Andy Rourke RC interview - April, 2022

Text reproduction of his interview in "Record Collector presents: The Smiths" special (April 21, 2022).


It all began with a Neil Young badge pinned to his school blazer. In this brand new interview, Andy Rourke tells Lois Wilson about the call from an old mate that would change his life forever...

I met Johnny at school when I was 11. I was really into Neil Young at the time and he was wearing a Neil Young Tonight's The Night lapel badge. This was when everyone else seemed to be into Jethro Tull and heavy metal, so Neil Young was a conversation opener and pretty soon we were spending all our spare time together, either playing music or listening to music or talking about music. We formed a band together, Freak Party. It was me on bass, Johnny on guitar and funky Si Wolstenscroft on drums, and the music did get funky. The Clash's Sandinista! had just come out and we were jumping on that vibe. We rehearsed every night until kicking out time, we got stoned a lot and jammed a lot. They were good days, but we auditioned countless frontmen to no avail and eventually Johnny quit out of frustration as it became clear we weren't going anywhere.

Not long after he quit he called me up. He had a new band called The Smiths. Did I want to join. They'd already played their first gig at the Ritz in Manchester with Dale Hibbert on bass. Some mates of mine had gone along but I hadn't. I met up with Johnny, he said it didn't work out with Dale and he gave me a demo tape which had two songs on it - Suffer Little Children and The Hand That Rocks The Cradle. It wasn't what I was expecting but I could hear something great in there, something different and I really liked what Johnny was doing, The first recordings I did with The Smiths were the demos for Handsome Devil and Miserable Lie and these were done in the downstairs of a studio in Chorlton called Drone. That's when I first met Morrissey and Mike. When I got there, Mike was saring up his drums. He was chatty, easy to get on with. Then, as I was setting up Morrissey arrived, he introduced himself as Stephen, shook my hand then shuffled into the corner and started going through his bag of lyrics and sandwiches and stuff. People often called him aloof at that time, but I think he was painfully shy, he just wasn't used to meeting new people. Our first gig was at Manhattan Sound in Manchester (on 25 January 1983) and it was utter chaos. There was no stage, the sound was terrible, the audience were right in your face, virtually touching you and I was so nervous I really didn't enjoy it at all. But we played OK. James Maker introduced us. He was our go-go dancer. I wasn't comfortable with his role and I am pretty sure Mike and Johnny felt the same. It was an unnecessary distraction and I think it cramped Morrissey's style. There wasn't much scope for him when James was jumping around.

Johnny and I used to go to The Hacienda pretty much every night. In those days it was really quiet and it was freezing cold. People sat in their own corner. There was the drug dealing corner, the gay corner, the extrovert corner and when we got a gig there [on 4 February 1983] it felt like a big deal, and in many ways our first proper gig. We had monitors and a stage and a set list and Morrissey ordered a shit load of gladioli and he threw half out to the audience, and half he stuck in his back pocket and that became a thing and the boxes got bigger and bigger and his back pockets got bigger and bigger and eventually he had half a tree in there.

After that Hacienda gig, we really took off, there was no stopping us. We were a had total belief and we had a real "us versus them" attitude. Not being on Factory, there was a sense we stood apart from the other Manchester bands like A Certain Ratio, New Order, Durutti Column. We were our own separate thing.

I don't remember the exact point Steven became Morrissey but I know he first broke the news to Johnny and Johnny gave us the heads up we weren't to call him Steven or, worse still, Steve, which he hated. At first it was really awkward calling him Morrissey, and he'd get embarrassed and then he'd call me Rourke and I wouldn't be sure if we were to revert back to calling him Steven but eventually it became normal and we even got down to just Moz and Mozza.

Going on Top Of The Pops with This Charming Man was another big deal. I'd grown up listening to the Top 20 on the radio with my mum and it had been everything to me so I was overjoyed, we all were, but we were all nervous too. We went down to the studio. It was very surreal and we weren't prepared for the total fakeness of it - the miming, the fake audience dancing (and if they didn't dance they got thrown out). We went into the make-up room and we'd bought Marks & Spencer sweaters for the occasion and they said, "What are you going to be wearing for the show?" and we were like, "This is it." We went on in our black jeans and sweaters. We definitely stood out.

Ironically, Strangeways, Here We Come is my favourite album. It's the one on which we completely gelled. We had come of age and we were in our element and ready to take on the world and then of course we split up. There was no inkling Johnny was going to leave but in hindsight I can see the frustrations, but I was too busy getting on with my own thing to realise the gravity
of the situation. When he left the impact was huge and I think we were all traumatised and probably still are. No one knew how to react. I didn't know whether to call him or leave him alone. It was a really awful time, horrible. for everyone concerned.

Almost immediately after he left, Morrissey asked me and Mike to play on his solo stuff-a big kick in the eye for Johnny and it made me feel even more awkward about speaking to him. I felt like I had betrayed him so it was a long while before we spoke again. We had been best friends and then we weren't talking. I hadn't fallen out with him, but I felt guilty. It's not a time I fondly recall.

In The Smiths when we were getting songs together, Johnny already knew how the music would sound and he would play his guitar part. I would write the bass part and that was as far as my writing went. Morrissey brought out the songwriter in me. He believed I could do it and he made me believe I could do it and we ended up writing together. We started off with a blank page and a blank cassette and from that we wrote Yes, I Am Blind and Girl Least Likely To.

After Morrissey, there was Freebass (with Mani and Peter Hook) and D.A.R.K. I also wrote the music for Anthony Bourdain's Raw Craft TV series and worked with James Franco putting his poems inspired by The Smiths to music. I am currently playing in Blitz Vega with KAV from the Happy Mondays. We've got a single coming out this year called Strong Forever to be followed by an EP."

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'Song' comes from the same root as 'sing' - so the word essentially means a vocal melody/words. And that's why there's a word for music that doesn't have a vocal melody on top of it - 'instrumental'. Pretty simple to grasp. Even for you, I daresay.

And I remember having this discussion with you before, but you're evidently too thick to recollect the explanation. Morrissey doesn't write songs - he writes lyrics. He creates songs by singing a vocal melody over an instrumental. So, although it's more accurate to say that he creates songs, rather than writing them, the answer to your question is basically "No, Morrissey couldn't have created those songs without Marr". That's not the same as saying Marr co-wrote or co-created the songs. He didn't. He co-created the music with Rourke. Morrissey then used that music, and his lyrics, to create his vocal melodies. The lyrics and the vocal melody are what constitute a song, because they're its only essential components. Take away the music, and you still have the song. Take away the lyrics or the vocal melody, and you no longer have the song. So the song is the lyrics and the vocal melody. So no, Marr didn't write the songs. He co-created the music. That's what he deserves a credit for.
I think this discussion is completely obsolete. The magic between Marr`s guitar-playing and Morrissey`s voice, melodies and lyrics can not be separated that easily. Even in his best solo-moments the beauty of such masterpeices like "Heaven knows I`m miserable now" or "Girl Afraid" or "Back to the old house" could not be repeated by Morrissey. His melodies are dependent on the music and Johnny Marr defined the sound of the Smiths like Morrissey`s voice and unforeseeable construction of the vocal arrangement. How disappointed was I when I heard "Don`t make fun of Daddy`s voice" after all these fantastic B-sides of "You are the Quarry". It was then that Alain Whyte gradually left the picture. Some of his songs made Morrissey find the beauty he is capable of again, but Morrissey can not always be better than the SONGS he is given. His approach is unique, so was Johnny Marr`s songwriting. Together (with the huge melodic talent of Andy Rourke) they created music that stands out as something magical that could not be planned, it just happened and turned Morrissey and Marr into musical heroes that can not be separated that easily. Why should anyone try to do so?
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