Kav Sandhu of Blitz Vega Talks About the Posthumous Tribute to His Friend and Collaborator, Andy Rourke, on Their Debut Album, “Northern Gentleman”

Prior to the millennium, the English city of Leicester was a great hub for budding musicians, with affordable rehearsal spaces citywide, aspiring players, and the live fixture of The Charlotte pub and venue on Oxford Street, which was a regular stop for domestic and international acts embarking on tours of the UK.

“Leicester was, I suppose, a typical British town, I guess. Like, a Midlands town,” says Kav Sandhu, one such musician who came of age there in the ‘90s. “It didn’t have the kind of music scene that places like Manchester or Liverpool had, but there was definitely a real energy for playing in bands. People were really into grunge. Stuff like Nirvana was huge; Alice in Chains, and stuff like that. And then you had, obviously, Oasis coming through, and that just had such a huge impact on the scene.”

Aged around 15 when Britpop began exploding, Kav felt that it was the first exciting musical movement happening in his lifetime that was approachable. Speaking with Post-Burnout, he says, “At the time, you’re kind of just growing up; you’re barely out of your teens and you’re looking across the pond to bands like, again, a lot of the Seattle bands and American bands who were so huge that I was a massive fan of; even, I suppose, stadium bands, like Guns N’ Roses and artists like that.

“But there wasn’t really any bands that  you related to as much on a personal level,[even though] you loved their music, until bands like Oasis came along because you could…not that you would see yourself in that movement, but you were a part of that movement.”

Kav, unfortunately, missed Oasis’s gigs at The Charlotte as he was too young to attend at the time, but he does remember the particular show which changed his perception of what music could be. It was when one of his bands opened for the Factory Too-signed Mancunian alt-rock band Space Monkeys. He remembers being blown away by the pageantry and experimental instrumentation that was capable in such a liminal space.

“That really, really influenced the way I thought about the live performance,” Kav says of that gig. “Because, before that, it was just plug in, play, rock ‘n’ roll band – which I love, as well – but that kind of opened my way up to thinking slightly differently.”

Kav began expanding his musical horizons beyond traditional rock ‘n’ roll, which unexpectedly opened some doors for him. “I started DJing at The Charlotte and playing in bands around ’97, I think. ‘96/’97,” he says. “I was actually underage at the time; I had to lie about my age to actually get a DJing gig. I had one of these fake I.D. cards, so I managed to blag that for a bit.

“And that kind of led me to meet people. Like, Mani from The Stone Roses was the first person. He was in Primal Scream at the time and he was DJing at The Charlotte one day, and we just connected and he gave me his number and said, ‘Oh, give me a call if you ever need anything.’”

Kav began DJing across the UK, and took Mani up on his offer by asking him to play some sets with him in Scotland and London. Through this friendship, Kav found himself being introduced to other famous figures, such as when a band that he was in were playing in Manchester and Mani brought a friend along.

The friend was Andy Rourke, the musician best known for his tenure as one-quarter of the Mancunian indie trailblazers The Smiths, in which he played bass. After that band dissolved in 1986, Andy went on to play with the likes of ex-bandmate Morrissey, Sinéad O’Connor, and The Pretenders and formed side projects with the likes of Dolores O’Riordan, Peter Hook, and Mani.

“He was just really kind and an amazing guy,” Kav remembers of meeting him for the first time at this show. “We’re kids [Laughs] in a band, and there’s Andy Rourke from one of the greatest bands of all time! And he was just like, ‘Hey, guys! You’re great!” and stuff like that! And he was just so nice. He was; he was just really nice.” Kav and Andy kept in touch, and Andy – who also DJ’d – would sometimes perform at Kav’s nights at the London club, Turnmills.

Around this time, one of Kav’s bands was performing a gig and being supported by Bez, the ex-hype man and dancer for the legendary Madchester group Happy Mondays, on decks. Former Happy Mondays frontman, Shaun Ryder, was in attendance and, liking the band, invited them to tour with him in support of his debut solo album. “We did this show in Temple Bar in Dublin, and, after that, I moved to London, that band split up, and then Shaun Ryder became a bit of a host for my club events in London,” says Kav.

In 2004, (after a very brief reunion that lasted from 1999 to 2001) Happy Mondays decided to regroup for a second time to embark on a world tour, which saw them perform across Europe, North and South America, Russia, Oceania, Asia, and the Middle East in 2004 alone. In an interview from that same year, when asked about Kav’s role in the reunion, Shaun said, “I like the way he works and everything, so he twisted my arm.”

As great of an opportunity as that tour was, Kav admits to taking some of it for granted when reflecting on it now. “It was just so exciting, but it was happening so quickly that you didn’t really stop and think and probably enjoy the moments as much,” he says of the 2004 world tour. “And I think now, I value the individual shows a lot more and maybe be a lot more present within those.”

While the Mondays continued after that extensive world tour, 2005 and 2006 were much more relaxed years, featuring less touring, sporadic dates, and usually only one show per country. 2007 saw this pattern repeated but their rota was extended to include more countries. Their only U.S. date in 2007 was at that year’s Coachella Festival in Indio, California, where Kav ran into a familiar face: Andy Rourke.

“I was playing Coachella with the Mondays in 2007, and he was DJing that year,” says Kav of the encounter. “So, we kind of hung out after the show, and I think he had just been doing stuff with Ian Brown at that point, and he said, ‘Oh, you know, we should play together. We should do some stuff together at some point,” and I was like, ‘Cool, let’s do it!’”

Kav left Happy Mondays that year to pursue a solo career, and later moved to Los Angeles. So, several years passed as Kav lived and played music in The City of Angels. Then, in 2016,  he and Andy were finally able to make good on a near-decade-old promise.

“I wasn’t in the Mondays anymore, he was living in Brooklyn,” says Kav on reconnecting with Andy. “I was doing these nights in Downtown L.A., and he came over to DJ a few times. So, we’d just hang out and I was like, ‘Oh, I’m going to the studio next week. If you fancy coming down, come down.’ He was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, of course!’

“So, he just came into the studio and he was just going to record on one of my songs and that was going to be it, really, and then we ended up recording three or four songs, and at the end of the session, he said, ‘Oh, we should just start a band!’, so I was like, ‘Yeah, cool! Let’s start a band!’ So, that’s how it happened. So, nothing was planned, it was just really casual.”

This laid-back attitude was reflected in the band’s approach to making tracks. “We’d walk into a studio and he’d turn around to me and say, ‘Right, have you got something?’, or I’d say to him, ‘Have you got something?’, and that would be it,” says Kav on their approach to writing and recording. “And then one of us would pick our preferred instrument up, and away we went with it.”

Their approach was so loose and noncommittal that they didn’t even know if the stuff they were recording would even be released. “It may sound like a cliché, but we felt free and creative all the time, and, as a musician, that’s a great feeling,” says Kav. “Like, wow, just playing and vibing and getting stuff down, and, ‘Oh, that’s cool! We should do that!’”

Blitz Vega allowed an endless stream of possibilities for what the two wanted to do at any given time, without being tethered to any genre or style of music, which was aided by the two members’ skill and range. “He was such a unique musician in his style,” says Kav of Andy’s musicianship. “His play was kind of funky, but he had a driving rock ‘n’ roll vibe to him, he had a funky, soul, even a Motown thing going on.

“He could basically play on anything. I mean, he just loved music, and one of the things he always said to me every time we had a set of interviews or something else was going on apart from recording or performing, he would say, ‘I just want to play bass, Kav!’ [Laughs] ‘That’s all I wanna do; I just wanna play bass.’”

Photo by Rhona Murphy
Courtesy of Reybee, Inc.

Andy was battling cancer throughout his entire time in Blitz Vega but was impassioned about and dedicated to the project. Kav recalls, “This is how much he loved making music and doing the Blitz Vega stuff: He’d have an operation, he’d be feeling really unwell, but he would be on a flight to L.A. from New York, in the studio, recording, like 24 hours later, and then he’d stay in the studio for a week.

“And nowhere through that session, at any point, would he moan or talk about whatever he’d been through or anything that took away from making music, basically, and those sessions were always full of laughter and a lot of banter.”

Unfortunately, as much as Andy wanted to, Blitz Vega did not have many opportunities to tour or perform live, either due to Andy’s cancer going into remission or the COVID-19 lockdowns. On May 19th, 2023, Andy passed away from pancreatic cancer at 59 years of age.

Before his passing, he and Kav had recorded the tracks for Blitz Vega’s debut album. “It feels good to finally get it out and let it out into the world, really,” says Kav of the record. “I mean, that’s what Andy wanted, so he made me promise him that that’s what would happen, so that was the only thing we were focused on, that it would finally come out. I suppose it is a bit bittersweet because you really wanted him to be part of that whole journey and seeing it out there, because I know it was so important to him.”

After some delays, the album is scheduled to be released on September 25th of this year, at the time of publication. Featuring guest appearances from Andy’s old bandmate Johnny Marr on the track “Strong Forever,” the album will serve as a document of the Blitz Vega project but also as a dedication to the life and music of Andy Rourke.

With Andy immortalised on the album’s cover, Kav decided the final thing to do was to name it after him. “When he became sober and he was going through his illness, basically this side of him really shined through,” he explains. “I mean, he was always a really kind, nice guy, but he just became the ultimate gentleman in every way! [Laughs]

“And, so, we’d crack jokes because we were constantly taking the mick out of each other. It was just a sign of showing each other affection in a way, as people do. So, I started calling him, ‘Oh, he’s a gentleman,’ ‘Such a gentleman!’, or whatever, you know? It was just one of these jokes, one of these silly jokes.

“And afterwards, when I was describing him to my label partners who are releasing the album, they were like, ‘What was he like?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, he was just a real northern gentleman,’ and they said, ‘Oh, you should call the album that!’ and immediately it just felt right.

“Sometimes you have a name and you question it; you say, ‘Oh, I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll try something else,’ but it just sat right at the time, so that’s why.”

Blitz Vega’s debut album, Northern Gentleman, is scheduled for release on September 25th, 2024. Keep up to date with the album on Blitz Vega’s Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts. This full interview will be released tonight at 21:00 (IST) as part of our podcast series. Available on YouTube, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Amazon Music Podcasts.

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