Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Belligerent Ghouls Run Birmingham Schools

Nowadays March 17th means St Patrick's Day to me, and some would argue that that has become a rather cliched event, relying perhaps too much upon stereotype. Respected academics Daryl Adair and Mike Cronin have written on the history of the 'Wearing of the Green',  and Cronin published a useful piece in Time this week on its evolution - noting how the USA invented (the celebration of, at least) St Patrick's Day. I saw this myself last year when I found myself in Brooklyn on March 17th, and it provided a stark counterpoint to what St Patrick's Day was like in Birmingham, where I grew up, in the 1970s and 1980s.  However, thirty years ago today the 17th March had a different resonance for me, and  meant a group of Mancunians, themselves partly of Irish lineage, The Smiths, appearing at Birmingham Hippodrome.
It was a strange venue for a gig if I'm honest.  It's the only time I ever saw a band there - in fact the only other time I have been there was for Barbara Windsor in Cinderella with my mum in the 1970's - perhaps I should have called this piece 'Barbara(Windsor)ism Begins at Home' for this was of course a date on the Meat is Murder tour,  and the extended work out of Barbarism begins at Home was one of the album's important moments, although of course not its centrepiece. Of that more later.
The Smiths were always a band who demanded the definite article. In some ways I don't think they make sense without it and I took its' use as a statement of intent. A friend of mine, Nigel, took this one stage further with the support band that day, James. They will always be thought of as 'The James' to me in the light of his demonstrative faux pas. In those days I pretty much saw it as a badge of honour to miss support bands whenever I could, but even though it was clear that everyone was there for the main event, it was obvious James were a decent band, I even managed to find a setlist for the night here.

I'm listening to Meat is Murder again now as I write this. I still play material by The Smiths a lot. They have been one of the most important bands in my life and I return to them often-  cropping up on playlists,  revisiting The Queen is Dead, The Smiths or Hatful of Hollow particularly for example. It strikes me however that I don't often turn to Meat is Murder in its entirety - hearing it again its my loss. Its an excellent album and worthy of re-appraisal. It has no real singles on it - to me This Joke Isn't Funny Anymore was never a proper single. Although history does show it was indeed released as a single and proved to be one of their poorest performing ones hitting the mighty heights of No 49 in the charts. In fact I agree with Jack Rabid that it was the first of their singles that 'wasn't an utter thrill to buy'.

The gig itself opened with 'William, it was really Nothing' (itself allegedly concerning  a liaison with the late, lamented Billy Mackenzie)  and drew heavily, unsurprisingly, upon Meat is Murder. As noted in the excellent passions just like mine blog, Morrissey changed the lyrics to the Headmaster Ritual that night as a nod to Birmingham, and this is reflected in the title to this blog entry. There was actually quite a lot more interaction with the crowd than noted in passions just like mine - we managed to get to the front and were able to engage him with what some would call witty banter or repartee. There was also a lot of farmyard noises coming from the crowd during the centrepiece title track of the album. Its not their finest offering, but in many ways its their most important. Whilst I have been vegetarian for more than a quarter of a century I can't say its the axis around which my diet  revolves it is certainly an important and political song that was a catalyst for many. I heard Noel Gallagher speaking recently and he mentioned that actually lots of The Smiths songs are political, but perhaps not in the overt way of a Red Wedge, Style Council or Billy Bragg, all of which coincided with The Smiths brief orbit. The Smiths did of course appear on the Red Wedge tour (although I think only once, in Newcastle) although Morrissey had been dismissive of some benefit efforts previously, including the Band Aid single of which he memorably noted; 'One can have great concern for the people of Ethiopia, but its another thing to inflict daily torture on the people of England'. See Rolling Stone for some more of his memorable quotes, he has certainly never been shy of courting controversy. The gig was in fact excellent, notwithstanding it was shorter than some other nights on the tour. Looking back thirty years a different question is the relevance of The Smiths all these years later. After the demise of The Smiths they initially suffered a backlash of sorts, even Creation band The Times  in their Madchester cash in/social commentary (delete as appropriate) Manchester exhorted that a clarion call for The Smiths in the clubs and discos of Manchester should be greeted with a response of  808 State. Indeed the famous 'Burn down the Disco' line of Panic was particularly inflammatory, and Morrissey of course did nothing to dampen the flames. What strikes me listening to the album again though is the absolute brilliance of the lyrics. It might even be my new favourite The Smiths' album. Relevant? Gasping - but somehow still alive.