||Manchester's Answer To The
How it all blew up for Morrissey and The Smiths
by Dave Simpson
part 1 of 2
from "Uncut" magazine (August, 1998)
Submitted by Naomi
THE phone rings at the Sunset Marquis Hotel, Los Angeles.
"Hello, is Morrissey there?"
"I'm sorry, sir, we don't give out that kind of information."
They don't give out that kind of information. This is becoming a mantra for all enquiries
concerning Steven Patrick Morrissey. Supposing I told you this: that in 1998 the pop icon
known simply as Morrissey apparently has no record contract, no publishing deal, no
manager and no band and is seen by some as being on the verge of retirement.
None of this may be as far-fetched as it sounds.
Morrissey's last British album, "Maladjusted", was released last year on Island
Records and sold poorly. In a phone call to Island, they're uniquely cagey and seem unsure
whether he's even still on the label. It finally becomes clear that Morrissey was never
actually signed to Island and that "Maladjusted" was licensed from US label
Mercury. Despite repeated requests, nobody at Mercury will confirm whether Morrissey is or
is not on the label. His name has been removed from their web site list of artists.
Rumours persist he's been dropped. But some friends insist he dropped the label.
Others suggest he is about to sign a new two-album deal with an unspecified label.
Earlier this year, Morrissey sacked his manager, Vicky Wickham, who also looks after Dusty
Springfield. His previous manager, James Todd, is dead. At the moment, Morrissey is
apparently not managed by anybody. His song publishing deal with Warner Chappell has
expired and hasn't been renewed. Warner Chappell refused to comment, and put me on to
Russell's, a firm of solicitors they tell me now represent Morrissey, except Russell's no
longer handle Morrissey. It emerges that Morrissey has since been looked after by Harbart
& Lewis, who handled his affairs when he was successfully sued by former Smiths
drummer Mike Joyce in 1996, except Moz no longer uses them.
The intrigue deepens. Simple enquiries to RCA Records as to why (prior to Island) he only
recorded one album for them are met with silence. Even Island (who are basically unsure
whether Morrissey will ever record for them again) communicate with the singer through
faxes, and get scant replies. According to one of them, Morrissey's band of the last few
years (featuring Alain Whyte, Boz Boorer, Spencer Cobrin and Johnny Bridgwood) is
"definitely still together", although sources close to the band gingerly refute
this. Whatever the truth of that one, guitarist Whyte and drummer Cobrin are playing in a
new band, Lorca.
Why the web of intrigue?
Morrissey is an icon - like Brando or Garbo - whose influence dwarves his actuality, whose
importance, at least until recently, was matched by his record sales. And, like many
icons, he now appears to have much to hide.
Right now - as usual - Morrissey is invisible, reclusive. He's back in Manchester after
having spent much of the year idling in Los Angeles. In June, he appeared in London at the
Ivor Novello Awards, where he was presented with an award for an Outstanding Contribution
to British Music, which he dedicated to "John Maher of Whythenshawe". His sole
other public words on the occasion were to say, "He [Johnny Marr] brought me where I
am today. Which begs the question, 'Where am I?'"
He won't be interviewed. He has "no plans".
Morrissey has always been unpredictable. When his first solo album, "Viva Hate",
went to Number One, he disappeared for a month, uncontactable even from his manager. Even
close confidants go ages without seeing him. They assume the friendship is over, then
suddenly a fax will arrive. One of his closest friends is described by another as "a
complete c***. The sort of person who thrives on making trouble."
If the record companies are one thing (at one point it seemed that to ask "Can you
confirm that Morrissey was in The Smiths?" would result in a firm "No
comment"), Morrissey's friends and associated are another thing entirely. Getting
them to talk is an ordeal. Even the many excommunicated by the singer exhibit a strange
loyalty. Or is it just loyalty?
"Morrissey can be very vindictive," said one.
"I don't really want to put him down," said another.
"He's evil in a way damaged people are," said a recently cast aside insider.
Is this really that same man who brought us flowers and The Smiths?
ANOTHER insider spoke of an "intimate" friendship: "It
was really close and then the phone calls stopped." Some people close to Morrissey
agreed to talk on principle and then suddenly went to ground. Sometimes, the people you'd
expect to have little to lose from talking about him were most steadfast in their refusal
to talk about the singer's pathologically guarded life. But, equally, some of the people
who it seemed certain would not talk did talk... and word got back.
After 10 days of shenanigans, stonewalls, brick walls and private investigations, I
received a return call from Michael Bracewell, author of the superb book, "England Is
Mine", which includes several insightful sections on Morrissey. More to the point,
Bracewell is one of the few who remain in Mozzer's inner circle - he lives in Manchester
with Linder, the former Ludus singer who is virtually unique in remaining Morrissey's
friend since his pre-fame days and is perhaps his ultimate, closest confidante. A call
from Bracewell was a direct line from the Morrissey nerve centre, and it became obvious
that it had been made with the knowledge (if not under the instructions) of His Master's
Voice when Bracewell tried to ascertain just what story we had, what revelations we'd
"I'm being very coy, aren't I?" he admitted, as he aimed and dodged bluff and
counter-bluff in an enjoyable investigation game. "The thing with Morrissey is that
he is everything his writing and his music suggest he is," said Michael at one point.
And of his closely guarded personal life?
"There's really nothing there," Michael told me. "I think the closest
comparison is with Warhol. His power stems from a concentrated emptiness."
This was a particularly pointed comparison - anyone familiar with Warhol would know that
his own secret life contained more skeletons than a 1918 graveyard.
This, then, is the untold story of Morrissey and The Smiths... 15 years of bitterness and
YOU wonder is they had any idea what was ahead of them when they blazed
out of Manchester in 1983 with the Rough Trade single, "Hand In Glove", a
soaring, immediate anthem in a sleeve bedecked with a nude filched from gay pornography.
"The sun shines out of our behinds" sang Morrissey, cheekily, unforgettably, and
a movement was born.
Proudly Mancunian and with an almost Olde English traditionalism allied to frequently
radical philosophies, The Smiths were always much more than a band. There was Marr, the
Roger McGuinn-fringed chiming tunesmith who seemed to drop instantly classic songs like
normal people crap; there was Morrissey, the bequiffed, overcoated, Oscar Wilde, Sixties
pop and New York Dolls - obsessed wit who sang with primeval emotionalism rarely heard
since early Elvis Presley.
Morrissey was instantly a celebrity because pop had never seen anything like him. He sang
about repressed desire and yet professed to be celibate. He loathed the sex and drugs and
no-intelligence culture of rock'n'roll. He espoused literature, feminism, vegetarianism
and left-wing politics, and wrote songs equally at ease with sensitivity and brutality,
brimming with darkly humorous abject misery. He was the unearthly amalgam of Marc Bolan,
James Dean and Charles Hawtrey. He was shockingly handsome yet sang (only half
self-mockingly), "I am sick and I am dull and I am plain," and "16, clumsy
and shy, that's the story of my life." He was not unathletic and yet had endured a
dark adolescence of schoolday regimentalism, isolation, bedroom fantasising and
"Morrissey set himself up as the ultimate patient and, because of that, the one
sympathetic analyst a person can have," says Michael Bracewell. "That's why
there was a mass transference with the whole fucking audience. They fell in love, and he
was playing with it. 'I am sick and I am dull and I am plain.' That just made them want
him even more."
"Manchester's answer to the H-Bomb" is how Morrissey claimed he would like to be
remembered and this seemed entirely reasonable. With Marr and Morrissey ably backed up by
Andy Rourke ("the bass guitar") and Mike Joyce ("the drums"), for the
first two years - if not their entire career - virtually everything The Smiths did was a
seminal moment in pop.
"I remember us discussing doing "Top of the Pops" from the very start, but
it wasn't like a dream," remembers Mike Joyce. "It was if we knew we were going
to be doing it."
If their florally-festooned appearance for "This Charming Man" on TOTP provided
one of the enduring images of the Eighties, it was not alone. From the off, Smiths gigs
were about wonderment and revenge and beauty and ugliness and ... theatre!
"Morrissey just started throwing confetti everywhere," says Joyce. "That
was fantastic. Y'know, everyone always had this thing about "Dour Mancunians".
But there was so much humour with us, at the gigs everybody was laughing. People hugging
each other, and this was without E."
At the Hacienda, the group ordered 20 boxes of gladioli. Another defining moment was
provided when Morrissey hurled the colourful flowers into the greyness of the Factory club
and Manchester's then industrial culture. The Smiths broke rules almost daily. Early in
their career, they even tore down the backstage "no access" culture to provide
access to hundreds of fans.
"We were running around kissing each other, kissing ourselves," recalls Grant
Showbiz, Smiths' soundman. "What, we're doing this?"
Although the band presented a united image, Morrissey had assumed to role of bandleader
early on. Joyce remembers a turning-point at an interview with I-D.
"It was a total shambles," he says. "Mozzer kept pretty quiet. I think he
was a bit shocked at some of the things we were saying. After that, it was deemed that he,
or he and Johnny, would do the interviews."
The Smiths were four different people, the connection was the music. Andy, Mike and Johnny
clicked like mates. Morrissey was more solitary.
"When the sticks went down and the microphone went off, Mozzer kept himself to
himself," says Joyce. "Maybe we should have dragged him out a bit more. He did
have some friends, but nobody else would know them. Very arty. I felt very inadequate, as
if they couldn't wait to get away and talk about great authors! Andy felt that way too.
Johnny maybe less so. But Morrissey could be very funny, a very witty guy."
"The thing that was unusual about him right from the start was that he had a very
strong sense of this was how he was going to be," says Andy Catlin, who photographed
Morrissey for many years. "The way he dressed and presented himself, the way he
talked. He wasn't egocentric in the way some rock stars are. he was one step detached from
the rest of the world."
As Morrissey's witty repartee and controversial opinions lit up the music press in a way
they never would be again, his acute perfectionism and ambition showed - to some - a
distinctly darker side.
Early Smiths producer Troy Tate was edged out by Morrissey, who, according to some, felt
that the former Teardrop was becoming too close to Johnny (the official reason was that
his sessions - for the eponymous first album - weren't good enough, although many now
maintain they can't tell the difference). A stunned Tate left the music business shortly
afterwards, never to recover. The cracks widened when original manager Joe Moss (who again
was close to Johnny) announced his withdrawal from the group's affairs, an unexpected
hammer blow that would have extreme consequences later.
"I think he had a nervous breakdown," says Grant Showbiz. "That or Geoff
Travis [Rough Trade boss] cynically edged him out. He was in Manchester. The record
business in London could see The Smiths could be really, really massive. Joe had
depressive problems. I think he was probably rocking slightly and somebody gave him the
Like Tate, Moss left the business.
ONE of the Morrisseyean traits that has endured to this day is the
differing opinions of Morrissey between those who have worked with him or encountered him
casually, and those who managed the almost unachievable feat of becoming a friend.
Ben Marshall worked as a translator for Morrissey in Italy during the 1985 "Meat Is
Murder" tour, and paints a critical picture of Morrissey at this time that hints at
xenophobia on the singer's part.
"I didn't like him very much as a person," Marshall admits, "I found him
very remote, very distant. He had a horribly lofty attitude. In Rome, we went to a lot of
shops together, and my job was to translate so he could buy stuff. But he had this snooty
"You know that awful expression, 'The Wogs start at the Channel?' We'd be walking
around and people would be dead nice. They'd be happy to have him in the store. He
wouldn't even speak to them, he would not even look at them. He'd say, 'I want the
RayBans, Ben.' And they'd have to be handed to me."
Marr, Joyce and Rourke, on the other hand, were happy to sit around smoking dope.
"Lovely guys," says Marshall. "Mike Joyce and Johnny Marr were interested
in Rome. I remember somebody else remarking, "Christ, Morrissey in a Roman
fairground!" But he was totally disinterested in Rome. He reduced The Smiths' PR girl
to tears within about 12 seconds because she'd booked a hotel - a really nice place - but
Morrissey and Mike Joyce thought it was too downmarket. Marr - given his dope all day -
probably didn't even notice."
Marshall's fairly damning portrayal is countered by Jo Slee, who worked in the Rough Trade
production office before becoming The Smiths' sleeve designer and eventually Morrissey's
personal assistant and one of his closest confidantes.
"Morrissey?" she asks, "I thought he was a natural." Unnatural?
"Probably that as well! He was instantly a celebrity. I thought he was very funny. I
think the first time I spoke to him was when they first did TOTP. They were pretty
terrified and Morrissey asked me in a whisper if I could cross the road to get him a can
of hairspray. He was very shy.
"In the early days, I was just one of many Rough Trade minions. When I started having
more personal contact with him, I found him incredibly responsive and decisive, very
clear. Very easy to deal with. He was acutely perfectionist. He cared about every
AT this point, press and public alike became interested in the more
minute details of Morrissey's sexuality. Declaring himself celibate had been a
masterstroke. He had simultaneously laid down a (real or imaginary) gauntlet to the fans,
while making all his (male or female) relationships at least appear platonic and still
being able to sing hilariously dangerous lyrics like "A boy in the bush is worth two
in the hand / I think I can help you get through your exams."
"Did he get propositions?" ponders Mike Joyce, "I'm sure he did. But he'd
set out his stall. I mean, you could ask him. But he wouldn't tell you. There was no
reason for us to think he was putting it on."
Jo Slee insists that as late as '92 Morrissey's relationships were "few and far
between, virtually non-existent. His sexuality? I couldn't possibly comment."
Strong rumours suggest an "intimate friendship" with a journalist around 1984-5,
and that this person was the subject of "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore."
Nowadays, that person steadfastedly refuses to talk about Morrissey. Other talk suggests
the 1985 single, "William, It Was Really Nothing", was a paean to Associate
Billy Mackenzie. Mackenzie's colleague, Alan Rankine, later penned a song entitled,
"Steven, It Was Really Something". Unsurprisingly, he is now unavailable for
"Morrissey seems to have this effect even after he's rejected people," says one
insider. "They still hold some kind of loyalty towards him, even though they've been
shat upon from a great height."
Another observer points to similarities with the English comedian Kenneth Williams,
veteran star of the "Carry On" movies, who always insisted he wasn't interested
in sex yet wrote about "well-oiled builders" in his diaries. In a famous
incident, the young Williams was given a pair of boxing gloves by his father and told
they'd "make a man of him." His reaction was to say, "Oh no, father, I
don't think so." Morrissey sang, "will nature make a man of me yet?", and
in interviews even more self-mockingly quipped: "Before I joined The Smiths, I had a
In the mid-Eighties, journalists like Kris Kirk and Richard Smith both penned articles
attacking Morrissey for adopting "gay icons" on his record sleeves while
refusing to come out. Was Morrissey gay? Or - as he liked to suggest - almost asexual? At
the time, his only public cohorts were celebrity friends such as Lloyd Cole, Pete Burns
and pools winner Viv Nicholson, cover star of "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now".
"I refuse to recognise the terms hetero-, bi- and homo- sexual," Mozzer has said
"Everybody has the same sexual needs. People are just sexual, the prefix is
immaterial." In one provocative, distasteful incident, Antonella Black interviewed
Morrissey for Sounds, and kept on asking the "gay" question. Exasperated by the
man's denials, she finally said, "So what if a tall, dark man walked up to you,
gripped you by the back of the neck, bent you over...." Morrissey shrieked:
"Don't!!! Stop, stop now! Stop now!"
THE "vexed question of Morrissey's sexuality" as one
journalist later put it ("Who does it vex? It doesn't vex me," replied Moz)
would stalk Morrissey later on in life. In the meantime, tensions within The Smiths were
starting to approach boiling point. Following the stressful departure of Joe Moss and the
band's move to London, Johnny Marr almost burnt himself out during the sessions for what
would become 1986's classic, "The Queen Is Dead".
This is former Pretenders drummer and close friend of Marr, Fred Hood: "I'd never
seen anyone so under pressure as Johnny was when they were doing "The Queen Is
Dead". Johnny was writing all the songs, then arranging for Morrissey to get to the
studio when nobody else was there, such were Morrissey's stipulations. And Johnny was
beginning to have a good time outside of that, doing sessions with Bryan Ferry and Billy
Bragg, for example. He was beginning to enjoy being in more normal musicianly
surroundings. The Smiths were abnormal because they were hermetically sealed. I suspect
it's possibly how Geri from The Spice Girls felt towards the end. They had this whole
thing of "us against the world", and I suspect she, like he, probably felt it
would be nice to communicate with a few people."
Morrissey was barely able to conceal his jealously at Marr's extra-curricular activities,
but if a crisis with Marr was looming at that point, nobody saw it. Instead, the eyes of
The Smiths and the world focused on the bass player. Andy Rourke had dabbled in drugs
since childhood, but was now fully in the grip of a heroin addiction that was affecting
his playing. Out of concern for Andy more than their own careers, the band sacked him and
offered Craig Gannon (ex-Aztec Camera) the bass slot. When, a week later, Rourke was
busted for possession, the band sympathetically invited him back to clean up, keeping
Gannon on as a second guitarist. To the fans, the shock that a Smith was involved in hard
drugs came as a body-blow to the group's puritanical image and the first public inkling
that anything was wrong.
In the meantime, the cracks were getting wider. The Smiths were extraordinarily prolific
(the colossal "How Soon Is Now?" was originally an extra track). But they were
having problems from their record company. The Smiths wished to leave Rough Trade, unhappy
at what they saw as shoddy treatment and a lack of promotion. Eventually, a deal would be
set up with EMI which would commence after the band had completed their commitments to the
independent label. The situation wasn't helped by the lack of a manager, as a succession
of caretakers were briskly dispensed with.
Mike Joyce: "Johnny and Morrissey didn't want to relinquish control - which was good
in a way because who knows best?"
It says much about Joyce's naivete at this time that he thought the darkly sexual and even
possibly homo-erotic "Hand In Glove" was about the closeness between the band.
As was now becoming the norm, people had differing views on Morrissey's true motives.
Andy Catlin: "I think Morrissey started to change quite substantially. I think he
became a bit ... not power-mad, but a control freak. I think it was a difficult time for
everyone. That period was a turning-point."
Jo Slee: "The whole thing was fraught, from the word go. I think they were
unmanageable. The group was Morrissey and Marr. Morrissey was the management, Johnny was
more concerned with the music. Rough Trade felt they both needed separate managers."
When the company and the group finally split, both parties would accuse each other of
"I think there was greed in the group," says Jo Slee. "But it wasn't coming
from Morrissey. In the end, I felt Morrissey was the protagonist in just getting the
record out, irrespective of who was gonna sign to who."
After six months in a lawyer's vault, "The Queen Is Dead" confirmed the Smiths'
position at the pinnacle of rock. It was a masterful collection, packed with humour and
brutality, repressed emotion, unquenchable and unfulfillable sexual yearning. Brilliantly,
"The Queen..." confronted the times while dripping with rose-tinted images of a
quasi-mythical "dear old Blighty" that offered romantic escapes from the
problems of the present.
But things had changed.
"There were a lot of mind games... communication through non-communication remembers
Mike Joyce. Around this time, Joyce was beginning to discover that not only were Morrissey
and Marr the sole names of the Rough Trade contract, but that non-songwriting money
(Morrissey and Marr wrote all the songs) was not split equally four ways. On the other
hand, Morrissey and Marr were crippling themselves running the group.
"The momentum of the first year carried us through when things started to break
down," reflects Grant Showbiz. "At first it was that classic thing of the
manager, the band and the road crew in the same van, everyone knowing each other and
finding each other's jokes funny. It was like that and then it suddenly leapt. The
original road crew evaporated and we lost Joe, and then suddenly we went to America and it
was never the same again."
JOHNNY Marr's mental and physical condition on what had proved to be the
fatal American tour of 1986 has always been put down to "alcoholism".
Grant Showbiz: "There was cocaine about, and limitless amounts of booze... you're
wondering how far you can go. I don't think you become an alcoholic over six weeks, buy
yeah, you're drinking every day, and you're drinking to excess, and you've never done
that. Again, you want to see what it is like, 'Wow, I can still think straight and I've
been up for three days. Whoops I've just fallen over.' It's a learning curve, and I think
all of us said 'OK, let's bloody do it. Let's have the hotel with the swimming pool on the
roof, let's go down to the bloody Whiskey-A-Go-Go and 15 more clubs, and get arrested for
trying to beat up a policeman.' It was insane! I was definitely going to the mixing desk
the worse for wear. But I can't remember Johnny ever being unable to play because of
abuse. I can remember Johnny being very out of it, and Morrissey being very hard to get
hold of. The amount of time it took to get Morrissey onstage was getting longer and
longer. There was this great game he'd play of wanting to be asked 15 times, if it'd been
14 the night before. Johnny was like 'Let's Rock!' and Mozzer'd be 'Well, somebody's gotta
ask me another seven times.'"
Mike Joyce: "Bar Morrissey, we were certainly burning it at both ends. And in the
Andy Catlin: "Mike in particular started to get into drugs and stuff a lot. There
seemed to be more of a separation between all the members of the band, not just Johnny and
Morrissey. There was a very different pressure on Andy and Mike... the pressure of not
having any control and getting out of it a lot in response to that.
"Mike and Andy were out a lot. I'd bump into them at clubs. They definitely headed
for the underbelly of rock'n'roll. They'd gone into the darkness."
MORRISSEY began to feel excluded from and annoyed by the debauchery, his
concern illustrated in an incident with Joyce when the drummer had performed an encore
"We did make attempts to bring him in," insists Showbiz. "I think there's a
sort of Kenneth Williams element to Morrissey, where he wants it, he wants it, but no he
can't have it.
I have seen Morrissey drunk and I have seen Morrissey out of it, but not at the same time
as we were."
Marr's friends on tour included Fred Hood and Guy Pratt, a Mancunian bass player who was
at one point talked of as a replacement for Andy. Morrissey was increasingly isolated.
Grant: "Was Morrissey comfortable not being comfortable? I think he sorta liked it
Central to the slow collapse of The Smiths was the complex and intriguing relationship
between Morrissey and Marr.
"I think Johnny understood Morrissey more than anyone else in the world," says
Showbiz. "I think they were still intimate throughout that whole tour, although it
wasn't a public intimacy. During the day, they were having conversations on the phone, and
certainly Angie [Marr's wife] and Morrissey were spending time together. It's complicated.
I mean, in certain respects every songwriting relationship is like a love affair, and it
does have these pushes and pulls. It was almost illogical, the gulf that was coming
between Johnny and Morrissey, and you couldn't put it down to any one thing. Again, it was
almost like Morrissey living out his doomed fantasies. I think at some point one of them
thought, "I can't do this. You're saying you want to be on in this stuff but when I
move towards you, you move away. Or vice versa. There's no rhythm between us."
Whereas before, they were finishing each other's sentences.
At first, it was a very public togetherness. I think their togetherness went into a much
more private thing, and then just seemed to dissolve."
WITH the Marr-Morrissey relationship buckling, that September's
"Queen..." tour cut a determined swathe across the UK. A public diversion
occurred when Melody Maker journalist Frank Owen penned a highly critical but bizarre
article condemning that month's "Panic" single ("Burn down the
disco...") as "an attack on black pop". Morrissey was sufficiently provoked
to claim that reggae was the "most racist music in the entire world" and "a
glorification of black supremacy". Even less wisely, he suggested a pro-black
conspiracy at TOTP. Nevertheless, "The Queen..." tour was largely triumphant,
less fraught than America. There was considerable humour. Morrissey often held a banner
proclaiming "The Queen Is Dead". On the back it said "Two light ales!"
But there were problems involving violence. Shortly after Morrissey - ever the provocateur
- announced regret that Thatcher hadn't died in the 1984 Brighton bombing, the band were
confronted by skinheads in Preston. "There was an air of violence, of danger,"
remembers Mike Joyce. Morrissey was hit by flying objects, the gig was aborted, and the
road crew ended up fighting with the audience. After the final night, in Manchester, Craig
Gannon was sacked via a friend, Marr calling him "a lazy bastard". Soon
afterwards, Johnny piled his car into a brick wall in Bowdon and was lucky not to be
killed. The year ended with what would prove the be The Smiths' last British gig, at
Brixton Academy on December 12, 1986.
IN 1987, things were further complicated by the recruitment of Ken
Friedman, an American manager.
"He wasn't at all straightforward," says Jo Slee. "I suspect he was playing
off one against the other."
Grant: "The big problem was nobody took an overview. Nobody said, "Why don't you
take a holiday, guys, because you look knackered and you're arguing all the time?" It
was a heady rush, but nobody realised that The Smiths wasn't Morrissey or Johnny,
but Morrissey and Johnny. Maybe if someone had done and given them space, The
Smiths would still be going."
The band were still going, but only just. 1987 saw just one - last - Smiths performance at
San Remo in Italy. A split with long-time producer John Porter was instigated when
Morrissey brought in Stephen Street to remix the April single, "Sheila Take A
Bow", with it's tantalising hints of transvestitism. However, with Street now on
board, the "Strangeways" sessions were unusually stress-free for most of the
Mike: "There was no darkness in the end as far as I was concerned. The darkness was
coming from the music. Maybe we were growing apart. Maybe it was there in front of me and
I didn't want to see it."
On the other hand, the pressure was becoming intolerable for Marr. What were to be the
final Smiths sessions took place in May at Grant Showbiz's Streatham home studio.
Grant Showbiz: "It was an incredible fuck up. They were all exhausted, especially
Johnny. Rough Trade had this stupid thing that they needed some B-sides, but the vibes
were so bad. It was a heavy scene. I remember being frightened of Morrissey, which I'd
never ever been. He was in quite a scary state, and everyone seemed to be there at
different times. Johnny'd turn up and the rhythm section'd be down the pub, then they'd
turn up. 'Where's Johnny?' 'Oh, he's gone down the pub.' 'Oh fuck this we're going
"It was even harder when they were together. I can remember Morrissey saying 'Let's
do it, let's go record the songs,' and Johnny going, 'We haven't got any fucking
They ended up doing a Cilla Black song. Marr was mortified. With Rough Trade hassling
them, no manager and the core of the band barely talking to each other, it was a situation
tailored to collapse.
"Morrissey had this song, 'I Keep Mine Hidden' which was basically Morrissey saying,
'I'm sorry Johnny, I'm a complete fuck up but please forgive me,'" reveals Grant
Showbiz. "With lots of specific references, it was a very direct song.
"Things were crazy. Johnny had been playing with Bryan Ferry and he had a holiday
booked up in Los Angeles or somewhere. Morrissey had specifically booked this session so
it began to drag into this period. So Johnny was like, 'Fuck this, I'm gone.' Morrissey
just went into nosedive."
What was Morrissey sorry for?
"Well, Morrissey knows that he's a perverse person and he turns people away from him
by not showing caring emotions at times that are appropriate."
This dangerous tendency would overshadow Morrissey's career. Marr's decision to leave The
Smiths was rubber-stamped by a premature and slightly fabricated NME story that suggested
just that. Paranoid and vulnerable, Marr suspected - wrongly - that Morrissey had planted
the story to force a climb-down. After an initial, typically humorous denial ("Anyone
who says The Smiths have split shall be severely spanked by me with a wet plimsoll"),
Morrissey would never talk to NME again.
"He was just under so much stress I think he thought that all he had to do to get rid
of the stress was to get out of the band," says Fred Hood of Marr's exit, "and
to an extent he was right. He was just so unhappy. I think he felt he could write songs
for anybody, and yet he was having to write songs with this reclusive, manic depressive.
"And why does everyone see that particular combination as being the only one which
means anything? I think he was worried that people would only be interested in the songs
he wrote with Morrissey."
Johnny Marr would never write songs with Morrissey again, and Morrissey's own career would
arguably never recover.
(to part 2)
return to Morrissey-solo