On this day: December 22, 1988 – Morrissey performs his first solo gig
On this day: December 22, 1988 – Morrissey performs his first solo gig
Thirty years ago to the day, Morrissey performed for the first time as a solo artist, and with that stood at the forefront of a British cultural movement for the last time.
The Davyhulme born singer performed to 3,000 adoring fans at Wolverhampton Civic Hall, but some reports state that up to 20,000 came with the hope of getting in on the Thursday night.
The build up to the event is almost as biblical as the performance itself. The gig had all the quirks you’d come to expect of the man: it was free entry, but you were only allowed in if you were wearing The Smiths or Morrissey merchandise.
Girls and boys alike rocked shoddily copied Morrissey quiffs, making the queue look more like a look-a-like conference than a gig.
Outside, the fans chant his name to the tune of ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever’, coming across as an incredibly twee bunch of football hooligans, wearing Doc Martens and cardigans instead of Burberry and Adidas, all avid supporters of the Lonely Hearts Club.
The bouncers donned tuxedos, and instead of asking for tickets, just said “t-shirt mate” on an endless loop. Searches on the door were thorough, but they couldn't take away the thousands of gladioli brought to replicate their idol, the local florists must have made a killing.
Whilst this was officially Morrissey’s first solo gig, it was essentially The Smiths Lite, with all the members of the band apart from Johnny Marr performing with him.
In true Moz fashion, they arrive in a 1940s Bedford OB bus and are swamped by fans desperate to swipe a touch of the star. Bass player Andy Rourke is rather cruelly ignored by the fans as he departs the bus, who are all only interested in one person.
One reveller is interviewed outside: “We arrived Monday night, 8:30, we had to be the first ones here - (The Smiths are) the ultimate the of bands, definitely.
“Camping out, it’s worth every second of cold, it’s just amazing, people have come from all over. I’m lost for words.”
They walked on after intermission music, which included Cilla Black’s Love of The Loved, which was perhaps a dig at Johnny Marr - who cited Morrissey’s obsession with 60s pop artists as one of his reasons for leaving the band.
He said in 1992 to Record Collector magazine: "That was the last straw, really. I didn't form a group to perform Cilla Black songs.”
The band can be seen backstage, laughing and smiling, in the final moments before the chaos that was soon to ensue.
As Moz enters stage left, flowers rain down like confetti and on Mike Joyce’s beat he instantly breaks out his iconic dance moves as his limbs and hips swing and sway discordantly.
The first song of the night is Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before from The Smiths final album, and whilst this might have come out two years prior to the gig, the audience won’t stop him as they haven't heard it live before.
A lyric from the bands second verse rings true for the night - “nothing’s changed, I still love you” - because nothing has changed, apart from Johnny Marr. Morrissey is still dancing, still growling his lyrics and still performing The Smiths songs. And well, the audience make it pretty clear that they still love him.
Just 166 seconds after Mike Joyce played the band in, the first fan mounts the stage. He dances a quick jig with Moz before being heralded off by security. Little did the lad know that he was going to set the tone for the night, with fans getting on the stage 145 times before the night ended.
Next up was Disappointed, and with it another landmark for the night, for this is the first ever Morrissey song performed live. It was from his first solo album ‘Viva Hate’, released nine months prior to the gig.
From here on out the stage is a free-for-all as punters climb up and yank and grab at the singer. His jumper begins to tear, fans kneel down and pray to him, and security have their work cut out to try and clear the stage before the next batch of indie aficionados can climb up.
Security get increasingly frustrated as more and more get on stage but Morrissey is unfazed. There is an unbridled sexual energy in the room, Moz thrusts his hips, rollicking across the stage and flicking his tongue at the loving audience. He is kissed and caressed by almost everyone who gets on stage.
He later remarked on this in an interview with Q Magazine: “In the hall that night there was a great aura of love and gentleness, and all the people who came on stage treated me in a very gentle way.
“I wasn't kicked or punched or dragged, although they were very emotionally charged. I came away with no bruises."
He keeps the solo work coming as Interesting Drug is played next, followed by Suedehead, which contains the best Morrissey-ism of the night by far. He takes a rose from the crowd, sings “all the things you knew I’d written about you” to the surely flustered fan, before changing the next lyric from “oh so many illustrations” to “oh so many blank pages”.
But here’s the kicker, as he snarls the next line like a town crier after 12 pints, screaming “AND IIIIIIII AM SO VERY SICKENED”, much to the amusement of Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce.
Suedehead also showcases two of the worst stage invaders of the night, the poor lad who gets on stage, ready for his big moment as he joins arms with his hero… only to slip over and nearly wipe Morrissey out with him. Unlucky son, you'll do better next time.
He’s then followed by a girl who kisses Moz, managing to get a chuckle out of him, before screaming with joy into the microphone, deafening everyone in the room.
The last three songs before the encore see the singer in full flow, with The Last of The International Playboys, Sister, I’m A Poet and Death At One’s Elbow played in succession.
He begins to belt the lyrics out regardless of how many fans are hanging off his back. And the moment that everyone was waiting for comes, as he bites a tear into his jumper and after a few minutes finally rips it off, instantly met with screams from the audience.
He finishes Death At One’s Elbow with the band not playing, as he sings the last line “goodbye my love, goodbye.”
The band leave the stage, but it wasn't goodbye for long. Only for three minutes in fact, as they come back and perform an encore of The Smiths Sweet And Tender Hooligan.
This is the perfect song to finish on, a fast paced rampage of The Smiths greatness, encapsulating the mood of the night.
In reverse of the 1988 The Smiths track, this gig marked the birth of a disco dancer. Madchester was in full flow and getting mainstream media attention within a year of the gig. The Stone Roses were the new kids on the block and Manchester’s punk and indie scene was suddenly put on the back-burner.
That’s not to say the indie scene disappeared, or that Morrissey quietly faded away, all 11 of his solo albums have reached the top ten, and he can still sell out huge shows despite the controversy surrounding him.
But his relevance to the British music scene was dwindling, Madchester came and went and was followed by Britpop. Whilst these movements were all clearly influenced by Morrissey and The Smiths, he was replaced by Ian Brown and the Gallagher brothers as the face of UK alternative music.
But what a send off this night was, a perfect harmony of havoc.
Here's the full show...
Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before (The Smiths song) (Live Debut)
Disappointed (Live debut)
Interesting Drug (Live debut)
Suedehead (Live debut)
The Last of the Famous International Playboys (Live debut)
Sister I'm a Poet (Live debut)
Death at One's Elbow (The Smiths song)
Sweet and Tender Hooligan (The Smiths song)