Photo of The Smiths at Tatton Park by Kevin Cummins. Reproduced without permission.
THIS CHARMING MAN - released November 1983
THE SMITHS: 'This Charming Man'
"...as are this group, and the title might well refer to their wonderful singer Morrissey, the man who combines the charm of Liberace, the soul of Van Morrison and the falsetto of Tiny Tim!
The Smiths are becoming consistently brilliant - especially live - and the winning combination of lazy vocals and ringing guitar chimes (like Buzzcocks meet the Byrds on Top Of The Pops!) look set to confirm both their talent and their potential massiveness.
A free daffodil with every copy (ring 01-727- 6085 for details)."
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THE SMITHS: 'This Charming Man'/'Accept Yourself'/'Wonderful Woman' (Rough Trade 12")
"Waller was weak tea-ed about 7" of 'This Charming Man' last week. His senses must be profoundly dulled.
The new Smiths record isn't good; it isn't brilliant; it's........ (adjective to be filled-in by those sensible adult-teenyboppers who regularly invade the stage at Smiths live outings).
The Smiths are so important the media is not noticing it. Just how IT should be; I mean, the emergence of a mega-to-be group, who are also musically very sound indeed.
The 12" features ANOTHER version of 'This Charming Man', entitled the 'Manchester' version. It is a close thing but it is even better than the regular, Waller-abused 'London' interpretation.
They sound as though they were recorded under water, doubtless Morris(S!)ey's attempt at something exotic-sounding and filmatic.
These are two songs to stick on the flip of a twelve inch single. If they are giving these away, what on earth have they got in store for us on the album?
Interesting note: Smiths manager Joe Moss is more interesting than, outside the Smiths and their few HANDSOME compadrees, the rest of rock'n'roll put together. The man will be a millionaire some day."
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Note: Dave McCullough made 'This Charming Man' joint Single Of The Week with 'Folklore' by James.
"So serious, so astonished, and so on. The Smiths led by Morrissey, who - I recall Yeat's Blakean declaration is looking for the face he had before the world was made. He tries to be precise, and so he's bound to be metaphorical. 'This Charming Man' is a copy of the ideal single - but what a copy! (That was a copy of the ideal critical judgement - but what a copy!)
Because of the seriousness - and let no one with an anti-intelligence prejudice doubt that it is from seriousness that all the delights that cheer them up emerge - because his Body of Fate is loss, because he believes he can rouse us from sleep with words, because 'This Charming Man' is a high song of poetic self-recognition, because of its surface swing and its rich depths and the lost free way he sings ... (sigh) ... because he does harm to stupidity and because he feels the imagination's desire for a revelation that would redeem the inadequacies of our condition yet feels a humourous scepticism towards that desire ... because I say so, and I'm sure, and I'm serious ... This is one of the greatest singles of the year, a poor compliment. Unique and indispensable, like 'Blue Monday' and 'Karma Chameleon'. That's better!"
These three pop singles share a quality that is one of the few refreshing things about this poor poisoned year: the aspiration to surpass or negate nature. I'm not joking. These songs lightly prove amidst all today's shady crap that within pop, obsession and enchantment are authentic inspirations. Don't take any of this for granted. The songs warn us that life without imagination is not worth living.
As we descend from this praised and blamed Smith heaven into the jostling hell of another week's singles we'll notice more and more that the vanity and moments of awakening that flicker and come within 'This Charming Man' grant a kind of fortune, while the normally prepared pop song deals only in a dried worried persistence far away from the ease and difficulty of Culture Club and The Smiths.
The drive is towards the ultimate elegance, the belief is that it can be done, and songs such as 'Blue Monday' and 'Karma Chameleon' and 'This Charming Man' grow into the listener's consciousness with the inevitability of greatness.
Taking things seriously; intelligence is not an awkward, obscure thing which is difficult to set in motion, but a way to glory. When you have thoughts of your own you can be assured that you will be accused of seriousness. So? Morrissey is serious, but he offers us rapture, not dialectics. 'This Charming Man' is an accessible bliss, and seriously moving. This group fully understands that the casual is not enough.
The Smiths are all the good of The Fire Engines - from the assurance to the aloofness via the collapsing ringing guitars and over the hills naivity - caught up between the quest-romance of the two P. Shelleys, all the while searching for a cry that will concern all men.
But enough of this defiance: why not laugh? Morrissey is the classic case of the fool persisting in his folly until he becomes wise. He applauds himself, and he sees and hears odd things. Be serious, be sweet, because man's life is thought. He's an absurd case, but for those around who can get serious about anything from a piece of string to a pop single he's undeniably a new version of the hero. If there's anyone left, they'll probably sneer, but they'll miss the point. And so on. You'll have to love."
New Musical Express, November 12, 1983
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See the original review here
SEE ALSO: Record Mirror Singles column
FURTHER READING: 'Ello 'Andsome! & 100 Songs That Changed The World
This brief interview with Morrissey originally appeared in the 8-14 December issue of Time Out. Words by Mick Wall.
Names like The Smiths aren't even funny, or ironic. A name like The Smiths conjures up a fat zero; it isn't bold, clever, sublime, cool, dynamic, or even vaguely introverted. But the music of The Smiths can be all these things times two when the right buttons are punched.
The success of The Smiths is a sudden and unpredicted phenomenon. Formed less than a year ago in Manchester around the man Morrissey, their first single 'Hand In Glove' was released on Rough Trade last spring. Initial publicity centred less around the edgy, charismatic pop shuffle of the A-side than it did bellicose, close-minded snipes at the flip side 'Handsome Devil'. The charges were on, uh, moral grounds and the allegation was that the song glorified and encouraged paedophilia.
'That whole ridiculous argument is not something I want to dwell on,' says Morrissey. 'I see no need to defend myself against what amounts to impossible bigotry.'
However, being called spiteful names eventually proved to be only a small interruption. As the hottest summer this century burned itself out, The Smiths cemented the promise of the first single with a series of spectacular gigs in London and elsewhere, and with each performance their guest list grew wings.
The big names in an industry filled with little boys wanted in on the romance. Morrissey remained unimpressed. 'We signed with Rough Trade and will be staying with Rough Trade for very good reasons. They have a civilised attitude, a very human approach, completely financially supportive of the group' - to the extent of channeling much of their conglomerate resources into the success of The Smiths.
Released only a few weeks ago to raves, 'Charming Man' has entitled Morrissey to expect changes in his personal situation and has provided him with the opportunity to fulfil one or two ambitions on a list of ambitions he claims to have carried with him for years. 'Success is very gratifying, immensely pleasurable. I wanted to kick the whole Manchester scene in the teeth and now I have my chance. I've always lived a very isolated and ambitious life and now that I've plunged into this direction, I intend to make of it what I can'.
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Westfield College, London - November 17, 1983
"The wonderful thing about college gigs is the sheer mixture of people who go to them. Tonight at Westfield College - a cross between a school dining-hall and a gymnasium - is no exception. Standing side-by-side are trendies in long leather coats, punks in exhausted combat gear and even the odd long-haired hippie or two. But all with something in common - they're all wearing flowers in their hair. You see, they've come to see The Smiths which, of necessity nowadays, means a trip to the florist beforehand.
The atmosphere is very relaxed; the stage is small and bare, with a tiny PA and a mere five spot-lights on either side. It doesn't look like the setting for a band in the upper reaches of the charts, more like an amateur cabaret night at an old people's home. Still, nobody seems to mind.
A massive shower of carnations announces The Smiths' arrival on stage. The reaction is instantaneous - off the floor, up to the front and dance like a lunatic. The bobbing masses just below the stage laps up singer Morrissey's every gesture as he swings a huge bunch of flowers over his head, getting faster and faster until the stalks snap, sending yet another flurry of petals into the audience. Johnny Marr's melodic but forceful guitar lines perfectly frame Morrissey's finely-textured voice to produce pop with a delicate passion. The intention is pretty simple - vibrant, optimistic, uplifting songs; a celebration of youth, love and having fun.
What a night - a floral riot, the sweet smell of success hanging in the air. And I even manage to catch a flower to take home with me."
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This article was originally published in the November 19, 1983 issue of Sounds.
Keep Young and Beautiful
BILL BLACK discovers THE SMITHS to be real charmers
BEFITTING A BAND verging on greatness, the Smiths have a keen sense of their own history.
In its annals are recorded such celebrated moments as the fated (and feted) meeting of tuneSmith Johnny Marr and wordSmith Morrissey, the release of their daunting debut "Hand In Glove" and "the Smiths as child molesters" scandal that would have destroyed lesser groups - and rocked this one not a little.
A messy affair that has still to be completely cleaned up, the sordid details do not bear repeating here (see other music papers for a full, fatuous account glorying in deed and misdeed).
After all, this piece isn't designed to cross-examine anyone about the harmful outcome of wilful ambiguity and reckless interpretation, simply to investigate further the hysterical rumblings that threaten to crease the very carpets of the Sounds office in their clamour to be heard. The message? That the Smiths are just the most important band around at the moment.
But there's no forgetting the gravity of the accusations levelled against the Smiths - or its source. With Sounds in the red corner and the band's label Rough Trade in the blue corner, where does that leave Bill Black - in the doghouse?
"It's all past history as far as the group is concerned," comforts their instantly likeable manager Joe Moss as we wait in a West London recording studio for the Smiths' imminent return from a Thames-side photo session.
But when the four of them return from the muddy location chosen for the shoot there is, for the first few minutes at least, a certain hugging of our respective ropes. Drummer Mike Joyce and bassist Andy Rourke busy themselves by making cups of reviving tea before slipping quietly away to challenge each other on the obligatory PacMan while the interview takes place.
Morrissey, guarded at first, soon warms to the challenge of self analysis and with the mop-topped, slightly elfin Marr, exudes a confidence in the strength and resilience of the Smiths that is unquestionably honest.
These charming men? Morrissey and Marr share a polite yet earnest nature. They are unflinching in their views; often uncomfortably so. One can only seek solace in the knowledge that they are invariably right.
We agree to skirt around the legal minefield that has now taken the place of the battleground of charge and counter charge over the nature and intent of Morrissey's contentious lyrics, but not before the wordSmith has taken the opportunity to unleash an eloquent and elegant tongue-lashing on the hypocrisy of contemporary morals. 'Nuff said. The Smiths have a keen sense of their own history and that's just what the whole matter is now - history.
"WE WANT TO make friends, we want to have people around us. Isn't that what everybody wants deep down? I'm sure when you were at school all you really cared about was being popular. All we really care about is being popular and that's why we try hard to please."
Morrissey responds succinctly, unnervingly (only someone with the skill and temperament of McEnroe truly enjoys having the ball hurled back into his own court) to an observation that the Smiths, above all else, seem keen to please.
It's telling that he should bring it all back to childhood and the constant if often fruitless pursuit of happiness. His own memories of teenagerdom are of "Morrissey: The Wilderness Years". Like some nightmarish Lost Weekend, his teens were a period of isolation and self-hatred. Until that day towards the end of last year when a youthful Johnny Marr came knocking on his door to see if he would be interested in collaborating on some songs. Marr had discovered from the wise Joe Moss that Morrissey's needs had for some time been "exclusively literary". Just what Marr needed, he thought, to complement his own approach to strumming his Rickenbacker (once owned by Roger McGuinn) - an escape into sanity.
For Morrissey life began again - at 23.
"I had quite a happy childhood until I was six or seven, after that it was horrendous. At the age of eight I became very isolated - we had a lot of family problems at that time - and that tends to orchestrate your life. I had a foul adolescence and a foul teenage existence. Except you couldn't really call it an existence. I just sort of scraped through, escaping into films and books until the Smiths happened and allowed me to live again!
"I think if I'd led an acceptably frivolous teenage life I wouldn't be singing in this group. I'm sure if you have a great time and get everything you want, all the friends you want, then you tend not to be so ambitious. If you're deprived of certain things it makes you very resilient and you kick very hard for what you want. And I wanted something very special because I'd led such an unspecial life previous to the Smiths."
The Smiths are special. They combine rock's primary colours of guitar, bass and drums in a fascinating way: you get the feeling of pleasant familiarity as if you've heard it all before, but you can take immense and almost criminally intense pleasure from the knowledge that there are boundaries as well as hearts being broken.
MORRISSEY HAS ONLY been partially successful in making use of his own teenage traumas. He has come to terms with his own celibacy ("An involuntary decision!" he assures me) but little else. The Smiths, he knows, will change that.
"I remember for a long time feeling totally charmless and unhandsome and I know there are so many others who still feel the same way. It's time that all those people moved in on this whole shebang and if necessary pretend to have charm. For too long this sphere of entertainment has been dominated by the big mouths and the small minds."
If there is a central issue that lies at the heart of the Smiths' motivation, this must be it.
Johnny: "The reason why Morrissey and I got together in the first place to write songs - and the reason why it was so successful - was because we both felt the need to react against what we'd been hearing over the past X years. Basically, we had a lot of gripes. I don't think groups can succeed unless they've got something they feel uncomfortable about. If you're happy with the music you're making and the music around you then you're going to be complacent, boring and safe."
Morrissey: "Nothing spurs you on like anger and we were angry about all the ugly people who control this business and all the ugly faces on Top Of The Pops. Why all the ugliness?
"It's very strange - this complete lack of intellect and complete lack of sensitivity. And of course there was nothing more repellant than the synthesizer, so it was really time to sweep all that down the drain.
"To say everything is hopeless, which is what people have been saying up till now, is a pointless attitude and that's where our belief in beauty and charm comes in. It's not to do with having a perfect profile or alabaster teeth."
Johnny: "It's a very optimistic feel that people get from our records and our gigs and that is of paramount importance to us. Even our name ties in with it. We're really sick of all this dressing up in designer clothes and having your hair done by whatever hairdresser is in vogue.
"All those sort of groups were very remote and that might be one of the reasons the Sixties have become so attractive again. The fact that someone like Sandie Shaw, who wasn't particularly beautiful or glamorous, could be a massive star is tremendous. Morrissey's lyrics offer a great deal of hope to people who are normal because they're saying there's nothing wrong with that. The Smiths are saying it doesn't matter who you are or what you do, as long as what you're saying is positive."
THE SMITHS ARE saying normality is making a comeback and they're saying it positively, but let's backtrack a minute and pick up Johnny's remark about the Sixties. It was prompted by the continuous links that are being made between attitudes prevalent during that debauched and de-bunked era and our own wonderful Smiths.
OK, so Morrissey might wear a forest of beads around his neck and get through the contents of a small market garden during a live set as he charms all with his bunches of gladioli, but yet another stab at reviving psychedelia?
The Exploding Plastic Inevitable the Smiths ain't.
But it needs saying more forcefully than that. Despite their "conventional" instrumentation, the Smiths are rooted (pun not intended) more firmly in the present than any of the so called "fingers on the pulse" industrial groups - Test Dept, SPK - can ever be.
Because (and it's been noted before) the sound of contemporary urban decay is not simply the clanking of steel plates or the chomp of a metal grinder. It is much more than that, infinitely more human. At the risk of straining the point, the soundtracks of post industrialism is the sound of misery. The sound of suffering humanity, the scream of a million English roses flailed against the landscape of depression - or a few dozen gladioli thwacked against Morrissey's handsome thigh.
Regard or discard as you like, but the Smiths are NOW. No argument. Which doesn't stop the Sixties tag cropping up in reviews, so how do they feel about the connotations?
Johnny: "Well we were very conscious when we started of not being preconceived. Even that sounds preconceived! When me and Morrissey got together to write a catalogue of songs it became immediately apparent that the songs we were writing needed bass and drums to make them work - so the 'conventional' set up was completed.
"We try and be adventurous but not to be overbearing, but then again we'd hate to be trapped by some revivalist tag, whatever it might be, because that's not what we're about.
"At the same time I can see some of the similarities and that's fine - if you dig into either of our collections you will find music of quality from every era and we're very aware of the fact that there is good to be had from every period of popular music.
"For instance, in the Sixties records were actually worth something. People went out and bought a seven inch piece of plastic and they treasured it, which they don't seem to do any more. We're trying to bring back that precious element which is, I suppose, reminiscent of an earlier time, but then so what? It's good to take a part of pop culture and bring it alive again and bring the human spirit back into it.
"It's exactly the same with the songwriting partnership Morrissey and I have. The whole idea of two people getting together with lots of common ground but with separate influences to bring out something we believe to be the best we've ever heard is something we feel has been missing since the Sixties. The Seventies was the decade of the solo artist and the solo writer and that doesn't appeal to me at all. I really get a buzz from the unpredictability of the way a Smiths song turns out. It's joyous the way we work together and if that's reminiscent of the Sixties that's fine."
It's time to talk around the subject a bit more and make some enquiries about the band's home town Manchester. Is it, as McCullough would have us believe, deserving of thorough investigation to find the reason for its consistently crucial musical outpourings? Morrissey is bemused, preferring to see the Mancunian fetish as a release for the capital-weary breed of London-based music journalists.
After all, he reminds us, the Smiths can take no credit for the place, having only been born and brought up there, not responsible for its size and stature. Come now...
Morrissey: "I can't pass judgement on James because I haven't heard any of the records or seen them live, but if what they say is how they feel then I'm in complete agreement."
Another name synonymous with forward-thinking Manchester is the Hacienda.
Morrissey: "We've had a great deal of personal support from the people at the Hacienda when they could easily have ignored us for signing with Rough Trade in London rather than Factory in Manchester and that's good because, as Johnny says, that means attitudes are at last changing."
Personal support? It suggests a shoulder to lean on when the going got tough a few months back following the muck-raking. It's also time to challenge Morrissey on the purposefully ambivalent nature of his lyrics. He chooses to write in a genderless style to remove the greatest block to understanding and acceptance - sexuality.
This inevitably leads to gender confusion and dangerous interpretations, so isn't well-intentioned obscurity a commercial as well as artistic liability? I suggest the Smiths are out to confound people.
Johnny: "You confound people by using gimmicks like having long unintelligible names and that's exactly what we're reacting against.
"Morrissey's so confident about himself that he doesn't have to cloud his lyrics in metaphor. A lot of writers verge on saying something important but because they're afraid of their own stature they use imagery as a way of saying 'if you can work it out you're "in"'. That doesn't appeal."
Morrissey: "My lyrics are only obscure to the extent they are not taken directly from the dictionary of writing songs. They're not slavish to the lyrics rule book, so you'll never catch me singing 'Oh baby, baby yeah'. My only priority is to use lines and words in a way that hasn't been heard before."
Despite the efforts of the "school fool" writers, Morrissey believes popular music is not a washed-up creative force yet; there's still plenty of things that need communicating and he's ready and willing to man the Morse key. And the bass, drums and guitar set up is far from redundant. Morrissey enthuses about the fluid yet wonderfully fractured playing of Marr ("Johnny can take the most basic, threadbare tune and you'll just cry for hours and hours and swim in the tears!") before announcing triumphantly:
"As far as I'm concerned the guitar hasn't even been picked up yet!"
Never mind the Svensons, you've got to keep up with the Smiths.
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only. Sounds cover photo by Paul Slattery.
See the original article here
The Charm School
Manchester Hacienda - November 24, 1983
"It had never been a matter of if, just when. But even The Smiths themselves must have been surprised at the massive extent of their arrival in the big time tonight. They were queuing round the block and back again and the 1500 capacity Hacienda was so packed you couldn't move your hand to get rid of a twitch on your leg!
The charming men had dashed from "TOTP" in London to be with us, but there was never any sign of fatigue or anti-climax. In fact, it turned out to be just about the most committed, thrilling and ultimately most inspiring performance I've witnessed this year. And up in the balcony, the bands mums and grandmums were here to make it a real family homecoming!
This was the Smiths' cup final; their triumph from being just the boys next door to superhumans we can look up to for a bit of light and warmth in the dark cold days ahead. The Hacienda, which regulars complain is always like a morgue, was transformed into a wonderfully bizarre Garden of Eden, with plants and flowers all over the place. The audience, all keyed up with the greenery around them, were waiting with bated breath for the botanical men to appear.
And then, in a brilliant masterstroke, they were there in front of us - not on stage, but being filmed live on video in the dressing room! Morrissey, flowers in hand of course, pouted his face and blew a coy kiss at the camera. The crowd plunged to the front of the stage like a senseless bull under threat of death.
Even before they took the stage girls were being pulled aside for treatment after fainting and too much screaming. Talk about the Beatles! Clearly, The Smiths will go a long long way - but not just because they've come up with a unique image and loveable appeal.
These flowerpower people have got a bagful of marvellously strong songs to back up their claims for a place in your hearts!
It means that their set is not simply a long list of twee pop songs. There's hidden depth, considerable variety and poignant emotion in Morrissey's sensitive lyrics. His voice - ranging from an irresistible whine to hard hitting deliveries - provided the perfect complement.
But let's not forget the dramatic rhythmic machine behind him. The Smiths are, after all, where they are because they are a glorious team. Obviously Morrissey will snatch the headlines but he probably will only be half the talent he is without those whirling guitar sounds and that thumping rhythm section.
Favourite moments: An uplifting "Hand In Glove" with Morrissey offering flowers to his disciples; a touching song "Jeane"; and of course a bubbling "This Charming Man" that threatened to lift the roof off with everyone singing along.
But the icing on the cake came when Morrissey clenched a bouquet and waved it proudly at the flushed relatives above him. It nearly brought tears to my eyes. Handsome one, Morrissey!"
Melody Maker, December 3, 1983
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only. Photo by Zbysiu Rodak reproduced without permission.
This article was originally published in the November 26, 1983 issue of Melody Maker.
The Smiths are more than a group, they're a crusade, dedicated to returning passion and optimism to our lives. IAN PYE has already been converted, now it's your turn.
Evangelical poses: ANDREW CATLIN
WHEN Morrissey speaks he nurses the side of his head with a sensitive hand as if he were trying to soothe some nagging pain or ease out the words by the soft persuasion of his gentle fingers. He frequently creases his brow and looks worried, yet rarely have I met a man so confident, so convinced by the worth of his own demanding mission.
Looking out across a cruel landscape, he sees himself ushering in a new form of beauty; a defiant but sensual challange to everything that is wasted and ugly. He recalls his teenage years as a period of misery and emptiness, and now that he has finally conquered a depression that seemed never ending he wants us to share in his triumph, be inspired by his example.
This complete dismay with the past means he refuses to even talk about it. Morrissey lives only for the present and the future, about which he enthuses with a warming optimism, reeling off long, considered sentences spoken quietly but always with a winning air of authority.
These days everything in his life appears to be falling into place. There's hardly time for anything beyond work and sleep. When we meet he's tired and pale, recovering from a previous night in the recording studio, and before long we find ourselves in a taxi battling through the London traffic towards a station, another journey, another destination.
The medium for Morrissey's genesis was The Smiths, a group unassuming by name but magnificent by nature. This new beginning came about when he crossed paths with guitarist Johnny Marr and the two discovered they shared a common vision that simply had to be realised.
With bass player Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce, The Smiths surfaced in the autumn of last year quickly attracting a dedicated following in their home city of Manchester and then later in London as well. Their quintessential line-up was a deliberately classic arrangement, representing the group's return to the pure fundamentals of pop: melody, rhythm and most of all emotion.
So far they have released two excellent singles on Rough Trade that boldly express the group's intentions: "Hand In Glove"/"Handsome Devil", and "This Charming Man"/"Jeane", the 12 inch of the latter featuring two different versions of "Charming Man" and two new songs, "Wonderful Woman" and "Accept Yourself", possibly their finest yet.
While admitting their debt to Sixties pop, especially The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield (Johnny actually uses Roger McGuinn's old 12 string Rickenbacker), The Smiths have nothing to do with nostalgia, setting their sights firmly on fresh horizons. If their music is filled with light and space, as it so often is, that's merely a reflection of themselves rather than some slavish attempt to capture the magic of another time.
Click to enlarge
JOHNNY Marr is in love with the sound and scope of guitars, and how it shows; his arrangements and playing glisten and sparkle, forming a luscious undercurrent that's impossible not to get swept along with. And Morrissey's dreamy voice, satiated with romance and idealism, is already competent enough to translate his high flying aspirations.
Has he perhaps surprised himself?
"Not really, no," he replies unassuming as ever. "You see I went through a long, strange period of self development with words and singing so I really felt ready when the time came. I didn't feel, 'good grief can I do it, can't I do it.' I was just really so desperate to do it that I just did it. When you're really desperate it's surprising what you can do!"
His former unhappiness hinted at, he's reluctant to expand any further denying that there's any conscious attempt to mystify his background. Beyond confirming that The Smiths are his first venture into music and public performance he's unwilling to say more.
"I really don't believe there's anything in my past that could possibly interest anybody," he states matter of factly. "I don't really want to bore people with unnecessary paraphernalia. Actually I wish there was something mysterious in my past but I'm afraid it was just dramatically dull!"
When The Smiths play live they go out of their way to make the occasion a real event. Morrissey emphasises the group's appeal for a return to honest emotion and a new hope for the future by his onstage conceits, the most well known of all being the way he throws flowers at the audience. There's no irony intended, he says, and reveals his endearing modesty once more when considering the group's fervent disciples.
"People are dedicated to us because we deserve it. We try. Our reception hasn't surprised me at all, in fact I think it will snowball even more dramatically over the immediate months - it really has to. I feel very comfortable about it, and I'm very pleased. It's all quite natural because I really think we merit a great deal of attention.
"You see they understand that I really do mean it when I shower people in flowers. They appreciate the honesty in that act. It was something I felt compelled to do because the whole popular music scene had become so grey and black, so dull! I thought something had to be injected and flowers were just a very sensible injection."
Those colours, grey and black, crop up a lot in Morrissey's conversation. To him, they're synonymous with the way modern culture is flattening out into a nightmare of video games and synthesized muzak. Which makes it paradoxical that The Smiths should adopt such a pointedly drab name and come from a city always associated with long macs and grim faces.
"At the time we formed," Morrissey recalls, "the northern bleakness was flirting with this kind of Parisienne surrealism - all these inverted groups from Salford with terribly profound names! The most surreal, overtly artistic names were being pinned to the most pathetically dull groups so we thought we'd latch ourselves onto the most simplistic name we could possibly think of and still produce inspiring music. All these other mordant individuals were just hiding behind this cloak of pseudo-surrealism and other worldliness. It was all so fabricated and at the end of the day it amounted to an enormous nonsense.
"Simply by having a really straightforward name we were saying that you don't have to hide behind any veil of artistry to produce something worthwhile. I think these groups thought they really had to confuse people, that they really had to be misunderstood otherwise they'd have no value. That kind of mentality looked down on simple music that could be comprehended, it tried to trivialise it. So The Smiths are a way to squash that. You really have to be yourself and be very down to earth and say what you want to say - do what you want to do. We don't have to be cool anymore; that really is the most basic thing about Smithdom."
FACTORY Records still casts a dark shadow over Manchester and Morrissey welcomes it's receding significance. From the start, he says, he wanted nothing to do with the steely elitism that organisation had purposely fostered. "They really did make a tremendous contribution to this cool attitude," he complains.
"They encouraged people by example to be hipper-than-thou. It was all so closed and aloof which is completely opposed to the whole notion of Smithdom.
"I always thought the original idea of Factory - a Northern indie label - was much more appealing than anything they produced. They really became very conservative and boring - I suppose it was easy making everything grey, it probably saved them a lot of thought and materials!
"We realised it was a spent force straight away when it came to considering record companies. At the time we arrived they didn't seem very interested in new groups anyway - I think they had financial problems or something. They'd become like an independent version of Warner Brothers. Although they felt very sure about their grip on the music scene they were really very deluded inside this overblown organisation."
Bypassing Factory, then, the group eventually settled for a deal with Rough Trade, a typically unfashionable choice but one they felt their hearts were in. It fact it wasn't an intended move, and they went the usual round of the majors after several invitations by interested A&R departments before settling on Geoff Travis' still uncompromised indie label.
"We went to see various people from the majors but we felt out of place at every meeting. Our aims weren't really in line with theirs, whereas with Rough Trade we thought there was an immediate empathy between us. Experiencing the majors first hand was actually a pretty horrendous experience - they couldn't really see beyond what was already popular, what had already sold."
If you haven't gathered by now, The Smiths aren't just a group, they're a crusade. Through their music and the ideals it embodies, The Smiths are determined to rekindle the optimism they fear is nearly extinguished. For Morrissey the decadent kick of living life on the edge of the apocalypse is one more dead end drug.
His dreams are massive - and why not? To hear him speak is like listening to some crazy evangelist, only Morrissey isn't mad, and the more he says the more he amazes.
"Popular music seems to effect almost everyone," he opines calmly, "and I think something very substantial can come from it. Its potential is so great! It can virtually change the entire universe," he adds totally deadpan.
And yes, there's more: "I hope people will hear the music of The Smiths and realise it's played with real heart and soul. I hope they also realise that we are playing this music because we have to.
"The Smiths is a complete open book and it's there for anybody who wants to gaze upon it, and believe me, everything will spring forth. You don't need masses of literary knowledge to understand what we are doing. Yet simply because we are easy to enjoy doesn't mean we are dealing in something inconsequential.
"The difficulty in music right now is to be straightforward. People refuse to be open and accessible - it's a craft that's disappeared. The only thing people can do now is befog the public and be obscure - which is of no value. The whole thing is about communication and what communication is there when your words are absurdly oblique!"
Click to enlarge
THE lyrics to all The Smiths' songs are written by Morrissey, though he also evolves melodic ideas with Johnny, the group's musical mainstay. Deliciously atmospheric, the songs swirl around your senses, beckoning the listener into a world built on promise and a child-like honesty. It could all end up sounding terribly twee and affected but Morrissey has the native wit to avoid pop's worn romantic cliches. The new Julian Cope he isn't.
His lyrical vocabulary has revived a whole host of words and phrases more associated with the Thirties than the Sixties; "charming" and "handsome" among the most favoured. "I use such words," he explains, "because I think they're very positive words and much needed at the moment. It's better for people to think of themselves as charming and handsome than unemployed and miserable."
Surely an autobiographical reflection that harks back to the missing years before The Smiths, especially when he reveals that the motivation to write in the first place "came through my own personal depression, my disgust, my horror!
"But the reasons for writing aren't something I think about much really," he adds. "I've done it for such a long time now that to question it really seems quite ludicrous. It's like saying 'why do you breathe?'."
Another explanation for Morrissey's chosen imagery is that he is at pains to write about beauty in an entirely asexual manner; his way of undermining "the unnatural and artificial barriers placed between the two sexes." It would be nice to think that such sentiments might be tolerated in 1983. After all the charts must feature more gay artists at the moment than ever before. But sadly a national music paper took it upon themselves to slur the name of The Smiths with ridiculously irresponsible accusations hurled in their direction.
Worse still, this vicious innuendo was picked up by the gutter press and fed to millions. Of course, it was all lies, for some the grist of good copy, and the music paper concerned has since bent over backwards to buy off The Smiths with column inches, probably through the realisation that they could ill-afford to miss out on that dream of editors everywhere, the semi-mythical "next big thing".
The charming man that he is, Morrissey dismisses the whole dismal episode with a shrug and little bitterness. "That's all history now," he says as if that very statement could erase the past. "It hasn't recurred in any dangerous way and ironically it subsequently won us more coverage in that paper than we'd ever have got before."
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TRYING to set The Smiths in the recent context of pop is almost impossible, simply because they really have no peers, and no personal history to speak of either. Morrissey admits his great respect for fellow Mancunian Mark Smith (no name connection here) but that's as far as it goes beyond a kind of common indignation for the creeping apathy that makes our post industrial country so rank.
"I understand what grieves Mark Smith completely, and the anger he feels for the people around him who see themselves powerless to do anything about their position in the scheme of things. But what is also so appealing about Mark Smith, is that he shows compassion, which is a rare thing right now."
Other groups who have dabbled in the legacy of the Sixties, Orange Juice and Aztec Camera for example, both Rough Trade deserters, appear to be almost foreign bodies as far as Morrissey's concerned. Pointing out that his inspiration is largely literary and cinematic anyway, he relishes a monologue on modern pop music.
"It got to the stage when I was so angry with music, I felt I really had to interfere in some way. Break up all the squalor, which we're still trying to do. A big challenge to undertake? Well yes, but you know it's quite simple when you really think of it. And when you get within close proximity you realise it can be done. So many of the people involved in popular music are really such light individuals - they only seem threatening seen from a distance."
It's not unusual to find Morrissey wearing beads and an open necked smock onstage, and while this signifies a healthy distaste for style worship, and the land of a thousand haircuts, to paraphrase John Lydon, he's not trying to bury his head in the sand of his dreams.
"I think style is something you have to pay attention to," he argues, "because of the social climate we live in. People, let's face it, are obsessed with style - you can't get away from it.
"But I think you can be in there and giving a seperate message. Try and suggest to people that maybe it's not that important after all. People in this country fall back on style because they don't have a great deal else. They need something to do with their money and something to help them feel interesting. Which is fine, in many ways, it's an art form, but it can get to be a little over obsessive I think, and override other things which are much more important."
Which clearly begs a question. What do politics mean to him?
"You have to be interested in politics these days," he asserts firmly. "If you're not you're a completely lost individual. Whereas, years ago, politics seemed to be this thing that was secluded for a minority of intellectuals these days you can't get away with that argument - you have to be attuned to what's happening, there's so much at stake. There's absolutely no excuse for people who aren't politically aware.
"I really believe that complacancy is bred. It's a recurring theme promoted by a government that says 'look, do not worry about nuclear weapons - we will look after you.'
Governmental issues aren't translated in a way understandable to most people. Issues are deliberately veiled to prevent people from grasping the point at hand and then forming their own opinion.
"This government runs on a bedrock of naivety. They won't give things away, obviously, it's not in their interests. Ultimately people feel it's all beyond them - we want to change that. The Smiths will push people to think for themselves, to believe they can really do something."
This is the right stuff! I vote for The Smiths immediately and draw your attention to the fact that they will soon be playing at the Electric Ballroom for Peace Year and putting their money, as usual, where their charming mouths are.
AS the station looms into view I ask if he'd ever thought about moving down to London and what did they do when back in Manchester? "We play bridge," he tells me, charmingly of course. "No we don't have time to do much anymore, which is nice, you know to be losing a stone a day and never sleeping.
"London? Yes we did toy with the idea a while ago - but only for a second! Actually there's just no question of it! It's such an impersonal place which is very difficult to say when a lot of our popularity is based here and so many people have welcomed us.
"There's something frighteningly artificial about everything here; the whole place is geared up for tourism now. London's a kind of massive souvenir shop, a facade of how London used to be. It just isn't English anymore, it seems very Americanised which is something to dwell upon with horror."
But to honour the spirit of Smithdom it would only be appropriate to end with something more encouraging. Soon The Smiths will be releasing their debut album on Rough Trade.
Perectionists, they've re-recorded their songs and brought in a new producer, John Porter, who, according to Morrissey in his inimitably reserved style, "has worked with lots of interesting people and is continuing to do so!"
Prepare to be charmed.
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only. Original photos by Andrew Catlin reproduced without permission.
See the original article here
FURTHER READING: Flowers of Romance & Strictly Shrub-wise
You've done a lot of sessions.
"Mmmm, we've done four."
It seems to be dripping out of your ears. Is it that easy?
"It is... intolerably easy. It's virtually irksome."
Does it worry you that it's that easy?
M: "It worries me now because all the sessions have had an incredible amount of airplay. We're slightly overexposed and people are so familiar with what we do. It means that by the time these songs come out on vinyl people might be slightly tired of them. So from that angle, I worry slightly - though it's a pleasurable dilemma."
- Rorschach Testing, 1983
To read this interview in full, see Message Understood in the Supplemental section
The following article originally appeared in the April/May 1984 issue of Matter. The interview with Morrissey took place while The Smiths were in New York to play their first (and sole) 1983 American gig at Danceteria, on New Year's Eve.
Mike Lev tries to find out if The Smiths' Morrissey is really as charming as the British press says he is.
A graying man in a red sweater, about 70 years old, sits in a chair in the lobby of New York's Hotel Iroquois, a slightly shabby, worn hotel shared by old men who have lived there for 20 years and now worry about the weather and their health, and young musicians passing through town who worry about becoming stars.
"So, how's it going with you Dudley?" he calls across to the desk clerk.
"Fine. And you, Ben?"
"OK," he pronounces, rapping a clenched fist on the wooden arm of a chair for good luck. "I just went to the doctor. I'm taking five piss pills a day."
"When did you get the new pills?" Dudley asks.
"No, it's not a new pill, Dudley," Ben corrects him. "It's one more pill. To help me urinate."
"To get the water out," Dudley, standing at the check-in desk, surmises.
A young man in a long gray overcoat marches quickly into the lobby and starts talking with Dudley.
"You were checking out?" Dudley asks in confusion.
"No, he's from room 53," Ben calls out to remind them. "He was switching rooms."
A woman hotel employee standing near Ben apprehensively approaches the clean-cut young man, whose hair sticks straight up as if it were magnetically drawn to the dusty ceiling.
The young man is Morrissey, lead singer of The Smiths, England's latest pop sensation. From what Ben, Dudley and the woman are saying, it seems he's changed rooms, but left some books in the first room.
His new room is larger than the first, but still very dank: a slightly tattered red and brown painting of a matador hangs over the mantlepiece. The shades are drawn as Morrissey enters the room. Most of the lightbulbs are missing from the lamps. All this for the self-proclaimed leader of the "cult of the beautiful."
"This is a dark and sinister hotel," he says. "I really don't know why they choose all these dark colors. When I first arrived here I got very depressed, but I got used to it. And I switched rooms. This one was more airy, they told me," he says with a grimace.
It is a dirty, old hotel. And The Smiths are very, very clean. "Blemish free," according to Morrissey, who acts as if he belongs next door at the far more elegant Algonquin Hotel, once home to Alexander Woollcott and the New York literary Round Table of the past. In fact, Morrissey says he once wrote for the British music magazine Record Mirror under the pen-name Sheridan Whiteside, the character from the film, "The Man Who Came To Dinner," based on Woollcott's life.
But The Smiths are holed up at the Iroquois, not sipping cognac in the Algonquin bar. And depending upon your point of view, the Smiths either don't belong at the Iroquois because it's so far below their standards, or they deserve to suffer in its cramped quarters until they stop acting like spoiled, egotistical brats.
The Smiths are a hard band to figure out, and Morrissey, as singer and opinionated spokesman, is most enigmatic. They play a deceptively shallow jangle of pop music that doesn't twist and turn so much as it kicks into a groove and glides effortlessly straight ahead, steadily and smoothly. It's in total opposition to Morrissey's voice, which seems to arc over, dip under or shy away from the powerful guitar melodies of Johnny Marr, who writes the music.
Just as you get use (sic) to the voice, it leaps into a falsetto. Some say that it's limited in range and not pleasing to the ear, very hollow. Yet others have obviously fallen for it.
Yes, very enigmatic. Attempt to dissect the whole of a Smiths song and it falls apart. Allow the whole to make an impression and you're hooked.
The Smiths are in New York to play a New Year's Eve gig at Danceteria, hang-out of the lean and hip dance crowd. It is their first American gig and it has been most talked about because they're already a sensation in England. They came out of nowhere (Manchester, England actually, which some people will tell you is really close to nowhere) at the end of the summer to become one of the country's most talked about groups. Their three Rough Trade singles and a handful of gigs in Manchester and London generated all the excitement - a new, vibrant voice amid the dull, uninspired sounds of Wham! and Spandau Ballet.
Morrissey says this is his first band. For Marr and the two other Smiths, drummer Mike Joyce and bassist Andy Rourke, it is their first band of consequence.
Morrissey pulls up a chair. He's thin and tall, and though he would describe himself as a masculine type, he holds himself very delicately, carefully clasping his hands together, or placing a finger to his mouth as he speaks. A hint of this delicacy even manages to penetrate his slight working class British accent.
"For the singles, there was an enormous amount of press reaction and a good deal of radio and television," Morrissey says. "We've done every music program that there is on British television."
The first two singles reached the independent and national charts; "Hand In Glove," and the follow-up, "This Charming Man," both hovered in the charts for months after their release. The latest single, "What Difference Does It Make?" received critical praise.
"There has been a spectacular reaction, obviously, and a tremendous amount of press to the point, virtually, where it could become slightly dangerous," he admits.
Morrissey has a face, a distinct voice, and three good singles. And a philosophy. All the elements necessary to make the Smiths this month's thing. "People tell me that press is a very dangerous thing," he says. "I understand, to a point, that people might get tired of you if they see you too much, but I'm not prepared to begin worrying about the situation: too much press ... not enough press. But it really depends on what your face looks like and what you are saying. If you constantly see these bland, mediocre faces with non-statements, then you get tired of it. But if a group is strong-willed and they have something to say and they have a very good reason for being there, then you really shouldn't get tired of them."
One feels compelled to ask whether or not that description fits the Smiths.
"You said it, not me," he answers with a smirk, pausing before admitting, "Yes. I certainly don't want to be a bland pop figure. I don't believe that I ever could be. So many popular faces are bland and meaningless. Everybody that gets through doesn't have to be dull. It has gone well for us because there is a lot of depth to the group. Our plan for success is monotonous in its traditional avenue. I want to utilize every channel; I want to explore to the fullest degree. There has been an enormous trend in popular music in England for many groups not to speak to the press, and not to appear on television. They do it almost as an act of defiance. In a way, it realy slits your throat. It kind of holds you back."
"For many, their not wanting to talk to the press is really kind of understandable," Morrissey continues, "because they don't have anything to say. It's like this mask, this veil: 'I will not talk to the press because I am too self-willed.' But really these people are mute. I think if you do have something to say, to avoid any channel is complete idiocy. Groups struggle for years and then they reach a point where people will listen to them and they say absolutely nothing. It is really not good enough to be an underground group. It is like staying in one's backyard."
The Smiths' songs relay messages, but they're hardly the type to change the world. "I would go out tonight, but I haven't got a stitch to wear," Morrissey laments in "This Charming Man." It's pretty hard to feel sorry for someone like that. But put it all together - songs called "This Charming Man," and "Handsome Devil." A nude man posing on the cover of one single, on another, a man kneeling over a pool of water, fascinated by his own reflection. The Smiths are vain. Totally narcissistic. Maybe we should just leave it at that.
"I would not want to display any visions of ugliness," Morrissey says, "but I would not want to sound like I had any obsessions with synthetic theatrics. I would not want the Smiths to be described as ugly. Surface ugliness is what I'm talking about. I would not want to be pantomime, or to be unnecessarily obsessive about anything. I will accept 'narcissistic' to a point. There is a certain positiveness about what we do and there is a certain kind of element of that.
"I often call it the 'cult of the beautiful,' which is something we belong to. There is a very thin line immersed in that statement that could make it sound quite trivial and make it fanciful, almost pantomime. But I'd (sic)really want people to have a very positive attitude about their lives, and I think in a way, that word (narcisism) ties in with it, but not to an obsessive point. It can have bad connotations, bu it really depends on the individual. I don't feel that I am egotistical. I am very determined and I am very ambitious. But ego, no. That is quite different. I know exactly what I want from the Smiths and so far it has gone completely according to the strategy. If that is ego, then I suppose I am in a way."
The Smiths, then, might seem like another sex and fashion band, like Culture Club. However, Morrissey thinks differently, tagging Boy George "boring, almost parental, the Agatha Christie of popular music.
"He's the festive faggot that everybody laughs at, but not with. If he is trying to do something for his gender he is failing. It is just siding with the heterosexist attitude that all gay people are fanciful fairies that go along with teddy bears on their shoulders and are very trivial people.
"Compared to people like Marilyn," (another British androgynous fashion plate popster) Morrissey says, "we are quite masculine."
The Smiths do rely on a similiar image of visuals and sexuality. They abhor ugliness, and feel repulsed by mundane structures like the hotel. But Morrissey sees nothing wrong with that, and he isn't worried about being compared to Boy George. "I think the Smiths are too intellectual to be swept away as candy floss. There is too much lyrical depth. We are too clever; it could never happen to us."
To Morrissey, "This Charming Man" was downright dangerous. To some, it seemed to describe a first homosexual experience, or even child molestation. "It was really threatening, a very, very strong song," he says.
Whatever you care to read into "This Charming Man," it is a masculine song, rather than a feminine song, and to Morrissey it is important that the Smiths are taken that way. "We show very strong, appealing male images," he says. "It is true that many do assume we are homosexual because of the covers and because of the lyrics, but people who do are very shallow. It is that locker-room mentality... cavemen."
Nobody questions putting naked women on record covers, Morrissey says, but put a naked man on the cover and you're labelled a homosexual. Morrissey claims he's incapable of sexism, and he'll risk being called "sexist" to carry the Smiths' ideal. It doesn't bother him that people could giggle at the importance he places upon physical attractiveness, either.
"I'm not afraid of taking risks," he asserts. "If I thought the Smiths had blemishes, weaknesses, I might, but I don't think we have. So I am prepared to do anything. You either can sing, or you can't. I have never sung for an audience until the Smiths - it just so happens that I can sing. It is nothing that I have trained. I have a bath soprano. It was just there, quite literally."
With the release of The Smiths' self-titled album here on Sire Records, the band is probably as worried about sinking without a trace in this huge country as they are hungry to duplicate their success in Britain. In England, they have already attained the kind of success of which most people only dream. John Peel, the influential BBC Radio One disc jockey listed every song the Smiths have released, as well as one unreleased tune in his "Best of 1983" list. NME's readers voted them "Best New Act of 1983."
The Smiths will enter the American music industry with a defined, yet somewhat risky stance that could be considered homosexual. Their music is hardly good old American rock'n'roll, and the vocals are buried in the mix.
"On the first single, the vocals were not mixed above the music, but I think the record transcends any kind of production argument," Morrissey says. "There is much more spirit and feeling, getting back to a very fundamental and traditional way of sounding. I think it is enough to make it in America, I really do. The world is bored with the synthesizer."
Some might wonder, though, what gives Morrissey the right to come into this country at all?
"I really don't mind if we don't make it," Morrissey says. "Because really, much more important than having mass appeal, is just simply changing people's lives. Groups like Led Zeppelin sold millions of records, but did not raise people's consciousness one jot. Ultimately, it's pointless. It is more valuable to sell 10 records and change 10 lives than to sell 5,000,000 and not alter any lives.
"I really don't have any expectations," he says. "I arrived in New York totally anonymously, like I was in the back garden somewhere in England. I just did not have any expectations, and I don't really plan anything. It is very monotonous to plan. I just grapple with the present and plunder through each day as it arrives. If the Smiths last 45 years it would be very nice, but if they don't last to tomorrow then that is the way it goes."
And in 45 years, where will Morrissey find himself? He'll be an old man, sunning himself on the veranda of his villa in Spain, perhaps. Or riding down a creaking, dimly-lit elevator in a drab pensioners' hotel, turning to another gentleman and inquiring about the weather, wondering if the sun will shine, or clouds will cover the sky and it will rain.
Reproduced WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only. Photo of The Smiths by Paul Cox. Reproduced without permission.
Danceteria, New York - December 31, 1983
"One might think that singer Morrissey belongs more in a synth-pop band, but that notion is laid to rest once they play live.
Backed by a solid, driving pop sound with ringing guitars, Morrissey's voice soars and carries the music like a glistening rainbow. His stage presence and remarkable vocal range makes one tend to forget the more restaintive style on vinyl. They definitely project a much looser feel, as I thought they might. "Charming Man", "Difference" and "Hand in Glove" were all performed more aggressively while still retaining enough polish to define the signature sound of the Smiths.
It will be interesting to see if Morrissey's lyrical potential and vocal style will develop even further.
The Danceteria show, I thought, was a promising start for these British new-comers."
The source of this review is unknown.
Reproduced WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
Note: The Danceteria concert was the sole US gig The Smiths would play until the North American leg of the 1985 'Meat Is Murder' tour.