Punk And New Wave Influences on The Smiths.
Above Photo: Morrissey’s Muse, Linder, 1981 (Birrer).
I’ve just finished an outstanding book about one of my all-time favourite bands, The Smiths, by Tony Fletcher. Called: A Light That Never Goes Out, it’s a well-written and deeply-researched account of The Smiths and the four members’ family and musical backgrounds, all of which inevitably contributed to the overall sound and output of the band.
I was fascinated by how much the band members were a product of, and influenced by, the British (and especially Manchester) Punk and New Wave scenes, as well as important American bands such as the New York Dolls, the Velvet Underground, Iggy and the Stooges and Patti Smith. Also important were Britain’s David Bowie and T. Rex, all of which bands and artists Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr, who formed The Smiths, had in common.
Morrissey’s devotion to The New York Dolls is well documented, but his attendance at two important Sex Pistols gigs in Manchester in 1976 put him at the very heart of the Manchester Punk scene. So few people attended the first galvanizing Pistols’ gig (40 or 50 people), and so much happened after it, musically-speaking, that its importance cannot be overstated, and the fact that Morrissey was there is pretty impressive.
However, shortly after the gig, he wrote a letter that was published in the New Musical Express, criticizing the Pistols, saying:
“The bumptious Pistols in jumble sale attire had those few that attended dancing in the aisles despite their discordant music and barely audible audacious lyrics, and they were called back for two encores….I’d love to see the Pistols make it. Maybe then they will be able to afford some clothes which don’t look as though they’ve been slept in.”
Smiths’ Guitarist Johnny Marr was a big fan of US band Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers and of guitarist Johnny Thunders too. Thunders had been in both the New York Dolls and The Heartbreakers (confusingly not the same one as Tom Petty’s band, though). He was also deeply impressed by Manchester’s Buzzcocks.
Marr said Iggy Pop, and especially his Raw Power album was a big influence on his guitar-playing, as was Iggy and the Stooges’ guitarist James Williamson.
Punk band Slaughter and the Dogs playing the Wythenshawe Forum was one of Johhny Marr’s earliest gigs, and a couple of years later, in 1978, he was knocking around with Slaughter and the Dogs’ bass player Howard Bates and others, with whom he went to see Patti Smith in Manchester.
Interestingly enough, at this Patti Smith gig Morrissey and Marr were first introduced, although Marr recalled that Morrissey showed no interest at all in him, and nothing ever came of it until they re-met four years later to form The Smiths.
Morrissey also had music experience in two early Manchester Punk bands, namely Ed Banger and the Nosebleeds, and Slaughter and the Dogs. Morrissey always denies this, but people in the bands still remember his involvement well, Fletcher says. (See another article I wrote about this, linked to below).
Morrissey was well-steeped in the Manchester Punk and New Wave scene as a gig reviewer and letter-writer to Britain’s music papers and Fanzines, and he was hanging around with people from New Wave bands such as A Certain Ratio and Durutti Column, and, of course, his friend Linder’s band, Ludus. I find it funny to think I saw all of these bands back then too, and they all receive mentions in my Punk and New Wave memoir, Bombed Out!
Linder (featured in the headline photo of this article) also designed the iconic Orgasm Addict sleeve for The Buzzcocks.
Furthering his Punk credentials, Fletcher mentions that Morrissey went to gigs by The Slits, The Clash, The Ramones, Wayne County, Talking Heads, the Buzzcocks, the Jam and Penetration in Manchester the summer of 1977.
Fletcher’s book also recounts that Morrissey was a fan of New Wave bands Delta 5 and the Au Pairs, although he wrote: “Simple Minds bored [Morrissey] and he was happy to hear the Rezillos had broken up.”
It’s pretty well-known that Morrissey was a big fan of US band The Cramps (who wasn’t? See link below). At the time, Morrissey called them: “The most important American export since the New York Dolls,” as he went about setting up their UK Fan Club.
The Smiths’ outstanding bass player, Andy Rourke, was a childhood friend of guitarist Johhny Marr, and they hung out, shared the same musical tastes and went to gigs together.
They were also in a (soft rock) band called White Dice. When this band went to London, Marr got to use Elvis Costello’s Rickenbacker guitar on a demo tape they were recording for Nick Lowe, another notable New Wave name in Britain (he sung I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass and was also a massively in-demand producer).
White Dice rehearsed in the same empty warehouse, TJ Davidson’s, in Manchester that Joy Division also used, although one floor below them.
I rate Rourke’s creative bass playing almost as highly as I do Mick Karn’s of Japan, and funnily enough, in the book, Marr and Rourke’s trip to see Japan play live in Manchester is recounted. It made a huge impression on Rourke, who said Karn influenced the way he came to play bass.
At this time (1979-1980) both Rourke and Marr were also into Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure and The Only Ones, going to see their gigs in Manchester together.
Marr had also had the chance to join a New Wave band signed to Factory Records, called Section 25, but declined as they were based in Blackpool, 50 miles away from Manchester, and the upheaval would have been too great. This meant he was still available when the time came for him to knock on Morrissey’s door and to form The Smiths, a short while later.
The Smiths’ drummer, Mike Joyce, was a joyously unreconstructed Punk drummer.
He’d been in a Manchester Punk band called The Hoax at the age of sixteen, before leaving them in 1981. He then joined another Punk band, who’d moved from Belfast to Manchester, called Victim, who didn’t do much, musically-speaking, after their move. But astonishingly, from there he went straight into The Smiths.
It’s amusing to think Factory Records, such a supporter and promoter of Manchester New Wave bands, passed on the chance to sign The Smiths when Tony Wilson handed a demo tape to Rob Gretton, New Order’s manager and one of Wilson’s partners in Factory Records.
Gretton called the tape “shit” and that was it for The Smiths and Factory.
One of my favourite quotes in the book was when the band recruited Andy Rourke on bass. He knew Mike Joyce, the drummer, and said “There was still a little bit of the punk left in him.”
This, Fletcher goes on to say, “was not necessarily an advantage in Rourke’s eyes…”
Buy a signed copy of Bombed Out! here: http://www.bombedoutpunk.com/buybook.php