greatest guitarist and performer I'd ever seen and I've been a devoted follower of his music ever since."

Impressed enough with the illustrations, Rankin said the biggest surprise for him on the project came when he found out that the audio version of the book was to be read by actor Aidan Quinn.

"They said they had an 'American actor', but Aidan Quinn, I really was floored.

"He is such a big name and I'm such a fan of his work. He did a great job and I know Rory would be pleased with it too," he said.

Although Rankin missed the bus going to Rory Gallagher gig all those years ago, the stunning story he has penned for 'Kickback City' will surely send tens of thousands of new fans Rory's way.

It could even turn up in the next novel featuring his Edinburgh detective alter-ego character John Rebus.

"If this album ends up in Rebus's record collection, I could end up writing a story in which Rebus takes out this album and sits reading an Ian Rankin story whilst listening to a Rory Gallagher album," he said.

Ian Rankin's new book 'Saints of the Shadow Bible' is published next month

Irish Independent

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