(From Whisperin and Hollerin, online UK music magazine, June 2004.)
Guitar bands don't come much more
influential than THE SMITHS and as bassist in the legendary Mancunians, ANDY
ROURKE played a key role, even though he may not be as widely celebrated as
Morrissey and Johnny Marr.
Since those heady days, Andy has worked with the likes of Sinead O'Connor, Aziz Ibrahim and - briefly -Killing Joke, but he's recently joined up (alongside Smiths' drummer Mike Joyce) with superb singer/ songwriter Vinny Peculiar. W&H thought this was as good a time as any for a chat with the man who must rank as one of the finest bass players of all time.
Andy is speaking to us from his home in Manchester and is relaxed, considered and never less than great company. Naturally the conversation takes in The Smiths, and we start with the infamous Salford Lads' Club: the youth club that became iconic after photographer Stephen Wright shot the band outside for the band's third album and masterpiece "The Queen Is Dead". Andy and Vinny Peculiar recently played a short acoustic set inside the club as part of the Smiths-related Moz Bus that toured Manchester: a must for devoted fans. As far as I gather, this is the Salford Lads' Club's centenary year (1904 - 2004)?
"Yeah, that's right," Andy confirms.
"They've been given a grant to do renovation work, which is great. To be honest, it was an opportunity for me to put something back because since the Smiths' photo session, people have visited the place and been pulling off bits of the brickwork and spraying graffiti and so on and the people there were getting pissed off about it, so I wanted to help redress that."
I've visited the place myself a couple of times, but it's always been closed. Is it a club for underpriveleged kids?
"Yeah, it's a youth club," says Andy.
"As you say, it's an underpriveleged area and there are a lot of problems with drugs, unemployment and poverty in general, so it's great the kids there have the Lads' club to latch onto."
"I should also stress that they let girls in now as well," Andy laughs. "It's a great place now, they have computer rooms, boxing, photography classes and so on. It's excellent."
What did you make of the NME'S coverage of the Moz Bus event? You did get a brief mention.
"It was OK," says Andy, evenly.
"It was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I guess that's to be expected. But then, any publicity is good for the club, so it's all OK by me."
Right. Well, obviously you were a part of one of the UK's most influential and popular bands ever and indeed The Smiths were recently awarded the accolade of the "Most Influential" group in history by the NME. Did you feel at the time that the music would live on the way it has?
"It's impossible to know how the records would age," replies Andy.
"I mean, we did think a lot of the songs were sounding special at the time, but you can't predict how they'll be viewed in the future. I think a lot of it was the fact we were an organic, guitar-based band, with a great four-man line-up. We weren't slaves to the technology of the time. Just look at the likes of The Human League or Howard Jones. Their records were from the same time and they haven't exactly aged well, have they?"
Can't argue that point. With the benefit of hindsight, do you have a favourite Smiths album?
"Well, I really like both "The Queen Is Dead" and "Strangeways Here We Come"", says Andy, giving it some consideration.
"I really like "The Queen Is Dead" for the energy and it also sounds like a really complete album to me It's a great collection of songs. "Strangeways..." I really like because of sentimental reasons, because it was a blast making it, not the stressful scenario the media seem to think it was."
You did that in Bath, didn't you?
"Yeah, it's a beautiful place, which was great. The studio (The Wool Hall) was the same place Tears For Fears did the "Songs From The Big Chair" album and there was a great pub down the road called The Woolpack, which featured outside studio hours."
Yup, think I get your drift there. But in terms of your own performance on The Smiths' records, which are the tracks that you're particularly proud of now?
"That's a tough one, but certainly "The Queen Is Dead" for the energy and attack and also a number of tracks from "Meat Is Murder," like "The Headmaster Ritual", "Rusholme Ruffians" and "Barbarism Begins At Home". I suppose they're the obvious ones, because the basslines are prominent (laughs), but I am still proud of those songs."
One of the things people miss out on with The Smiths - in my mind anyway - is the diversity of the material and the funkiness. The likes of "London," "How Soon Is Now" and "The Queen Is Dead" are hardly traditional jangly pop, are they?
"No, I agree with you there," nods Andy.
"I think a lot of the funkiness came from Johnny (Marr) and myself and our background. We were experimenting a lot in....well, I hesitate to call it jazz funk, but in those days it meant something different, things like A Certain Ratio, things that were much more hard-edged."
How about your own influences as a bassist. Who would you have rated in the early days: jazz funk players like Stanley Clarke, maybe?
"Yeah, I bought "School Days", but also things like Level 42, though I suppose I should whisper that now as well," Andy jokes.
"But when I was growing up, I was definitely trying to push the bass to its' limits, almost in a masturbatory kind of way. One of the things I've learnt from being in bands over the years is to pull back a bit more. It's often more a case of what you don't play than what you do. I really believe that."
Do you feel your style of playing has altered since The Smiths?
"Probably, yeah," Andy replies. "The big difference is that I don't use a plectrum anything like as much, and back in the day that was a big part of my sound. I don't really know why, actually, except that I think I've been conscious of it and I maybe thought other bands I've played in would think I was trying to emulate what I did with The Smiths if I played exactly the same way."
"I've always been keen to experiment, though," he continues.
"In terms of contemporary bass players, I don't particularly rate specific people, but certain basslines really do stick in my head. For example, "House Of Jealous Lovers" by The Rapture, that's really cool. Superb."
OK, let's talk a little about your career post-Smiths. You collaborated with Sinead O'Connor for a while and I think even co-wrote with her. How did that come about?
"Yeah, literally a month after The Smiths finished, I got a call from a guy called Fachtna O'Kelly, who was Sinead's manager," Andy explains.
"I went on tour with her and we travelled all over the place, bizarrely supporting INXS of all people. I really enjoyed it, though, She has an amazing voice and she's an incredible performer. I did a bit of co-writing, yeah, including the B-side of "Nothing Compares 2U"...pity it wasn't the A-side I'd co-written!"
One of the other incidents that's always mystified me is the business of you joining - and then just as abruptly leaving - Killing Joke. I seem to remember they let you go for being "too miserable or some such thing. What was the real story?
"No, I left of my own accord,"
says Andy, happy to set the record straight.
"I was very friendly with John Reynolds (Sinead O'Connor's first husband and her drummer) and the Killing Joke thing was his idea. He told me he'd organised a job for us as the new KJ rhythm section."
"I must confess I wasn't really into the idea, but gave it a go. We both auditioned, but the results were a disaster. John was rejected, but they took me on. I did try to do it, I moved to London with them, but I couldn't hack it at all."
Was it a lifestyle thing?
"Yeah, I mean, they started their day with a half bottle of whiskey for breakfast and it went form there. Also, (KJ guitarist) Geordie had the loudest amp stack I've ever heard. I don't think me hearing's ever fully recovered!"
"So," he continues, "we did this photoshoot for the NME to say I was joining the band, but there wasn't any communication and I didn't get paid for a month and I couldn't stick it, so I rang to tell them I was leaving two days before the NME news item came out. It got published with a cross across my face and they made up this story that I was too boring so they got rid of me."
Blimey. Still at least you didn't get the chopped liver across the desk treatment from Jaz Coleman, like he did to one journalist he didn't like.
"Actually, they were nice fellas," says Andy very reasonably, "but there was an undercurrent with them, someting threatening beneath the surface."
What happened after that?
"Basically I got married and pretty much zoned out of music for a few years," Andy replies.
"I got involved again with a few projects during the mid 1990s, like Delicious (with Gaz Whelan, formerly of the Happy Mondays)."
That was a hotly tipped band at the time, but it seemed to disappear. What happened with that one?
"We were the subject of a lot of interest with various A&R people, but a year passed and a lot of interest slowly faded and we didn't get signed and it gradually fizzled out. I think A&R men should be renamed Um And Ah men...that would be closer," says Andy, jokily enough, but with a definite aftertaste.
Delicious came along during the whole 'Britpop' thing. What did you make of the whole scene and Oasis etc?
"I thought it was a really good time to be honest," says Andy.
"It was a really healthy scene. People got excited and cared about music again, though I think that's the way it goes anyway, y'know - you get peaks and valleys, with every five or six years a new peak coming along. I think it's on a bit of an upswing again at the moment with bands like Franz Ferdinand."
I know you were involved in Aziz with Aziz Ibrahim (breifly ex-Stone Roses) and Mike (Joyce) played with you again there. Did the two of you always keep in touch?
"Yes, very much so," affirms Andy. "We've been involved in a number of projects, though some of them were smaller. We were in a band called Spector for a while, which had a lot of potential, but the singer was a bit of a nutter. That's the way it goes, though, some things never get off the drawing board."
In more recent times, you toured with Badly Drawn Boy's band. Did you record with him?
"No, I didn't actually," reveals Andy.
"I toured the world and elsewhere with him though. We did Japan, Europe, America. He'd just done "Have You Fed The Fish?", but he (Damon Gough) likes to use different people on record and then on tour, because he likes a different slant on his songs live."
He's using Sean McCann (ex-Audioweb) on his new album...
"Yeah, Sean was the bassist before me in Badly Drawn Boy's band as well. He's a good musician, but a totally different style to me, very dub-heavy."
Now you're working - with Mike - in Vinny Peculiar's band. How did you get acquainted with Vinny. His two recent albums are both superb...
"Yeah, they're great," replies Andy.
"My mate who does his label's website (Shadrack & Duxbury) asked me to get involved and I saw Vinny live and was well impressed. I suggested to Mike he come down to check Vinny out the next time and that was it. We made a pact there and then to join his band. He has brilliant songs, and it's amazing they sound so great as he made those albums on a shoestring."
Vinny tells me you hope to record shortly. Have you been involved in a lot of new material over the last few months?
"Yeah, but it's still early days," says Andy.
"It's sounding good for sure. It's a bit more raw sounding. It's definitely the intention to keep things up and quite poppy."
Of course, aside from making music, you're getting quite a reputation for DJ-ing. Before we go, tell us more about this. Is this getting to be a regular thing and do you have a club night?
"It's certainly getting to be a regular thing," says Andy.
"It's gettng a bit out of hand. I even have an agent to deal with it now. I've been to Greece, Barcelona and toured America with Mike (Joyce). That was great and a totally different medium. Loads of Smiths fans came along to get CDS signed and so on. It was the first tour we've done without a tour manager to wipe our bottoms and it was great."
"I do a regular night in Manchester too," he continues.
"It's at a place called the Fab Cafe in Portland Street. It's a weird place, all sci-fi theme, decor with Thunderbirds all over and there's a Dalek in there!"
Crikey. It's not tried to exterminate you then?
"No!" laughs Andy. "It better not neither. I'm supposed to be DJ-ing at Glastonbury shortly!"