Mojo, April 2001
The date was August 8, 1992. The location, Finsbury Park. The event, 'Madstock', the first time that Madness had re-formed since their original split. Demand for tickets had been intense and the Saturday show sold out before the full supporting line-up of Morrissey, Ian Dury & The Blockheads, Flowered Up and Gallon Drunk had been announced, which meant that each act was faced with the prospect of performing in front of a 30,000-strong crowd mainly interested in seeing The Nutty Boys and, following a large BNP demonstration earlier that day, now containing a sizeable smattering of demonstrative right-wing skinheads.
When Morrissey walked on-stage into the afternoon sunshine, dressed in a gold lamé shirt with a Union Jack draped over his shoulders, he was met with a hail of rocks, coins, bottles and sandwiches.
"He'd just heard that he'd sold out 18,000 tickets for the Hollywood Bowl," explains band member Boz Boorer. "It was like, 'What the fuck am I doing second on the bill to Madness at Finsbury Park?' Nobody in Britain got it any more. Going to America was a bit of fresh air."
Following Johnny Marr's decision to quit The Smiths in summer 1987, Morrissey had hit the ground running with his first solo album Viva Hate, channelling his anger into a songwriting collaboration with Smiths producer Stephen Street. "I'm sure," says Street, "that if Johnny had phoned Morrissey and said, 'Sorry, let's get back together,' then he would have scrubbed that album."
Viva Hate met with critical and commercial success but the singer's business affairs remained every bit as idiosyncratic, with a succession of managers hired and fired. When Stephen Street dared to halt the release of the Interesting Drug single until he'd been issued with a contract, he went the way of all Moz acolytes. "He made me look like a money-grabbing bastard," says Street, "but I was just protecting myself. He used to mean the world to me but, like most people who have come across him, you end up being discarded like an empty fag packet."
The peak of Mozmania UK came on December 22, 1988, at Wolverhampton Civic Hall, where 1,700 fans were admitted free to watch Craig Gannon, Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce back Morrissey through a seven-song set that included two Smiths numbers. However, at the crucial point when Madchester was about to explode, his productivity faltered and his second studio album, Kill Uncle, eventually limped out at 33 minutes' duration in early '91.
Joyce and Gannon's separate litigations against The Smiths inescapably tarnished the benign Morrissey aura, as did Johnny Rogan's Smiths biography, Morrissey & Marr: The Severed Alliance, which painted the singer as a vengeful control freak. And while the Mick Ronson-produced Your Arsenal was possibly his best album so far, when it appeared in July '92 focus settled on a song entitled The National Front Disco which, along with Bengali In Platforms and Asian Rut (from Viva Hate and Kill Uncle respectively), revealed an artist happy to flirt with images of British Nationalism. "All the racist stuff could've been dealt with if he'd responded immediately," says an industry insider. "People expected things to be clarified. That didn't happen, so it grew and grew."
As the dust settled on Madstock, the ever-tightening Morrissey combo set their sights on America, where a fervent collegiate audience had grown beyond the usual confines of cultdom. When Moz touched down on American soil the following month, venues like Madison Square Garden and the Hollywood Bowl had been sold out for weeks. "There had been a couple of small tours with The Smiths," says Boz Boorer, "but then he didn't play there at all until we joined. America had kept buying his records, and so when we finally come over they'd been waiting five years. It was insane!"
So, at a comfortable distance from all the domestic woes, Mozmania was happening all over again...
Next: Go West, Young Man
This article was originally published in
the April, 2001 issue of Mojo magazine. Reprinted without permission for personal