No Time Like The First
Britain in the early '80s: New Romantics, pencil 'taches and Phil Collins. Then came The Smiths.
The tale of their first ever gigs by JOHNNY BLACK
October 4, 1982
THE SMITHS PLAY THEIR VERY FIRST GIG, AT THE RITZ, MANCHESTER, UK, SUPPORTING BLUE RONDO A LA TURK.
Joe Moss (manager, The Smiths): What was happening before then was very '80s. On one hand you had variants on the Spandau Ballets and Duran Durans, and all the epic bands – Orchestral Manoeuvres, typical '80s-type bands. On the other hand, in Manchester you had indie bands like Foreign Press, The Chameleons, and all the Factory stuff, like A Certain Ratio. It's strange looking back. There was nobody really attempting to come through thrashing at guitars.
Mick Middles (Northern correspondent, Sounds magazine): The really big thing happening in Manchester clubs was American-style dance music, which is what The Hacienda had been started for. It was like a New York disco transported to Manchester. Stuff like New Romantic, although it was popular nationally, was marginalised in Manchester to a little place called Pip's Club underneath the cathedral. I ran a fanzine in those days and that's how I first became aware of Morrissey, round about '77, when he started writing to us. He went on to write dozens of letters to the national rock papers – he was the ultimate fan. He was almost a local joke, always doing something, writing novels, or planning something that would never come off.
Tony Wilson (owner, Factory Records and The Hacienda): He was the speccy kid in the corner, the clever little swotty outsider boy, very brilliant. My first contact with him was when he sent me, as a schoolboy, a battered New York Dolls album sleeve and said, "Dear Mr Wilson, why can't there be more bands on television like this?" so I knew him and I was encouraging his writing. He wrote a fantastic short play about eating toast, and I think he gave it to me and I lost it.
Paul Morley (journalist): Morrissey was always laughed at in Manchester... He was the village idiot. That's the ironic thing – now he's the poet of a generation. But in those days, he was "that one in the corner, Steve The Nutter".
Tony Wilson: In 1980, Morrissey told me he was going to be a pop star and I said, "Steven, write your novel." I was very dumb that afternoon, I thought there was no way he'd make a pop star.
Joe Moss: Johnny [Marr] very much engineered an introduction to me. He introduced himself as a frustrated musician. I'd known guitarists from '60s Manchester bands, and I'd never heard anything like this kid. My bloody tongue was hanging out. It turned to him telling me that he wanted to put a band together. I agreed to help him whatever he did. It was the most interesting relationship in my life. He was loving my record collection and my book collection and I was loving just watching him play.
Johnny Marr: Joe was a huge influence on my whole musical ethos at the time; he was someone whose opinion I really respected.
Joe Moss: Unlike a lot of people, Johnny was a musician 24 hours a day. Even in his sleep. He was going somewhere.
Johnny Marr: I was working in X Clothes, which was the trendiest clothes shop in town. We were getting the first ever issues of iD magazine one day, the first Ray-Ban shades the next – it was a really big deal and everyone who was anyone came through the shop at some point.
Joe Moss: After a few weeks I went up to the rehearsal room and it was just immediately stunning. It felt unique.
Johnny Marr: Tony Wilson came in [to X Clothes] one day and unravelled the plans for what was gonna be the Hacienda... I was Johnny from the shop, I knew everybody. They'd nearly all had to suffer The Smiths' demos I'd play on a practically daily basis in the shop! So we had a pretty hip little audience even at the first gig and some of them knew, at least vaguely, what to expect.
Mick Middles: The Ritz was the historic venue in Manchester, dating back to the 1930s, with a legendary beautifully-sprung dance floor.
Johnny Marr: Our line up for this gig was Morrissey, a guy called Dale Hibbert on bass, Mike Joyce on the drums and me. Dale was someone we knew who worked at a local studio; we press-ganged him into doing it, made him have the haircut and everything. Mike was a friend of someone at X Clothes. We'd pleaded with Simon Wolstencroft – who ended up playing drums with The Fall and Ian Brown – but he just wasn't into the music. Mike kept telling us he was only in temporarily; he was still serious about playing in this other band, Victim.
Chris Sullivan (vocalist, Blue Rondo A La Turk): We were headlining, but it was our first gig outside London. It was before the big push on us.
Johnny Marr: The first Smiths gig was a massive deal for me, mainly because all my mates were there. Not enough to fill up The Ritz by any means, but there were more people there to see us than there were for Blue Rondo A La Turk. We knew Andrew Berry and John Kennedy, who were general faces about town. They'd staged a couple of fashion show-type things in Manchester, and because they'd already done something at The Ritz and had journalistic connections with The Face in London, they'd managed to book both the venue and Blue Rondo – though their ulterior motive was to put us on.
David Johnson (reviewer, The Face): The '80s crowd piled into the kitschy Ritz ballroom for an Evening of Pure Pleasure – the kind of live music fashion show that the British don't attempt often enough. The hosts: John Kennedy, capable frontman for the Exit club, and DJ Andrew Berry, both 20, should be commended for hiring the Ritz from Mecca at a knockdown fee. Musically the event featured Blue Rondo A La Turk and The Smiths, with half-a-dozen local designers, Melissa Caplan and Simon Withers wheeled up as token Londoners, plus the touch of decadence Lancashire loves, a drag artist and near-naked dance troupe.
Johnny Marr: Blue Rondo was the epitome of that early '80s Hard Times/Demob scene which I was very aware of 'cos I was in the modern clothing industry. I was into a harder style, an R&B bohemian thing, and Morrissey was into a '50s aesthetic, which was very much ahead of its time. So when we saw these guys who were just trendy in a very mainstream sense we knew we were going to wipe the floor with 'em.
Chris Sullivan: The Smiths went on immediately after Hewan, a Latin jazz DJ, and looked out of place, because the audience was largely groovers in zoot suits with pencil moustaches. The band was difficult to nail down. They weren't punk, new wave, pop or rock, which made them stand out.
Mike Joyce: Blue Rondo were bastards to us. They were the 'in' group, we were the local support. We couldn't use any of their equipment.
Chris Sullivan: They came across to me as very shy, which I suppose was because it was their first gig. We went out of our way to be nice to them. We were in a great mood because we were amazed that we could headline somewhere the size of The Ritz outside of London.
Johnny Marr: Also, though we looked pretty much like we did later on, we had James Maker [later lead singer of Raymonde] on-stage, dancing in drag.
Richard Boon (Buzzcocks manager): James was in stilettos, go-go dancing and banging a tambourine. He was dispensable. It was pure spare parts – a nice joke, but it didn't add anything and they didn't need it.
Johnny Marr: I liked James; he was a friend of Morrissey's. They were very alike – very literate; men of letters but with an exhibitionist streak... James didn't last; it was soon apparent that Morrissey was a more than strong enough focus as a front man.
Joe Moss: James Maker was part of the band then... I just didn't know what he was there for. Initially, Johnny thought it was something that could be really good, but wouldn't be totally commercial. It was something that would really get him going... he thought it would appeal to the gay crowd... he just knew it would get him known.
Johnny Marr: Blue Rondo were a bunch of dicks: really rude and quite aggressive. They were all midgets too – which probably explains the attitude. In between soundcheck and going on stage, one of their turned-up-jean-wearing Wag Club dudes came up to us and said, "Touch any of our gear or move any of those fucking microphones and we'll be doing you afterwards"... so Morrissey spent most of the gig crouched down at a preposterous angle, singing into their midget-height microphone.
Chris Sullivan: I was the lead vocalist and I'm six foot two. Why would I set my mike down low? The other vocalist, Christos Tolera, is six foot, and at least three other members of the band are on the six foot mark. The only thing I can think is that he was singing into the sax player's mike.
Johnny Marr: I knew the Blue Rondo audience wouldn't give us much of a chance, so we went out there to be really aggressive. I really had this attitude of, "I know you people just want to stand around at the bar posing, but listen to this, you're not going to hear anything like it again." We were really threatening. I think we had to be at that time. We did four songs, including 'Handsome Devil' and 'Suffer Little Children'. I was pretty nervous. Not as nervous as I got later on with The Smiths, mind you. I counteracted it with heaps and heaps of attitude. I knew we were gonna be one fairly confusing prospect for the audience, which I was not unhappy about. I knew there was nothing around like us. Morrissey and I were both hugely into '60s girl bands too, only via what David Johansen let slip in interviews and the Dolls' cover versions. That's why we did The Cookies' song ['I Want A Boy For My Birthday'] at that first show. Very Dollsy.
Chris Sullivan: Musically, Johnny Marr stood out for me as the strongest of the four. He had a presence and he was playing interesting licks and intelligent harmonies on the guitar. I could tell Morrissey had good songs with intriguing lyrics. I didn't dislike what they did, but I had no strong feelings for it.
Joe Moss: It was stunning. Morrissey was just 10 foot tall – I had no idea he was going to be that kind of stage performer. In rehearsals he'd been active and putting kind of a show on, but nothing like this, the intensity of it was just – blimey! You realised it was someone who was totally unique there in front of you.
Johnny Marr: The audience reaction was OK. It was a relatively big venue, so they were hardly swinging from the rafters.
Joe Moss: Manchester always used to have this thing where somebody used to have to say, officially, Hey, these guys are good, then everyone else is allowed to agree. So the reaction was very cautious. The Smiths did not get big in Manchester – they broke on the road.
Johnny Marr: The most significant reaction I remember from the first show came from Joe Moss.
Joe Moss: They were incredible. There was only one place they were going. It was a showcase for Johnny. His guitar seared over everything.
Johnny Marr: [Joe Moss] went into this very uncharacteristic gush about the way I played guitar and that meant an enormous amount to me. It was an important confidence boost and a real foundation stone in the story of the band. We knew we were on to something.
January 25, 1983
WHEN THE SMITHS PLAY THEIR SECOND GIG, AT MANHATTAN SOUND, MANCHESTER, DALE HIBBERT HAS BEEN REPLACED ON BASS BY ANDY ROURKE:
Mick Middles: Manhattan Sound was an underground cellar, but more like an electro-disco than a rock gig. If you had a band and 100 or so fans, this was somewhere you could book on a Tuesday and play on a Wednesday, so it was a great place to see up and coming young bands.
Rick Stonell (promoter): It was a gay club, with a maximum capacity of about 250-300 people.
Andy Fisher (manager, Stockholm Monsters): X Clothes was just around the corner, so Johnny Marr drank in there regularly anyway. One of the attractions of the place was that it showed American road movies and porn films, which were very popular. It wasn't ideal as a rock venue. The bar was about three yards from where the band played.
Rick Stonell: I'd worked with Joe Moss and was pally with Johnny Marr, and there was already starting to be a buzz about The Smiths, so I booked them to play the Quando Club night at the Manhattan where we showcased new bands every Tuesday. The strapline on the fliers was, "Just the place to be for a decadent shit like you." It was a £1 entrance fee, and they had equal billing with a longer-established band called Foreign Press, but the interest was definitely all in The Smiths.
Joe Moss: The Manhattan was a warm-up for the Hacienda.
Johnny Marr: Our second gig really was rammed... and that was when all the Factory people turned up and we did a full set for the first time.
Andy Fisher: Johnny hated Factory at that time. He despised all the Nazi paraphernalia that went with it, hated Joy Division and all that lot.
Andy Rourke: The place had no stage, just a square on the dancefloor, and people were stood two feet away from us, staring at us. It was a bit off-putting, really. I'm sure the sound was terrible but apparently it was a great gig. We didn't have any monitors so it was a nightmare to play.
Andy Fisher: I was taking the money on the door that night, and while The Smiths were playing there was porn films running in a side room adjacent to the stage with a big screen and comfy leather sofas, so there were quite a few people in there. As soon as The Smiths went on, they looked different. Johnny Marr was like a rockabilly and Morrissey had the quiff. As they started, there was somebody trying to video it, with really bright lights, and the club had all these mirrored walls, so the lights were bouncing off everywhere. They were far too bright.
Joe Moss: I got them to turn it out 'cos it was just ridiculous. So the video never came out properly 'cos it was too dark. They'd have been able to clean up on that later otherwise. So I wasn't liked too much. Except by The Smiths, of course.
Mike Joyce: We'd only done one gig, but we'd tightened up so much. The idea of performance became such a natural thing... I was totally taken aback by it.
Andy Rourke: We did about eight songs. There were about 300 people there, which wasn't bad for my first gig.
Mike Joyce: While we were playing Miserable Lie, Morrissey put his hands in his pockets and started throwing confetti in the air. He hadn't mentioned anything about that, it was a great masterstroke. Normally, if someone does that, they tell the rest of the band, but he didn't mention it at all, so it was as interesting for us as it was for the audience.
Rick Stonell: There were a lot of people up from London, A&R guys and other music industry people that Joe Moss had dragged up.
Mike Joyce: There was a mate of Joe Moss there, also called Joe I think. He had this saying, 'Fucking Ozone!', when something was tops. He had a really strong northern accent, and I remember him saying 'You're fucking ozone!' a lot. He was a really animated bloke, very funny. He was there ranting and raving.
Tony Wilson: I was there with Richard Boon, and I was blown away, it was fantastic. As we were leaving Richard asked what I thought of Morrissey now and I said, "I take it back completely, he's amazing." He already had that arrogant thing.
Joe Moss: The reason James [Maker] only did one more gig [ie this gig] was because of me. He detracted from Morrissey and didn't really have a function. I was just protecting the band.
February 4, 1983
Mick Middles: The Hacienda was still in its infancy. It was open every night of the week, but very few people went. Tony Wilson used to look very worried. One very distinctive thing about the Hacienda was the smell. It had these rubber tiles, and they gave the place that very industrial smell. By the time The Smiths played there it was changing from being a club to being a venue, where they'd have a couple of big gigs a week – The Thompson Twins, people like that. They seemed to get them just before they had a hit, which isn't that clever if you're trying to get people into your club.
Joe Moss: There were less than 12 people to see them that first time. By the time they came back a few months later, there were 2,400 people there, and thousands more standing outside, unable to get in. I remember Morrissey was already doing the shirt-wearing. I'm standing behind these two guys. After one of the songs, part way through, one guy turns and goes, "You've got to admit, they're fucking great these guys." And the other guy goes, "But his fucking shirt's shit!" If ever there was an exchange that sums up Manchester – that's it.
Tony Wilson: It was like a homecoming gig. Morrissey was on good form, throwing daffs everywhere.
Morrissey: The flowers actually have a significance. When we first began there was a horrendous sterile cloud over the whole music scene in Manchester. Everybody was anti-human and it was so cold. The flowers were a very human gesture. They integrated harmony with nature – something people seemed so terribly afraid of. It had got to the point in music where people were really afraid to show how they felt – to show their emotions. I thought that was a shame and very boring. The flowers offered hope.
Jim Shelley (reviewer, NME): The four Smiths were proud and powerful, pale and angular, a formidable and inventive force. Their sound – a fine, fierce combination of tight drums, hidden walls of guitar and deepest of bass lines – proved to be a suitably refined, aggressive setting for the searing wail and majestic poetry of their enigmatic vocalist.
Joe Moss: They were magic that night, and we recorded the gig, so that was the version of 'Handsome Devil' we used on the single – straight off the sound-desk. That shows you how good that gig was, how fully formed the band was already – after just three gigs.
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only. Photos of Morrissey and The Smiths onstage at the Manhattan by Rick Stonell. Reproduced without permission.
See the original article here
SEE ALSO: Manhattan Sound live review