Here’s my autographed cover of ‘Vauxhall And I’. While I don’t normally solicit signatures, in this instance there’s was a point to the request. It was 1994 and I had queued for a considerable time outside the HMV by Manchester’s Arndale Centre. I wanted to meet Morrissey, to converse with the singer and this was my only chance.
Let me explain. In August 1992, Morrissey played a show at Finsbury Park, supporting Madness. In front of an audience of seig-heiling skinheads, he paraded the Union Jack and sang a series of songs that were dangerously ambiguous. At this stage, the Moz songbook contained tracks such as ‘Asian Rut’, Bengali In Platforms’ and ‘We’ll Let You Know’. At an NME editorial the following Tuesday, we decided to start a public debate. It was the moment when the paper and the artist were officially divorced. Things haven’t been the same since.
There was no response from Morrissey, no attempt to clarify the debate, and so the story festered. But when ‘Vauxhall And I’ appeared, it seemed like a more contrite record. There was tenderness, an appeal for compassion, and a closing track called ‘Speedway’ that seemed to ask the judge and jury for some kind of a reprieve.
I wrote a constructive review and the word came back throught the Moz office that he was glad to have been given a fair hearing. So when we heard that the singer was doing HMV signings in London and Manchester, we decided to deliver a score of NME writers into the queue, each bearing a question. When the answers were collated, we would have a feature for the paper and perhaps some resolution to the debate.
Of course it ended in chaos and comedy. The London signing was cut short, and so myself and John Harris took it to Manchester, talking to fans in the queue, building up a story. Finally I met the man, got my CD signed and we exchanged a few words. We had our cover story, albeit a slightly mad one.
The Morrissey controversy has resumed again, as reported here. The difference is that the artist was quick to react, issuing a denial and forging links with the Love Music Hate Racism organisation. All good.
So I’m inclined to believe that while he has a romantic and deluded view of little England in the old days, I don’t believe it’s a malicious one. I still play his music and the best of it moves me uniquely. Therefore in the second hour of this Friday’s show, I’ll dedicate an hour to ‘Listen With Mozzer’. Lots of Smiths tunes and tracks covered by Sandi Shaw, The Pretenders, Schneider TM, plus some charming surprises.
Stu Bailie presents The Late show on Radio Ulster, every Friday from 10pm until midnight. See his playlist here.