EAR CANDY MAG - February 2012

Interview with Craig Gannon

By Sean Koepenick

Craig Gannon’s music career has some very intriguing twists and turns, going back to the early 1980’s music scene in England. Although he first came to prominence as a member of Aztec Camera and later The Smiths, he has worked with many other artists. Edwyn Collins, Black Grape, and Alison Moyet are just a few that are not discussed in the interview below. In 2007 he also composed all the music for the Inside The Smiths DVD, which featured Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke’s take on the band. Currently Craig is busy composing music for numerous film and TV projects in the UK. Craig was kind enough to take time out for this interview touching on these and many other subjects as well.

EC: What bands/artists were your favorites when you first start listening to music?

Craig: The first music I remember hearing was from either my parents or aunt and uncles record collection, in there was The Beatles, Native New Yorker by Odyssey, Me and Mrs. Jones by Billy Paul, Enter the Dragon soundtrack by Lalo Schifrin, Burt Bacharach, Tubular Bells, a record called Big Terror with covers of all the themes from Blockbuster features of that time, Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack, some John Barry Bond stuff, Jaws soundtrack by John Williams, Out Of The Blue by ELO, Mamas and the Papas, and T.Rex stuff. This must have been mid 70's. A little later I got into The Clash, The Stranglers, and The Buzzcocks etc and listened to those bands until my next phase which was The Monochrome Set, Orange Juice, Aztec Camera and The Pale Fountains. The Beatles stuck with me to this day and that Enter The Dragon soundtrack and John Barry music was a big influence on me later with regards to my composing for film. I actually still love all those records apart from T.Rex who I never liked.

EC: Was the guitar the first instrument you picked up?

Craig: Yes, apart from piano in music class and the recorder in infant school!

EC: When did you play in your first band and what type of music was it?

Craig: As soon as I started playing the guitar at I think about eleven or twelve years old I started forming bands. This was with friends who were also either learning to play either guitar or bass and drums. I think the first band we started was basically pretty much influenced by The Clash, The Stranglers and The Buzzcocks.

EC: How did you end up becoming a member of Aztec Camera?

Craig: Around the start of 1983 Aztec Camera were looking for a guitarist and they put an ad in Melody Maker. I thought why not go for it, I've got nothing to lose and I was a big fan anyway. I responded to the ad and I was then invited down to London for an audition. After being held up for hours on the way down I was the last one to arrive at the auditions which had been going on all day. I saw Roddy a few weeks ago and we were talking about that day and he said they'd auditioned loads of guitarists and none of them were quite right, some were great players but didn't look right and vice versa. He said that when I turned up, met them and played everything felt right for them and we got on straight away. The asked me there and then to join the band and it goes without saying that was fantastic for me.

EC: What was your favorite studio experience with that band?

Craig: As soon as I joined the band the first thing we did was a radio session back up in Manchester. As that was the very first thing I was involved in with a professional band I'd say that was my first favorite experience.

EC: What was the most memorable show you played with Aztec Camera?

Craig: Well, there are lots of great memories from Aztec Camera gigs for various reasons. On a purely musical level I think it would probably be when we played in a club called the Danceteria in New York in 1983. We played New York a few times in clubs or supporting Elvis Costello at the Pier which was a big arena. The night we played at the Danceteria felt really special as there was a buzz about Aztec Camera coming over for the first time and people over there had started picking up on the band. Obviously we were all in a great mood being in New York for the first time and we actually stayed in New York a lot that summer. It was pretty late by the time we were due on at the Danceteria and we played a great gig. It was an incredible time for me as I was only sixteen and just a few months before I'd been in school. Incidentally that was also the night I met Madonna as she was dancing and miming upstairs and we shared a dressing room, she wasn't famous at that point.

Memorable in a totally different way...We were playing somewhere in Europe, maybe Switzerland or Austria and in the soundcheck I was having a laugh with one of my guitars which was a big green Gretsch. I lengthened the strap as long as it would go and started playing the guitar around my knees like Peter Hook. By the time of the gig I'd forgotten all about it and during one of the songs Roddy snapped a string so he needed to change guitars, I must have been playing acoustic in the song so the Gretsch was a spare, guess which guitar he picked up! He put my Gretsch on and, Roddy's not a big guy, the guitar was almost to his ankles and he was struggling to play but being such a pro he didn't stop the song. The chords to Aztec Camera songs are complex enough without having to cope with a low slung guitar. I was watching all this while I was playing until finally at the end of the song he took off the guitar and threw it right across the stage crashing out of sight. As soon as we came off stage Roddy was so apologetic saying he'll buy me a new one if it was wrecked, he didn't need to, it was fine.

EC: Can you describe how you would later work again with Roddy Frame?

Craig: We lost touch a bit over the years as occasionally happens in bands. We met again a couple of times in the late 80's but then didn't really keep in touch until I got a call from him in 1998. He'd just recorded his first solo album called The North Star and was putting a band together to tour it and he wanted me to join on guitar. By the way, Aztec Camera were a band that by nature always had changing musicians with some staying longer than others and Roddy was Aztec Camera anyway. We toured the album and did a few TV shows and a couple of radio sessions. Anyway, we just got on together like it was 1983 again remembering that we were so young and foolish in those early days! We've been friends again ever since and haven't lost touch this time.

EC: What was your experience like in The Bluebells?

Craig: Shortly after I'd been in Aztec Camera I played with The Colourfield for a TV show called The Tube in 1984 and then again a couple of years later just before I joined The Smiths. At this time at the start of 1984 I got a call from Robert from The Bluebells asking if I'd be interested in joining the band so I went to meet them, liked them all and ended up joining. They were based in Glasgow so I spent a lot of time up there. We did loads of recording, TV, and gigs all over Europe and there were some good times. I enjoyed playing with them, especially for the first year but by the second year I was starting to think I should be doing something else as my heart wasn't really in it. I liked everyone who was in the band which was Robert, David, Ken and Neil but I was also treated like dirt by a couple of people who were associated with them so that was a big downside for me. By the second year I ended up leaving but was asked back a little later which I did only to leave permanently by the end of 1985.

EC: Do you have a favorite Bluebells song that you worked on?

Craig: Yes, it was a song called “Will She Always Be Waiting” which was on their first and only album, I thought that was a good song.

EC: What did you think when you first entered a rehearsal room with The Smiths?

Craig: If I'm being honest I was quite nervous. Not just because this was The Smiths necessarily but more to do with the fact that I was put in a situation with four strangers and in those days I was pretty shy and introverted. I was still like that until probably my mid twenties when I suddenly found my confidence. In the first rehearsal they did everything they could to make me comfortable though and as soon as we all played together I thought “Wow, this really is a fantastic band.”

EC: Did you ever play bass on any sessions, or was it always guitar?

Craig: I never touched the bass at all and I was never asked to. The first time I met Johnny he sounded me out to see if I'd be interested in replacing Andy on bass so it's true that was the first offer but that's as far as that went. I've said it many times and some people still don't seem to want to believe it but I was asked to join The Smiths as a guitar player and I joined as a guitar player. It wasn't an afterthought of Johnny to stick me over on guitar as some people want to believe, it was planned and there were definite reasons for it. Since then I usually play bass on my own music and sometimes other peoples but I was and am a guitar player.

EC: What were some of the most memorable shows you played with The Smiths?

Craig: There are a lot really. Again there's memorable as in great shows and memorable where things happened that I remember more than the actual gig. One of the gigs I do remember being great was at the London Palladium. This was just before the end of my time with The Smiths but I remember that was a great gig. There were a few famous names in the dressing room afterwards who thought it was a great gig but I don't want to start name dropping! The gig at the Greek Theatre in San Francisco was amazing as well. Actually the Salford gig was one I'll never forget. Everything about it was special and it was also in my home town! Basically most of the gigs were really good and the gigs not being so good would be because of something like sound problems onstage. I remember one gig somewhere in the Midwest I didn't enjoy because one of my amps was distorting so it was more that type of thing that'd ruin it for me but that didn't happen often.

EC: Do you remember the largest audience you played for while in The Smiths?

Craig: That could have been the San Francisco gig which I think held maybe nine thousand or it could have been the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles where we played two nights. I remember walking onto the stage of that San Francisco gig like it was last night and was blown away not just by the size of the crowd but by the enthusiasm coming from them as well, it was incredible.

EC: What work in the studio are you most proud of during your time in The Smiths?

Craig: Probably the first recordings I did which were the sessions for “Panic”, “The Draize Train” and “Sweet and Tender Hooligan.” The song I'm most proud of my playing, maybe “Panic”.

EC: When were you called back by Morrissey to play with him solo?

Craig: That would have been around Autumn 1989.We rehearsed and recorded what was planned to be the follow up album to Viva Hate with Stephen Street writing and producing but unfortunately that never came out although I think a few tracks have been released on compilations.

EC: Did you then do a fair amount of touring with Morrissey?

Craig: No, it was just that first live gig at Wolverhampton Civic Hall. There are reasons too long to go into as to why I didn't carry on.

EC: What song from Morrissey solo’s work are you most happy with your playing?

Craig: I haven't actually heard the tracks we recorded for a while but maybe “Michael's Bones”, “Interesting Drug”, or “Such a Little Thing Makes Such a Big Difference.” We recorded around 12 or 13 songs I think, maybe a couple more but those songs I remember stuck in my mind. I've got all the session tapes somewhere so maybe I should dig them out.

EC: What was your favorite live show playing with Morrissey?

Craig: I only did one (as did Mike & Andy) but it's the one that has gone down in history! It was the first ever Morrissey solo gig at Wolverhampton Civic Hall. It was unbelievably chaotic because as soon as we got onstage there were stage invasions. Morrissey was pushed and pulled and unable to sing much and my guitar lead was constantly being pulled from my guitar and my pedals were flying around making it really hard to play until either myself or the roadies could get things sorted out again. You can probably hear big gaps if you hear a tape of the gig. There were also long gaps between songs as the roadies had to get my gear back in working order again. It was good fun though and the crowd were brilliant if a little bit acrobatic!

EC: Have you had any recent contact with either Morrissey or Johnny Marr?

Craig: I've not had any contact with Morrissey for years. I think the last time I saw him was at his flat in Altrincham around 1989 when we met to talk about writing together. At that point I'd also written a song he'd written lyrics to which he wanted to release as his next single. Johnny and I have been in touch in recent years via email which was nice.

EC: You also played with some former Smiths members in The Adult Net. What was that project like?

Craig: I really enjoyed that period. Mike and Andy were involved at the very start and it was them who put my name forward to join but the three of us only did a few rehearsals and one gig with Brix Smith who's band it was. The project started moving properly when Brix had a deal to do an album and needed to put a band together. She kept me on guitar but also the band included Blondie drummer Clem Burke and the album was produced by the legendary Craig Leon. I loved the rehearsals and recording for that and we recorded most of the guitars and vocals at Jimmy Page's house where we also stayed. Actually we also did a couple of videos for the singles which I've not seen for years.

EC: Can you describe your involvement with the Inside The Smiths DVD?

Craig: Obviously I knew Mike and Andy whose DVD it was but I was asked by the filmmakers Stephen Petricco and Mark Standley if I'd be interviewed for the film regarding my involvement in The Smiths. This was for an extra on the DVD which is how I preferred it as it was basically a film about Mike and Andy. They all knew of my background in writing music for film projects so they asked if I'd write a few tracks for the DVD which would be guitar based and not a million miles away from what someone interested in The Smiths music might like.

EC: What was your involvement with members of The Buzzcocks?

Craig: I'd known Steve Diggle since the mid 80's and we always got on really well. I think when I first met him his band was called Flag of Convenience. I was usually busy on one thing or the other but around 1989/90 I'd got a bit worn out by dealing with egos and wanted to get away from being in a band for a while which I did. Just after that time Steve asked me if I'd help him out on a few recordings and then he asked me to join the band which I did for a short period. It was always a pleasure working with Steve as he's so enthusiastic and professional and that's one of the reasons I did it.

EC: What band/artist would you most like to collaborate/write a song with?

Craig: Obvious names would be Paul McCartney or Brian Wilson but that's too predictable. Maybe a guy called Andy Sturmer from a band called Jellyfish who was the drummer and lead singer/songwriter. He along with Roger Manning wrote some fantastic songs while they were in Jellyfish. David Byrne from Talking Heads would also be great. To be honest I'll always love writing with Terry Hall, whether we will again who knows but we've had some great times writing together over the years.

EC: If you could form a supergroup tomorrow with you in it, who else would be members?

Craig: You mean for a conventional band? That answer would probably change everyday depending on my mood but today I'll say the late Billy Mackenzie from The Associates on vocals, Chris Sharrock on drums, Colin Moulding from XTC on bass and Roger Manning on keyboards.

EC: Why did Moondog One never get past the demo stage?

Craig: I actually had nothing to do with Moondog One. I did read somewhere that I was in that band but I don't know where that came from. Of course I know Mike and Andy and also Bonehead but I haven't got a clue why people thought I was involved.

EC: Can you describe some recent highlights from your work on TV and film music?

Craig: A recent highlight for me is the score to a feature documentary called R/Evolution which I've just finished. I think that's some of the best music I've written and every person involved from the production crew to the financial backers couldn't be happier with what I did. It makes a huge difference when people like what you do.

EC: What current bands/artists are favorites of yours today?

Craig: To be honest I don't really listen to many current bands or singer songwriters as I rarely hear anything great these days. I think too many songs sound like loads of other songs and current music is so unimaginative and basically, it's usually all variations on a theme that's been done a lot better before. I'm not saying I haven't occasionally been involved in some substandard stuff over the years, I have but there is so much brilliant music in existence that I'm rarely impressed by most new music. Getting back to your question, I listen mostly to film composers who in my opinion are writing some of the best music around, people like Jerry Goldsmith, Ennio Morricone, Thomas Newman, Leonard Rosenman, John Barry, Lalo Schifrin, Gabriel Yared, Bernard Herrmann, John Williams and loads of other less known names, basically the best film composers. I also listen to quite a bit of classical music and I suppose that'd be mostly Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Bela Bartok, Ravel, Mahler etc. For 'pop' music it'd still be The Beatles, The Monochrome Set's first three albums, Jellyfish, XTC, Love, Brian Wilson, Neil Young, David Axelrod sometimes, The Pale Fountains, The Mamas and the Papas, Pink Floyd, Miles Davis/Gil Evans occasionally. I like Goldfrapp's first album and I like quite a lot of Air's music. A lot of the time I like things that are unconventional, sometimes quirky or odd music but I listen to anything good.

EC: Any new and upcoming projects you can talk about?

Craig: Having just finished the score for R/Evolution which I was busy on for quite a few months I had a break over Christmas and am now getting ready to go full on again. We're looking at a few projects in the near future and things are looking good. I'm also just about to be added to the roster of a fantastic film composer's agency-Oticons based in Europe so I'm really excited about that.

EC: Thank you for your time!

Craig: You're welcome!

Selected Discography:

With The Bluebells-

  • Sisters-1984
With Edwyn Collins & Paul Quinn-
  • “Ain’t That Always The Way” (single)-1985
With The Smiths-
  • Various singles: “Panic,” “Half A Person,” “London,” “You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby,” “Golden Lights,” “Ask,” “Sweet and Tender Hooligan,” ”Is It Really So Strange?” ‘The Draize Train.”-1986
  • Rank-(Live)-1988
With Morrissey-various singles:
  • “Michael’s Bones,” “Lucky Lisp,” “Such A Little Thing Makes Such A Big Difference,” “Interesting Drug,” “The Last of The Famous International Playboys,” “The Bed Took Fire.”-1989
With The Adult Net-
  • Honey Tangle-1989
With Robert Lloyd-
  • Me and My Mouth-1990
With The Blue Orchids:
  • Diamond Age (single)-1991
  • A View From The City-1991
  • Secret City (EP)-1991
  • The Sleeper-2003 (recorded in 1993)
With Buzzcocks/FOC-
  • “Wallpaper World”-single From Best of Steve Diggle and Flag of Convenience-The Secret Public Years-1981-1989 (released 1994)
With Terry Hall-
  • Home-1995
  • Laugh-1997
  • Singles: “Forever J,” “Ballad of a Landlord,” “No No No,” and “I Saw The Light.” (guitar and string arranger)
With Denise Van Outen-
  • “Take That Look Off Your Face.”-(single)-2003
With Vinnie Peculiar:
  • The Fall and Rise of Vinnie Peculiar-2006 (Guitar, string and brass arranger)