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Date: 22/05/23

Requiem Bass

It's been a terrible week for those of us who are aficionados of great bass playing:

Photo of John Giblin

(Photograph: Eckhard Henkel at Wikimedia Commons,
published under the terms of the Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 DE licence.)

John Giblin
b. 26 February 1952, d. 14 May 2023

Two examples of John Giblin's talent should suffice to demonstrate his qualities as a musician, especially in the field of the fretless bass, where his virtuosity put him alongside such talents as his one-time Brand X bandmate Percy Jones and the late Jaco Pastorius.

The first is the instrumental April from Brand X's 1979 album Product. When I heard it at the time of its release, I realised fully - and probably for the first time - how beautifully melodic a bass could be in the right hands. It's the perfect closer for a very fine album indeed:

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His most prominent rôle however was as a session musician, and the list of his contributions to other people's work is extensive. Here's my own favourite (from one of the most memory-invoking songs that I know, linked inextricably in my recollections as it is to this experience), where he provides a fluid line to one of Kate Bush's greatest. Listen out especially for that descending figure in the second verse:

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Photo of Any Rourke

(Photograph: Luciane Gomes under the Creative Commons CC BY 2.0 licence)

Andrew Michael Rourke
b. 17 January 1964, d. 19 May 2023

For all their posturing front-men and flash guitarists, no rock band ever got anywhere without a tight, competent and solid rhythm section (*). In Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke, The Smiths had what it took.

Like two other great exemplars of the low notes, Geddy Lee and Lemmy, Andy Rourke was originally a guitarist, switching to bass when he joined the band and immediately finding his métier. That background gave him the freedom to be not just any old plonk-and-thump style rock bassist, but to give his playing an inventive fluency which perfectly set off his chum Johnny Marr's own distinctive style.

Again, just two examples should be enough to demonstrate this. Firstly, from The Smiths' classic single This Charming Man from 1983:

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Secondly, from 1985's Meat Is Murder album, Barbarism Begins At Home shows Rourke playing in a style not too far away from the sort of funk which the ever-bumptious Morrissey dismissed as 'discofied', although it's hard to see how any other style of playing would have worked as well:

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Thank you, gentlemen, from the bottom of our staves.

* Which is why all those people who say that 'The Who' performed at the end of the corporate whitewash-fest in London in 2012 are dead wrong. Townshend and Daltrey and some other guys played that gig; it could never be The Who without Moony and The Ox.