Published in 'The Times' yesterday ~
"Under the direction of Danny Kelly in the early Nineties, the NME became known colloquially as the New Morrissey Express: every time they put the former Smiths frontman on the cover, sales spiked. "Morrissey was perfect for NME because he was intelligent and articulate," says Andrew Collins, a former writer for the paper.
Forget acid house and baggy, Morrissey was the NME, something which made what happened in August 1992 all the more strange. On a sunny weekend in North London's Finsbury Park, Madness re-formed to play their first gigs since they'd split acrimoniously in 1986. Only one act performing wasn't a Londoner: Morrissey, who was due to go on stage immediately prior to the Nutty Boys.
The paper's sole black writer, Dele Fadele, arrived at the office, fuming. "Dele was an amazing guy," says Collins, "a fabled African prince who lived in a squat. He came in to work absolutely impassioned and offended by what he'd seen at Finsbury Park."
As Fadele described it to the rest of the staff, Morrissey had waved a Union Jack thrown on to the stage in front of a huge picture of two skinhead girls taken by NME photographer Derek Ridgers in 1980. It was a provocative move in front of Madness' crowd, which had always been dogged by an unaccountable association withthe Far Right. But the fact that Morrissey's set also included the songs Bengali in Platforms ("Bengali, Bengali/ Oh, shelve your Western plans/ And understand/ That life is hard enough when you belong here") and a new track, The National Front Disco, seemed calculated to inflame both the right-wing and liberal members of the crowd, for entirely different reasons.
In retrospect Morrissey's dalliance with skinhead imagery was just another manifestation of the singer's fascination for rough boys rather than any evidence of fascist tendencies. But that year there was nothing cute about messing about with such imagery. 1992 was the year that Combat 18, the white supremacist group implicated in the deaths of several non-white Britons, was formed.
When the NME's staff heard about what Morrissey was up to, they were aghast. An emergency summit meeting was held at King's Reach Tower. "It was like a Cobra meeting for the government," says Collins, "like being on a real newspaper"
The following week's NME featured a five-page examination of his lyrics and interviews, scouring all for clues to racism, as well as an impassioned piece by Fadele. The conclusion? While crediting Morrissey with the ability to employ irony, the NME staff had to conclude reluctantly that their hero was, at best, a misguided Little Englander.
Morrissey had always had a playful relationship with the paper. This time, though, he was less impressed. "My lawyers are poised," he declared and didn't speak to NME again for 12 years."
Response posted in the original thread by Worm:
Even after all these years, they still can't get it right.
"Bengali In Platforms" was not in Morrissey's set.
He played "National Front Disco" because it was a new song from "Your Arsenal", not because he was trying to "calculate" his way into the hearts of the racists in the crowd.
I'm still shocked at how badly the NME and every other news source has utterly, completely, scandalously failed to treat Morrissey fairly with respect to the Madstock show. Of course I'd say that, as a Morrissey fan, but I also say it because I care about what the NME was trying to fight for. Instead of making a valid point about the dangers of ambiguous treatments of racism in art, the entire body of writing about Madstock, from Dele's original article to this latest summary, again and again and again suffers from two of journalism's worst sins, inaccuracy and bias. The various journalists appear to care more about political correctness than the facts of the case, which makes it that much easier for the Right to dismiss other, factual, legitimate complaints.