Frankly, Señor Shankly: Mexico’s Morrissey cover band reveals tribulations ahead of Manchester gig

Tonight is a big night for a small group of Mexican musicians who’ve just arrived in the city – that’s because they’ll be playing Latin American Morrissey covers to a packed out Gorilla crowd in the Smiths’ frontman’s home city.

At the last stop of their six-date UK tour, Mexrrissey – a band of seven Mexican ‘musical gunslingers’ – will find themselves up against a tough crowd in the city where Morrissey began.

It might seem a bizarre combination – the fast-paced colour of Mexico against the bleak picture of Manchester life painted by Morrissey – but Latin Americans love him, with his lines on love, loss and longing resonating with our fellow fans across the pond.

MM caught up with the first of the gang, Camilo Lara, a Mexican DJ and producer who put the band of merry mariachis together from some of his nation’s finest musicians.

Speaking about why Morrissey is so popular in South America, Camilo said: “There are different layers to that question.

“I think that in terms of what they see, there is the melodrama that we share, that passion and that deep knowledge through simple lyrics, and Mexico is a country that enjoys soap operas and enjoys crisis in day to day life.

“So I guess we share that and then I guess there is a deeper connection for second generation Mexicans living in the US.

“We share the aesthetic, the look, and we also share the migration thing, elements in Morrissey’s lyrics that can be understood in the context of moving from Mexico to the States.

“It totally makes sense Mexico and Morrissey, and like in a cosmic, weird, magical way, it makes sense together.”

Some listeners of Mexrrissey’s music, writing online, have speculated that another reason behind the success of Morrissey in Mexico is due to the fact Mexicans largely see themselves as the underdog.

“I would agree,” said Camilo, “and Morrissey is one of the few people who find beauty in Mexico – it makes a nice change!

“Now we’re the new villains in the Hollywood films, we’re a nation full of drugs and violence, it’s great someone that can see past that to this nice, beautiful, gentle country. We appreciate that!”

Naturally, the band have attracted a lot of attention including airplay and a feature interview from BBC 6 Music’s Cerys Matthews, later kicking off their tour with a performance as part of London’s Latin Music Festival, La Linea.

Speaking about the process of translating Morrissey’s tunes into Spanish, Camilo said that it’s been a challenge not only because of the huge language barrier between Moz’s ironic, depressing lyrics and the way musicians work back in Mexico, but also because the rhythmic differences.

“I think there were some natural songs that were obviously mariachi, with others that fell into the cha cha cha, mambo genres and so on,” he said.

“But lyrically, he has really long lyrics in short spaces! He sings a lot of words, and that was a big challenge, because the lyrics were long and when you speak Spanish, it takes double the number of words to explain the same idea than in English.

“It was a mess to try to fit that into such a tiny bit of music!

“But what Morrissey does – and he does it really brilliantly – is he puts names on simple things, and out of that makes them universal.

“That’s the beauty of it, and so we tried to adapt those simple things to be relevant to Mexican everyday life.

“We tried to get a flavour from different parts of Mexico by using different musicians who weren’t necessarily like a musical postcard of Mexico, but who play cool and exciting music and can bring something nice to the table.

“We were keen to not be like a bunch of mariachi trumpeters coming here to perform – these are experienced musicians who have their own careers and they do exciting music on their own.”

Camilo, who has originally had a ‘behind the scenes’ presence in the music world, owns a label called Suave and his accolades include picking up a Grammy nomination for the music in the film Y Tu Mama Tambien.

Speaking about his excitement for performing in Manchester for the first time, he told MM that he first listened to Morrissey’s music at the age of six.

“I’m so excited. I grew up with the legends of all the bands that are from there,” he said.

“And it’s not only Morrissey – I grew up listening to the Happy Mondays, The Stone Roses, The Charlatans, so it’s very exciting.

“This for me is the promiseland! For some, it’s Liverpool, but I’m obsessed with Manchester. All my favourite bands are from there, all the mythology of modern rock is from there, it’s great, it’s exciting!”

He was even invited to be the support act for Morrissey on his American tour – the ultimate highlight for the biggest fan of the ex-Smiths frontman – but sadly had to turn down the opportunity because he was touring at the same time himself.

Despite the fact he had to turn the chance down, Morrissey did offer him the break to do a remix of Someone Is Squeezing My Skull, but it didn’t go down so well.

“I never heard from them for a month or so,” explained Camilo, “and then after a month I got an email saying that he didn’t like my remix.

“I was like, ‘well, ok, fine’, but then I received another email three months later saying, ‘no, I’m terribly sorry, Morrissey does like your remix’, so that was it! I was like ‘great – that’s a good mixtape!’”

Describing the gigs as ‘a concert of broken hearts and forgotten dreams’, Camilo said he always thought there were ‘invisible lines between what Morrissey and Manchester represents and what Mexico City and Mexican pop culture has’.

“And you know what, I’ve seen England changing a little bit – it’s more open to more non-Anglo stuff, and that’s very exciting. The world is changing in a way that has now given us the chance to be here, and that’s great,” he said.

“The whole experience has been great. It’s funny to perform these songs that people know, but they don’t know at the same time – it’s interesting that the first songs kind of shock the audience in that they’re not to be able to sing!

“The reaction from the audience, it’s crazy, it’s overwhelming, we’ve had so many great comments, and it’s really amazing, it’s really magical, I guess.”

And what could make the night just that little bit more special for Camilo? A collaboration with the man himself on his own song, Mexico.

“We’re on his radar,” he says confidently.

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