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Britain is in the midst of an existential funk. A cost of living crisis, the gruesome spectacle of the Tory leadership battle, widespread industrial strife, and an economy that looks like a punch-drunk boxer on the wrong side of 40. And now Morrissey is touring.
Just what we need, I thought, as a flyer arrived in my inbox.
“The dates are fixed for September and October. No rules/regulations/restrictions will be in place for these concerts – everyone is welcome,” read a post on the former Smiths frontman’s Instagram page, advertising the event.
A bold stance, that, in lockdown Britain. What a ballsy campaigner for civil rights.
Except that Britain isn’t locked down. And it hasn’t had any meaningful restrictions in force for months now. You want to go to a gig? You can go to a gig. Some venues politely ask you to “consider” wearing a mask.
But that’s about as far as it goes, and those who do so are in the minority (I’m one of them).
The TUC, meanwhile, has unearthed instances of employees getting hauled in to work in offices after testing positive, while their colleagues have been asked to perform their duties alongside them. Liberties, you say? What about theirs?
Of course, Morrissey’s journey from the “voice of the outsider”, who wore NHS specs and carried flowers in his back pocket on Top of the Pops, to a supporter of far-right political party For Britain has been much discussed and written about.
He is hardly alone in executing a sharp rightward turn – a familiar, although by no means inevitable, journey as people age. John Lydon, the man who snarled “God Save the Queen”, said there was “no future” for you, and wailed about England dreaming, is now a fan of that nostalgic (bad) dreamer Nigel Farage. He supported the nightmare that is Brexit, and has even defended Donald Trump.
Ian Brown, the Stone Roses frontman, has meanwhile released an obnoxious anti-vax song, lining himself up with Van Morrison, who made a mockery of protest music with his opposition to something that has saved literally millions of lives. Tough break for the fan for whom these artists mean something.
Nick Cave once argued for the separation of art from the artist. Kenneth Branagh did the same when speaking about Van’s soundtrack for his Oscar-winning Belfast. And there’s something to be said for that. Sometimes it’s possible.
Never Mind the B******s and The Stone Roses – stone cold classics both – transcend frontmen who’ve turned into ageing curmudgeons with the sort of views you’ll most likely hear from your embarrassing uncle at the Christmas dinner table after he’s had one too many glasses of red. Astral Weeks? Branagh would probably make the case for that one, too.
But sometimes it’s just too hard.
My brother and I were both once fans of singer-songwriter Ryan Adams. There was one of his albums in particular that I turned to during very dark times.
Neither of us have felt able to go back to him after his troubling behaviour towards women came to light and became the subject of a scandal. This included allegations of abusive relationships and inappropriate contact with a young fan. His “me, me, me” non-apology apologies added insult to injury.
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There are no hard and fast rules to this, but Morrissey would seem to be in a similar category. It would be as boring as hell if we only listened to those we agreed with, but some things are beyond the pale. For Britain? No, no and thrice no.
The clues were actually there in the song “Bengali in Platforms” on his first solo album, released at a time when much of the music press was still of the view that he could do no wrong and an album of whiny ordinariness had to be given no less than eight out of 10.
Personally I never much liked him. “Voice of the outsider”? For me, there was always something fake about that, and the Smiths fans I knew could be venomously unpleasant to anyone they deemed to be outside their tribe.
But that was not true of all his fans, as those who have written of their pain at his transformation into someone who has spoken in favour of a nasty far-right political group have made clear.
Their numbers appear to be growing. His stages are getting smaller. Last time he was here, just prior to the unpleasant but life-saving lockdown he abhors, he performed at the First Direct Arena in Leeds (capacity 14,000) and the SSE Arena in Wembley (12,500).
He’s still doing sizeable venues; Brixton Academy (although it’s not yet sold out), Manchester’s Apollo, Glasgow’s SEC Armadillo. But they’re in the 3,000 to 5,000 range.
Conflicted Morrissey fans could always turn to Johnny Marr. “The Smith you can rely on” performs a number of their songs in his repertoire, and his solo stuff is getting better and better. He doesn’t spit bile and, as a bonus, he doesn’t charge upwards of sixty quid a ticket. At least, not yet.