The son of Irish parents, Gallagher worked initially as a marine electrician in the shipyards of Glasgow. During this time, he also played bass guitar in local semi-professional beat group The Bluefrets, which featured Graham Lyle on lead guitar.
Gallagher’s first published song was “Mr Heartbreak’s Here Instead”, which he co-wrote with Andrew Galt. This was recorded as a single for EMI-Columbia in 1964 by Dean Ford and the Gaylords, the bulk of which later became chart-topping outfit Marmalade.
In 1966, Gallagher and Lyle – who by now had forged a songwriting partnership – moved to London in search of a publishing deal. Both continued to hold down day jobs, Gallagher as an electrician and Lyle as a shipping clerk, while waiting for their big break. After an abortive contract with Polydor, which yielded one unsuccessful single, the pair joined Apple Corps as staff songwriters and wrote several songs for Mary Hopkin.
Gallagher and Lyle first hit the chart as performers in late 1970 as the leading lights of McGuinness Flint, a blues-rock band formed by ex-Manfred Mann guitarist Tom McGuinness. This band made two well-received albums and scored two Top 5 singles in Britain with “When I’m Dead and Gone” and “Malt and Barley Blues”, before Gallagher and Lyle left to work as a duo. Gallagher was credited as Bernard Gallagher on sheet music copies of early songs such as these, but later shortened his forename to avoid confusion with golfer Bernard Gallacher.
Between 1972 and 1975, Gallagher and Lyle made four albums for A&M: Gallagher and Lyle, Willie and the Lap Dog, Seeds and The Last Cowboy, all of which were produced by Glyn Johns, and met with favourable reviews. Gallagher and Lyle also enjoyed a brief stint as members of Ronnie Lane‘s band Slim Chance, recording the album Anymore For Anymore with him and backing him on several TV appearances, including a slot on Top of the Pops to promote his hit single “How Come“.
It was not until 1976, however, that the duo hit the big time after teaming up with US producer David Kershenbaum on their gold-selling fifth album Breakaway. This set spawned two British Top 10 singles, “I Wanna Stay With You” and “Heart on My Sleeve”, both of which also charted in the US; the latter song was covered successfully by Bryan Ferry. The album included “Stay Young“, which Don Williams took to No.1 on the US C&W chart, while Art Garfunkel enjoyed a US Adult Contemporary No. 1 with the title song, “Breakaway“.
The duo’s next album, Love on the Airwaves, also produced by Kershenbaum, went silver in the UK but yielded only one minor hit single, “Every Little Teardrop” which peaked at #32. Their final two albums, Showdown and Lonesome No More – the last of these issued on Mercury – failed to chart. They provided backing vocals on Elkie Brooks‘ minor hit cover of their song “The Runaway” in 1979, but this was their final chart appearance. Gallagher and Lyle split in 1980, leaving behind an unreleased ninth album, Living on the Breadline. A song recorded for this set, “A Heart in New York“, subsequently became a major US Adult Contemporary hit for Art Garfunkel in 1981.
Gallagher kept a low profile for much of the 1980s, but re-emerged in 1992 as bassist with The Manfreds, a reconvention of 1960s Manfred Mann members and associates. He remained a member until 1999, touring all over the world with the band and appearing on a live album released in 1998. During his tenure in the band, he co-founded and served as chairman of the royalties campaigning body PAMRA, which was set up to ensure that musicians received a fair share of royalties from recordings and performances.
After a spell with Dr Hook as bassist during 1999 and 2000, Gallagher embarked on a solo career as a singer-songwriter, touring the folk club and festival circuits. He also held workshops all over the British Isles for aspiring songwriters, and was made a Companion of LIPA (Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts) by Paul McCartney in 2001 in recognition of his work as a songwriting coach at the college.
In 2010, Gallagher reunited with Lyle for two concerts in their former hometown of Largs in aid of Haylie House, a residential care home in the town. The pair subsequently re-formed and performed at two events in 2011: “The Big Gig” at Glasgow’s Barrowland nightclub, alongside Marti Pellow, Jim Diamond and Midge Ure, and the MOARE Festival in Faversham, Kent, which was headlined by former Average White Band stalwart Hamish Stuart.
In 2012, the duo undertook a sell-out tour of Scottish venues, under the banner of “The Homecoming Tour”; their 22-song set included all their British chart entries and both their US chart-toppers, as well as “A Heart in New York” and “Willie”, in which Gallagher used a harmonica on a harness.
In March 2016, Gallagher and Lyle performed together at the Belfast Nashville Songwriters’ Festival. In November 2016, the duo performed for four nights at The Green Hotel in Kinross.
The summer of 2017 saw the duo perform as part of the ‘Byre at The Botanics’ season in St Andrews, and also at the Belladrum Festival in Inverness and the Albany Theatre in Greenock.
In March 2018, the duo returned to Belfast to perform once more at the Belfast Nashville Songwriters’ Festival.
Gallagher has released two solo albums on his own OnSong label: On Stage and At The Edge of the Wave. The latter set includes “Tusitala”, a tribute to Robert Louis Stevenson; this song also appeared on the Greentrax CD The Great Tapestry of Scotland.