A few eyebrows
are raised, a few glasses pause en route to mouths but no-one screams
or flings themselves on the floor in supplication. No-one clings to
the hem of his extremely smart Crombie or ruffles his immaculate quiff.
The barman pulls his requested pint of Fosters with just the merest
flicker of interest but otherwise things pass off very much without
incident when Morrissey pops out for a Friday night pint.
The very fact that the man himself suggested a boozer for our rendezvous
should confirm that Morrissey at 34 is no longer the whey-faced an delicate
flower of legend. He looks terrific and is clearly in very good shape.
In more ways than one, for his new album, Vauxhall And I, is the best
record he has made since the heyday of The Smiths. He would go even
further. Good though 1992's Your Arsenal was, this is a substantial
leap on from that. The songs (written by Morrissey and either Boz Boorer
or Alain Whyte) display a turning away from rockabilly to a gentler,
autumnal, style that evokes some of his best work of the past. That
said, he clearly still holds great affection for things '50s and rockular.
At one point in the interview, he bursts into an excited eulogy on hearing
the band in the other bar launch into Eddie Cochran's Nervous Breakdown.
Morrissey arrived this evening with a small, bedenimed skinhead personage
who answers to the name of Jake. Affable and barrer-boyish, Jake's role
seems unclear: driver; gofer; mucker. Whatever, he busies himself with
the pinball machine as Morrissey indicates a dark corner of the tap-room
where, seated incongruously at a video game table, we begin.
Seeing as we're in a pub, let's start with some barroom questions. Do
you think Gillian Taylforth did it?
I think even if she did, it doesn't really matter. Do the staff of
The Sun not do it? Are they all angelic... upstarts? Does it matter?
What's the expose? What are they trying to reveal? It's very old-fashioned
and very Victorian to me. I'd like to think the world has moved on since
Q: Do you feel sympathy for her?
I feel nothing but sympathy for her. In an intelligent world, it
wouldn't matter. And I think it's very sad that there's the added sting
of having to sell her house. But it's common knowledge that The Sun
is a vile publication. It's even vile towards the people who are a part
of its world.
Q: Did you watch the Graham Taylor documentary?
Of course I did. It was obvious he vetted it. The entire thing was
designed to create sympathy for him. I felt sympathetic towards him.
The actual playing was diabolical. Graham Taylor at no point went on
the pitch, after all. Now they've appointed Terry Venables chief washer
upper and he has a very comfortable relationship with the press so I'm
sure he'll be backed to the hilt. It does seem that the current England
squad is bereft of real stars. I've never been convinced by Gascoigne.
A staggering revelation I know. I went to see Chelsea recently and certain
players I was seeing for the first time - players who I read were very
talented and I was so bored and shocked. I thought seeing Dennis Wise
and Ian Rush and Neil Ruddock, I'd be in awe and I wasn't at all. I
thought I can play better than this... which is true.
Q: So you play a bit, do you? That will shock a few people.
I do occasionally. In a sense I am delicate but in another sense
I'm not and I've never been anxious to be seen as Kenneth Williams's
apprentice. Although that was daubed on my back door in heavy paint
which I didn't like at all. I had an intellectual fascination with him
but I had no desire to wear his suit as it were. So, yes, I played football
a few weeks ago on Sunday morning and I scored four goals. I should
add that the game was against Brondesbury Park Ladies.
No, there are certain massive misconceptions about me that have got
out of all proportion and it really does irk me. I'm not the fainting
type, even though I have an unrelenting interest in certain art forms
but it's sort of a tedious cliche to assume that anyone faintly bookish
is a soft touch. In truth, really, I wouldn't back away from any confrontation.
Q: Are you more physical than it's assumed?
I think it's very obvious that I am. If you've seen any of the concerts...
well, it isn't exactly the Incredible String Band.
Q: Before moving off barroom topics, do you wish that Prince Charles's
assailant had been using real bullets?
Well, if I can say in a very genteel refined voice, yes, and for
it not to be assumed I'm pounding the table... but yes, I really do.
I think it would have really shaken British politics up. And Charles
was suspiciously cool. I half suspected he was injected with something.
Yes, I wish that he'd been shot. I think it would have made the world
a more interesting place. But one of them is bound to get it soon. It's
on the cards. Someone's going to get it. Could be me!
Q: The very title of your new album, Vauxhall And I, reflects an
ongoing fixation with London. Is it a love hate thing?
It's a love love thing. At first, like all Northerners, I hated London
by obligation. During childbirth you do sign a document. But that gradually
altered as I found small strands of happiness and a small social circle
which I never really had up North. My life has changed in many ways
and London gives me very warm palpitations. The thought of flying back
to London from another country gives me rosy cheeks and starry eyes...
until I get strip searched at customs of course.
Q: Does the album reflect this change of life?
Well, that brings to mind Germaine Greer... but yes it does. It's
my feet firmly planted on new territory and a sense of moving on...
though I'm sure there are thousands of people who'd disagree.
Q: It's a much gentler record than Your Arsenal.
Yes it is but it's also the best record I've ever made.
Q: Several songs (Spring-Heeled Jim, Now My Heart Is Full) seem
to continue a fascination with criminality and the criminal classes.
Would you care to elucidate?
Not particularly, because the songs say everything and when I try
meekly to elucidate, I never do them justice. There's a side of me that's
shy and reticent about explaining the things that I do. But yes, you're
Q: But is Speedway as knotty and complicated a song as it appears.
It seems to be about the gentlemen of my profession.
It's even knottier than it appears to you! And I've never met any
gentlemen of your profession.
But are you saying that press rumours about your character and politics
are not just rumours?
Yes, partly, but if you're going to bring up the issue of racism,
it simply gives too much credence to the bitty, scattered humourless
rumours that abound. But I'm well aware that rumours are more important
than the truth. I've been called many names in my time, not all of them
ill-fitting. Rather than defend myself I simply feel beyond it all.
Q: Do you think you've been a victim of political correctness?
Well, I get the impression that anything I say, however sensible
and heartwarming, doesn't hold much water these days because of a great
barrage of people still wanting to pick holes in anything I say, which
is very tedious. There's no escape, I realise that. It's a very English
thing. In a sick way, it's a compliment. It doesn't apply to anybody
else. But rather than go through that, I'm actually feeling very positive
these days. I weather storms that other people would buckle beneath.
I don't want a Grammy or a BPI award because I am my own person and
I don't need anybody, anywhere to tell me that I'm good or bad. I know
exactly what I am. And I know I've made a few quite bad records in recent
Q: But weren't those things vilified because of the expectations
on you? Isn't this vilification a twisted kind of love?
Oh, I absolutely feel that but I'd like all that vilification to
end now and just the love to come through and feel, for 24 hours a day,
unbridled support from all quarters. It does get tiring and tiresome.
Friends of mine sometimes scan these pieces and they say, Why? Why do
they bother? Why do they say all these things when they know they're
not true? A few years ago it was said of me that I'm good copy, that
I'm always readable. Well, it's become very boring. I become irritated
when people who have been clearly influenced by me in some way sail
by without being checked and slashed and dissected in the way that my
every step is. But let me repeat that I'm not enmeshed in bitterness
at the moment. I'm feeling very happy about this record as I was about
Your Arsenal and Beethoven Is Deaf. These are good times for me.
Q: Do you mean good times on a personal level?
It's certainly professional and almost personal. Last year was difficult
for me because three people very close to me died and I had a few record
company problems which no-one on the planet wants to hear about. But
certainly professionally. If you examine my existence from Hand In Glove
to today, anybody with a rational mind and eyes that aren't crossed
or lazy can see that I'm actually at the height of my powers. (Pause.)
Oh, alright, then, I meant as a window-cleaner.
Q: How much of a hedonist are you these days? You were seen as a
monastic figure and here you are drinking lager in a pub.
Everybody has the right to change. Do I not? Must I remain stuck
in those brackets? Nothing infuriates me more than being bracketed by
people I've never met. It's limiting and it's dismissive and I've never
made any effort to be anything other than what I am. I've always been
absurdly honest and it's been a downfall. To admit that I've suffered
from depression for years and years is socially unacceptable and no-one
wants to hear about it. So I feel that if anything I've remained true
to myself and although I get criticised continually, it's all floss.
No-one can ever point to anything truly damaging that I've ever done
or concretely suggest that I've simply been in it for the money, just
as no-one could possibly give any truth to the racist arguments of last
year which I actually don't want to keep bringing up.
Q: Do you get drunk and have sex and take drugs?
In answer to the first part of the question, yes. I have a great
interest in alcohol and as time goes by I find it more comforting, although
I'm not by any means an alcoholic so please don't blandish that in heavy
upper case. Earlier, in The Smiths, I was always so conscientious. It
was important that I remembered all the words so perhaps I was over-cautious
and over-delicate. I felt throughout the whole time of The Smiths that
I was sitting on an egg, a hen on an egg and it was very important to
me that it was looked after and nothing went wrong.
Q: And the other parts? Do you indulge sexually and pharmaceutically?
No, I don't. But just because I don't, I don't feel like a social
casualty and I don't feel I need to prove anything to anybody.
Q: As a lyricist, are you peerless?
Well, the obvious answer is yes, but as people read these lines they
would hate me for saying so, particularly those people who make music
and perhaps think they are peerless. But I say it with the
maximum concern for the future of pop music and, let's face it, it doesn't
really have one. Although I will go home tonight and play music very
loudly and get very excited, I rarely hear lyrics sung by others which
motivate me in any way. Even the people I quite like are quite silly,
Q: Who would these records be by?
It would be The Angelic Upstarts, Echobelly, The Ramones, Gallon
Drunk... and me. Me at a higher volume, of course.
Q: You are very successful in America and yet you have decried the
influence of America on this country. How do you reconcile that?
I find the audience who support me in America would agree with me.
It just isn't the fact that people who live in America support their
country in everything and uphold their influence on our poor, pathetic
isle. I don't feel I'm being anti-American, just reasonably intelligent.
Equally, of course, I could supply a list of horrendous, offensive,
damaging mannerisms which have engulfed this country, a country
which by birth and intention I love. But it's very easy for English
people to go to America and focus on the wrong things and assume that
the ugly despicable things symbolise the entire country. There are disgusting
things in England but you and I know what they are and we know they
do not represent the country and we avoid them. Like Women's Own, for
Q: Are you getting less political as you get older?
Oh, don't we all? It's a fortunate trait of age. I'm still irked
by the same old things but as you become older you become harder to
please. I think England politically is more depressing than anyone has
the nerve to say. John Major is no-one's idea of a Prime Minister and
is a terrible human mistake. He cannot speak, he cannot make an address,
the sound of his voice is so unattractive and its so distressing that
politically he represents us. If we focused on Clare Short or even Harriet
Harman, here are people with some personality, some nerve and some verve.
John Smith, of course, would be better suited to selling bread and no-one
would buy it. It makes one long for Communism.
Q: You used to set great store by charm. Do you still?
It must be obvious to you as I sit here that I do.
Q: Do you flirt?
Sexually, not at all. Never. What would the point be? I would never
waste my time or theirs. What sits before you is all that there is.
It isn't performance. I feel a sense of protection over whatever the
hell it is I have which renders me slightly vulnerable. I am sensitive.
But equally, I would lead myself quite willingly into a fight if necessary.
Q: Would it have to be on a point of principle?
Oh, no it could be about anything really. Are you about to spill
Q: Are you moved to tears very easily?
Yes, very, very easily. As a very dull example... the film Jane Eyre
I sat through by accident a couple of years ago and was shocked that
the floodgates opened. I'm extremely sensitive to art and I'm not ashamed
to say that Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights of The Well Of Loneliness
stir within me very powerful passions, but that doesn't mean that I'm
an ineffectual six-stone weakling and the suggestion irks me constantly.
It's not true and it was perpetuated by the two things that have made
me more famous than anything else I've been connected with - the songs
Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now and This Charming Man which were very
flowery and poetic and a great sense of aesthetic abandon. But that
was a long time ago and, despite how I look, I'm not a teenager. This
year, I'll be 35 and a lot has changed. I'm occasionally unhappy that
those two songs and that period is what's stuck in many people's minds.
It made my fame but it isn't the rock on which I presently stand. Though
I'm not trying to kick it away and be Vinny Jones.
Q: How do you feel about getting older?
We're living in an age where you can be 34 and the oldest living
teenager. Teenage can extend beyond your nineteenth year. But I'm very
comfortable with getting older. There is nothing in the past that I
want to return to. Nothing at all. In heavy italics. Each stage of my
life, schools, houses, have all been demolished. Friendships have been
demolished. Each year of my life I'm in different situations with new
people and I like that. Because once you stick with the old crowd, you
are officially dead.
Q: To the world, you're still the pale, wan thing you were at 23.
It's a failing on their part and it's very convenient because it's
dismissive. Morrissey, he's thin, he's depressing, he's sad and embittered.
In 1994, that is not the truth at all. They know nothing about my life.
And I have to say that The Smiths' back catalogue says nothing to me
about my life.
Q: Did you feel a swell of pride when the records of your former
group were recently re-issued?
At no stage. I had no involvement at all in their re-packaging or
re-promotion. It has all sailed away from me. For me, it's like a fish
dying very slowly on the harbour wall (laughs). Write that
down please. I have it all absolutely in perspective. I know that some
things we did are not as good as they're remembered. The Queen Is Dead
is not our masterpiece. I should know. I was there. I supplied the sandwiches.
Q: Johnny Marr said recently that Strangeways is.
Well, it is. We're in absolute accordance on that. We say it quite
often. At the same time. In our sleep. But in different beds.
Q: When did you last speak to him?
We speak constantly, which is a great joy to me because after the
great gulf of the horrendous breakdown, it was truly uplifting for us
to become friends again and to realise that he was still as funny and
creative and uplifting to be around. He's enormously underrated as a
musician and, dare I say it, as a personality. He has an extraordinary
mind and knowledge of music but I think he's quite happy to not be at
the forefront of anything these days. And the way I feel about The Smiths
and the way Johnny feels are in accordance. We both sit down and think
about The Queen Is Dead and a giant question mark appears. Strangeways
Here We Come which, as you might know, was our last studio album, said
everything eloquently, perfectly at the right time and put the tin hat
on it basically.
Rolling Stone cite the first album as the hidden gem. That baffles me.
I thought it was so badly produced. And that matters if you're stood
behind a mike singing your heart out. A great glut of Smiths records
were badly produced. I remember a drive from Brixton to Derby where
I listened on a Walkman to The Smiths' first album which we'd recorded
for the second time and I turned to Geoff Travis on my right and John
Porter on my left and said, This is not good enough, and they both squashed
me in the seat and said that it cost f60,000, it has to be released,
there's no going back. I had two very moist cheeks and there's an anger
there that has never subsided, because The Smiths' first album should
have been so much better than it was. (Laughs) Oh, how
Q: Quite the opposite. But you get the feeling you're saying that
you appreciate the worth of The Smiths but let's forget about them now.
I wasn't saying that in the least! I'm terribly offended. I'd like
to sit here for five hours and talk about The Smiths. (Pause)
Northern joke. No punchline.
Q: So, you and Johnny are friends again. Could you ever become partners
We may invest in an allotment together at some point but as far as
six nights at the London Palladium goes, I do not think. And why should
we? Can you name one reunion that ever worked... apart from Pentangle?
Q: Are you still irrevocably Northern?
Of course, being born and raised there. It never goes away, that
indelible working-classness. Even though by now, it must be assumed
of course that I am a millionaire...
Q: Are you?
Yes, and I've been in that situation for quite a few years but I
never feel it. I'm incapable of being flash or ostentatious. Here we
are tonight at the (name of pub tantalisingly withheld) in Battersea.
I move in the most discreet circles, the most humble, perhaps too humble,
of manner and manors. It irks so many people I know. They say, You're
rich, you should do this and that. I back away to where I am comfortable.
It was never the intention for me to be a flamboyant rock star. I thought
that I had spearheaded a new mood for singers. I thought there'd be
a rejection of all those old, stereotypical manoeuvres but there hasn't.
Everyone secretly still wants to be photographed with Yoko Ono... or
Jimmy Pursey (laughs) whom I love.
Q: You're often accused of pining for a mythical Britain. Do you?
People ask me about the old England as if I were some character from
The Mayor Of Casterbridge. It really annoys me. Yes, unavoidably I'm
English but it's not as if I go about with a cravat and a sports coat
with leather elbows. I'm not Terry-Thomas. I just happen to be English
and sing in an English manner. It was never my desire to be Eddie Cochran.
But being equally interested in The Angelic Upstarts and Alan Bennett
seems to cause chaos... or cause depressing misconceptions. But I am
not a part of some gigantic national Neighbourhood Watch trying to keep
England stuck in 1971 because there is no point. If England became 1971
I'd be the first to complain. I don't miss the Three Day Week.
Q: What do you read?
Nothing at all. I've given it up. It was giving me yellow jaundice.
I've stopped. What's the point? I know everything.
Q: What do you watch?
Against my better judgement I'm affixed to EastEnders. I argue back
at it. I despair of the writers. I'm one of those horrendously disposable
people who has Sky but only because I moved into a house that had it.
That's my excuse. So I like lots of those old things. Bravo, that thing.
Q: What do you do all day?
Isn't that a very Hello! question? Nothing that would interest you.
Sit and listen to The Angelic Upstarts. Whom I've now mentioned for
the third time.
Q: What is this with The Angelic Upstarts? Weren't The Smiths supposed
to be the reaction of beauty and charm after the snarling negativity
Yes, they were beauty and charm but if you listen to songs like Sweet
And Tender Hooligan... well, I don't like The Smiths being categorised
as folk music. It wasn't like that. The appearances were extremely,
expressively violent. And I wouldn't have had it any other way. But
if you study modern groups, those who gain press coverage and chart
action, most of them aren't actually as good as The Angelic Upstarts,
aren't as exciting as Sham 69. None of them are as good as Siouxsie
And The Banshees at full pelt. That's not dusty nostalgia, that's fact.
Most modern groups as far as I can see are Creedence Clearwater Revival.
I long for a reactionary, political, almost racist group made up entirely
of Asian musicians.
Q: Are you still as passionate about pop music?
I'm more critical but then I hear groups such as Echobelly and The
Blaggers and I'm fuelled by excitement. I don't feel the need to name-drop
new groups. I don't feel the need to stay one step ahead. Ninety per
cent of the groups you read about in the weekly papers are nonsense
and useless. But no other art form appeals to me. I don't want to be
Kingsley Amis or Alan Bennett.
Q: What about Tom Cruise?
I've considered it. I don't think I could get out of bed that early.
Q: Have you ever considered therapy?
I tried it several times and found it no use whatsoever. The problems
that I've had are more ingrained than mere medication or analysis can
cure. It's just me, my personality. Not a curious medical imbalance.
I felt I could take some magical pill and be cured but it's not the
case. The thing I've been fighting is this thing here before you.
Q: So when did you learn to love yourself?
I never said that. I just feel that actually when all's said and
done I am not insane. You may smile but for me that's a massive revelation.
I never was normal. You agree? Thanks a lot! You realise that, in Battersea,
when people say the wrong thing, they're liable to get a glass smashed
in their face. It won't happen tonight. Ask me a hard one.
Q: Do you love Johnny Marr?
Yes... that's not a hard one. I loved and love Johnny Marr, but I
feel tremendous indifference to Bruce and Rick.
Q: Which pop stars do you think you could have in a fight?
I can't think of anyone I'd shy away from. I'm not frightened of
anybody. If I met Vic Reeves, I'd have no desire other than to smack
him in the face.
Q: Maybe you think you're being attacked when really you're being
A very nice theory but it won't hold up in court. I know because
people are quite simple really. But I don't have a little list. Those
days have gone. My world is bigger. It now stretches as far as Wolverhampton.
Q: You know you are forever cursed with being good copy?
That may be, but wait until I finally announce that I am pregnant.
interview was originally published in the April 1994 issue of Q
Reprinted without permission for personal use only.