"Remember the demo we did when we had sax?"
"Even before we'd recorded anything?"
"Like, we had sax on Handsome Devil. Bam-bap-ba-bap-bam..."
"No, no, it was What Difference Does It Make ?. Dan-da-da-dah-dern-er-dern-dern. Dern-ern-ern."
"No, it was Handsome Devil."
"It was Handsome Devil, that's right."
"I think the orginal idea was it was supposed to be like the Memphis Horns, but it didn't turn out like that."
"We got some tosser in on sax..."
"[Bristling]It was Andy Gill, he was a friend of mine, actually."
"(Immediately)He was really good. From what I remember of the part, he was fantastic..."
"The Bass Guitar." "The Drums."
You will find a lobby that holds that Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce, "the bass guitarist" and "the drummer" respectively, were two amiable but fortuitous passengers caught up in the thrill and the madness (though not the money) as The Smiths broke and raged. In fact, a surprise late addition to this uncharitable cadre is Morrissey, who made it pretty clear to The Observer some weeks ago that, without his and Johnny Marr's genius tactics, Rourke and Joyce would never have made it further than Salford Precinct.
The other week Joyce ran into Morrissey and, over a reconciliatory pint, asked him what the fuck he meant by that. Morrissey claimed he'd been misquoted. Bollocks you were, replied Joyce.
"But what was I going to do?" asks the drummer helplessly. "Chin him?"
There is another, more generous view of Rourke and Joyce, which contends that they were dead right for the job, that their contributions - especially those of the habitually unsung Rourke - were incontrovertibly top drawer and that anyone who thinks they were simply along for the ride is quite frankly talking via their anus. This can all be settled by listening to the records, and you can't deny that Rourke in particular was essential to The Smiths.
Each of them have been in bands since; indeed, Rourke's just finished playing bass on all of the next Pretenders album. Joyce is recording at home with John McGeoch of PiL, having toured with PiL, Buzzcocks, Julian Cope and (with Rourke) Sinead O'Connor over the years.
Ten years after the release of the debut Smiths single, Hand In Glove, they agree to meet in Manchester's Canal Cafe Bar, over a soundtrack of noisy Human League (ironic, since it was precisely that kind of fluffy pop music that The Smiths tried to obliterate). What do you want to talk to us for, their edgy countenances plainly wonder. Three reasons...
One, a feast of Smiths albums is re-released on CD on April 12. This includes the four erratic but excellent Smiths studio albums ( The Smiths, Meat Is Murder, The Queen Is Dead, and Strangeways, Here We Come), plus the compilations Hatful Of Hollow, The World Won't Listen and Louder Than Bombs. It's the latest in WEA's strange saturation coverage of Smithdom, a strategy that will delight any young newcomers - assuming, of course, they have access to lots of money - but probably just fatigue everyone else, who will mutter vague nocturnal syllables of displeasure, and lob words like "sacred," "cash-in" and "bastards" into the ring.
Secondly, in the unlikely event of ever Morrissey speaking to this magazine, he's unlikely to want to tarry too long on the triumphs of 1983-87, and we could probably think of other topics to ask him about if you gave us a few minutes. Johnny Marr, for his part, clearly feels that Electronic is a go-er, and refuses to look back any further than that. (Also, the unbelievably complicated relationship between the singer and the guitarist means that Smiths history is never quite dealt with squarely in interviews.)
Thirdly, do you really need some little twerp journalist writing 2,000 words on these albums, possibly beginning with the words, "Before The Smiths came along I was a void, a lonely vacuum...", then going off on some confused head trip about why The Smiths now don't mean anything, and ending with the words "... that joke isn't funny anymore." (No honestly, you don't need that. Trust me. You don't.) You need the memories of those who were right there in the studio, not right there in the bedroom.
Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce were seldom interviewed while The Smiths were together. The personalities of both tended to be stripped down in the press to: heroin addict (Rourke) and bloke who cried in the middle of I Don't Owe You Anything one night at Dingwalls (Joyce). Neither exactly battled to up their profile.
They're each nudging 30 now. Rourke has long cleaned up and is a session bassist, hence the Pretenders job. Joyce writes music on a keyboard at home. Rourke is married. Joyce has a five-year-old daughter and another one at the artwork stage.
Both have nothing but wonderful things to say about The Smiths' music, despite being fobbed off with ten per cent of the royalties. Joyce, who is suing Morrissey and Marr later this year for a great big question mark of an amount he can't even guess at, acknowledges that the situation is "horrible". But it's got to be done.
Sweetly, they both support Morrissey one hundred per cent in his flag-waving capers, so they'll probably really get off on this month's Select cover. We get the barman to turn down The Human League for a bit, and talk some Smiths.
Let's talk about the first album. What do you remember of
Don't Owe You Anything, apart from crying on it?
Mike: "We used to rehearse in a place down Portland Street."
Andy: "It's like a Beaujolais wine bar place now, opposite the Britannia (Hotel)."
Mike: "Because Joe Moss, who was the first manager the band ever had, he used to own the building, and we used to rehearse right on the top floor there. So if my memory serves me correct, it's going to be there. And we recorded everything the first time around, with Troy Tate down in Elephant Studios in Wapping, and the initial recording I thought had more atmosphere to it."
Andy: "John Porter (producer) suggested getting that bloke Paul Carrack in on keyboards to see what would happen, and I thought it really brought it alive."
Mike: "I was going to say, for me, the idea of an organ being in The Smiths really didn't turn me on. It softened it out a lot, made it more radio friendly, but the way that we worked together, for anybody else to actually come in and play on it, it's got to be fucking good. That was the gang mentality that we had, wasn't it? [Andy nods] Anybody that was coming in from the record company or whatever, we were like, What? What d'you want? It felt like they were coming in to intrude on our little party. I didn't think that any of these people felt about the music as strongly as the band did. Maybe it's a kind of possessive thing. The way that we were working, it was ours."
Andy: "We were very precious about it."
The story goes that you three would work on the music and then
give the track to Morrissey as a fait accompli. Was that
generally the case?
Andy: "Well, quite a few times Johnny would play a guitar part to Morrissey, and Morrissey would either come up with lyrics or he'd have some already written which he'd fit to that. We wouldn't hear Morrissey sing at that point. We would record the whole thing, even up to guitar overdubs and everything, and we still wouldn't have heard what Morrissey was going to put over the top. Right at the end he'd come in and sing and it would all make sense, wouldn't it?"
Mike: "Yeah. It was one of the most fantastic things about working with The Smiths. Morrissey wouldn't be patrolling the rehearsal room going, Hang on a second, go back eight bars. He'd just spring this lyric line on you, and it was great, especially when we got to The Queen Is Dead and he'd be doing the vocals and we'd be sat there in the control room and the tension and everything..."
Did you know he was going to write a song about the Moors
Suffer Little Children)?
Mike: "No. No, I mean, when he did that..."
Andy: "That was one of the very first rehearsals, and he just came in and hit us with that. It took a bit of getting used to. I remember taking a demo - before I'd even joined the band, they'd done a demo with Si Wolstencroft who drums with The Fall - and I took it home and played it to my brothers who were into the same music as I was into, Neil Young and Bob Dylan and so on, and they were going, 'Ere, what's he singing about there? And Handsome Devil: It took a week or two to get my head round it. I knew I wanted to do it, but it took a while to get used to, with him singing those sort of lyrics."
Mike: "When I first started listening to what Morrissey was singing about I just thought, What a fucking hero. Even at that stage, because obviously it took me a bit longer than Johnny to realise what the score was with the band. For the first year or so I was like, Wha-heyyyy. I'm havin' a great time..."
Andy: "Before Morrissey, no one had ever touched on subjects like the Moors Murderers or homosexuality. It was exciting, but it was strange to be in there, wasn't it?"
Mike: "Even with the sleeve, you know, for The Smiths Johnny said to me, Uh, I've got the cover of the new album. And it's a picture of a bloke going down on another bloke. So I'm like, Great! Fan-ta-stic! Hey, mam, look what I've been doing the last eight months! And I thought, well, how far do we want to take this? Because of course it's porn but straight away it starts you thinking, and that's what I mean when I say I maybe wasn't that clued in because Johnny and Morrissey were classic music fans for many years, and I'm sure they'd already been in Top Of The Pops in their heads, and they'd already thought about the things that have to be done to be creative, instead of just going blindly ahead and just falling by the wayside.
"Maybe it was that time in history, maybe it only happens a few times, maybe it was like a Beatles thing or a Stones thing, I don't know. But to me it always felt like they were driving the car."
The second album,
Meat Is Murder started with
Headmaster Ritual. Did Morrissey used to tell you much about his
Andy: "He did, to a certain extent, talk about how he'd disliked school and how he was a sort of misift, didn't he? He didn't say it directly but you got that impression, that he didn't fit in anywhere."
Mike: "But with regard to the discipline and the way people were treated, Morrissey's a bit older than us so year by year attitudes change and stuff, but the school that I went to was barbaric, in the same way that Morrissey talked about it being barbaric, but I'm sure Morrissey felt it a bit more because maybe back at that time he was starting to break away from the pack. The only way to survive in that situation was to run with the pack - that's what I did. I mean, that school, kids weren't hit - they were picked up and punched in the face. I had teachers who'd lift you up by the neck and he'd get his knuckles and he'd start knocking on the back of your head as hard as he could, until I was on the floor. Now I mean, was that education?
"I know a lad that went to school with Morrissey actually - he's dead now, unfortunately, a lad called Ade - and he said that Morrissey would come to school in like 1975 with green hair. Like New York Dolls, you know. 'Course then, there's no Johnny Rotten, no safety pins. You've got to think about it in those terms."
Andy: "I don't think he meant to dye it green. Didn't he try and dye it blond or something, and the peroxide went wrong?"
When he was saying "Meat Is Murder" how many of the band were
Mike: "None of us were. Because you remember when we did it and we were all sat round having a meal in the studio, and we were talking about vegetarianism?"
Andy: "Morrissey made you feel uncomfortable about eating meat in his presence, so in the end you'd do it but you wouldn't enjoy it."
Mike "Well, you know what stopped me from eating it were the lyrics for Meat Is Murder. The actual lyrics. Not so much him saying, What're you eating there?"
Andy: "Then we moved on to fish, didn't we? And we hammered that for about a month, until we couldn't stand the sight of fish any more. Then Mozz said one day, Fish feel pain too. And that was the fish gone."
Mike: "Well, that was my big argument, because you see Mozzer would love his bag of chips, like all good northern lads do. So you know, we'd go into a chippy somewhere and I'd be like, Have a fuckin' fish - because I stopped eating meat with Meat Is Murder, I haven't eaten it since..."
Is that the same for you, Andy?
Andy: (sheepishly) "Er... no..."
Mike: (confidentially to Andy) "It's alright, he's not here. (loudly) But anyway we'd go out for a bag of chips and I'd say, Have some fish, come on Mozzer - they don't have no central nervous system, they don't feel pain! You've got to draw the line somewhere. So I drew the line at eating fish. I saw Morrissey only about three weeks ago in Altrincham and he had a brilliant leather jacket on. And I was like, Yer fuckin'... trying to rip it off his back. And it was PVC. But it was the best PVC I have ever seen in my life. We sat down and had a pint, had a jar."
Did you get on well?
Mike: (examining knuckle of right hand thoughtfully) "Yeah, I mean, I've still got the mark here, but... No, no, we sat down and had a good chat."
What was the story behind that endless disco song
Begins At Home ?
Mike: "Do you remember when we played it at the Electric Ballroom? It was what we first came on to when we were supporting The Fall, and Mozzer had been knocking the red wine back (laughs) and we got out there - first song of the set, support band, we've got to impress - and it was about 17 minutes long (Rourke nods sadly). Mozz kept going into that middle bit (sings the yodelling bit). Fuckin' on and on. Johnny kept coming over and looking at me, and every time he did it I thought, thank God, he's going to stop it. We were knackered. I started using my feet to save energy."
Was it obvious right from the start that the title track of
The Queen Is Dead
would be The Smiths' big epic?
Andy: "It was always about ten, 15 minutes long. It just happened in the studio, didn't it? It was like a Beatles mad 'I Am The Walrus' metal jam."
Mike: "And of course, 'Elephant Walk' on drums (laughs). Do you remember that, some review where they put 'Mike "Elephant Walk" Joyce on drums'? God! Stood me in good stead so far. No complaints yet. How do you know a drummer's knocking at your door? It speeds up. Hey! How do you know a singer's knocking at your door? He doesn't know when to come in! How do you know a keyboard's knocking at your door? Who fuckin' cares..."
Andy: "That track was done right at the end of the sessions, wasn't it? Mozz didn't even have a title for the album at that stage..."
Mike: " Vicar In A Tutu was another one. Johnny had this riff, where he and Morrissey had worked on it I don't know, but Morrissey's looking through the window and we're playing away there and Mozz is going (look of extreme satisfaction). Yep, again, again, yep, this is it, this is the one. But that song's all over the place, all over the place.
"Talking about professionalism in The Smiths, though, do you remember when we were in the Woolhall and we put up T-Rex's 'Metal Guru'? (Andy nods slowly) We found the mastertape of 'Metal Guru' and put it up on the 24-track - and the engineer's shitting it, Jesus, don't tell anybody, don't break it - and we thought, Wow, this is ace. And Bolan's going (warble, warble)... and the drums are going (bashes out arhythmically dipsomaniac drum pattern on table)..."
Andy: "It was a sham, the whole thing. All over the place."
Mike: "The drums on that..."
Andy: "Tony Visconti (producer) worked wonders on that record."
Morrissey did once say that in another life you two would have
been Elvis Presley's rhythm section. Did you read
Andy: "Yeah, yeah."
Mike: (taken aback) "I didn't."
Andy: "Oh yeah. (Pause) But then of course the other week he said we wouldn't get as far as Salford Precinct."
Mike: "Well, that's two extremes, isn't it?"
What do you remember about
There Is A Light That Never Goes
Mike: "I remember being in a Pizzaland in Altrincham, giving the waitress my order - yeah, yeah, cheese and tomato, all that - and she said, You know the strings on 'There Is A Light' - is that an emulator or is it played? (Laughs) I was like, Whaaat? Are you fuckin' joking or what? What a fucking question! I thought she was going to say, you know, Parmesan cheese? Anchovies?"
Andy: "I think if we'd had a string quartet at the time we would have used it. But the fact that there was a keyboard there at the time... We just made it sound as real as possible. Didn't we give it a jokey name?"
Mike: "Orchestrazia Ardwick. No, hang on that was Strangeways (Smiths fact: it was The Hated Salford Ensemble, actually)... The Queen Is Dead is my favourite album actually because around that time we were so fuckin' tight. Johnny was never out of the studio. I think he worked hardest on that album out of everything we did."
Andy: " The Queen Is Dead is more memorable because we took it on tour to America and round Europe and exciting, whereas Strangeways we never got to tour with. I'm sure it would have worked with an audience."
Mike: "But I'll tell you one thing about Strangeways - I don't think there'll ever be, and I don't think there ever was, a band that would put an LP of songs like that together. Because, you know, what is it? Is it rock? Is it pop? Is it rockabilly? I mean, you put Death Of A Disco Dancer on a jukebox, it's not gonna get played very often, is it?"
That had Morrissey on piano, of course. Did you know he was
going to do that?
Mike: "No. Neither did he."
Andy: "Well, he'd been tinkling on it downstairs."
Could he play anything musical?
Andy: "Johnny tried to teach him a couple of chords on the road. There's a clip where he's playing on the How Soon Is Now video that was put together."
Mike: (surprised) "Has that been put out?"
Mike: "What, Grant Showbiz's video?"
Mike: "What, as a video?"
Andy: "I saw it on MTV!"
Mike: "What, that video?"
The Queen Is Dead
also had that memorable image of you
standing outside Salford Lads' Club. A Morrissey
idea, one presumes.
Mike: "Oh yeah, who do you think? The way I see that, it's the lads. And I've heard now that Mozzer's band's called The Lads, or T'Lads. And I think that's what we had then. It was a gang. A gang of lads who weren't denying our roots. There was none of that fuckin' cock rock, on the edge of the cliff in the video with the helicopter swooping down - that had all been done before and it was boring. So the imagery was important."
Andy: "We did some shots outside Albert Finney's shop as well. It was a bit of nostalgia, a bit of Mancunian history and a bit of laddism."
Mike: "In a way it was The Smiths' Lads Club. Because it always was. And that's why, whatever happens in the future, I could never detach myself from that. Whatever happens in the court case and all that kind of shit, I can never separate myself from the fact that what we had there... was a bit majestic. All that stuff about, Oh, The Smiths, you either love 'em or loathe 'em is a load of bollocks. I think that what we did, and the mark that we made on music is more than what The Beatles did. I think it's more than what the Stones did."
Was it pretty obvious that
Strangeways, Here We Come
the last album?
Mike: "I suppose in a way, yeah. There's a lot of subliminal madness going on in there. I can hear it. I felt as though we'd come full circle mentally."
Andy: "By the end of Strangeways Johnny really needed to take a lot of time off. He really needed to unwind. Because in the past, when we got a month off, me and him (nods towards Mike) would go off on holiday, whereas Johnny would go back into the studio and work."
Mike: "Oh, I mean, the pressure was really on Johnny to write a better album than The Smiths, The Queen Is Dead or Meat Is Murder, every one of them. It had to be the best album ever written by The Smiths. And the pressure was on Morrissey to come up with a killer lyric. And I was boozing a lot - brandy, we were all drinking a lot of brandy. I don't mean in the bathroom - gargle, gargle - there was none of that shit going down. (Andy laughs) Maybe there was, alright. He's laughing cos he caught me one morning. But, yeah, there was a lot of pressure on Johnny. And that's why Strangeways to me sounds like a total white-knuckle ride. We were very tense. But we were playing together really well, better than we'd ever played before. (To Andy) I wish we'd toured Strangeways..."
How was the intro to
Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved
Andy: "It's the sound effects of a crowd noise from the BBC sound effects library, isn't it? I think it was a strike or something, outside a pit."
Mike: "Good intro, that, isn't it? When it all goes, Baaah... That's a pop-in, though. We didn't all go (quietly) one-two-three-four. It's just spliced in."
If you'd made another album together, what would it have
sounded like? Much poppier?
Andy: "No, I think it would have been heavier. It's so hard to say, because so much depended on what Johnny would come up with. And we'd never hear Morrissey's lyrics until they just appeared on the take. Maybe the two extremes - heavy songs and poppy songs, light and shade."
Mike: "Heavier, definitely. Because to me Strangeways is like the heaviest album to listen to. You don't put that one on when you fancy some nice easy listening. I had a few friends round about a year ago, well, friends of Tina's, my girlfriend's, and they were all going, You know, what were The Smiths like? And Tina goes, Put on Strangeways. (Laughs) And there were just like (look of profound social embarrassment). You know (sotto voce), Get your coat. Heh heh. Y'know, what the fuckin' hell kind of people do you know?"
Rourke has to shoot off at this juncture, to visit his wife in
hospital. Joyce says he'll stay for one more. In the event, we keep
drinking all evening, with the drummer painstakingly dissecting his
predicament over the court case, slurring the praises of Morrissey and
slagging off Nick Kent. It's all strictly off the record, but as the
beers fly by and the ashtray piles up, you warm more and more to the man
and his unreal dilemma: one of the biggest Smiths fans there ever was,
who's got to sue two of his heroes for what he feels is rightfully
More beers are necked, and Joyce goes into a great rambling speech about all the inspirational singers he's drummed for, and how Mozzer was the best of the lot. Mozzer, Mozzer, Mozzer. He just can't shut up about him, it's all too deeply embedded in his mind.
"Aw, you gotta interview him, man. He's fuckin' brilliant." Yeah, well, you know, any time he's ready... "So how big a Smiths fan were you, then?" he asks keenly.
Well, after that details get a little sketchy but one vague polaroid does lodge in the cranium, of two pissed Smiths nuts shouting to be heard over the racket of the PA, arguing the merits of Shakespeare's Sister, the great misunderstood Smiths classic. That wonderful bit where it slows down, to reveal a darkly moaning Morrissey. That classic reverberating chord at the end. Yes! Yes! And the piano! We're like a couple of kids.
Bloody hell, man. One of us is the guy who played the drums on it.