Legendary Irish musician Rory Gallagher, whose concerts united Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles, once had to deny bizarre claims that he was a pallbearer at Bobby Sands' funeral, a new book has revealed.
The late blues guitarist's Belfast-born drummer Brendan O'Neill has written how Rory was confronted with the 'ridiculous' rumours by journalists in Athens before a concert that ended in a riot, during which the stage was set alight and police fired tear gas at the 37,000 strong crowd.
Brendan, who is now 68, says in his memoir, Meet Mr Sticks, that the gig was only his second major appearance with the Rory Gallagher Band, which he joined in 1981, joining up with his lifelong friend from Belfast, bass guitarist Gerry McAvoy.
The concert took place amid soaring political tensions, around the time of an election in Greece, and at a news conference a journalist asked Rory if he supported, funded or sympathised with the IRA.
Brendan said Rory was stunned but put it down to the fact he was Irish and that musically was seen as a rebel who "bucked the system and went against the grain".
Brendan added: "In Greece, hardcore punks, rock fans, blues fans and hippies alike thought of Rory as a people's hero. One ridiculous rumour was that Rory had been a pallbearer at the funeral of Bobby Sands, dressed in full uniform with IRA insignia, bearing the rank of Major."
But even more unbelievable times were ahead for Rory and his band, who were the first rock act allowed to perform a large-scale concert in Greece since 1967, when police shut down a Rolling Stones gig just four days before a coup d'etat by Greek generals. Brendan said the Rory concert was seen as the first sign of Greece opening up again in front of an anticipated 17,000 strong crowd but thousands more stormed the AEK football ground which had little or no security.
Brendan said at least 37,000 fans were in the stadium when he and his fellow band musicians were shepherded on to stage by police in full riot gear who had been summoned by panic stricken organisers.
Fans, he recalled, were crushed against the stage while others invaded it.
"It was mayhem," said Brendan. "The incident that actually 'ignited' the show was when someone literally set a fire under the stage."
In his book, Brendan said Rory had happier memories of playing concerts in Belfast when he was one of the few musicians willing to stage concerts in the troubled city.
In January 1976, hours after 10 Protestant workmen were shot dead in the Kingsmill massacre in South Armagh, Rory insisted on going ahead with a gig in Belfast's Grosvenor Hall despite fears of a backlash on the streets.
Brendan added: "Rory was passionate about Belfast, and the feelings were mutual.
"The last time I played the Ulster Hall with him before he even struck a note the crowd gave Rory a two-minute standing ovation.
"If ever there was a lump-in-the-throat moment that nearly brought me to tears that was it."
Brendan and Gerry McAvoy left Rory's group in 1991 to join Nine Below Zero but they have also played together with other ex-Gallagher musicians in the Band of Friends, whose plans for a series of 80 concerts to mark the 25th anniversary of Rory's death in June 1995 have been shattered by the coronavirus.
Meet Mister Sticks by Brendan O'Neill with Denise Danks, published by GlimmerTwin Publishing, will be available on Kinder and Amazon later this month and will aid a charity in Guatemala