Friday, 16 January 2009

The Smiths' City

For many music fans, especially angsty teenagers, the miserablist group and Manchester are synonymous. Here's a guide how to find them in the streets around you.

The artist more commonly known as Morrissey, who was born Stephen Patrick Morrissey in Davyhulme in 1959, will be returning to the city in 2009 to play two sold-out dates at the Apollo. A concert on 22 May will mark the fiftieth birthday of the man who has sound tracked the lives of generations, first as frontman of the Smiths and then as a distinctive performer in his own right.

The Smiths' lyrics may be awash with references to areas of Manchester and its history, but Morrissey hasn't actually called the city home for a while. The bequiffed one left to live in the sunnier climes of first Los Angeles, and then Rome, over a decade ago.

The remaining Smiths still contribute a visible presence to Manchester's musical landscape, though, and the band's legacy lives on in the city, not least in the Star and Garter's monthly Morrissey and Smiths disco, which caters for both those old enough to have been there from the start and teenagers young enough to have not been born yet when the Smiths split up. This guide will trace the history of one of Manchester's most famous musical exports, which also roughly coincides with some key events and places in the development of Manchester.

1: Park Hospital (now Trafford General Hospital)
When Anuerin Bevan symbolically handed over the keys to this hospital in 1958, it marked the start of the NHS and free healthcare. Eleven years later, Morrissey, the man who would go on to change the course of popular music (at least in cult circles), was born in the hospital.

2: 382 King's Road, Stretford
Morrissey spent his first six years in Hulme before his family relocated to Stretford during a slum-clearance scheme. This unassuming semi was where the momentous first meeting between unemployed writer Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr took place in 1982, the culmination of Marr's search for a singer and lyricist to match his distinctly crisp Rickenbacker sound. It went on to be one of the great rock partnerships, although not always a happy one. Johnny Rogan's dense tome Morrissey and Marr: The Severed Alliance is recommended for more reading on this well-documented topic.

Morrissey has since gone on to have a lucrative solo career, collaborating with established artists such as Nancy Sinatra. Marr is still at the forefront of new music, appearing on records by both the American band Modest Mouse and the Cribs in recent years.

Mike Joyce went on to play drums on Julian Cope's acclaimed album Peggy Suicide, as well as joining punk groups the Buzzcocks and Public Image Limited and touring with Sinead O'Connor.
The Smiths' bassist, Andy Rourke, is now a DJ on XFM.

3: Crazy Face, Portland Street
This innocuous looking wholesale clothes shop, situated close to Chinatown, was where The Smiths honed their unique sound. Mike Joyce describes its importance to the band: “It was the first time we ever played together as a band. I think it's a restaurant now. We had our offices there and Joe Moss, our manager at the time had his shop Crazy Face in the basement where he used to sell his clothes. We used to push all the trousers and jeans and tops to one side and just play there. We used to hang out there every day – it was a base for us. It was pre-Smiths, really – before we even had our record deal. Then he bought the upstairs, the second to top floor, and we used to rehearse there for about a year in 1982.”

4: The Ritz, Whitworth Street West
One of Manchester's major gig venues, the Ritz holds over 1,000 people, which is a scary proposition for any band's first gig. The Smiths made their debut here supporting the decidedly less catchily named Blue Rondo A La Turk on 4 October 1982. With a name like that, taken from a jazz tune by the Dave Brubeck Quintet, it's no wonder The Smiths made it big and Blue Rondo A La Turk seem to have been forgotten in the mists of musical history. To dwell on the name a moment, it's been suggested The Smiths was chosen as it sounds quintessentially, ordinarily English (which is ironic, as all of the band were of Irish descent).

Last year, Whitworth Street West gained a new Smiths association: Mike Joyce now hosts a weekly club night at the Brickhouse venue just across the road from the Ritz, named AlternativeTherapy after a popular Revolution radio programme he used to present.

5: Ancoats (or Ann Coates)
Manchester was a very different place when the Smiths were recording. The old mill area and birthplace of the industrial revolution is all about regeneration and expensive flats now, but in the 1980s it was a symbol of Manchester's decay. Morrissey may be famous for his moroseness, but at least he had a sense of humour: backing vocals on the tune Bigmouth Strikes Again from The Smiths' 1986 album The Queen Is Dead are attributed to Ann Coates, but are really just Morrissey's voice speeded up.

6: Strangeways, Southall Street
Although it's not officially been called Strangeways for years, HM Manchester Prison is still known by the name it lent to Strangeways Here We Come, the Smiths' final studio album, which was released in 1987. Morrissey's lyrics are often preoccupied with the city's most notorious criminals, notably the Moors Murders on Suffer Little Children from the band's eponymous first album.

7: Platt Fields Park, Mabfield Road
The Smiths' song Rusholme Ruffians, which is found on their 1985 album Meat is Murder, made the titular phrase famous, as well as the funfair that still takes place there. Morrissey's lyrics often focus on the mundane and everyday aspects of life, and the words to Rusholme Ruffians are typically bleak: by the big wheel generator on the last night of the fair, “a boy is stabbed and his money is grabbed and the air hangs heavy like a dulling wine”.

Incidentally, Rusholme is situated in south Manchester student heartland, which might well boast the highest concentration of Smiths fans in the city.

8: Salford Lads' Club, Saint Ignatius Walk
This redbrick social club is often the first port of call for many visiting Smiths fans, because it features on the inner sleeve of the iconic Smiths' album The Queen is Dead. It now has a Smiths room dedicated to the band. At the time, however, the club's committee were unhappy with its association with the group, fearing Morrissey's lyrics would lead young boys astray.

Two decades on, it seems the band have been embraced by the establishment. After revealing a fondness for the Smiths, Conservative leader David Cameron attempted to pose outside the club on a visit to Manchester last year. He was thwarted by local Labour MP Hazel Blears and protesters bearing placards saying 'Salford Lads not Eton Snobs' and 'Oi! Dave - Eton lads' is 300 miles'. Determined Dave got his picture in the end, even though a gloating Blears assured him “Not on my watch you won't, Dave” after an unsuccessful first attempt.

The club has been cash-stricken in recent years, and has benefited from Smiths-related fund raising activities aiming to get together money for repairs.

9: Southern Cemetery, Barlow Moor RoadMorrissey's bookish nature is evident on Cemetery Gates, from The Queen Is Dead, which takes place on a “dreaded sunny day” in Southern cemetery and name checks Keats, Yates and Wilde. Morrissey often borrowed phrases from films, books and plays, including Shenagh Delaney's Salford play A Taste of Honey. Pretty Girls Make Graves, from the Smiths' self-titled debut album, is a line from Beat author Jack Kerouac's novel The Dharma Bums.

Morrissey's lyrics in turn went on to influence popular culture worldwide, a cult American punk band that formed in 2001 taking the song title Pretty Girls Make Graves as their name. Likewise Canadian author Douglas Coupland named a book Girlfriend In a Coma in tribute to the Smiths song of the same title.

10: The Free Trade Hall, Peter Street
The Smiths played at the site of the Peterloo Massacre twice, the first time in 1984 whilst promoting their debut album. It's here that the Smiths story comes to an end - their last ever Manchester gig was held at the Free Trade Hall in October 1986.

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