Andy Rourke obituary: A beautiful soul who created tunes within tunes

He once said he only wanted to play music. The Smiths arrived, and the rest was history

Born: January 17th, 1964.
Died: May 19th, 2023.

Andy Rourke, who has died aged 59, was a bass player with a distinctive melodic style. His musicianship was integral to the sound of The Smiths, the seminal Manchester band he played in from 1982 to 1987, along with singer Morrissey, guitarist Johnny Marr and drummer Mike Joyce. Rourke’s funky twangs were a key component of classic singles such as This Charming Man and William, It Was Really Nothing, and much-loved album tracks such as There Is a Light That Never Goes Out and The Headmaster Ritual. “I tried to do a tune within a tune. I wanted it to stand up on its own,” Rourke once said.

Rourke and Marr first took up guitars at school in 1975, jamming during breaks. They took their friendship and musical kinship into the charts and on to Top of the Pops in the band which, in 2002, NME voted the “most influential of the last 50 years”. Rourke played on all The Smiths’ classic albums – The Smiths (1984), Meat Is Murder (1985), The Queen Is Dead (1986) and Strangeways Here We Come (1987) – as well as 24 singles and other key releases such as the compilation Hatful of Hollow (1984).

Marr said Rourke would be remembered as a “beautiful soul by those who knew him and as a supremely gifted musician by music fans”. The Suede bassist Mat Osman remembered “playing the Barbarism Begins at Home riff over and over, marvelling at this steely funk driving the track along”. The pop singer Rick Astley, a more unlikely fan perhaps but who has performed entire sets of Smiths songs, noted that Rourke had “made time to chat” when the singer was a very young fan. The Franz Ferdinand singer Alex Kapranos said of Rourke: “Nobody else played like him. Those melodies that wove in and out of the singing, guitar and drums brought me so much joy.”

Born in Manchester, Rourke – the only member of The Smiths not of fully Irish descent – was one of four sons of an Irish father, Michael, an architect, and English mother, Mary (nee Stones). When he was seven, Rourke’s parents bought him the acoustic guitar he was still playing when a fellow St Augustine’s Catholic grammar schoolboy and Rolling Stones/Neil Young fan, Marr (then known as John Maher), suggested he try bass. Rourke learned by playing along to records such as David Bowie’s Low. Mary abandoned the family to move to Majorca when he was 11, and music (and cannabis) became Rourke’s escape from a sometimes quarrelsome family environment.


Marr and Rourke formed Freak Party with the future Fall drummer Simon Wolstencroft, but the band proved short-lived. “I think we got too funky for Johnny, who wanted to go somewhere else,” Rourke recalled in 2012. Marr’s “somewhere else” turned out to be meeting Morrissey and forming The Smiths. When the band’s original bassist, Dale Hibbert, did not work out, Rourke was invited in.

With Joyce already on board as drummer, the first time they played together they recorded demos of Handsome Devil and Miserable Lie, tracks that subsequently became classics. Within a year they reached the top 40 for the first time with their second single, the sublime This Charming Man (1983), which reached number 25, with Rourke’s gloriously fluid bassline – voted the 56th best of all time by Bass Player magazine – to the forefront. As more hits followed, the indie charts were flooded with soundalikes.

In 1986, Rourke was briefly sacked (by Morrissey) because of his heroin addiction, but he rejoined a fortnight later and played on Strangeways Here We Come, the final Smiths album before Marr quit the group. Rourke subsequently played on Morrissey’s solo releases including The Last of the Famous International Playboys and even co-wrote with the singer, but the various ex-Smiths’ relations deteriorated as Rourke and Joyce commenced legal proceedings against their former bandmates over royalties. Rourke settled out of court and, in 2006, he rejoined Marr on stage at the Manchester v Cancer concert, which the bassist had helped to organise.

Rourke’s impact as a member of The Smiths overshadowed his other substantial contributions. He appeared on Sinéad O’Connor’s classic 1990 album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, played with the Pretenders, Killing Joke and Ian Brown, toured with Badly Drawn Boy, formed Moondog One with ex-Oasis guitarist Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs and (between 2005 and 2010) was part of the three-bass-guitar band Freebass with Joy Division/New Order’s Peter Hook and the Stone Roses’ Gary “Mani” Mounfield. In 2016 he played in Dark, a band including the former Cranberries singer, Dolores O’Riordan.

In 2009 Rourke moved to New York, where he married Francesca Mor in 2012 and enjoyed a new life as a DJ on East Village Radio. In 2022 he unveiled another new band, Blitz Vega, and composed the music for the short film The Wrong Guy, directed by Alejandro Montoya Marín. Rourke’s final performance was with Marr’s band, when he joined them on stage in New York at Madison Square Garden in September 2022.

“I only wanted to play music,” he once said. “Eventually The Smiths arrived. We knew we had something special. The rest is history.” He is survived by Francesca.