Morrissey on the Oxford Road Show
"They've not really supported us on any level. And even on this current tour that we're doing, they were quite against it - because they thought it was too ambitious, they thought the venues were far too ambitious in size. They seemed quite certain that we could only possibly appear on a very tiny, club level. And we've proved them wrong and they're quite shocked, and once again they're tongue-tied."
"But I can't really be hesitant about the opinions that I have of Sire because I do feel quite bitter about the way we've been treated. I feel we were signed originally as a gesture of hipdom on their part, and that was really it. And they had no intentions of the Smiths ever meaning anything on a mass level. And they still don't.
"And they've made several marketing disasters which have really been quite crippling to us in personal ways. For instance, the release of the last [US] single. 'How Soon Is Now' was released in an abhorrent sleeve - and the time and the dedication that we put into the sleeves and artwork, it was tearful when we finally saw the record. And also they released the album Meat Is Murder with the track 'How Soon Is Now' unlisted, without printing the lyrics. They released the cassette without the track 'That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore' which is absolutely central to our new stage performances."
"And also we can discuss a video they made. It had absolutely nothing to do with the Smiths - but quite naturally we were swamped with letters from very distressed American friends saying, 'Why on earth did you make this foul video?' And of course it must be understood that Sire made that video, and we saw the video and we said to Sire, 'You can't possibly release this... this degrading video.' And they said, 'Well, maybe you shouldn't really be on our label.' It was quite disastrous - and it need hardly be mentioned that they also listed the video under the title 'How Soon Is Soon,' which... where does one begin, really?"
- Creem, 1985
This article was originally published in the August 3, 1985 issue of Melody Maker.
The thoughts of Chairman Marr
THE SMITHS have just conquered the Yanks and now go into hibernation to write and record their follow-up album to the chart-topping "Meat Is Murder". JOHNNY MARR tells a perspiring Barry McIlheney that it will be a return to rhythm and blues and the music of John Lee Hooker and Elvis Presley. He also talks about Morrissey, Bryan Ferry, Keith Richards and Barry Grant but he only likes two of them. Chairman Marr and guitar snapped by a curious Tom Sheehan
THE HOUSE THAT Johnny bought just after Christmas sits some six miles out of Manchester city centre. Up the M56, past the signs for Rusholme and Whalley Range, down a few leafy avenues and suddenly you're there. Smiths drummer Mike Joyce is acting courier for the day and he gets out to open up the gates. Nothing too ostentatious, you understand, but a nice enough place and a million miles away in property values from the Marr family home just 10 minutes up t'road.
A few of the local schoolgirls stoppped an oul' boy a wee while ago and asked him if he knew where any of The Smiths lived and he told them that the small dark-haired guitarist lives just over there so now they occasionally stand outside and try to peer over at the Zodiac parked in the drive and the two enthusiastic alsatians that reel around the garden and lick the unsuspecting man from the Maker.
Johnny Marr looks up from the bonnet of his beloved motor and immediately goes off to fix a cool drink on this, Manchester's hottest day for six years. He rarely gives interviews and is rumoured to be a bit of a difficult sod but today he appears to be in excellent form, ready to talk and ready for the tape to roll. Welcome to the house of Marr.
It's not that Johnny Marr never gets asked or has nothing to say, but well, he prefers to let that sweet geetar do the talking and anyway, his best mate Morrissey usually has a store of juicy quotes to keep the greedy hacks more than happy. And it's not as if JM, as he likes to be known, is a bit of a silent partner within these mighty Smiths. Indeed, he not only provides the delicious melodies for Morrissey's intoxicating wordplay, but some would say that his is the hand that guides Manchester's finest from strength to strength, from the early glories of "Hand In Glove," surely one of the finest pop moments from the last 10 years, through to the shocking eruption of "Shakespeare's Sister," to the haunting strains of "How Soon Is Now" to the...
Whatever, with a sell-out American tour under the belt and England theirs for the taking anytime they want, it is fairly obvious that the role of Johnny Guitar in the whole scheme of things can only grow in importance, as he begins to shape the melodies and rhythms for that supposedly crucial third album proper, getting ready for the day when he presents about a dozen new toons to his partner and then waits for the genius to take its peculiar hold.
And now he's on the front cover and talking to me for nearly three hours about life in a northern town, what Johnny did at school, what Johnny did next and how the Smiths are still the greatest of them all. Some might say JM that you're, ahem, just a little fed up at seeing old you-know-who's ugly mug on the newstands every week, embarrassing yourself and the other chaps with all that stuff about sex and Margaret Thatcher.
"Oh no! Absolutely no way. To be perfectly honest in fact, I loathe interviews because I did a few last summer and I just got sick of the way they turned out. Especially the Nick Kent feature in The Face, which is really between me and Nick, but which certainly damaged my faith in the mighty power of the pen.
"As for Morrissey doing all the talking, I think we all realised right from the start that it would be rather silly to hold him back in that area, it would surely have been to our disadvantage. And we all agree with practically everything he has to say to the press anyway. He is very very opinionated as everyone knows, but really, I don't want to fall into the trap of just talking about me and Morrissey and how our relationship works because that's no fun for me and it is certainly no fun for anyone to read.
"When that sort of situation develops, as it nearly always does in interviews, I feel that I have needed to champion him or else be really defensive and it's just not like that at all. Me and Morrissey know the way it works and it's just something that you can't really discuss with anyone and sum up in two sentences. I've had enough of all that."
Absolutely Johnny, but he does get all the slaps on the back and surely that must rankle. Just a wee bit? Well, maybe not.
"No. I've got absolutely no complaints about my recognition from the press because they've always been very supportive to me in the past. Perhaps occasionally the less scrupulous journalist might be supporting me to the detriment of Morrissey, like the classic 'I don't like The Smiths but the guitar player's alright'. I dunno. I'm not really the sort of person who can be judged entirely on what I say to the press because most of the time I've got nothing earth-shattering to say on society or on Manchester in 1985.
"Maybe I did last year but not now. I suppose all the travelling has changed me in that respect and I feel a bit more grown-up than I did. But I still have a fear of the law and being arrested and when I lose that I will probably feel totally grown up."
Johnny Marr is 21.
STILL, EVEN A rapidly maturing 21-year-old with a few bob in his back pocket and a nice house in the suburbs must cringe occasionally at what the great man has to say.
"Nah, I really encourage all that sort of stuff, the Margaret Thatcher quotes, I love all that. It's as if we went through so much trouble over 'This Charming Man' and The Sun's big piece on paedophiles that now we can deal with all the little bits of nonsense. Things like the Manchester Education Committee trying to ban our shows because of 'The Headmaster Ritual,' it's great. And it's funny because people seem to expect us to be completely separated from what Morrissey says but there are in fact very few times when he isn't speaking for us and I imagine for most young people in this country.
"I phoned him up after that quote about the Brighton bomb and said, 'Brilliant, let's have another one.' What else can we do?"
You could always get up a few more noses by slagging off the pop aristocracy, the Wham!s and Durans of this world, the usual sort of stuff.
"I'm quite wary of being seen as the spoilt brat who dismisses everybody else but having said that, I guess it is exactly what I do. The whole reason for starting The Smiths was in reaction against the horrible state of pop music in Britain and that is just as valid today as it ever was. We are still dead set against the Thompson Twins of this world and their like and what separates us from them is that we don't just replace the mirror in the bedroom for the TV camera.
"I don't want to come over too pompous but you really must believe in your own talent and your own originality and your own... art, I guess. And none of them seem to have anything like that. Let's see if there is anyone I like. Julian Cope's two albums are very good and I thought the Woodentops' 'Move Me' was the best single I had heard in years and should have been a big hit. But then again I was disappointed cos they're crap live.
"The thing that I resent most is that we can sell out any show in Britain and we've had a number one album yet we don't seem to have that mass acceptance that the Wham!s and the Frankie boys get because we're not prepared to play the national media game the way they do. And we're never going to play that game, we demand that we should get the attention because of our songs and our records, not on their terms. And that might sound unrealistic but practically every ideal we have put forward has been met with that accusation and we've achieved every single one of them."
This clear acknowledgement of The Smiths' pre-eminence in terms of record sales and live following, while they're still not being taken seriously by the greater mass of the British people, suggest something of a crossroads in the remarkable career of the one band to have topped the national and indie charts in the very same week. Rock 'n' roll stadia, TVs flying out of windows and the ritual of album-tour-album do not seem that attractive as the next (il)logical step.
"I admit that we are a bit stuck at the moment and in a very tough spot. There was definitely something missing on the last British tour and I think it was the fact that we had ceased to be the underdogs which I quite missed on the first few dates. It was like we had played the Cup Final and come home with the cup rather than the actual playing of the game.
"I didn't like that feeling but I just had to adapt and play on a different level and enjoy it in a different way. But yes, it is a problem and I don't really see a way out because there is absolutely no point in going out and playing the same 2,000 seater venues that we did on the last tour and even less point in playing 5,000 or 10,000. People will always see through that and Smiths supporters would sense a hideous betrayal if we were just to keep on doing that cos there'd be no point, it would just be reduced to an event.
"Every song has to be worth doing every single night. There was one stage where I was playing 'What Difference Does It Make?' seven or eight gigs on the trot and I didn't like the feeling. I knew that this was not why I had got involved in a band in the first place. I don't want to be playing 'This Charming Man' when I'm... 22."
With "selected nice and unusual venues" as the chosen way ahead for The Smiths in the live sphere, it looks as if we are going to be hearing more and more from them on record over the next few months.
"Absolutely. It's all about quality songs and records, which is the whole point of the thing anyway. By the way, I wrote a real beaut last night, along the lines of 'Hand That Rocks The Cradle' or 'Reel Around The Fountain,' so I'm feeling pretty chuffed about that. But yes, we want to release new songs very soon and hopefully we will soon be able to do that because our problems with Rough Trade are in the process of being ironed out.
"All I can say at this stage is that the next bunch of Smiths songs will be on Rough Trade and I'm pleased to be able to say that. You see, it's not nearly enough for us to know that we can sell out venues, because musically I feel that we have done about, oh, one-twenty-fifth of what we can do. Honestly, we have achieved only the tiniest amount of what we are capable of doing and I'm really confident that we have still got so much in store.
"Looking back on the first album now I can say that I'm not as madly keen on it as I was. I think that a lot of the fire was missing on it and most of our supporters realise that as well. Although having said that, 'Still Ill' and 'Suffer Little Children' and 'Hand That Rocks' are all still great songs. The album 'Meat Is Murder' I still rate very highly but again stuff like 'Nowhere Fast' could have been done better. There's just so much to be done and I'm sure, I am absolutely sure that Morrissey feels the same on this."
"WILL THE NEW stuff be radically different? Yes. There is the single which will probably be 'The Boy With The Thorn In His Side' and then the album which we have pretty much got in hand and which will undoubtedly shock a lot of people. Well, let's hope so. From a purely personal point of view there will be a move away from the old jingly-jangly guitars of old. Everyone knows I can do that.
"I know I can do it, probably better than anyone else and by that I mean guitar playing with hooks and melodies. That doesn't mean that there will be less guitar playing on the album. By no means! It just means I will be playing different kinds of stuff, stuff very much in the R & B groove, not unlike the groove of, say, 'Shakespeare's Sister'. That has got one of the best rhythm patterns and grooves I have ever heard. If Elvis Presley had had Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke in his band he would have been an even bigger name. I'm sure of it."
Choke. R & B? Elvis Presley? And there's more.
"I like to think that it will horrify a lot of people. I am fairly obsessed at the moment with Elmore James and John Lee Hooker and early Elvis and it's going to be very rootsy. I've still got my pop sensibilities and the melodies will still be there but it will certainly be much less of a radio-sounding album than the other two.
"Talking about Elmore James and that actually gives me a chance to say this. I absolutely despise this label we get as a Sixties revivalist band because of our interviews in the past when we talked about Manchester in monochrome black and white from that era. That is still important but I just hate this idea that we are tied to the Sixties pop movement in some way.
"I loathe most of the stuff from the late Sixties and how can I put it? Let's say that if The Smiths had walked onto the stage at Monterey they would have blown away every single one of those bands. We are an Eighties band. There is a LOT of worth in the Eighties. This generation is very honourable and valorous and quite a brave generation, certainly compared to the decadence of the late Sixties."
Know what you mean Johnny, big causes, small minds, big drugs, big charity records.
"Well, as you know, we don't really align ourselves with any one movement and that is just another way in which we can keep our independence. Like if Pete Townshend rings me up tomorrow and asks me to raffle my guitar for the anti-heroin campaign I would probably do it. But we steer clear of benefits, yeah. Maybe something closer to home might attract us like the rape crisis centre here or the plight of the old people in Manchester, but apart from that we do try to avoid big group activities for charity."
Bill Beaumont, what happened next?
"Ah. Nobody can argue, well actually I know someone who can, against the money raised by Live Aid but it is difficult for me to talk about because of what Morrissey said about Band Aid originally. I personally think that the cause is admirable and that Bob Geldof has handled it admirably. The record stank, however, and most of the acts on the day stank but maybe that doesn't matter too much.
"It should be said that Bryan Ferry used the event for personal gain. He disappears for a few years and then comes back with a new record and shamelessly plugs it at Live Aid. The decent thing would have been to play at least one old song, but no.
"The other one who disappointed me greatly was Keith Richards. He came on and played what sounded to me like completely the wrong tune. That man has paid a higher price for his hedonistic lifestyle than any other artist and it's just too big a price for any musician to pay. What I'm saying, Barry, is that Keith Richards cannot play the guitar anymore whereas somebody like Eric Clapton who has been through the same business looked and sounded fine.
"But Keith really disappointed me. He was like my biggest influence in the early days and now I have got no respect for him at all. How can anyone have respect for somebody who wants to spike heroin for 10 years and then regards that as his ticket for the whole event? Nobody is impressed with that sort of thing anymore. And it showed. Cos that was a big test, having to play 'Blowin' In The Wind' on acoustic guitar and he couldn't do it. Can't play anymore."
Along with the man once horrendously described as the world's most elegantly wasted blah blah, JM's other teen heroes ranged from George Best (he's back!) to one Martin Carthy (who he?).
"When punk rock started I was, what, 13, so I was too young to go to the clubs and I started to get into, wait for it, folk music. So I was listening to Martin Carthy's guitar playing and Richard Thompson and I just could not have been more uncool at that time. Then Tamla Motown and Holland Dozier Holland and Leiber and Stoller and discovering Fender twin reverbs on the Patti Smith 'Horses' album.
"Also, my parents were real Country and Western fans and used to promote some country acts around Manchester so I grew up listening to Jim Reeves' 'Little Old Dime' and 'Make The World Go Away' by Eddie Arnold and the occasional Hank Williams. It was a typical traditional Irish musical family in every sense."
"Yeah, yeah, I'm the first English-born Marr and all that and I spent many summers over there in Kildare with a very hip uncle who wore suede Beatle boots and played a Gibson acoustic. No, I suppose it's not a very conventional background, it was certainly not the 'get a proper job son' attitude, but the trouble did start when I began to take it all so seriously at a very early age.
"I always dressed as if I was in a group because it seemed natural to let everyone know what you wanted to be and most people at school must have really loathed me cos I went around telling everyone that I was going to have a number one album. In fact I remember vividly having a big row with this bloke about just that and two weeks after 'Meat Is Murder' went to the top he wrote to me which naturally gave me quite a buzz.
"But yes. I was an obstreperous cocky little upstart. Interested in playing in a group and nothing else. Still am. Nothing else matters besides that. Which in those days didn't endear me to the teachers although they knew I wasn't malicious. I was just a disruptive force and they didn't like all the disappearing and the occasional trouble I brought to the school."
While realising only too well the nasty stigma attached to the supergrass, it has to be said at this point that the young Marr was a bit of a rogue, making ends meet by whatever schemes he could come up with and eventually leaving home at 15 to move in with his old mate Andy Rourke. All sounds a touch wide-boy Barry Grant of "Brookside" fame.
"Yes! Barry Grant. Only worse! Still, you could have said Gordon Collins which would have had me worried. Obviously I can't talk too much about it, but my attitude basically is that for a lot of people, not me, crime is the only way to make ends meet. Something like burglary is the real pits, a real shame, but I suppose that for some folk it's the only way to get by which is a tragedy. I do read quite a lot about crime but I wouldn't say I was obsessed by it."
Oscar Wilde meets Jack The Lad. It all begins to sound like an increasingly unlikely marriage.
"Well, so much has been made of that first meeting with Morrissey, but I suppose that looking back at it, it must have been the attraction of opposites. Like, he is a very tidy person and very organised and that was a bit of a shock to me, plus I had never seen so many books in the one room. I had certainly never met anyone like him and it still intrigues me why he was interested in JM.
"I'm still a little puzzled. Still a little confused. Because a lot about us is really very different. Like I am quite into rock 'n' roll and he has obviously nothing at all to do with it. I did say before that I think he needs a good humping and I really believe that. I tell him that about three times a week so you can see that there is a lot more humour in the relationship than everyone thinks. He is certainly the funniest person I know."
And what about Johnny: Is JM a happy boy when he sits in his garden and surveys all that he has achieved in the last 21 years?
"That sort of thing is actually quite foreign to me because I just look at what we have done and it all seems so tiny and we still have the universe to go. Personally, I have always considered myself quite lucky, I've always landed on my feet. And that's not because it has come to me but because on the contrary I have had to work for everything I get. That is what makes me tick.
"And don't forget I'm still only 21. I really do believe that JM and The Smiths have many many years ahead of them and plenty of surprises in store. I can never see myself working with anybody else and like I say, the Smiths have got a long way to go."
SURPRISE, SURPRISE BUT Johnny Marr talks so much and with such a rare enthusiasm and exuberance that it is impossible to catalogue fully all his past obsessions, the real importance of his teenage years in Manchester, his crystal-clear love and respect for The Smiths or a whole lot of other little details. And yes, he has his favourite Smiths tunes but he still loves each and every one of them while continuing to write yet another little beaut for us all to enjoy. With The Smiths at the crossroads, all the best paths lead to the House of Marr.
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only. Photos of Johnny Marr by Tom Sheehan reproduced without permission.
Click to enlarge original pages
Morrissey gets on his soapbox!
in the September 21st issue of Record Mirror. Click on magazine cover to begin
How long were you in America for?
"Roughly a month."
And you went down a bomb?
"Well, yes. It was very hysterical, very wild, very passionate, very moving. All those things people never believe! It was really quite stunning, even for me, to see it happen.
"It's quite difficult. When you play concerts in America which are highly successful, it really colours your vision of the entire country. You're quite reluctant to think of the bad points because suddenly it seems like the most perfect patch of land on this planet. I've been there many times and had many unshakeable criticisms - which have now, of course - been shaken."
How did the American crowd react to the Smiths?
"For me to say it was more fanatical than anything that's happened in England would seem somehow to decry or look down upon what happened here - which, of course, I never could. But it was certainly quite dramatic. And I really don't believe it happens to everyone.
"We went over there I think, with quite a humble nature and we didn't expect any fanatical fervour or uncontrollable hysteria. Therefore, when it happened I was rendered speechless for months.
"Meeting the people there was an extraordinary eye opener because one is fed all these fixed impressions of the American music buying public and they didn't turn out to be that way. They turned out to be rational, incredibly sensitive poetic human beings."
Or the Smiths' fans were?
- Record Mirror, August 3, 1985
Will Morrissey Turn His Back On Success?
Find out in the October 5th issue of The Hit! Click on magazine cover to begin
THE BOY WITH THE THORN IN HIS SIDE - released September 1985
"Stuck in the middle because that's how the record sounds. Seems like Morrissey himself gives up on the song half-way through when he stops the words and uses up the rest of the needletime with yodelling. If it's too much to expect a revision of world music with every record, we could at least ask for something a little less ennervating. Turn over and drift off to 'Sleep' with Mo and a careful piano by his kinsman. Perhaps they have already exhausted their mine. 'The Boy With The Thorn' is a symptom of how a group try and slow up a brilliant start: its textures are sifted, better judged than anything they did a year or so ago. But the economy and energy are swiftly fading. It already seems unlikely that they will ever muster another 'Hand In Glove'. And the best Smiths song this year is probably Lloyd Cole's as yet unrecorded 'James'."
New Musical Express, September 21, 1985
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
"Lordy, Lordy, Lordy, we (sic) all so miserable now". This man is pain personified - not that I don't like a little despair once in a while, but at least 'Charming Man' had that Motown bassline, this has nothing. I think Morrissey should tackle 'Puff the Magic Dragon' - now that's true angst."
Rip It Up, 1985
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
"Another incisive little tune in true Smiths stylee. And the jaunty toon is nothing new either, with its guitar laden desire. The B-side ['Asleep'] is a more intriguing proposition, with some fragile piano work drifting along."
The source of this review is unknown.
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DJ Janice Long reviews 'The Boy With The Thorn In His Side' in the September 21, 1985 issue of Melody Maker.
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
To see a television promo for 'The Boy With The Thorn In His Side' at YouTube, click here
The following three live reviews cover dates played on the Smiths' 1985 tour of Scotland.
Magnum Centre, Irvine, Scotland - September 22, 1985
"OUTSIDE in the teeming rain, about 15 Smiths fans are gathered in a circle, hauling and mauling at some indistinguishable object. Thoughts that it might be Steven Morrissey himself prove groundless; it's only his shirt, red-silk and sweat-soaked, discarded during the last encore. "Ah jist want a souvenir!" wails a tearful post-punkette. "It's alright, hen," says her friend. "Ah've got two buttons."
Yes, it was a bizarre evening. The Smiths' determination to reschedule the missed Scottish gigs on their last tour led them to take the Bunnymen route and arrange shows in off-the-beaten-track venues. They're taking in Orkney, Shetland and Inverness as well as the usual Glasgow and Edinburgh. And Irvine. Oh, Irvine, the nearly acceptable face on new town planning, with a sea, beach and an explosives factory on its doorstep. The Magnum Centre, tonight's venue, is the biggest sports centre in Europe, and the gig takes place in a giant basketball arena. Throughout the evening, play continues on the adjoining indoor bowling green. Earplugs have been issued.
The Smiths conquered what could have been a gruesome situation convincingly. A large, young, very sober audience went predictably mental at the first proper gig their town has seen in three years, rejoicing in scaling the low stage and touching the Morrissey torso, perpetually exposed as usual. The hits were handled dextrously, if with a touch less ... intensity than in the past. Just a hint of tiredness, perhaps.
But the Morrissey human windmill syndrome was still very much in evidence, counterpointed by the newly-shorn Johnny Marr, devoid of shades and looking frighteningly like a young Keith Richards in white shirt and black jacket. The ancillaries - light show and sound system - were unstinting. The evening exhuded honest endeavour, a we're-here-to-give-you-kids-value feel.
Musically, it was very much the mixture as before, with "How Soon Is Now" and "What Difference Does It Make" brooking no concerns. Some Smiths songs work brilliantly, the Morrissey warbling sounding less affectedly tuneless than on record. New songs like "Frankly Mr Shankly" and "Big Mouth Strikes Again" broke no new ground, though the former broke some wind. Only Morrissey could get away with a line like "you are a flatulent pain in the arse". What the hell was his school like? Devil's Island?
Morrissey's miserable upbringing, tackled tongue-or-cheek or not, palls before the awesome silliness of "Meat Is Murder" itself ("every time you bite into a FAT JUICY SAUSAGE, remember IT'S SOMEBODY'S MOTHER!") which comes complete with taped calves, etcetera. That closes the show, leaving "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" and "Hand In Glove" as encores.
"Thank you. You were really nice", says the giant on stage. "And SO WERE WE!" Yes Steve, you were. Tired maybe, but willing. A little ragged in places, but generous and gutsy. But the questions remain: with such a defined sound based round the Marr/Morrissey axis, where do The Smiths go from here, apart from Dundee? And how long can a boy wear a thorn in his side before he grows up and gets it surgically removed?"
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
See the original review here
Glasgow, Barrowlands - September 25, 1985
Supported by Easterhouse
"SURROUNDED BY a mob of boys, all clutching a variety of plant life (this being the wrong time of year for daffodils) and leaning nonchalantly over their respective girlfriends' shoulders, was hardly the perfect situation in which to judge the finer points of an Easterhouse set. It lay - singer Andy Perry so obviously affected by mini flower-wearing maniacs - heavy and red, cold and dour, uncompromising and antagonistic. They managed seven songs before succumbing to the ongoing assault of Morrissey/Marr.
Stephen (sic) caught an empty bouquet. It was kinda symbolic, you know? This boy with the thorn in his shoulder must surely be finding all this anti-hero worship a bit of a drag, his dancing having become even more erratic for the benefit of video cameras, and the careless exposure of his belly button breaking the sound barrier.
He even told a joke or two! An obvious strain, but the first came somewhere between 'Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now', 'Miserable Lie' and 'Miserable Miserable Miserable' when he muttered, "I smell body odour". And the second side-splitting yawn came when he introduced 'Big Mouth Strikes Again' as being "for journalistic notes". Very good Stephen. We'll soon have you out of that shell.
But the real highlights arrived during the latter part of the set and encores, the unionisation of 'His Latest Flame' with 'Rusholme Ruffians' top of the class, followed closely by 'Meat Is Manslaughter' and the subsequently staged invasion. Only one little problem: these Smithsonians as an institute are in danger of losing that spark, that vulnerable strength, of becoming yet another rock creature. Just beware of the flowers ..."
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Clickimin Centre, Lerwick, Shetland Isles - September 28, 1985
"AN UNUSUAL opportunity to observe The Smiths in that rarity of the UK concert scene: the untrendy outpost. The crowd of 700 were thus bereft of pretence and prejudice. The Smiths were just four guys. And as Morrisey (sic) sagely noted, 'this is our new single, and you can buy it in Aberdeen if you know how to swim."
Three new Smithsongs, badly in need of fine-tuning, got an airing, and what better place than out of earshot of London, which is farther away than the Arctic Circle. While 'The Boy With The Thorn In His Side' may well be the best radio record the Manchie meteors have turned out, live it can't approach the tumult of a 'What She Said' or the fever of 'Still Ill'. 'Frankly Mr Shankly' features Morrissey at his I-can-spell-acerbic worst, but all is forgiven when the winding sweep of Mssrs Marr and Rourke bears down on 'Big Mouth Strikes Again'. This is The Smiths that we need. "Sweetness, sweetness I was only joking when I said I'd like to smash your pretty face (sic)".
When Morrissey wails, without a trace of archness, "now I know how Joan of Arc felt", we're with him in spite of our doubts. As everyone knows, the backlash is in third gear and revving smartly."
New Musical Express
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only. The photo of The Smiths was taken by 'Hampstead' Jo Cooper. (Thanks for getting in touch, Jo - BB)
Scottish tour programme
This commentary almost certainly appeared in the Christmas/New Year issue of Melody Maker.
We'll Meat Again
THE predicted Smiths backlash duly occured in 1985, though its ferocity was less intense than many had anticipated and never really reached the pitch Morrissey himself had expected. That was probably due to the simple fact that not much that The Smiths did in '85 was vulnerable to the petulant carping of their detractors, most of whom were forced to aim their bitter sniping at what they perceived to be Morrissey's unique vanity and conceited self-regard.
Inevitably, many of Morrissey's claims for the greatness of The Smiths and their music were colourfully outrageous, however apparently sincere his convictions. Simultaneously, however, Morrissey's pronouncements were largely irrelevant. The Smith's music has always spoken most articulately for itself. There can be few justifiable condemnations, for instance, of February's "Meat Is Murder". Morrissey's lyrics may have addressed themselves to the concerns first broached on the group's debut album, but his writing here assumed new depths of atmosphere and intrigue, took on a fresh narrative impetus with songs like the vivid "Rusholme Ruffians", the fervid "What She Said", the aching "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore". Needless to say, Johnny Marr's music matched Morrissey's lyrics for excellence at every turn, while his guitars rescued the album from the faintly ridiculous extremes of the title track which threatened to sink beneath a welter of comic dramatic effects.
Live, too, The Smiths continued to realise Morrissey's claims, despite some spurious claims that they were descending into self-parody. Their concert at the Albert Hall in April certainly put that slur back in the broom-cupboard, with the extra attraction of Pete Burns shaking his booty alongside Morrissey on a driving version of "Barbarism Begins At Home".
If the Smiths were culpable of anything in '85, it was, perhaps, releasing too much. By the time "The Boy With The Thorn In His Side" hit the airwaves there was a faint suspicion that one more Smiths single in '85 would overload the circuit completely. The band are currently in the studio preparing new material for '86: it would be a foolhardy man indeed who had the temerity to write them off. Expect them to hold the nation in eternal sway in 1986, much as they have always done.
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On to 1986