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Beef Of The Week #389: Some Smiths v An Orchestra

By | Published on Friday 26 January 2018

Classically Smiths

Some things are too easy to mock. Some things are so easy to mock that you mock them even though you don’t really want to. I mean, creatively speaking, there are definitely merits in partnering up the rhythm section of a classic band with an orchestra. But when they go big on the “reunion” thing, even though the project centres on the two less well known members of the classic band – and a guy who joined them for a few months in the mid-80s – well, there are jokes that it would be a shame to waste.

And so, when images emblazoned “Rourke. Joyce. Gannon” started to be shared online last weekend, it was too easy to smirk. A better starting point might have been to just announce the show itself in one go, without the build up teaser. Even better than that would have been to make absolutely sure that Andy Rourke was indeed planning to take part.

I’m getting ahead of myself a bit, but I’m sure you already know what I’m talking about. On Monday morning, it was announced that Smiths bassist Andy Rourke, drummer Mike Joyce and guitarist Craig Gannon (the latter being the one who was only a member of the band for a matter of months) would appear as part of a new show featuring orchestral versions of Smiths songs, under the name Classically Smiths.

The orchestra in question was the Manchester Camerata Orchestra, which is probably best known for its Hacienda Classical show. That too had an official endorsement, by way of the involvement of Hacienda DJs Graeme Park and Mike Pickering.

Shows like this have been growing in popularity in recent years, and while the involvement of someone with an actual connection to the music being reinventing is by no means a requirement, such alliances probably help garner interest. Also, since Pete Tong got in on the action with his Ibiza Classics show, it’s possible that expectations for these events have been raised – ie nostalgia only works if someone notable who was there first time round is on board.

Anyway, despite the urge to make fun of it all, as I say, I think that having the rhythm section of The Smiths performing while an orchestra handles the melodic side does sort of make sense. And if Morrissey and Johnny Marr were there (unlikely, I know, but if they were) it would be a very different kind of show.

All three of the band members involved with Classically Smiths were quoted in a press release for the concerts, Rourke apparently saying that he was “THRILLED” about it all. Unfortunately, no one seems to have told Rourke that that was how he was feeling, because another statement was quickly issued by him directly saying otherwise.

“I am deeply saddened that during the week of the death of my dear friend Dolores O’Riordan, that false statements are made on my behalf”, he wrote. “At no time did I give my consent for anyone in connection with this Classically Smiths project to act on my behalf or my name and nothing was ever confirmed, approved or contracted by me or my team”.

A rep for the bassist also told Pitchfork: “Andy Rourke was never officially confirmed to take part in, license or authorise the use of his name for the Classically Smiths concert. The production company had hoped Andy Rourke would be a part of the project, but at no time was it approved by Andy Rourke or his team”.

Despite these firm statements, there does seems to be some confusion over whether or not Rourke ever actually agreed to be involved. But we may never truly know what was or was not agreed behind the scenes. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Whatever, with Rourke out, Mike Joyce quickly announced his departure from the project too.

“It is with much regret that I have to announce that I will not be taking part in the show Classically Smiths”, he said. “I entered into agreement in good faith to perform these shows with the production company and Craig Gannon. Andy was asked originally but I wasn’t informed that he had passed on this project. Unfortunately it became apparent that Andy would not be taking part and was never a part of this”.

So, as far as Joyce is concerned, Rourke had indeed never been a part of the project, but he himself only discovered this fact just as the shows were due to be announced.

He went on: “I agreed with Andy that I would take part in the press conference and inform people that he would not be taking part. Unfortunately on the morning of the press conference I was informed I would not be able to say this. I therefore agreed to take part in the press interviews but did so without discussing Andy’s participation in the venture at any point during all TV, radio and print interviews”.

With Rourke’s quote still included in the press release on Monday, this suggests that the production company behind the show – the slightly ironically named Bad Productions – was hoping to talk him round. Something, it’s now clear, Rourke was not amenable to.

Therefore, Joyce continued: “After much deliberation and soul searching I have decided that without Andy, an integral part of why I agreed to take part in the first place, I have come to this difficult decision. I still believe the shows and concept to be a fantastic idea and wish them all the success they deserve”.

So, there you go. Two of the three out, but the show’s very much still on. At least briefly. Until Gannon also announced his departure in a now deleted statement on Facebook. He – at least at that point – seemed to be convinced that Rourke had been on board for the project, before bailing late in the day.

“Five months ago myself, Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke all agreed to be a part of this project as the core three which was why it all went ahead”, he said. “Unfortunately Andy pulled out at the very last minute”.

He too confirmed that he and Joyce had been told not to mention Rourke’s lack of involvement at the press conference, saying that “the last thing we wanted was to mislead anyone”.

Concluding, he said: “This is disappointing as we were all really excited about putting on these shows. I for one have been working solidly on this project for the last five months and it’s a shame that it’s fallen apart in this way”.

Really, the key part of an orchestral show is the orchestra, so you’d think it could all have still gone ahead. Particularly as it clearly still had the endorsement of Joyce and Gannon. Although, I suppose, it having based its promotion heavily on their involvement (however briefly), the sudden lack of any Smiths on stage would possibly taint the show.

Whatever, by Tuesday teatime an email had arrived from Bad Productions’ Joel Perry confirming that all the concerts were off. It really is quite impressive for a show to collapse so spectacularly within 36 hours of being announced.

In its own statement, the Manchester Camerata Orchestra said: “As a Manchester orchestra, we were naturally delighted to be asked to take part in the Classically Smiths shows this summer. We were not involved in the contractual discussions between the production company and former members of The Smiths, so we’re as disappointed as the fans to find out that the shows will not be taking place”.

So there you go. Remarkably, all this still doesn’t take the record for the most short-lived Smiths reunion. That still goes to an agreement to reunite the band between Morrissey and Marr a decade ago, which seems to have lasted a matter of hours. Possibly minutes.