The Smiths

The Smiths: live at The Hacienda

(gig: 4th February 1983. review: NME 26th March 1983)

“The only thing to be, in 1983, is handsome.”

And so The Smiths’ performance began, in suitably confident manner. And from there they went from strength to strength. 

Like some harsh collision between the grand design of Magazine, the strange ways of Josef K, and the taut tension of Fire Engines, the four Smiths were proud and powerful, pale and angular, a formidable and inventive force.

Their sound – a fine, fierce, combination of tight drums, hidden walls of guitar, and the deepest of bass lines – proved to be a suitably refined, aggressive, setting for the searing wail and majestic poetry of their enigmatic vocalist, Morrissey. 

‘Miserable Lie’, the obvious highlight, seemed to aim at a grandeur, a rare raw power, that perhaps only Magazine have achieved since Iggy and it seemed that their fellow Mancunians’ magnificent example – off-hand, discomforting, beyond easy categorisation – was a major inspiration here. 

As commanding and restrained as this, The Smiths should soon be capable of reaching the greatest of heights.

Oh yes ! The Smiths were handsome


Notes on the above:

  • this is how my career as a journalist began: with 172 words in the N.M.E (26th March 1983) and the type of freakish quirk of fate that always sounds so corny and implausible it could only be (quite awful) fiction).
  • For instance my debut also turned out to be The Smiths’ first-ever review in the music press. On the plus side, something I’m pretty proud of, and something which led to all kinds of things that I could never have imagined and which changed my life: becoming friends with the band, particularly Morrissey; travelling with them to their early gigs before the release of their first single ‘Hand In Glove’ (two months later) and for quite a while after; watching them get bigger and bigger, exponentially, with each record; getting my first big magazine interview – an exclusive from ‘Mozza’ on the cover of BLITZ; and above all being one of the names thanked on their sleeve of The Smiths’ first album.
  • On the down side, all this probably means my career peaked there and then.Like most people at The Hacienda I had never heard of The Smiths and didn’t know they were even playing that night. Thousands of people might have consequently claimed they were there but, contrary to the image we have of it now, in those days there was a reason why all the photos of The Hacienda show the lads with arty haircuts all wearing long coats wasn’t because they wanted to look like Joy Division or Echo & the Bunnymen, it was because the club was always half-empty and freezing.
  • The gig was part of a ‘Best of Manchester’ series showcasing ‘up-and-coming’ (unknown) local bands. (I didn’t know this either.) I had gone because I liked the headliners: an electro-funk group on Factory called 52ndStreet whose best 12” single ‘Cool As Ice’/‘Twice As Nice’ wasn’t released until several months later and so were almost as obscure as their support act, sadly remaining that way. Unlike The Smiths…
  • Apart from myself and the band who desperately wanted to be in the NME, no-one wanted the piece and certainly hadn’t asked for it. It was posted, unsolicited, not even in hope let alone expectation, after several failed efforts to get a gig review printed previously. Not posted on the internet or sent in by email. Posted in the actual post, on a bit of paper, written on a 1920s Imperial typewriter only slightly smaller than a Smart car but probably heavier.
  • Equally illustrative of how times have changed was the date of the gig – February 4th, a whopping seven weeks earlier. With no Google (or internet) back then, it wasn’t as easy for the Gigs editor to check such matters but thankfully in those days it clearly wasn’t relevant. I doubt it even crossed his mind to ring the Hacienda and find out.
  • As thrilled as I was to have the review printed, for years it bothered me that it wasn’t better. Yes, at least I had the perspicacity to see how extraordinary The Smiths were. (Although to be honest it never occurred to me they’d really make it, let alone become so massive or ‘important.’) It transpired Morrissey was such a fan of Magazine he later covered ‘Song From Under The Floorboards’ and ‘Miserable Lie’ always reminded me of ‘Motorcade.’ But when The Smiths became so renowned for being so ground breaking, the comparisons to Josef K and the Fire Engines always tormented me – as horribly inadequate, or just plain wrong). I spent years half-expecting to be called out for it; exposed as a journalist with good judgement but poor musical knowledge. (I hadn’t even mentioned The Beatles or Keith Richards’ hair.) 
  • The reason I’d used these as reference points was because they were bands that liked. No one ever made the comparison again and in their interviews all the artists Morrissey & Marr mentioned were far cooler. I spent years feeling guilty and embarrassed. Until, finally, not long ago, Johnny cited Postcard Records as an influence. I knew I was right.
  • Less impressively, reading this review now I managed not to mention the most striking thing about The Smiths, and Morrissey – the very thing they first became most famous for: the gladioli. “Call yourself a journalist…”
  • As I seem to be confessing I might as well admit my career started with a lie. Watching the video of the gig on YouTube, it didn’t start with Morrissey uttering those immortal words “The only thing to be, in 1983, is handsome.” He said them introducing ‘Handsome Devil’ – the fourth of the eight numbers they played that night, having started with ‘These Things Take Time’ and closing with ‘Miserable Lie.’
  • Regarding my own miserable lie, I’d like to think it was an innocent mistake or just artistic licence. I can’t remember. A great opening sentence and a good ending were always more important.