Phil Cunningham of Bad Lieutenant, New Order, and Marion

talks the latest tour, live acts, being in New Order, and playing Japan on Tuesday 30 March 2010

Guitarist Phil Cunningham of Bad Lieutenant, who has previously performed with New Order, and his own band Marion has just completed a series of live dates in the UK. Bad Lieutenant formed in 2007 with New Order's Bernard Sumner (guitar and Vocals) alongside Phil Cunningham (guitar) and Jake Evans (guitar and vocals). The bands debut album 'Never Cry Another Tear' was released in October last year. Built on the sainted heritage of New Order and Joy Division, Bad Lieutenant have a second single from the album called 'Twist Of fate' out now. eGigs asked him how it had gone.

You've just completed a run of gigs in the UK how did they go?
Really good actually. We did a few last year, two or three, and this year we've done a few more, five. We had a nice little run and really honed the set now into something, it's got a good balance of Bad Lieutenant stuff, as well as the luxury of playing a lot of Bernard's older tunes from Joy Division and New Order. So, we can make a really nice set out of the whole thing, and it seems to have gone down really well.

Do you get audiences wanting you to play more of the other two rather than Bad Lieutenant?
You're always going to get people who come wanting to hear the older stuff, but like I said we've got a really good balance now of a bit of everything. I think it's also important for Bernard, he's said in the past that his history is quite important to him, so there's no reason why he shouldn't play those older tunes. He's also done a fair bit of electronic stuff including a track that he's done with the Chemical Brothers, so there's a good mix of stuff.

It's been nice, it's often hard when you've done one album as a band. If we had just played the whole Bad Lieutenant record it would have been okay but there's quite a few mellow and low tempo tracks on the record which would make it hard to make a set out of it. It's been great to have the older tracks to fall back on and build a set out of.

How does this band set up differ from the previous bands you've been in?
I think the main thing really is that we have Jake(Evans) involved, another singer, and that makes a big difference. I think Bernard likes that, it enable him to just chill on a couple of songs and allow Jake to take the lead, and I think that adds a different dynamic into it, and makes it quite exciting if you're coming to watch us. The fact we also now have three guitarists, we didn't know initially how that would go, but it sounds pretty good actually.

From the debut album 'Never Cry Another Tear' which song do you most playing live?
Well, we're playing the singles 'Twist Of Fate' and 'Sink Or Swim' and we've been playing 'This Is Home' which goes down really well. We start the set with it, and Jake and Bernard both sing a bit on it, and 'Poisonous Intent' as well, that's in there.

You're off to the States next, any idea how you might be received over there?
Well, if it's anything like the last time when we went as New Order I think it's going to be great. We're also playing the Coachella festival which is always really good, and has a really good vibe there. It's quite an unusual place to play really because it's in the middle of the desert. I think it's in the middle of a polo ground, so it's got palm trees and all sorts going on. That's going to be a good one too I think. I think the audiences are always really good out there.

You've just mentioned Coachella, have you got any UK festival dates?
We've got about four or five other festivals but they haven't been announced, because they haven't officially said the bands, so we can't say, but one of them is in Ireland, we're playing the Electric Picnic, which is a good one, and we're doing quite a few other European ones. I think the Platt's Field gig is going to be a good one. Unkle are on the bill they are really good, I'm quite looking forward to seeing them actually.

Who is the best band in your opinion that you've seen live over the years?
Over the years you get to see bands that you wouldn't normally see because you're appearing at a festival or whatever, and that's a good way to see new bands, and I have to say I think it was Blur actually. Back in the nineties I managed to see them and they were really good at the time. But of bands I've made a conscious decision to see it would have to be Led Zeppelin, we (me, Bernard, and Jake) were lucky enough to get tickets to see them at that O2 show.

Who inspired you to be a musician?
That's going back a long way. I'm not sure it was one person, I just remember being a really young kid and seeing people playing the guitar on TV and just being interested in the guitar as an instrument, and wanting to do it. As I got more into music, various people inspired me. The fact that I was from Macclesfield meant that Joy Division had quite an impact on me because they were 10 or 15 years before I started, but just the fact they were from the same town inspired me. I thought if they'd made this fantastic music then I would have a shot at doing it myself.

Did you ever think you'd end up sharing the stage with some of them eventually?
Not in a million years. It's funny how it happened. I was introduced to Bernard through Johnny Marr (The Smiths). He produced the second record of the band that I used to be in, Marion, I was around at Johnny's a few times and Bernard would be there working with him on electronic stuff. I met him and instantly hit it off with him, and eventually when New Order got together again in 2000 I got a call to come and play guitar on tour, and I said, "Yes, sure!"

Do you think New Order are likely to get together again?
I don't think so, not the way things are at the moment. But you can never say never. It's a shame really but Hookie just didn't want to carry on doing it within the New Order camp. There's so much history between him and Bernard.

What do you like most about playing live?
I think it's just the fact that after spending so long making this record, that it's the chance to get out of the studio, and meet a few people, and travelling. I don't mind travelling, a lot of people complain about it, but I actually enjoy it much of the time, not being stuck in the same place or the same studio all the time. I enjoy that aspect of it.

How long were you in the studio for?
It felt like a fair amount of time, I think it was about a year and a half. We weren't in just one studio we did it between Bernard's set up at his house, Jake's set up, did some recording down at Alex James', Steve Morris has got his own studio so we did a bit of work there as well when he played drums on the record. It was spread around a bit really but the main focus of it ended up being at Bernard's place, that's where we really got down to it.

You said you really liked travelling, what was the worst bit about touring?
Probably the tiredness that comes from the travelling. It's all right once you get to the place, that's the good part about the travelling. But the actual fatigue from long flights and the hangovers, it's the compulsory drinking, you feel like you've got to carry on the drinking, that's the problem.

So what is the best hangover cure?
To carry on drinking (laughs) I think, seriously. But you can only do that for so long. We've just done five dates, and I feel completely exhausted after that. A few years ago it was twenty dates no problem, but now after five dates we're flagging a bit to be honest. We're going to have to pace ourselves a bit.

What's been the highlight gig of your career?
God! So many to choose from. I think one of my all time favourite was Fuji Festival in Japan with New Order, and it was just a really great gig, we had the single out at the time called, 'Krafty' and Bernard did a version of it in Japanese, and all the audience were singing along in Japanese and it was a really cool moment, unforgettable.

Was the song released as a single over there in Japanese?
I think a version of it was put out over there. I'm not sure it was a serious single but it did come out in some format over there. Bernard had to get a Japanese translator and someone to coach him on his wording in the studio. He went in and took it really seriously and good a great job of it. But, when it came to the gig, I think it had been recorded a few months before so his Japanese wasn't as good at the actual gig.

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article by: Scott Williams

published: 30/03/2010 12:49


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