Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.


The Unlikely Lads: How Pete Doherty, Louis Tomlinson and Noel Gallagher teamed up for rising star Andrew Cushin

Not much can unite an Oasis brother, a One Directioner, and an erstwhile Babyshambler – but Andrew Cushin has done just that. Mark Beaumont speaks to the singer and his A-list backers about what they see in this Geordie ‘destined for great things’

Wednesday 11 October 2023 06:53 BST
Noel Gallagher, Louis Tomlinson and Peter Doherty are throwing their weight behind Andrew Cushin
Noel Gallagher, Louis Tomlinson and Peter Doherty are throwing their weight behind Andrew Cushin (Getty/PA)

Maybe once in a generation, the stars align: barriers crumble and the pop lamb lies down with the indie rock jackal. Kylie Minogue and Nick Cave. Miley Cyrus and The Flaming Lips. And now, Louis Tomlinson and Pete (now Peter) Doherty: united not on record, but to co-release the debut album by 23-year-old Andrew Cushin, a little-known Newcastle troubadour with a gift for mesmerising superstars – from all walks, evidently.

There’s no other explanation for a story that reads like A Star is Born meets Pygmalion, with a dash of The Karate Kid – on a hefty fried breakfast – thrown in. One whiff of Cushin’s early live footage and Noel Gallagher was producing his songs. A glimpse of him playing on Soccer AM and Tomlinson swept him away around the world on tour. Brief exposure to his onstage performance and Doherty was clamouring to release his debut album alongside Tomlinson, in what has become a hands-across-the-cultural-ocean collaboration. Forget “right place, right time”, Cushin is the right place and his time is clearly now.

“It’s all happened very much by chance,” this Geordie Maharishi self-deprecates down the phone from an airport midway through his 36 dates supporting Tomlinson on a tour that’s taken him across the UK, Europe and America. In several weeks his album, Waiting For The Rain, will come close to breaking the Top 40, partly down to such support from big-name mentors, partly thanks to an arresting talent set to bewitch a generation. “There’s a lot of acts that gig for three or four years and then they get discovered,” he says. “We were the opposite – you’re going out on this tour, but you’ve already got these big names behind you, you’ve just got to go and learn now. It’s been like an apprenticeship in music.”

Luck, Cushin’s celebrity backers will attest, had very little to do with it. “The songs are great,” Tomlinson tells me. “They’re super honest, super real. The lyrics cut deep, some of them, and I think that’s really brave as a new songwriter.” Doherty agrees. “It was the weight of what he was singing about, that was the first thing that grabbed me,” the Libertines rocker says. “The emotional weight of his songs and also the strength of his voice.”

Hard-earned traits, it transpires. In the wake of his father’s death, a then 18-year-old Cushin began pouring his anguish and survival instinct into rock-leaning singer-songwriting of brutal honesty and stirring redemption. If “Just Like You’d Want Me To” was an open letter to his father about his determination to overcome his grief and forge on to glory, the glowering “4.5%” was a devastating portrait of the effect his dad’s alcoholism had on the family. “By 12, he’s falling down the stairs, by one he’s claiming no one cares,” Cushin sings over plaintive piano and a faded heartbeat, “each drink, it drowns your son and daughter”.

“I wrote that three days after he passed away, out of such horrible emotions of losing a parent and not being able to speak to anybody,” Cushin says of what he calls his “therapy song”. “Sometimes it is hard for me to sing because it does bring me back to that place. But at the same time I’ve played that song so many times now and it’s amazing how many people come forward and can relate to it. Anybody who goes through having a parent who’s alcoholic or a friend who’s alcoholic, they all have similar stories and feelings about things that go on. If somebody knows someone who’s an alcoholic, they’ll know what I went through and vice versa.”

Cushin set about playing his songs around the pubs of Newcastle. Within three weeks he had secured a manager with links to Noel Gallagher who, in turn, put Cushin in touch with promoters and labels after being emailed a video clip of a live show. “When I was growing up my heroes were Noel and Weller and basically everything that my dad used to listen to,” Cushin says. “So to be doing music for about three weeks and to have an email from Noel and him to help us out with promoters and that, it was an insane three or four weeks. I hadn’t even played a gig outside of Newcastle at that point.”

Gallagher produced, sang backing vocals and played guitar on Cushin’s 2020 track “Where’s My Family Gone”, a raw dissection of familial conflict and the third and final single Cushin released on Virgin before his deal collapsed and gigs dried up during the pandemic. Cushin took Gallagher’s parting advice to heart, though. “He told us to graft,” he told NME in 2020. “He just said keep your head down, work hard and write, write, write. That’s what I’ll do.”

Constructing his album during the Covid downtime, Cushin swiftly bounced back, blessed from pop’s Mount Olympus. At his first post-lockdown shows, supporting Doherty solo for three dates, he found the Libertines singer side of stage each night, increasingly enthused by his performances. “I got about two songs in and I looked to my left and he was stood at the side of the stage kinda clapping away,” Cushin recalls. Doherty, having launched his own label Strap-Originals, enquired if he was signed. “I went, ‘No, no, we’ve just been released’, he went ‘Let’s see if we can do something’. Second night it was ‘We definitely need to do something’ and by the third night, he was all for it. Within four or five weeks we had a full album deal on the table.”

Amazon Music logo

Enjoy unlimited access to 70 million ad-free songs and podcasts with Amazon Music

Sign up now for a 30-day free trial

Sign up
Amazon Music logo

Enjoy unlimited access to 70 million ad-free songs and podcasts with Amazon Music

Sign up now for a 30-day free trial

Sign up

As the deal progressed, Doherty took Cushin on UK tours, drinking and jamming together on the road. Although, from the sound of it, touring with the now reputedly drug-free Doherty is no longer the class-A bacchanal of old. “I wouldn’t necessarily say [the tours were] wild,” Cushin claims, “Peter is getting on a little bit now, he’s a little bit older.” Then, last October, a fateful performance on Soccer AM mesmerised another high-profile supporter of the six-stringed arts.

I’d love to sit down and have a chat with Peter, definitely. That sounds like the kind of business meeting I’d want to turn up to

Louis Tomlinson

“I just thought Andrew came across really f***ing confident,” says Tomlinson, who messaged Cushin on Twitter after the show to offer him a support slot at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. That show turned into 36 support dates across the world. “A lot of my fans will know that I’ve always been interested in new music and people on the up and however else I can offer a bit of advice or help. And if he’s already got the songwriting prowess that he’s got at this age on his debut album, the kid’s destined for great things. He came out on the American tour and he was mostly acoustic for a lot of it and that’s a real tough gig, just you and a guitar. But his voice is f***ing huge, a really big sounding voice. He really came into his own as a singer but also as a performer.”

As curator of his own The Away From Home indie rock festival in Italy, where he headlined alongside acts such as Blossoms and The Cribs this August, Tomlinson confesses to having been One Direction’s secret guitar rock fanatic. “It’s what I grew up listening to,” he says. “There was this really good indie bar in Doncaster where I grew up. It was 10 quid all you could drink. It lasted about 18 months and then the council banned it, but it was f***ing incredible. So that’s where I got into all that indie guitar music and stuff like that. To be honest, I kinda dumbed that down a little bit when I was in the band, obviously, because it was a very different thing, One Direction. So I think as I’ve gone out on my own it’s been about re-finding my roots and guitar music is something that has had a massive influence on my life.”

To this end, Tomlinson hopes to convert his more pop-inclined fans to the ways of the distortion pedal, bed hair and fourth-day jeans. “What’s fascinating to me is watching my fanbase watching [guitar bands], listening to this music and taking a real passion like I do. That makes me really proud.” And also, from a talent show phenomenon who’d otherwise have wanted to become a teacher or sports coach, a touch of popstar payback.

“Just to be around people going through that period of their life is a really exciting thing for me,” he admits. “And there is a very small part of my brain that has this guilt that I came up with One Direction in such a meteoric way. I’ve always been a massive fan of guitar music in general and often with these bands, it’s a very, very different process to get to where you want to get. I feel that I want to do my bit because I definitely got… lucky would be the wrong word, but ‘right place right time’ to a degree. I want to give back a little bit in the industry.”

‘If I’m feeling down or if I’m in a bad way my therapy is the guitar’ (Dedikated PR)

Tomlinson’s 78 Productions teaming up with Doherty’s Strap-Originals label, then, isn’t quite the clash of cultural opposites it first appears. “Look at some of the great labels,” Doherty argues. “Look at The Sex Pistols with Malcolm McLaren getting together with Richard Branson. Over the years, labels’ main aim was to be a springboard for their artists to get as many people to hear the music they believe in. Whatever that takes – if that means having a major label take you up the alley for five minutes I will do that for my artists any day of the week.”

“Obviously I was a massive Libertines fan growing up,” says Tomlinson of his grungier counterpart. “It’s an honour to me. I really look up to [Doherty] as a songwriter, as a poet, as a creative in general. And I also know that he’s got Andrew’s best interests at heart, which is not something you can always say in these kinds of joint ventures.” The pair haven’t yet met to thrash out the details over a power fry-up, though. “There’s not been a lot of back and forth,” says Tomlinson, “We’re both busy guys. I’d love to sit down and have a chat with him, definitely. That sounds like the kind of business meeting I’d want to turn up to.”

It’s something of a fairytale ending for Cushin, and his Dave Eringa-produced album that is so fraught with struggle. Alongside celebratory Britpopian terrace anthems like “Wor Flags” and orchestral pop uplifts like “Dream for a Moment”, grimy soul rocker “Let Me Give It To You” tackles drug abuse, while the fatalistic “The End” envisions Cushin’s own funeral, complete with child choir singing: “It’s the end of everything and I didn’t mean a thing.” And, on “You’ll Be Free”, he confronts the sometimes-fatal consequences of men being expected to bottle up their pain.

“Suicide is something I hold very, very close to my chest, unfortunately,” Cushin says of the song. “I’ve lost the most important people in my life to suicide. Everybody coming through with their support for different organisations has been amazing but, for me, I can’t go and talk to someone. If I’m feeling down or if I’m in a bad way my therapy is the guitar.”

There’s something deeply heartening, then, about seeing Cushin so enthusiastically grasp the A-list opportunities flung in his path. “We were over the moon when both Louis and Peter both came together,” he says. “It’s such a dream thing for me to be in the middle, releasing a record through these two unbelievable artists. We’ve already done so much so quickly and we’re in a massive whirlwind of people just pushing and pushing.” Cushin may be the celebrity-coveted Bored Ape NFT of singer-songwriters, but his value is set to rocket.

‘Waiting for the Rain’ is out now via Strap-Originals

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in