What’s Going On: Taste Live at the Isle of Wight
Eagle Vision, 163 mins., $19.98 Blu-Ray/$14.98 DVD
Interviewer: How does it feel to be the best guitarist in the world?
Jimi Hendrix: I don’t know. Why don’t you go and ask Rory Gallagher?
The ‘60s were a time of power trios: Cream, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Mountain, Blue Cheer, Grand Funk Railroad, and the original Thin Lizzy. But one that often gets left out, but could go toe to toe with any of those acts, is Taste. A hard blues band formed by 18-year-old Irish singer/guitarist Rory Gallagher in 1966, Taste featured an original rhythm section that was replaced two years later (purportedly as a requirement for a recording contract) with Richard McCracken on bass and John Wilson on drums.
It was this lineup that released both 1969's Taste and its more jazz-inflected followup (for which Gallagher learned to play sax) the next year, On the Boards. The band was on the verge of breaking big when they took the stage in front of 600,000 fans at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival.
Taste had already been hand-picked to be on the bill at Cream’s farewell gigs, as well as open U.S. dates for that power trio guitarist Eric Clapton’s next band — Blind Faith — on their first U.S. tour. But what none of those in the audience at that August 1970 gig knew was that this would likely be their first – and last – taste of Taste. The trio had decided to break up backstage just before stepping out for their set, the result of tense business and management disagreements. This was a band who played their likely last big gig for all it was worth.
And maybe that accounts for a little extra fieriness as caught by the crew led by documentarian Murray Lerner, who filmed the group’s eight-song main set; Taste was also called out for three encores. And what footage it is.
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The choirboy-faced Gallagher simply rips through the numbers, charging with a full-frontal blast that seems to egg on Nichols and McCracken to match their leader (the drummer is particularly intense). Highlights include a jazz-tinged “What’s Going On” and the heavy blues-rock of “Same Old Story.” Gallagher takes a solo turn with just voice and bottleneck slide guitar on the stellar “Gambling Blues,” sounding for everything like Johnny Winter’s non-albino brother (though set closer “Catfish Blues” does drag on far too long).
Director Lerner is on hand to give his 45-year-old footage some perspective in a short documentary on the group and this particular gig. Those adding comments on the band include guitarists Bob Geldof, The Edge, Larry Coryell and Gallagher acolyte Brian May of Queen.
Other bonus features include a trio of live songs from the German TV show Beat Club, including the lovely ballad “If The Day Was Any Longer” (with Gallagher also on harmonica) and the jazzy “It’s Happened Before, It’ll Happen Again.”
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There are also three bizarre German-produced music videos for other tracks that combine the band performing with storyline footage. One shows an angry senior citizen who — in attempting to shoot a rifle at a poster of the band — ends up maiming innocents. Another juxtaposes fairly disgusting footage of a dinner party where wealthy fat cats gorge on meat with posters of starving African children. Later, the one percenters are scrounging in a trash heap and shooting each other for leftovers.
After Taste fulfilled their live contractual obligations and played one final gig on New Year’s Eve in 1970, Gallagher went on to a mid-level successful solo career as a bluesman, dying in 1995 from liver disease brought on by a lifetime of heavy drinking combined with prescription sedatives. McCracken and Wilson would form a short-lived group called Stud, and the drummer revived the band’s name in 2000, which still tours occasionally today.
As the liner notes recall, when photographer John Minihan caught them backstage and asked for a portrait, the three were anything but friends. Finally, McCracken relented, telling his bandmates, “come on guys, even if it’s the last one” as he stood in the middle and draped his arms around Wilson and Gallagher, a picture shown at the top of this page.
Watching this footage today, though, may also fill the classic-rock fan with a tinge of regret, a “what if” scenario for a band that dissolved too soon.