Morrissey live in Blackpool

Live at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool

And so into the fray. The boxer, pictured watching over him on the backdrop, would have sympathised.

“The crowd call your name/They love you, all the same,” Morrissey sings on ‘Boxers’, his latest single.
As the night wore on, Morrissey’s identification with the small-time glory-boys of the ring became increasingly easy to understand.

Not content with the (apparently endless) blows that life rains down on him, Morrissey, more than any other idol, turns contact with his fans into something more like contact sport.

For every hard-nut offering a handshake, a kiss on the cheek or a fat slap on the back, there are bear-hugs, headlocks and attempted fornication. Several of the girls appeared to be trying to demonstrate the Heimlich Maneuvered on him.

Timid souls scrambling on stage to be part of the ritual laying on of hands, quickly become a line of people taking a run up and launching themselves at his mid-rift.

Morrissey takes them all on, without much sign of either enjoyment or annoyance, as if, like them, he assumes a little piece of himself is included in the price of admission. Welcome to ‘World of Morrissey’, as he calls it.

Morrissey’s has always been a strange worship; it’s almost symbiotic. His fans look like him : he looks like them. The people buying the records look like the cover-stars immortalised on the sleeves (or vice versa) – short hair, big quiffs, long sideburns; ambivalent schoolgirls and skinheads, suedeheads, even a couple of Asian rockabillies…. The Meaning of Morrissey is a hard one to fathom.

This was always the way, of course. Twelve years ago, in the first live review either of us ever had published, I described him commencing a lowly Smiths’ support slot at The Hacienda with the characteristically imperious announcement, “The only thing to be/In 1983/Is handsome…”

It wasn’t difficult to realise that anyone who could imbue lines like “Reel around the fountain/slap me on the patio” with such dramatic, even poetic, personal meaning was destined for greater things.

The creative success and friendships he’s forged with his band now have not only rejuvenated him, but (out of the blue) inspired a new generation of devotees. Another Morrissey paradox: that someone so old before his time belongs to the young.

Following ‘Vauxhall & I’, ‘Boxers’ has set the seal on the most consistent and articulate spell of his career since The Smiths. Tonight, the band’s only failing is they are almost too polished. Not enough feedback.

‘Billy Budd’, the sustained menace of ‘Spring-Heeled Jim’ and a sprightly ‘Have-a-Go Merchant’ kick-start the night off to a rollicking, euphoric start and The Man Himself is soon stalking and swiveling round the stage with an authority and ease he certainly never had in the early days when performing live was a form of expression bordering on unleashed abandon or liberation.

Standard crowd-pleasers ‘The More You Ignore Me’ and ‘You’re The One For Me, Fatty’ apart though, much of tonight’s set illustrates that, in many ways, Morrissey is at That Difficult Age (although isn’t he always ?).

Live, the soft skiffle of ‘Find Out For Yourself’, ‘Whatever Happens, I Love You’, ‘We’ll Let You Know’, ‘Used To Be A Sweet Boy’ and ‘Hold On To Your Friends’ are brave choices, sombre, songs full of the sort of dreamy melancholy that made his name but leave nothing for the pogoing masses to do but raid the stage and, in effect, wreck them.

Timing their runs onstage with the accuracy of forwards springing an offside trap, time after time, the stage invaders plough into their target at the songs’ most poignant moment, reducing his singing to an interrupted splutter. With both arms round his neck, they whirled round him like children swinging round a post in the playground.

He was practically mugged in the middle of a sweetly-sung ‘Moon River’ and the neatly-staged effect of his pose amidst the spotlight and strobes during the frenzied finale of ‘National Front Disco’ was gate-crashed by someone clambering on to him.

The boxer on the backdrop would have admired Morrissey’s footwork though, ducking and diving, bobbling and weaving past oncoming assailants and at times, we were left with the bizarre spectacle of fans ambling around the stage, even tapping him on the shoulder, waiting for an embrace.

By mid way, Morrissey seemed slightly dispirited by it all, and no-one could really blame him if, at this point in his life, the idea of people listening to the songs and his singing appealed to him. (No other idols even entertain what he does.) Then again, a large part of him actively requires this sort of urgent adoration, even demands it.

The band’s momentum picked up again with ‘Now My Heart Is Full’ and the splendid crescendo of ‘Speedway’, where the sentiment, “In my own strange way/I’ve always been true to you/In my own secret way/I’ll always stay true to you” was evidently mutual.

By the time Morrissey departed at the end of ‘Shoplifters of the World Unite’, bloodied but unabashed, the crowd were indeed chanting his name.

Whatever else, Morrissey’s art and his audience remain utterly individual and peculiar to him, and to them, and in retaining his crown, together they proved that on most of tonight’s score-cards, he is still the only one.