"Accepting Themselves": Rourke/Joyce interview by Lianne Steinberg in The Big Issue in the North, 9th July 2007 (transcribed here for the first time)

Accepting Themselves

Two decades after they split up, a new documentary by The Smiths drummer Mike Joyce and bassist Andy Rourke reveals what life was like inside one of Manchester’s most successful bands

By Lianne Steinberg​

In between photos, Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke are relaxing upstairs in a bar in Manchester’s trendy Northern Quarter when someone flicks The Smiths’ Bigmouth Strikes Again up to full volume on the sound system. From the very second Johnny Marr’s memorable acoustic guitar splinters out, both Joyce and Rourke visibly cringe. It’s not as though they’re ashamed of their past as the rhythm section of one of Britain’s most innovative bands. In fact, for the first time in over a decade, they seem to have fully come to terms with their place in history. They just prefer a more subtle approach. Hence the reason for our gathering – a new film entitled Inside The Smiths, which features candid interviews with the two modest men of indie rock.

Twenty years after The Smiths ended, the fascination with the band remains the same. With Morrissey and guitarist Marr shedding their past in a more high-profile manner, it seems strange that the very approachable Joyce and Rourke haven’t previously been flooded with offers to make a documentary.

“I think Johnny and Morrissey have had lots of offers to make a film but with us it’s just been flaky ones. Inside The Smiths came about because we got sick of repeating ourselves in interviews,” laughs Rourke. “We were asked to do a DJ tour of America and a friend of ours came along and filmed it and from there we just thought we’d carry on doing it and answer all the questions once and for all. And it’s also to give a bit of an insight into what it was like being in the band. It’s been a natural process; it’s not been forced. We’ve just been filming when it feels right.”

Produced and directed by their mutual friend Stephen Petricco, there’s certainly an intimate feel to this recording as we witness Joyce recalling his hilariously intimidating audition experience, as well as Rourke recounting an episode in America where Morrissey managed to fall off the stage. It’s clearly the kind of relaxed stuff that you wouldn’t pick up from a VH1 rockumentary. But surely they’re just opening up the floodgates for fans and critics to start picking at old wounds?

“Well, it’s inevitable really, but there were a lot of DVDs coming out by people who knew the band or hung around with the band or were friends with the band,” says Joyce. “But there wasn’t anything from anyone in the band, and I know that from Morrissey and Johnny’s perspective, it’s all in the past, but this is a different perspective. It’s a celebration of being in The Smiths, because a lot of times when I’ve done interviews in the past, the journalists have an agenda of what they want, and I’ve been stitched up a few times. I want people to know that it was one of the best times of my life, and that’s what we wanted to get across, so we thought if we had complete editorial control, that’d be the best way.”

Joyce’s trepidation is to be expected when his memories are tainted by the fractious court case over royalties, which has subsequently left him estranged from Morrissey and Marr. Even with the production of this film, the relationships in the Smiths camp today remain far from black and white. Joyce and Rourke tease each other in a brotherly way, recalling the time that they were on the road with Sinead O’Connor, and Canadian popstar Bryan Adams asked to borrow Joyce’s headphones – “I said, ‘I’ve just got big ears, mate.’ He didn’t last very long” – and they clearly have a lot of shared experiences after The Smiths to keep them together.

However, Rourke’s successful Manchester Versus Cancer concert last year saw the bassist teaming up with his old school friend Marr in a very public and emotional show of reconciliation. At times, it does seem as though Rourke is caught in the middle of a stubborn and painful stand-off that may never be resolved.

“There’s been a lot of complications but me and Mike have been very close ever since he joined The Smiths, and we always spent a lot of time together,” shrugs Rourke.

“It’s like being in a marriage,” adds Joyce. “Me and Andy never really fell out, it was more the strain and stress put on us by the court case. If somebody makes a decision to follow a certain path, it doesn’t mean it’s right or wrong, but everyone’s allowed their opinion, and whichever avenue we’ve taken in the band or as individuals, we’ve always found our way back together.”

Somewhat inevitably, the film footage of the two of them touring America brings up the question of a reunion, as they are faced with a new generation of fans who were too young to see the band play live. However, a reunion is something that Morrissey has denounced outright, and Joyce and Rourke are quick to deny that that is the film’s intention.

“The DVD is certainly to build bridges and send out a definitive message from me and Mike to Morrissey and Johnny instead of hearing second-hand stuff,” Rourke says.

“It’s about celebrating the band and not focusing on the court case or any of the negative things,” adds Joyce.

Having found fame in their early 20s, it’s clearly taken plenty of resolve from both men to cope with the weight of expectation that comes with outliving such once-in-a-lifetime success.

“The thing is, if you’re working with a band that becomes successful, you just embrace it. I remember being in a pub in Manchester with Johnny and a couple of girls were looking over and I remember thinking, ‘oh, here we go, this is it, I’m going to get recognised’ – and they walked straight past me,” howls Joyce. “You want success, and you want fame, and you want your band to be the best in the world…”

“Until you get it, and then it’s like, ‘stop bothering me’,” interjects Joyce.

“Some mornings and I wake up and I hate The Smiths and other mornings I wake up and I love The Smiths, and that’s just the way it is. But on the whole, I think they’re the best band that have ever been,” states Joyce.

More noticeably, despite public wranglings, they are both hugely respectful of Morrissey as an artist. The film explores how, unlike many of Manchester’s famous swaggering, cocksure bands, The Smiths ditched their machismo in favour of a sensitivity that extended to the band’s gang mentality. What’s particularly illuminating is that even as young men experiencing all the freedom of touring, Joyce, Rourke and Marr were protective of their frontman.

“I think there was a reverence,” agrees Rourke. “We looked after him really because he was a delicate flower.”

“It’s like his lyric, ‘it takes strength to be gentle and kind’ – if there was any machismo in us, the pleasant traits of Morrisey’s personality rubbed it off. I’m not so bullish to think, ‘I’m like I am and you’re like you are so I’m going to stay like this’. You feed off each other’s influence. My whole family is vegetarian now. Morrissey was so smart and shrewd that you were interested in what he was about. All the black and white films and kitchen sink drama stuff – I used to think I wasn’t arsed until I saw it and realised it was brilliant. The same goes for music – Morrissey and Johnny turned me onto a load of stuff I wouldn’t have known about.”

Coming only a few years after the outbreak of the punk movement, Inside The Smiths proves how the band were an absolute breath of fresh air. Using wit and intelligence rather than belligerence, the film is proof that you shouldn’t have to shout the loudest to get noticed for your work. Rather than stifling their frontman’s uniquely eccentric traits, it’s clear from the footage to see that even in their youth, Rourke and Joyce were mature enough to allow Morrissey to blossom.

“When we did our first interview with I-D magazine back in 1982, we all did it together. When we got it back, we were dead chuffed, but all the quotes were attributed to the wrong people. So for the next one, Morrissey said to Johnny that he wanted to do the interview, and when we read it, it was amazing. We didn’t realise. There wasn’t an equality but when there’s somebody as eloquent as Morrissey was, you have to let that loose, and we looked after each other.”

And while it’s not quite a fairytale story, the film does prove that something magical did occur in the darkened underpasses and rainy streets of south Manchester’s suburbs.

“A lot of it was a lot to do with our backgrounds. It wasn’t as though we had a bassist from Sollihull and a guitarist from the East End,” claims Joyce. “We were Manchester lads and all from the same working class area. Three of us are from Irish descent, first generation born here, so it wasn’t like, ‘oh, there’s the posh kid in the band’. We had massively different musical tastes but I think that’s what made us so special.”

The Big Issue in the North is now Big Issue North. They also interviewed Johnny Marr in 2016.
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