I Was A Juvenile Axe-Attacker: Craig Gannon

From THE SMITHS to THE ADULT NET, THE BLUEBELLS to THE COLOURFIELD and not forgetting AZTEC CAMERA… CRAIG GANNON has played with them all, and he’s still only 23. LEN BROWN hoofs it up to the music capital of the North, Manchester, to catch Gannon and his own band THE FAMILY WAY perform at a Cog Sinister night.

MANCHESTER. Where the Saturday morning rain clog-dances on hung-over heads. Where folk are more likely to forget their trousers than their guitar cases. Where everybody is in at least three bands with someone called Craig.

And, usually, the Craig in question is Craig Gannon.

Imagine that Pete Frame bloke doing one of those family trees of Mancunian bands in the ’80s. How neat it is; The Smiths, The Fall, New Order, Easterhouse…all running in parallel lines. Then along comes Craig Gannon and Frame’s tidy chart gets ravelled up like a psychotic kitten with balls of wool.

“There’s only The Fall and New Order I’ve not yet joined,” Craig grins, like a silent movie comedian, over a fag and a cappuccino in Manchester’s Green Room.

Gannon is merely 23 so I wouldn’t bet against it.

You see all sortsin Manchester’s Britannia Hotel foyer. The wildly-pullovered Mark E Smith flits by, accompanied by crow-legged John Cooper Clarke, whose hair still resembles Davy Crockett’s hat gone wrong in the wash. Late into the night an (un)Happy Monday will tumble towards us. And at breakfast New Order’s grizzly Hooky disturbs residents with his hallucinogenic T-shirt.

For the present, I’ll have to make do with two retired American hippies and several swarthy Mancunians. Embarrassingly, the ‘hippies’ turn out to be production genius Craig Leon (fresh from The Adult Net mixing desk) and his sidekick Cassell Webb; the “swarthies”, more predictably, are the Family Way, incorporating Gannon, drummer Garry (with previous Easterhouse convictions), vocalist Steve (from Scarlet Town) and bassist Stuart from the pub.

Yes, The Family Way who – as if to prove the Mozz hasn’t bled ’60s cinema dry – take their moniker from the pudding club classic starring John and Hayley Mills.

“It’s always been one of my favourite films,” says Craig, “done round Bolton, A Kind Of Loving too. And I just like the sound of the Family Way, I think it suits us. Last time I had a band of me own was when I was 15, called Murders In The Garden.

“This is the first time I’ve really been happy with the music – apart from obviously The Smiths, who I still really like. But this is the music I’ve always been into, the guitar playing and the songs, it’s all coming together.

We can safely say that Craig Gannon’s been around a bit.

Aztec Camera, aged 16: “I just saw Roddy’s ad in NME. I didn’t want to do it but me brother egged me on, to go to the audition. l just went so I could meet them, learnt five songs and that was it, like. ‘Walk Out To Winter’…I stayed six months, did three tours. . .”

The Bluebells: “I was 17 and 18 with the Bluebells, pretty depressing really, having to live in Glasgow at that time. I really liked it at first, but I suppose I was waiting for something better to come along. In the end I had to leave…”

The Colourfield: ‘I played on The Tube with them, and toured again later, but I didn’t really enjoy it . . .”

The Smiths: “I joined just before The Queen Is Dead came out, beginning of ’86 and stayed for about eight months. I was gonna stand in to play bass (during Andy Rourke’s drug-induced illness) but it went really well with two guitars and Andy stayed on… I wasn’t a Smiths fan before, I liked the singles but I’d never heard their LPs. It went really well, I fitted in and they thought so too. I was just myself…”

The Adult Net: “Well, I’m not really in the Adult Net, I’ve just played with Brix (LP and single). When the Srniths split up, Brix got in touch with Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke and they needed a guitarist for that ICA gig…so I did it.”

Although Craig’s presence in the Smiths triggered off the accusations that the band were metamorphosing into the “New Rolling Stones” – the “nun-eating rock monsters” of ‘Panic’ and ‘London’ and, yes, ‘Rank’ (“with Craig Gannon: additional guitars”) – by the time the rot had set in, circa Strangeways…, he’d long gone.

“I was just really frustrated, it didn’t work out but things were going on in me head. I was getting really uptight about things…I just decided I’ve really got to get out of this.”

That there was no ill-feeling with Mobo became evident when Craig was recalled for Wolverhampton (December ’88) – “one of the greatest gigs I’ve ever played” – and ‘The Last Of The Famous International Playboys’ 45, which he regards as one of the best examples of his guitar skill. Also since the Smiths, en route to the Family Way, he played in ex-Easterhouse guitarist Ivor Perry’s The Cradle (‘It’s Too High’ on Rough Trade).

Why have you been in so many bands in such a short period of time? Is there something wrong with you or what?

“I know, too many…er, I’ve never really been happy before…er, I get restless I suppose…I really don’t know, haha.”

On the surface he’s a sane, salt-of-the-earth sort of bloke, Craig Gannon. And over the years he’s stood, half-smiling like Stan Laurel, modestly business-like in the background, while a host of rock godheads – Roddy Frame, Mobber, Brix, er, Terry Hall…– have cavorted before him. Not for him the gurns and thrusts and member-wielding guitar-grimaces of many of today’s rock’n’roll cowboys. Oh no.

“I don’t like guitar solos. I could do screeching Van Halen solos if I wanted to, or the Jimmy Page bit, but I’ve never really been into guitar playing like that. I know I can do it because I was into Heavy Metal when I was nine. I learnt all the solos, you remember that LP Axe Attack? Deep Purple were on it, UFO and the Scorpions – NANANGNANANGNANANGNANAI! – I really liked it at the time, but please don’t say. I was only nine…Something must’ve happened one day, probably fell downstairs and woke up listening to Axe Attack!

“I was into Tom Verlaine for a while, really good but a bit wacky. Verlaine played most of the solos but I preferred Richard Lloyd. I think my style’s very similar to Richard Lloyd. Yeah, Television, you can always tell them by the guitar styles… BANAWOYOINGG!! That was Verlaine. Richard Lloyd was more melodic, even though he was out of his head.”

Was it frustrating, given your reputation as a lead guitarist, playing second er, string to Johnny Marr in the Smiths?

“Everyone says that: you know, ‘Craig Gannon, rhythm guitarist’, but I was playing the same type of stuff as I am now! I hardly ever play just solid rhythm, when I played lead Johnny played rhythm, we just swapped around really.”

Freshly conceived, and with a cluster of loveable songs, The Family Way will no doubt have to co-exist with Craig Gannon’s various other projects. Although he seems less than enthusiastic about continuing with The Adult Net, it would be surprising if he’s not heard on record or stage with Morrissey during the next six months.

But what do the Family Way hope for? Sex? Drink? Drugs? Wealth? An NME front cover? – “we wouldn’t say no, like” – or just a single on Cog Sinister?

“Mark (E. Smith) said six months ago he’d like to put out a Family Way single but nothing’s really come of it so far.”

And is anyone in Manchester not in a band?

“Er, I don’t know anyone who isn’t, admits Craig, racking his brains.

“That’s Manchester,” adds Steve, “but there’s a lot of normal people in the suburbs.”

© Len BrownNew Musical Express, 18 March 1989

Leave a Comment