Northern Icons #3: The Smiths

“Hello you little Charmers. We’re The Smiths how do you do?” Morrissey introducing the band before launching into There is a Light that never goes out. Tyne-Tees studios, Newcastle July the 5th 1986.

Well I’m sure that it had to come around before too long. A web site dedicated to all things northern runs a feature called “Northern Icons”. It’s only a matter of time before the greatest band from the North is going to be featured. Actually, The Smiths are the greatest band from anywhere, EVER. Who says so? Well, I do actually. So when better to feature Manchesters own wayward sons but today; June 16th 2011. The 25th anniversary of the release of probably the greatest album ever; The Queen is Dead.

Now I was lucky enough to go out and buy the album on the day of release. If my memory serves me well I got it from HMV in Newcastle, only because they ran an offer where you could purchase  “The Queen is Dead”  T-shirt at a special price at the same time as buying the album. These T-shirts were grey unlike the usual white versions you see now. I’ve still got mine upstairs in a box. I’ve still got the vinyl copy of the album. I’ve also got a sleeve from Morrissey’s cardigan, various set lists, ticket stubs, posters and one of Mike Joyce’s drumsticks! At the time The Smiths were my life and I spent a great deal of 1986 following them round the country. Before the album was released I had already seen them twice that year. At Newcastle’s City Hall as part of the Red Wedge tour and at The Royal Court in Liverpool as part of the “From Manchester with Love” concert with New Order and The Fall.

Shortly after the albums release I saw them in the Tyne-Tees Studios in Newcastle as part of the Euro-Tube. They only performed two songs but the whole event was superb. Have a peek at this performance of Panic. Take a look at the school boy doing backing vocals and the excellent drumming that starts the song but please don’t ask who the idiots were on each others shoulders!! Yes, we were young. Yes, we were stupid. The Smiths then unveiled what has gone on to be one of their most popular songs ever. Regularly voted the greatest Smiths song. Therefore making it the greatest of the greatest. (I would personally disagree as This Charming Man is my favourite tune). This was only the second airing of the song in the live arena; There is A light that never goes out. A note perfect rendition showing what a great live band the Smiths were. And how cool they all looked. Well, maybe not Andy Rourkes dyed blonde hair!!!

I could tell you all about the songs and how great they all are but you should already know that. The Smiths had carried the burden of being miserable around with them for a while but surely The Queen is Dead firmly put that myth to bed. Some of Morrissey’s lyrics would make even Half Man Half Biscuit blush!! Some girls are bigger than others and Vicar in a Tutu, as well as being great tunes, contain some of the funniest lyrics ever put to vinyl. Morrissey’s love of Carry On films coming to the fore. The album is a delightful mixture of the maudlin; Never had no one ever. To the magnificent; The Queen is Dead. John Peel stated that he never saw the Smiths as miserable; “more music hall than misery”. And this album, and especially the opening and title track prove this. A real rocker with lyrics about the monarchy and religion and Morrissey getting his hair wet. Probably his three favourite subjects!! It opens with Cicely Courtneidge and ends in a maelstrom of noise not seen or heard on an indie album before and very few after. But as I said previously what can I tell you about the music that you don’t already know?

I can tell you about the live dates that followed the release. Four gigs in five days at the height of the summer. Have there ever been a better set of dates. I for one doubt it, and I for one doubt I will see anything like it again. They opened on a sweaty Wednesday night in Glasgow. (16th July) At one of their favourite venues; The Barrowlands. I don’t think I’ve ever been as hot or squashed or happy in my life. From the opening Big Mouth Strikes again to the closing William it was really nothing the gig was a celebration the likes most people will never experience. To say you had to be there is a massive understatement. Would I like to experience this again? No. Maybe its because I was lucky enough to see them at the time or maybe I dont want the legacy of The Smiths spoilt but I don’t want them to reform. I’m off to see Morrissey twice in the next few weeks and that is enough. No matter what he does he cannot spoil The Smiths because without the other 3 he is not The Smiths. The next night was Newcastle Mayfair, (17th July) not as good as the previous evening but still one of the best gigs ever. Newcastle Mayfair is not there any more but take it from me it was a great venue. The crowd wasn’t always so special but hey, you can’t have everything. That night Morrissey had to leave the stage because some people spat at him. Punk rock eh!!!!! A few months later I had a tooth punched out at a New Order gig there. Still enjoyed the gig though!!

With only one night off we set off for Manchester on the Saturday. (19th July) This wasn’t just a Smiths gig it was a collection of some of the greatest bands ever thrown together to celebrate 10 years since the birth of punk. As well as The Smiths, playing The Queen is Dead for the first time in their home town, there was New Order, The Fall, OMD, the late great Frank Sidebottom and various other Manchester legends. The gig was amazing. As the G-Mex has windows on the roof and this was the height of summer The Smiths played in daylight. Like a modern day festival but all the intensity of a small club. Morrissey waving his “The Queen is Dead” banner ala The Ramones Gabba Gabba Hey is a sight that will stay with me forever. The following evening at Salford University The Smiths performed the best gig I have had the fortune to see. I don’t know if it was because they were playing their home town or the venue or the heat or a combination of all these but this is the gig I would class as the best I have seen. I spent the last 6 or 7 songs on the stage. After numerous invasions we just settled down and watched the boys from behind the monitors.

After this great run of gigs the actual Queen is Dead tour in the autumn of 86 was never going to be as good. But it was still great. It’s only because the bar was set so high that you can consider some gigs to be not as good as others. I saw the boys on the opening 3 dates of the tour; Carlisle, Middlesbrough and Wolverhampton. My final date of the tour and the final time I saw The Smiths was at the London Palladium on the 26th of October. This was my last and probably worst time I saw the Smiths. Maybe it was the seated venue, maybe it was the National Express bus journey home or maybe it was that they had just been too good in the summer. I saw The Smiths 11 times in 86 and 14 times in total. Lucky? Maybe. By the following summer they were gone. Never to return.

But they left us with some great memories, some great music and some great images. The photos from the inside cover of The Queen is Dead have been exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery. Salford Lads Club is now on the tourist trail. Stephen Wright, the man who took the pictures, is rightly hailed as a star. Last week in the Guardian they applauded his efforts.

Check out his site for the chance to own a piece of history.

Thanks for reading all this. Put on the album. Catch Moz on this tour, it may be his last. I’m off to York and Middlesbrough and maybe Bradford. Would love to go to Hawick but its my daughters birthday!!! “Take me back to dear old Blighty………………………….”

By peter on June 16, 2011

Check out all the pics

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