Interview with Tommy Cunningham of Wet Wet Wet.
Tommy Cunningham is the drummer and one of the founding members of Vortex Motion, latterly and more commonly known as Wet Wet Wet.
When you think of Wet Wet Wet, you may start humming ‘Love is All Around’ or perhaps be reminded (if you are of a certain age) of the splash of fresh air on kids weekend TV when the youthful four piece with the broad Glaswegian accent broke the monotony of manufactured music that dominated the time (and arguably still does).
Wet Wet Wet have had an enduring impact on Scottish music; borne out of the vibrant diverse 80’s scene and creating pop tunes that represented Scotland, as Tommy said; “If you think of the era for rock n roll you had Deacon Blue and Texas and if you think about Pop you think about Wet Wet Wet”
We caught up with Tommy on the week of his 51st birthday, which he celebrated by doing “ “Nothing interesting whatsoever”. The frankness is echoed throughout the interview, and so too is Tommy’s enthusiasm for music, you may be forgiven for thinking that over twenty plus years in the business may have taken it’s toll, that he may be a bit jaded, but those fears are quickly dispelled.
He looked back on his first foray into interviews as a young man when he was critical of people making music in their forties, indeed going so far to say that musicians should retire at forty. On reflection he explained there was a lack of a “road map, there was no chapter for what happened to folk in rock and roll after forty”; “Thank Christ I got it wrong” he concluded.
There have been a number of changes in the music industry since the then, Tommy identified two of particular significance for him; the rise of festivals and the internet as having a major impact on discovering music, resulting in musical journeys both globally and historically for todays consumer. As an example Tommy refers to his kids finding and enjoying tracks from The Eagles and Pink Floyd. These developments have allowed people to become less reliant on the traditional print, radio or TV (or (in the 80’s and 90’s) NME, Radio One and Top of the Pops), ”we are no longer being told what to like, it’s no longer closed off”.
Tommy however expressed feeling “disconnected” from new music, “maybe it’s a critical eye” he adds in a reference to the formulaic approaches to music adapted by people in the business now with so many tracks featuring ”big Americanised production and [being] dance orientated”. However he identifies bands like Hoozier standing out a mile for not following the mould; “that’s a real instrument, he’s actually playing that”.
The 2016 tour will be celebrating the 20th year of “The Big Picture”, Wet Wet Wet’s 6th album which was released in 1995, the band are releasing a couple of re-mastered editions of the album for the occasion.
Tommy reflected on the recording of the album, which happened at a significant time for the band. The release of “Love is All Around” (for the uninitiated, the track from ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’) spent 15 weeks at number one in 1994, which Tommy describes as a hurricane that overshadowed the planned recording process for the album. Whilst this impact of promoting and supporting the single could be seen as a distraction, there was a desire to create tracks which could “stand alone”, in hits such as ‘Somewhere Somehow’ and ‘Julia Says’, Tommy feels that they more than succeeded in this.
There is clearly a drive for Wet Wet Wet to develop music’, but as Tommy explains this is more from within the band than due to external pressures; “It’s so easy for us to purely focus in on the past”. “For musicians” Tommy adds, “it’s always about what’s next where’s the challenge . . . we still have something to say, we are not try to change the world or compete with the pop charts, all we are trying to do is entertain ourselves and entertain others”. The current plan is for Wet Wet Wet to start the process before the end of the tour, but how that turns out and what happens from there is very much in the lap of the gods.
2016 will see Wet Wet Wet play Inverness for the first time, although Tommy has fond memories of “when Hollywood came to town” when the band visited Inverness for the premiere of the Ted Danson film ‘Loch Ness’. Indeed the 17 date tour ends with three Scottish dates (concluding with the aforementioned Inverness gig) and whilst new material may be on the agenda, it is the live show that Tommy is clear that the band concentrates on; “You have to go along and experience, it has become a real point of connection with the audience”. Tommy explains that despite attempts to record and document, it is impossible to duplicate the live experience (regardless of the musician). This is added to by the desire to bring something fresh and new to the material, which playing live certainly does.
Over time Wet Wet Wet have won and kept the hearts of audiences (have a look at #WWWFanFriday you will get the gist of it) and their place as a significant part of Scotland’s musical history is secure, but the current tour does not mark the end, so we have years of Marti coordinated sing-alongs to look forward to, and maybe a new tune or two…