A fitting tribute: Radiohead’s drummer Philip Selway hopes memorial kit will inspire next generation of musicians

There’s a sadness in Radiohead drummer Philip Selway’s voice when he talks about his former drum technician Scott Johnson who died when staging collapsed at a gig in Canada three years ago.

On Sunday, Selway, in the city for a special BBC 6 Music broadcast with Guy Garvey, will over a drum kit to Manchester Central Library in memory of Johnson as part of an ongoing project to keep his memory and legacy alive.

And the 46-year-old hopes that Mancunians young and old will be inspired to pick up the sticks and crash about on the kit and maybe even take it on further.

He said: “The fact that anybody can go in and play on the drum kit within the music library there is very inspiring place and that is Scott passing that legacy on.

“If it is just a case of going in there and giving it a go and that is their last time or maybe someone will take more from that and make a life in music, either way it has altered someone’s life in a small way or a big way. I think that is very fitting tribute to him.

“Scott touched many, many people’s lives and the memorial fund set up by his family, friends and bands has provided that focus. Whenever anybody is taken away from you, particularly when they’re so vital and full of energy and ideas and generosity you feel that very keenly.

“He brought huge expertise in drumming and to be able to tap into that and know what he was doing to bring all your gear together and mark everything out gives you a confidence to go out and play.”

As part of a special live edition of Garvey’s popular Finest Hour show, which will be broadcast from the library, Selway, along with New Order drummer Stephen Morris, will be celebrating the unique relationship between literature and music.

But, somewhat surpringsly, Selway admits that his relationship with books as a young boy wasn’t the easiest.

He told MM: “I think initially I had a tricky relationship with books as a young kid. There was a Ladybird book about Nelson when I was five or six which was the first one I really connected with.

“Once you’ve found your way in, you realise that books aren’t intimidating, they’re a refuge. I went through English O-level and a-level and through to an English degree and then into publishing where I worked as a copy editor before Radiohead was signed.

“Books have always been very central to my life and continue to be so.”

As someone who has travelled the world with Radiohead, it’s fair to say Selway has played in a number of different venues since his band was signed in the early 1990s.

And, while quick to make the comparison between music venues and libraries, the man behind some of the most influential and interesting drum parts of the last two decades makes another admission that literature has had more of a reflective, inward influence rather than being more direct.

“For me, in some ways, a library is to books what a good venue is to music and it can provide that space to heighten what you are listening to or what you are reading and allow that focus and that absence of distraction,” he said.

“I think in terms of actually taking direct influences from literature I couldn’t say that’s the case but it does do things to your state of mind when you read something, you immerse yourself in another world.

“You get to live inside these other characters and these other places and that can shift your own perception and that can focus you on your own voice that you want to come through in your music.

Moving away from books and back to the music, Selway says he is keen to continue on his solo journey, but probably not before a return to the day job.

“It is initially back to the day job. We’re going to make a new (Radiohead) record and then I’ve got material coming through for another solo record so I would like to get back to that in the next year or so.

“When you’ve spent time apart, the initial thing is finding your way back around each other so part of that coming back together will be about finding out what people have been listening to, what they want to try out musically and that’s an important part of it.

“It gets you to a point where you’re all making music together which you feel that reflects that dynamic between you all.”

And what about those ever-persistent rumours that Radiohead are behind the soon-to-be released theme song for the new James Bond film Spectre?

Selway laughs when he hears that one punter has stuck a whopping £15,000 on a bet that Thom Yorke and the boys will be soundtracking Daniel Craig’s latest outing as the quintessentially British spy.

“All I can say is that I think the money could have been better spent elsewhere,” he said. “I think anything kind of new challenge is always good musically.

“If it is part of a project you can respond to it will bring out something differently in terms of a song or how you approach playing so we have always got our eye out for something.”

Guy Garvey and his musical mates will be broadcasting live from Manchester Central Library on Sunday afternoon from 2pm to 4pm.

As part of the programme, listeners will be encouraged to tweet their recommended read along with a supporting soundtrack to #6MusicCelebratesLibraries, giving listeners the opportunity to join in the day’s discussions and provide their thoughts on the works of music and literature that have influenced their own lives.

The library will be hosting a variety of family-friendly activities from midday until 4pm including Minecraft Mask Making, story and song time for under 5’s, and an opportunity to ‘start your own band’ by trying the guitars, drums and other musical instruments available to library visitors.

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