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Saturday 20 May 2023

Andy Rourke

The awful, sad news yesterday that Andy Rourke had died of pancreatic cancer aged just 59 stopped me in my tracks. He was a local lad, growing up in Ashton on Mersey just up the road from here and in bands with Johnny Marr from a young age. Johnny recruited him for The Smiths. Later on he lived in Chorlton and was a regular in various pubs and bars there and in town. He always seemed like a lovely man. The Smiths hit me hard in the 80s, c1986, and still can when I hear them now, songs and performances first heard in my teens that can cross the decades and drop me back in 1987, a bequiffed seventeen year old with The Queen Is Dead, Hatful Of Hollow or Strangeways blasting out of my bedroom ghettoblaster. 

Whatever the importance of Morrissey and Johnny Marr to the band there's no doubt, whatever some might say, that the other two, Andy and drummer Mike Joyce, were absolutely essential to their sound, their image and their songs. Andy's bass playing is propulsive, melodic and dynamic, much more than just a bass player following the root notes and playing with the drummer. By the time Meat is Murder came out the band were stretching out musically and the basslines and the bottom end are as important as the words and the guitars. On this session version of Rusholme Ruffians Andy's rockabilly bassline opens the song and provides the twang and the railway rhythm. 

Rusholme Ruffians (Peel Session)

Meat Is Murder is a full sounding, urgent, wide ranging album. On Barbarism Begins At Home, while Morrissey yelps and Johnny riffs, Andy is playing a lead funk bassline ripped from New York's discos and relocated to south Manchester, at the heart of the song and a million miles from the jingle jangle their detractors claimed they were (and never really were anyway), as this live version of Barbarism Begins At Home in 1984 at Queen Margaret Union in Glasgow makes perfectly clear. 

Barbarism Begins At Home (Live at QMU) 

This two song set from The Tube in April 1987 lives long in the memory, the late period Smiths in full flight, Sheila Take A Bow and Shoplifters Of The World Unite- and don't they look great. 

Andy Rourke RIP. 


Anonymous said...

I missed out on The Smiths, I was 13 when they split, and only knew them in the negative. My sister used to refer to the "weirdo's in black" at school who had The Smiths scrawled on their bags. Via Morrissey's eary solo stuff I quickly became besotted with them. Under the words and guitar Andy and Mike were a two-headed behemoth of a rhythm section. I still feel the hairs on my kneck stand up when I hear Andy's fingers quite clearly slide (caress?) up and down the neck of his bass in the intro and outro of Well I Wonder. I'll definitely be spending a great deal of time this weekend revisiting The Smiths, the early Morrissey he appears on and his Sinead O'connor work. Gone far, far too early but that music really is eternal - Michael

Nick L said...

I was with them right from day 1. They were my and my mates' band from start to finish and the fact that Andy Rourke died from the same cancer that has my best mate from that time currently in its grip hit me harder than I first realised yesterday.
Initially The Smiths were much more of a "quiff" band in their style than people remember nowadays. Rockabilly was quite a big thing at the time but the band's musical pallette was to develop far beyond that. However they could always pull off a return to the rockabillyish/skiffly sound with skill and dexterity, (see Rusholme Ruffians, Vicar In A Tutu etc) much.of it due to Rourke's fluid and nimble basslines. For me though, his best examples were the title track of The Queen Is Dead, and of course, what amounts to a funk workout on Barbarism Begins At Home. RIP.

Khayem said...

Beautifully put, Adam, thank you.