The Smiths were one of the best loved bands of the 1980s. Now a new book is set to look back at their famous live dates and the author needs your help to capture their Lancashire dates, as Mike Hill reports
It is more than 30 years since indie legends The Smiths called time on their career. During their five-year spell in the spotlight the Manchester four-piece captured the hearts of a loyal following, which established them as arguably the cult band of the 80s.
Memories of their live dates are the stuff of musical legend and they played in Lancashire several times in their career.
These recollections are to be captured in a new book, and a Manchester music historian wants to hear from fans who saw any of their Lancashire appearances to help him compile a ‘people’s history’ of the band.
The Smiths, led by charismatic gladioli-clutching singer Morrissey and guitar-slinging sidekick Johnny Marr, performed four shows in Lancashire, appearing at Blackburn, Blackpool, Lancaster and Preston in the space of just over three years.
Writer Richard Houghton, who has compiled similar fan histories on The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix, is hoping to hear from people who witnessed any of these shows.
Richard explains: ‘The Smiths are a much loved band who defined indie music with their fabulous songs and Morrissey’s intriguing lyrics.
“Hits such as ‘This Charming Man’ and ‘Hand In Glove’ have become iconic songs, but what I’m looking to do is capture on the printed page the excitement of their live shows in the words of the people who were there.
“In the 1980s, The Smiths generated the kind of hysteria at their shows more often associated with The Beatles in the 1960s or the Bay City Rollers in the 1970s, and it’s that avid fan worship and devotion that I want to try and understand.”
Richard is hoping to track down people who were at any Smiths show but in particular the four shows they played in Lancashire in the brief lifespan of the band.
Richard says: ‘They played Lancashire four times in total, book-ended by an appearance at Blackburn’s Glum Club when they were just starting out and by one of their very last and shortest ever appearances as a band, at the Guild Hall in Preston before they suddenly and unexpectedly split up as a band.
“Details of the Blackburn show are very scant, with conflicting reports about whether the place was sold out. The venue was very small, with a small stage, and I believe the promoter was a chap called Brian Foster and that The Smiths were supported by a local act called Some Now Are. It would be great to hear from them, or from anyone who was at the show.”
After the Blackburn show, The Smiths, pictured inset, returned to Lancashire in March 1984 when they played Lancaster University. This was the band’s first major tour, put together to promote their eponymous first album, and the shows were all sold out. Because he had been ill earlier in the tour with bronchitis, Morrissey’s backstage rider included a fresh lemon and a jar of Gale’s honey.
Richard recalls: “The appearance at Lancaster University was surrounded by rumours circulating before the concert that the band’s tour bus had crashed on the way from their show the previous evening in Middlesbrough and that the gig might be cancelled.
“In the days before Facebook and Twitter, information about something like this and what might be happening was very much reliant on word of mouth and The Smiths weren’t a fixture on daytime radio, so you couldn’t rely on Radio 1 to confirm or deny what might be happening. The Smiths were very much an underground band in that sense, with a cult following.
“This all added to the mystique of the band, with the ‘will they, won’t they?’ sense of not knowing whether the band would appear. But the band did show up and the concert took place as planned.”
The band opened their set with ‘Hand In Glove’ and ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’. The gig, performed in the university’s Main Hall, was packed out and the show also included The Smiths’ numbers ‘Reel Around The Fountain’ and ‘Handsome Devil’.
Richard says “The crowd were very pumped up for this show, with lots of football-style chanting of the band’s name, and the band came back and did two encores. This was the beginning of what some termed Smithsmania.”
The Smiths were back in Lancashire just months later in June 1984 when they played the Opera House in Blackpool.
Richard says: “The Blackpool show was what might be termed a ‘classic’ Smiths show and some of the evening’s excitement can be heard on a bootleg recording of it. Morrissey’s opening words to the crowd were, ‘Hello everyone, we’re The Smiths’. The crowd was very enthusiastic, with lots of cheering and shouting out of different requests. But fans were running to the front of the theatre, trying to get closer to the band, and jumping into the orchestra pit.
“This apparently led to quite a few people falling into the basement room below, although no one was seriously hurt. Stage invasions were quite a common feature of Smiths shows.”
The setlist for the Blackpool concert included ‘This Charming Man’ and their upcoming single, ‘William, It Was Really Nothing’ as well as their current hit ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’.
The Smiths were to return to play Lancashire just one more time, and it was a very brief appearance at a sold-out Guild Hall show in Preston.
Richard explains: “The Smiths appeared at the Guild Hall on October 27, 1986. The Guild Hall was and remains a great venue to see a live band - it has hosted some memorable shows over the years.
“Morrissey has since returned to play Preston as a solo artist and I was lucky enough to see him play the Guild Hall in 2004. But the 1986 Smiths show, promoting the band’s The Queen Is Dead album, was sadly terminated after only one song because the crowd, like many Smiths audiences, was quite boisterous.”
“Guitarist Johnny Marr had used a drum stick to accompany drummer Mike Joyce on the opening of the first song the band played, ‘The Queen Is Dead’. Johnny then threw the drum stick into the crowd for someone to keep as a souvenir.
“But it ended up being thrown back at the band and struck Morrissey on the head. Morrissey dropped his microphone and left the stage. After a delay, during which Morrissey was apparently examined by a doctor, the band decided that the show couldn’t go on.
“Smiths shows had ended abruptly before. In one case, Morrissey had a sausage thrown at him and, as an avowed vegetarian, he wasn’t happy about that and finished that show early, too. So the throwing of objects by the audience was an unfortunate by-product of an excited crowd that The Smiths attracted.”
The abandoned gig made the front page of the following day’s Lancashire Evening Post under the memorable headline, ‘Rock Star Felled by Missiles’.
The paper reported, “A mindless attack on a rock star brought a sold-out concert to a bloody end last night. Morrissey, leader of The Smiths, was led off stage with blood gushing from a gaping head would at Preston’s Guild Hall.
“He had been cut just above the eye by a sharp, filed-down coin hurled from somewhere in the capacity crowd. Seconds before, he was hit by a drumstick thrown from the audience.”
Richard adds: “The Smiths are probably the most fondly remembered band of any of those that emerged from the indie scene of the 1980s.
“Their four shows in Lancashire typify their career and capture the chaos and excitement of their stage appearances and I’m hoping that people who saw any of those shows will get in touch with their memories and their memorabilia and help me create a fitting tribute to those heady days.”
l Richard’s book, The Smiths – The Day I Was There, is due to be published next summer.
If you have any memories, photographs or ticket stubs from The Smiths’ Lancashire gigs Richard would love to hear from you and they may be featured in his book.
Richard can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org