They were Britain’s greatest ever rock group. More melodic than the Beatles, more powerful than the Stones, cleverer than The Who, catchier than U2, funnier than Madness and better-looking than Jesus & Mary Chain (okay, not hard). They played music that lifted the soul with words that sharpened the mind. They played both types of music: fast and slow, soft and loud, country and western (???), and they came from Manchester.
They were The Smiths.
They sang about the city and shot its sites for their sleeves: the Hacienda, Manchester Central, “a river the colour of lead”, Coronation Street, the Holy Name Church...
The Smiths’ Manchester walk takes a trip through their haunts and their dark underbelly and, unlike other Smiths’ tours, we don’t shirk from the difficult stories. We explain how the horrendous denouement of the Moors Murderers’ killing spree gave Morrissey the idea for the band’s name and affected much of his song-writing.
Here’s an extract from the tour
Morrissey’s stint in Yanks’ record shop, a dank and now defunct basement outlet in Chepstow Street’s Canada House early in 1979, partly inspired the line about jobs and misery in “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”. Yes, he could play records all day, but was still not satisfied. The contradiction of being unhappy with not having a job yet being depressed with job was a long running problem with Moz. As he once noted in his diary: “When I had no job I could pinpoint my depression. But when I did get a job I was still depressed.”
The gestation of the song itself, two minutes-plus of sumptuous sardonic cynicism, was typically Smithsonian. Converting the title of an obscure Sandie Shaw number, “Heaven Knows I’m Missing Him Now”, Morrissey recorded the vocals for the first verse in London. He then insisted on travelling to Manchester to do the vocals for the second verse. Consequently the producer, John Porter, booked a studio, packed the tapes and went North. There Morrissey recorded another verse but then announced he was popping out to the chip shop. 45 minutes later he still hadn’t returned. Porter phoned Moz’s mother who told him, “Oh he was here but he’s gone back to London.”