Monday, May 12, 2003

So this week it's 20 years since The Smiths released their first single, the brilliant "Hand in glove". I well remember hearing it for the first time on the John Peel show, It sounded like nothing else that was around at the time, pretty soon a Peel session followed and the next 3 years were dominated by the band. I'm still amazed when people say that The Smiths were miserable, sure they could be mournful and melancholic, but they were also one of the wittiest bands, although Morrissey was ultimately no match for his beloved Oscar Wilde, at least he threw his hat into the ring.

Having been unable to get into one of their gigs, in the broom cupboard like Moles in Bath, I first saw the band in September 1984 at the Anson Rooms in Bristol. By this time we all knew about the Gladioli swinging excess of Morrissey and the melodic charm of Johnny Marr, but I still recall being swept away with the focus and attack that drove the performance forward. They really sounded like a band who were desperate to show you that they were the best band in the world. A few weeks later my friend Simon Templer (not that one!) and I found ourselves in a Greenwich village record shop, listening to the two guys behind the counter arguing about whether "that Morrissey was a girl or a guy". After week or so, of our wide eyed innocence, as we gawped our way around the sharpest, cleverest and quickest city in the world, it felt good to know at least one thing that our American friends were not sure of!

By the time of the "Meat is Murder" tour, they had become an institution in the UK. Everyone one had an opinion on the band, I particularly liked the response of my friend Steve's dad Les. Whenever The Smiths would appear on the TV, he would shout out "here he is, one note Joe" before quickly leaving the room. The great thing with the band was that the records came thick and fast, B sides were often as good as A sides, artwork was brilliant and the interviews were always essential reading. A whole legion of people grew their quiff's, wore brogues with turned up jeans and started to wear national health glasses, meat was shunned (although not by me!), and we all became experts on 1950's and 60's English literature and films.

Although "The Queen Is Dead" was a fine album, the cracks were already beginning show. We all travelled over to Newport to catch the tour. About 20 minutes into the gig Morrissey was dragged off the stage and the lack of concern or interest on the faces of the other band members was obvious. A minor skirmish resulted from the bands refusal to return and that was the last time that I saw them.

So what legacy did they leave behind? I must admit that I seldom play the records now, although I'm always delighted to come across the band on TV or radio. The court case damaged the reputation of the individuals concerned, so that I could never really look at them with the same sort of affection again. Morrissey has recorded some great solo tracks but many, many more tuneless and worthless ones As for Johnny Marr, it's such a shame that he could never find anyone else who could inspire his guitar playing in the way that Morrissey could. It was great while it lasted and in someways it is better that they had such brief yet intense career. So many wonderful memories.


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