Learning that Andy Rourke has passed away was a sad start to my day. He was 59…..seven months younger than me…..and in terms of the greatest 80s band of them all, he’s the first of the gang to die.
The increasingly divisive and racist behaviours of Morrissey over recent years have led me to refrain from knowingly playing and listening to records by The Smiths. It’s a behaviour that has been ridiculed and criticised by a number of visitors to TVV, but I know that I’m not alone in having such an embargo. And like many others, I’ll be doing something about it, even if it proves to be just for today as it would be churlish not to pay tribute to the talents and contributions of the late bassist. I’m guessing that the first track many will reach for is this:-
mp3 : The Smiths – Barbarism Begins At Home
My introduction to Barbarism Begins At Home would have come on the first time I saw the band when they played the Queen Margaret Union at Glasgow University in March 1984. The debut album was not long out, and the set list drew almost entirely from it and the early singles/b-sides. But there was one totally unknown song, one that was much longer than most of the rest of the set-list. I don’t recall Morrissey saying anything about its title, and if he did, none of those who were together at the overcrowded, sweaty and intense gig, picked it up. One of my flatmates said we should just refer to it as the dancey one.
Turns out, we were right, as many years later I was sent a CD with a copy of that show from a recording made by a local radio station:-
mp3 : The Smiths – Barbarism Begins At Home (live, QMU, 2 March 1984)
A few weeks later, the band debuted the song to those who hadn’t been fortunate to catch them on the recent tour:-
It was a Friday evening. It was The Tube, the weekly live music show that was broadcast between 5-7pm on Channel 4. I always made sure to be back home visiting my parents whenever that show or Whistle Test on BBC 2 was being aired for the simple reason that I wanted to capture things on VHS tapes.
I went back to my own student flat later in the evening, where I was greeted with the question, ‘Did you get it?’. Everyone had watched it in absolute awe – and to be fair, it was as much for the breathtaking performance of Hand In Glove as much as this new song, which we still didn’t know the name of as there was no mention on The Tube and there was no caption provided. When I said that I had, the decision was taken there and then to club resources and go hire a VHS machine for the flat, which arrived with a few days. No need to ask what was the first thing watched…….
A few years later, when Andy and Mike Joyce launched their court action against Morrissey and Johnny Marr for a greater share of the performance and recording loyalties, I said to a friend and fellow band devotee that they were sure to win – all they had to do was play the judge that clip from The Tube.
As history shows, Andy settled quickly for a relatively small sum in the grand scheme of things, while Mike Joyce went all the way and emerged not only with a large lump sum, but a share in things going forward. An illustration of how bad the settlement was for Andy is that he ended up being declared bankrupt in 1999, an unthinkable situation for someone who once had more money he could ever have imagined would come his way growing up in working-class Manchester.
It was another example of life giving Andy Rourke an unfair kicking. Some would say that he brought some of it on himself, blaming it on his use of heroin, which led to him being sacked from the band, albeit it was really done as a warning shot as he was brought back in after just a few weeks but having been subjected to all sorts of tawdry headlines in the music and mainstream press.
His decision to play on Morrissey recordings, and be part of his live band in the wake of the split of The Smiths in 1987, cost him his friendship with Johnny Marr, which had begun the best part of a decade before they became members of the same band. They wouldn’t reconcile for almost 20 years, with the spark being when the guitarist agreed to be part of a Manchester v Cancer charity event that the bassist had organised.
Andy’s bass playing was part of what really came to define the very best of indie music across the 80s, setting a template for many who would follow. His skills remained in demand throughout the years and as well as being part of the early Morrissey bands, he would tour with The Pretenders, Badly Drawn Boy, Killing Joke and Ian Brown. He would also form new bands with Manchester based musicians, including Freebase alongside Mani and Peter Hook, albeit Andy played guitar. There was one album, It’s A Beautiful Life, released in 2010.
mp3: Freebase – The God Machine
In later years, after moving to live and work as a DJ in America, he formed D.A.R.K., a trio alongside New Yorker Ole Koretsky , with lead vocals supplied by Dolores O’Riordan, who was most famous through her time with The Cranberries. Their sole album was released in 2016.
I hope I’ve managed to demonstrate that there was much more to the life and career of Andy Rourke than the few years he spent with The Smiths, albeit that is how at least 99.99% of music fans will come to remember him.
It was Johnny Marr, through social media, who broke the news of Andy’s death. His words really say it all:-
“It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of Andy Rourke after a lengthy illness with pancreatic cancer. Andy will be remembered as a kind and beautiful soul by those who knew him and as a supremely gifted musician by music fans.”