For me, The Smiths are The Beatles. They are MY band. As time progresses their impact on the UK music scene grows and grows and their influence can be still be heard and felt almost 30 years on. To many of a certain age, like myself, they are the yardstick to which all bands ever since have been measured. Bands are ‘not as good as The Smiths’ or ‘almost as good as The Smiths’. It’s a handy measure. It is hard to describe just how different The Smiths – Morrissey, Marr, Rourke and Joyce – were; they arrived in 1983, championed by John Peel, to save us from Phil Collins, Kajagoogoo, Bonnie Tyler, Spandau Ballet and Culture Club and then continued to guide us through the Stock, Aitken and Waterman years before spectacularly imploding during my final years as a student at the University of Liverpool. We knew The Smiths were important; we knew Morrissey was speaking directly to us. We did not trust anyone who complained that The Smiths were ‘miserable’, shouting ‘listen to the lyrics, behold the dry wit and masterful use of sarcasm’.
As you get older it is very easy to return to youthful pursuits and revisit past victories but for me The Smiths have never gone away. They have been a constant. A riposte to the music on Radio 1 that says ‘nothing to me about my life’. After the demise I went forward with Morrissey (solo) and with Marr (with The The, primarily) but it was never the same. Even now, when I see Morrissey and the various media storms that always surround him be it his stance on animal cruelty, or immigration, or racism generally, I am still able to give him the benefit of the doubt. I am still able to champion his corner. No-one was more happy than me when he returned from the wilderness triumphant. But try as he might, with his dry asides and barbed comments about his ‘old band’ and the fact that he has been with his current band for longer, he cannot hide from the fact that The Smiths were so much better. The Smiths changed music. Just go and see Morrissey live. The adoration is still there, the wit is still there (even if he is a little paunchy) but its the first bars of ‘How Soon is Now’ that raises the bar, that starts a wave of euphoria that spreads throughout the audience. Its the old songs that everyone wants to hear; the songs that changed their lives, the songs that made them cry.
Believe it or not, there is a reason for this blog. This week, totally un-announced a collection of unreleased demos were posted on the internet. You can find them by following the links here. Listening to them was like rediscovering a lost friend all over again. Like finding a lost Smiths album. Even though all the songs are familiar these rough, recorded as live versions (I think) are still fresh, a taster of how certain songs might have sounded. These recordings are more muscular, more sinewy, more vibrant – to my ears at least – to the album versions. The end of what is considered to be The Smiths best song ‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out’ has new lyrics to the outro. Here Morrissey sings ‘There is a light in your eyes that never goes out’. And the song takes on a new meaning. Maybe this was ditched as being too obvious, too specific, hell, maybe even too romantic but who cares, it’s brilliant. Other songs such as ‘Shelia Take a Bow’ and ‘The Death of a Disco Dancer’ are pumped up. The released versions sound anaemic by comparison. And an instrumental version of ‘Shoplifters of the World Unite’ shows what it could and should have been – the bastard offspring of the Smiths’ finest hour. The successor to ‘How Soon Is Now’.
I have been transported this week back to a time when I had cheek bones, a time when I had a flat top and wore a mackintosh, skinny jeans and suede shoes. A time when I had the world at my feet. It’s often said that the past is another country and that they do things differently there – originally from The Go Between I think, what a good name for a band 😉 – but not when you have The Smiths; The Smiths are a constant, a fixed point in time that, in the words of Doctor Who, cannot be changed. Destined to be great forever. Don’t believe those who claim this is music to be miserable to. This is music to laugh, cry and yes, dance to. Music that saved a generation from Phil Collins. And if that’s not worth something then what is?
And the picture? Well its a tenuous link at best. Last year I did some ad-hoc photos for an architects in Salford. He didn’t like the pictures – c’est la vie – but round the corner from his office was an old pub that was being renovated/pulled down. It was difficult to tell. So this picture is the Crown Hotel in Salford. It was kind of apt considering what I had it in my mind to write. It might not even be there anymore.
In my loft I have a huge box full of old T-shirts. I cannot bear to throw them out. I consider that they may be worth something although my wife wants them thrown out. One Smiths T-Shirt survives, from the many that I had . It has the cover of ‘Sheila Takes A Bow’ on it, which is a picture of Candy Darling, the transgender Warhol acolyte and star of Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side’. The material is gossamer thin. Even though it says ‘medium’ I doubt it will fit me any more. It’s a treasured possession. My faith in love is still devout