This charming man? Morrissey is back in town but his apparent hard-right political leanings have some Irish fans wondering if they can separate art from the a
Morrissey’s big mouth is a thorn in the side of his admirersFormer Smiths singer’s ‘flirtation’ with the hard right has led some fans to avoid his Vicar Street gigs
Morrissey, 64, and now a solo artist, plays two concerts at Vicar Street in Dublin this weekend
JIM DYSON/GETTY IMAGES
Sunday July 16 2023, 12.01am, The Sunday Times
This charming man? Morrissey is back in town but his apparent hard-right political leanings have some Irish fans wondering if they can separate art from the artist. In a recent interview the star said the suggestion that he had hard-right views was “ludicrous”.
The former lead singer of the Smiths, now a successful solo artist, is in Dublin this weekend to play two sold-out gigs at Vicar Street to mark his 40 years in the music industry.
Morrissey, 64, is the son of working-class Irish Catholic emigrants who left Crumlin, Dublin, to settle in Manchester in the 1950s. A cousin of the former Ireland footballer Robbie Keane, he enjoys an affinity with Irish audiences — but his perceived flirtation with the hard right has led some fans to shun his shows.
He is without a recording deal after parting company with Capitol Records. Two albums, Bonfire of Teenagers and Without Music the World Dies, remain unreleased. Notre Dame, a song he has performed on stage in the past few weeks, led to online criticism because the lyrics appear to cast doubt on the official account of the cause of the 2019 blaze at the cathedral in Paris.
The fire has been the subject of conspiracy theories propagated by alt-right supporters, some of whom blame Islamic extremists. In a rendition of the song on YouTube, in which he holds up rosary beads, Morrissey sings: “Notre Dame, we know who tried to kill you . . . Notre Dame, we will not be silent. Before investigations, they said, ‘This is not terrorism!’” While Morrissey’s anti-royal and anti-Thatcher convictions won plaudits from sections of the Irish public early in his career, he has set many former acolytes against him by wearing the badge of the now-defunct For Britain party and supporting Anne Marie Waters, the hard-right, anti-Islam activist who led it. Separately he has expressed admiration for Nigel Farage, the former leader of Ukip and the nationalist Brexit Party.
“I was very surprised the other day — it was very interesting to me — to see Anne Marie Waters become head of Ukip. Oh no, sorry she didn’t. The voting was rigged. Sorry, I forgot . . . You didn’t get it, did you? You obviously don’t read the news,” he said in a live set on BBC Radio 6 Music in 2017, a comment that was met with bewildered silence by the audience.
Three years later, as the coronavirus pandemic took hold, Morrissey appeared at a London show against a backdrop of digitally altered images of his own album cover wearing a superimposed facemask next to the caption “You are the Quarantined”, a play on the album title You Are the Quarry which reached number two in the UK charts in 2004.
This year footage emerged of Morrissey appearing to berate a flight attendant on a plane to Dublin by clapping sarcastically and speaking over announcements after the aircraft was diverted to Shannon because of thunderstorms. He demanded to speak to the captain and to be let off the plane.
Michael O’Brien, a 47-year-old trade unionist from Dublin, said he now boycotted Morrissey gigs despite having followed his career for decades. He said the singer’s flirtation with hard-right ideology was a disappointment and seeing Morrissey live in America with the For Britain badge was “beyond the pale”.
“I love the music but not the musician, and I’m not going to Vicar Street,” O’Brien said. “I have thought about it a lot. My take on it is that the common thread with Morrissey is that he is a nostalgist, and the nostalgia did have a progressive left tint to it, in particular when he was with the Smiths: a kind of Coronation Street-style nostalgia for working-class life.
“But it has mutated into a different kind of nostalgia where he is uncomfortable with the multicultural direction in which British society went. That is the only way I can make sense of it.”
However, Jane Gaffney, a 24-year-old PhD student, said while she found some of Morrissey’s pronouncements “confusing or disappointing”, her love for him was unaffected. She began listening to his music at 14. “If people don’t love Morrissey they usually hate him. I get a lot of stick for it.”
She said Morrissey’s politics needed to be put into perspective. “There is a difference between saying things and doing things.”
Gaffney secured tickets for both Vicar Street gigs, marking her ninth and tenth times at a Morrissey concert. “He has something that goes beyond music almost,” she said.
Brian Ahern, 53, a civil servant, said he was aware of troubling remarks made by Morrissey but tried to “separate art from artist”.
“I always just go back to music. I like the songs, I like the music and how it inspires you. He is a good wordsmith. I know there is controversy but I really try not to go into that. He is a poet, that’s first and foremost for me.” Morrissey’s “rebellious spirit” was one of the main reasons he continued to be so popular with Irish audiences, Ahern said.
Elizabeth Dwyer, Morrissey’s mother and “best friend”, died in 2020. A holiday home he had bought for her in Cobh, Co Cork, sold for €575,000 this year.
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