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Phil Cunningham - New Order PDF Print E-mail
Written by Martyn McFadden   
04 05 2012
ImageFor just over ten years now, Phil Cunningham has been playing guitar for legendary Manchester band New Order. After having originally joined back in 2001 as a touring musician as replacement for Gillian Gilbert, who had stepped back from live commitments in order to care for her children, Cunningham has since become an integral cog in the New Order machine. Martyn McFadden spoke to Phil ahead of their forthcoming show at Newcastle's O2 Academy. 

Thanks for calling me back. I've just got a few questions here for you. Obviously in a way people see you as the new member of New Order, but you've been with them ages now.
Yeah a decade really, I was working with Barney before that really. You know in the electronic days so I think I've known Barney now for over 14 years.

So have you got past being the new kid on the block then?
Well that's the thing about it, I'm always going to be the new kid. It's great having Tom (Chapman (bass)) in the band because he's the new new guy. So you know it makes me feel a bit more part of it.  No, but I think you've got some fans of the band that still want it to be 1985 with the original four members in the line up. But bands evolve, people fall out, time moves on and, you know, it's just a great thing that we are together as New Order touring.

Definitely. Did you think it would actually happen? I mean, there's been some politics going on in the band. Did you think it would happen or did you think it would sort of be stuck in the bad times?
There was a point where I didn't think it would happen you know, but I've learnt the longer I'm in this game, the more I've sort of realised you don't know what's around the corner and you can't say you're never going to do something because you never know the twists and turns that take you to certain places so the sort of catalyst for it is really with the charities events that we did it started off last year.

Yeah you did some.
Yeah you know Michael Strongburg, who's a really old friend of the guys in the band, he suggested that New Order do a gig for him to raise some money for his medical care and that was kind of a catalyst for us, amongst a few other things, but that started us off. Initially we were only going to do a couple of gigs and then it just went down so well and then we got the offers in for you know all the other stuff we were doing so you know were just sort of carrying on really.

Fair enough, how is it going? I'm coming to see you at Newcastle so I haven't seen you on this tour yet but I saw the last one last time you went to Newcastle about 3 years ago and it was pretty much the greatest hits kind of thing. Has that changed or is it still the same?
Well it is generally the greatest hits, but on this UK tour we're doing a lot of festivals and generally you just want to play your greatest songs and that's the way we've got it together but there's a bit more leeway when you're doing your own shows and you've got a few slightly more obscure tracks that we're swapping round on different nights for the U.K tour. So it's a bit more fun, you know.

To keep the hardcore happy and to keep the set changing.
You'll never keep everyone happy, that's another thing I've realised, no matter what you do. You've got to just kind of do what makes you happy really without sounding selfish about it and hope everyone enjoys it which I think they have been doing so far.

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Yeah definitely. I mean New Order have got an amazing back catalogue up to draw up on but I mean whatever you put on the set list you are going to miss out a massive song really because you can't play all night can you?
I mean once you've got things like Temptation, Blue Monday and The Step Out The Way. You know Temptation is nearly 10 minutes long itself. You can't not have that in the set because it's just such a great one to play we're already taking up a big chunk just with that one song.

Yeah of course it is great one. In terms of the studio work you've done with New Order, I've read interviews with Barney where he saying that when they did Power, Corruption & Lies he was basically going in and doing almost everything and sort of laying down a drum track to play along to, then doing the keyboard, doing the guitar and writing the lyrics so I guess you must have been a pretty big help to him because you're a great musician yourself and doing some of the stuff that he would do.
Cheers mate. Well yeah I think he sort of appreciated that, you know, because the answer to it is we kind of do the writing in loads of different ways, sometimes we do it as a band effort and other times it will be where Barney has just worked on something at home and we just kind of put the finishing touches to it. But he's got his work cut out for him, I think, because he's the first one to say I'll do the lyrics and vocals because there his favourite things. That's a big part of it as well. So yeah, I think he does appreciate it everyone chipping in definitely.

Yeah I mean he always said it doesn't come naturally but he's been doing it almost 30 years now so you would have thought it does, he seems to be doing quite a good job as well.
Yeah exactly, yeah he does he just gets better at it each album that we make.

Is there any new material on the pipe line?
I've got a feeling there is going to be. It's a weird one with New Order, we never plan ahead too much but I think it's almost inevitable really. I don't know whether we're going to do an album, we might just start off with an E.P. or something. It's been talked about but the way it's going for this year is we're just concentrating on playing live, then we'll have a meeting throughout it and go on from there, then maybe next year introduce some studio stuff, you know. But this year the focus is on playing live.

Yeah you're busy enough as it is. Is there anywhere in particular that you are looking forward to going to?
I'm really looking forward to going out to Korea. I'm quite looking forward to that and Singapore; they're two places I've never been to before. That's going to be good and T in the Park is always a good one, so I'm looking forward to that and getting up there but I think when we were counting it up the other day we worked out we have about 35 gigs all together, which is quite a lot for New Order certainly.

Yeah I can remember when they always used to do tours and they had like four gigs or something. Maybe that was just out of laziness.
From the stories I've heard it wasn't laziness, it was more like if they did anymore partying it probably would have just finished them off, I think that's the way they used to look at it. The more gigs they played, the longer they party really. I reckon that was the reason. But now-days people are real getting a bit so we can afford to play a few more dates.

ImageHow does the Bad Lieutenant and New Order sort of side projects work, Is it just when you have got time? Or was it effectively that the Bad Lieutenant album would have been the next New Order album, if that hadn't have been for the sort of internal fighting.
Yeah maybe, it's just like we tend not to do two things at once. At the moment Bad Lieutenant is on the back burner as we are focusing on New Order. So we're just going to see where this takes us after we've played these shows this year. There's a chance we might go back to the Bad Lieutenant record I know Steve has got a lot of things bubbling away, he's keen to get on with studio work so we'll have a meeting and see what everyone wants to do basically.

Fair enough. Is Steve like a sort of different character? Is he different when his wife is in the band? I mean it must kind of change the dynamic.
PC: No Steve's always the exact same really. But it does change the dynamic of the band though and you know having a woman in the band it's in a good way definitely.

MM: Does everyone behave themselves a bit more?
PC:  Yeah, well no I think Gillian has seen everything over the years, so you know the same behaviour really but I think if we change the dynamic no-one will know and the whole prospect of that will be exciting.

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So how did you kind of first meet Barney? 
I met him at Johnny Marr's house. We were over at Johnny's one afternoon and I think they were working on the last electronic album and Barney came over and hit it off with him and got along with him straight away. I think the next thing was they just needed a bit of back up guitar playing when they were promoting that record.

That must have been a bit daunting as you were like working with them.
It wasn't daunting because I worked with bands in the 90's and Johnny produced our second record so I spent months in the studio with him playing guitar and he played on that album and I just learnt loads off him. By the time I did come to do the stuff with electronic I was mates with him and it wasn't really as daunting as you think.

Yeah fair enough. Would you say he's taken you up to a different level?
Yeah he's great I mean I learnt more in the first rehearsal he came down about guitar playing than Ii had in the previous 10 years of playing guitar, he's just a really good teacher as well, do you know what I mean? He's just a top guy.

Yeah, right well that's all the questions I had to ask you so I'll let you go.
Cool, thanks.

New Order play Newcastle's O2 Academy on Tuesday 8th May. Tickets for the show are on sale now. For more information and links to buy tickets, check the New Order website here, or ticketmaster here.

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