Mojo, April 2001
Britain, 1992: Morrissey is vilified and ignored. But in the US he can sell out a stadium faster than The Beatles. Max Décharné and Boz Boorer recall what it was like in the eye of the hurricane.
In April 1992, Gallon Drunk, the North London four-piece in which I was the drummer, played a gig at the old Scala cinema in King's Cross. It was a good night. Lots of alcohol was consumed (by us and our fans), and somewhere among the crowd was Morrissey. His people approached us a couple of days later to see if we'd like to be his support act on what was shaping up to be one of the biggest North American tours of the year. Of course we said yes.
At that time Morrissey seemed more popular than ever, particularly in America. Although The Smiths had been a fair-sized cult band in the States, it was the solo records that had really caught the popular imagination. Tickets for the upcoming Your Arsenal tour were selling so fast that the 35,000 seats for the two-night stint at the Hollywood Bowl disappeared in 23 minutes, breaking the previous sales record set by The Beatles.
Morrissey and Gallon Drunk shared the same US record label and so, despite attempts by various interested parties to secure the support slot for The Beautiful South, we were duly signed up for a two-month road trip through 37 states in the US and Canada. During that time we appeared at a selection of outdoor arenas, college halls and venerable old theatres in front of several hundred thousand people, the vast majority of whom couldn't have cared less who we were. They were here to see Morrissey, to throw things, to scream and, if at all possible, to climb on-stage and touch the man himself. The scenes outside the stage door were often reminiscent of footage from A Hard Day's Night, and anyone wearing a tour laminate was liable to be offered large sums of money by fans eager to get backstage.
Flowers rained down, guitars were burned, drum kits trashed, rows of seating destroyed, and at one point the entire merchandising concession was overturned and looted. However, most people who actually bought souvenirs wanted the complete set of five T-shirts plus the tour programme, which meant that, ticket included, the night out cost them upwards of $150. Other items to take home and treasure came cheaper, but only for those prepared to put up a fight as Morrissey threw out his lamé shirt into the moshpit at the end of every show, where it would promptly be torn to shreds.
Afterwards, if they could find the band's hotel, some fans were quite capable of camping out all night, though the man himself had usually long since retired to bed. Home for the headliners was usually the local Ritz Carlton hotel. If the following day's journey was a short haul, they'd take the silver band bus reminiscent of those in the classic Sex Pistols graphics with 'Nowhere' written below the windshield while for longer distances they'd take a plane. Gallon Drunk, not surprisingly, did the tour on a tighter budget, which meant a string of cheap motels and driving coast to coast in a small van, routinely disappointing the late afternoon crowds of Morrissey fans waiting outside the venues who were convinced that he was being smuggled into the soundcheck by means of a tatty brown Transit hired from a company called Van-tastic Ltd.
Since I knew that we'd be spending most of our days on the freeway trapped in that small van with last night's hangover, I decided to keep a diary. We stumbled around smalltown gas stations in the middle of Idaho or Nebraska looking for novelty postcards and drove through endless flat plains enlivened only by huge billboards in the shape of cattle which read 'American Breeders Association For Whom The Bull Toils'. There were bars with blacked-out windows with hand-lettered signs advertising 'Genuine Original Panther Piss', and shops selling voodoo charms and black cat bones in neighbourhoods where the weeds grew up through the sidewalks. Then, every night, there were the crowds of Morrissey fans. Arriving in New York a couple of days before the whole circus kicked off, we were told by most people in the business that Morrissey's audience consisted of a great many 14-year-olds. "They'll hate us," we said. "They sure will," was the usual reply.
Opening night. Because we're Morrissey's choice of support band we're assumed to be of general interest to the fans, and find ourselves being interviewed by three guys from Morri'Zine, which has small ads like this at the back: "I'm in a desperate search to find words to cover the walls of this cold blank room. Send your poetry, lyrics, opinions and nonsense to: Girl Afraid, etc."
At the soundcheck we all walk on carrying beers, only to be told that drinking isn't allowed anywhere on the stage. Given that the band is called Gallon Drunk and most of our shows consist of four people stumbling around in a haze of booze, this is something of a shock. We meet most of Morrissey's band during the soundcheck Gary Day (bass), Alain Whyte (guitar) and Boz Boorer (guitar) have a few drinks with them in our dressing room and then play our set in front of a pretty friendly crowd.
Having cleared away our gear we head downstairs to the catering room, where we meet Morrissey and Spencer Cobrin (drums). We watch Morrissey's show from the stalls, and the crowd reaction is really something to see. People climb on-stage to literally kiss his feet. He begins by singing in front of a huge photographic backdrop of Elvis and various images come and go, including South London gang boss Charlie Richardson, finishing up with the two skinhead girls from the tour laminates. Towards the end he throws his gold shirt into the crowd apparently he's brought about 40 identical shirts along with him on this tour. During the encore there's a stage invasion as he is singing We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful. Morrissey disappears under about 40 people and the gig is abandoned.
CREEK MUSIC THEATRE
The venue is three quarters of an hour outside Chicago a big outdoor arena, 18,000 capacity, of the type known as 'sheds' that are spread all over the country and look virtually identical. Plenty of Morrissey fans are hanging around outside the gates as we drive up for the soundcheck. We ring the bell, and about 20 local stagehands reluctantly emerge from the backstage area, primarily to laugh at us ("What is that? Is that a male model? Or a dancer?") and, as an afterthought, to help us shift our gear. This evening Morrissey's show grinds to a halt as too many fans try to get upclose and personal during The Girl Least Likely To. Eventually the show continues, and Spencer kicks his drums all over the stage during the encore.
BB: "The first time the stage invasion thing happened we didn't know what to do, so we kept on playing [as seen on the 1991 Live In Dallas video]. Afterwards we talked to security and they said, 'Next time when I take Morrissey off the stage you stop and you go off because that's the only way we can defuse the situation.' Generally Morrissey brought two of his own guys who instructed the other security what to do. They were told not to be too heavy. If they did he would lose it some nights, storm off and not come back on until they'd got rid of all the venue's security and left it with his people."
In town for the big New York show, late at night, in front of Penn Station and Madison Square Garden, a man starts walking alongside me: "You're from England, aren't you? London, am I right?" Yes. "You want to know how I can tell? The way you dress. When The Beatles came here in the '60s, they dressed like that the jacket, the shoes. It's a statement of individuality. It tells me, you smoke pot... You want some girls for tonight?"
Our venue tonight is part of the Madison Square Gardens Complex it's underneath the larger hall, the Garden proper, which is where Elvis played. The capacity is 5,500. The gig is completely sold out, with plenty of seats broken and a fair amount of fighting breaks out between fans and security. Spencer repeatedly batters his kit with a microphone stand during a version of The National Front Disco. Mick Ronson comes to the show. We don't get to see him. He worked on the Your Arsenal album, but his health is pretty poor these days. Later we wind up in a bar in Greenwich Village, where the guy in charge turns out to be Handsome Dick Manitoba from The Dictators, who pours some serious drinks and quotes lines from Goodfellas into the small hours.
BB: "That night was memorable for me because Mick Ronson came. It was the only time he got to see us and understand what it was all about after [producing Your Arsenal]. He was a sweetheart and very sick. Every day with him was great. We'd get The Sporting Life and we'd put on small bets. Moz was very normal around Mick. First time we started working with him at Utopia Studios I walked in and there was this great bottle of tree bark juice, and I'm going, Tree bark juice! Who the fuckin' hell's got tree bark juice? Mick says, 'It's mine.' I said, What the fuck you doing with that? He said, 'It's supposed to be good for cancer.' Oh God..."
A much wilder night this time, at a fine old venue built in 1916. I watch from the side of the stage as people scream, climb all over the place and fight each other for small pieces of Morrissey's gold lamé shirt. Afterwards the band invite me along for a drink, so I leave with them by the stage door entrance, where we have to run the gauntlet through crowds of fans. We made it to their tour bus (a whole 20 feet from the theatre) to find that both Alain and Gary have had the silver chains ripped from around their necks. It's just a few blocks to the Ritz Carlton, with fans following the bus and hammering on the sides. At the hotel we are met by yet another crowd. Running through them and into the lobby, several fans try to get into the elevator with us but are thrown out by Tim, Morrissey's personal security guard. A special key is required just to get the elevator to go to the floor where the band are staying, but even so when we got there we find several more fans just wandering around. Gary and Alain sign some autographs for them but tell them they'll have to leave straight way, which they do, very apologetically. No one can figure out how they'd made it that far.
BB: "They'd steal passes, hide in the dressing rooms, try anything. One time someone took a picture of Morrissey leaving the venue and in the picture a security man had his pass on, so they enlarged that section of the picture and made passes out of the enlargement."
The gig is at a large 1960s silver dome called the Huntsman Centre, which looks as if it has been built for staging rollerball contests. Some of us go out front to watch Morrissey's show from near the mixing desk. A few minutes later the crowd, who have all been standing up in their seats, rush the stage. Behind us, about 15 feet in the air, is a balcony area. People begin jumping down from there in numbers far too large to be stopped by the security guards. Morrissey throws his lamé shirt into the crowd, and we can see three fans fighting over a section of the material, tearing at it with their teeth as if auditioning for a part in One Million Years B.C. The show finishes with Spencer destroying most of his drum kit and Gary left on-stage after everyone else has gone, stamping repeatedly on his bass guitar amid the clouds of dry ice and strobe lights.
BB: "As far as songs that got them going, November Spawned A Monster was always a good one, especially that little breakdown bit in the middle. The really dedicated fans'd get there first thing in the morning, wait for the doors to open, run to the front and I think by the end of the gig they'd be a bit knackered. They did the whole tour. You see some amazing scenes. On the last tour, in Brazil a blind girl got up on-stage and started touching Mozzer's face and hugging him. They helped her to get up on-stage with her white stick... amazing scenes."
Backstage, we wind up with Morrissey's band and some radio station people who take us to a local club, because they are broadcasting the night's show from a mobile truck parked outside. A Morrissey fan stands next to me at the bar and asks for a bottle of Guinness. He orders the bartender to put it in the microwave. The bartender looks pretty shocked, but the guy next to me insists, so in it goes for a good frying. I venture a question: "You're putting Guiness in the microwave?"
"Sure. They drink warm beer in England..."
Alain tells us that he's bought a cheap guitar that day which he is going to burn on-stage during the encore. Sure enough, when the time comes he digs out the lighter fuel, Gary walks over with his bass and they set fire to both guitars and begin swinging them over their heads and smashing them into the stage.
BB: "We always try and do something a little different at the end of National Front Disco because it goes into that last wild bit at the end. Someone had thrown up a copy of A Shropshire Lad so I'd started reading it and then threw it into the audience.
"If we got into a town early we'd go into a thrift store and buy a guitar for 40 bucks, string it up and wreck it on the last song. Alain quite cleverly bought a copy of his own guitar that night but Gary wouldn't do it with his cheap guitar he's got to do it with his Fender Precision. All his guitars have got cuts and burns on 'em.
"On-stage, we'd still be there playing and Moz would be out the back, in a car, gone."
This one is held at a hall at the foot of one of the city's main landmarks The Space Needle which is big enough for the road crew to play a five-a-side football match in the space between the mixing desk and the stage. It's a far less friendly crowd this evening, as the shoe-throwers of Seattle seem to be out in force. Boz is hit by an item of airborne footwear during a version of Seasick, Yet Still Docked, which doesn't impress him at all, and Morrissey tells the crowd: "If you see somebody throwing things, well... just kill them."
BB: "Was that Seattle? I thought that was Boulder, Colorado. A huge great trainer knocked the guitar out of my hand while I was playing this lovely acoustic number. It hit the machine head so hard that it knocked it out of my hand and made me look like an idiot because the track just stopped. I wanted to check everyone going out, to look for the guy with one shoe. No one ever threw a pair."
At this point our management has decreed that we should drive from Seattle to LA, get on a plane, fly to London, drive straight to ULU [University Of London Union], play a show, sleep for seven hours, catch a flight back to LA, drive to the Hollywood Bowl and get there just in time for the soundcheck. If the outward flight is delayed we'll have blown the UK show, and if the return flight is delayed we'll be fined several thousand dollars by Morrissey's people for leaving him without a support band for the most prestigious gig of his career. We're lucky with the flights, but the jetlag is so vicious that we drink the return flight dry of miniature whisky bottles just trying to numb our senses. By the time we hit LA we are barely capable of speech. It isn't the best show we've ever played. Later that night we are having a drink in the huge foyer bar at the Hotel Roosevelt on Hollywood Boulevard when we notice a guy sitting at a table by himself, accompanied by a couple of stony-faced bodyguards. It's Little Richard. He's really friendly, looks 20 years younger than you'd imagine, and is wearing industrial quantities of perfume.
"You guys from England? You're in a band? Where'd you play tonight?"
"The Hollywood Bowl. We were supporting Morrissey."
"No, not exactly..."
BB: "It was just another show. I hated the first show and I loved the second show. I sacked the sound man after the first show. All the way through the tour the sound was gradually getting worse, and it was so bad by that first show at the Hollywood Bowl that I smashed a '50s Gibson. A new sound man joined the tour and everyone was very happy."
The second show in the San Francisco area and the luxury of a few days in the same hotel, a proper rock'n'roll joint called Phoenix, which is supposed to be where the Sex Pistols stayed on the last day of their US tour. It's built around a courtyard with a painted swimming pool featuring a picture of Andy Warhol and the slogan 'Dive In, Big Boy'. During Morrissey's set several shoes are thrown on-stage, which is better than the dead pigeon which somebody apparently flung at him a few nights ago. Morrissey comes into our dressing room to say hello, so I show him one of the tickets for tonight's gig. They're sold in an envelope, the back of which carriers a special offer from Jack In The Box restaurants giving you 75 cents off the price of a sirloin steak sandwich. He smiles ruefully at this classic piece of niche marketing.
BB: "He'd have been furious. If anything like that ever happened, he'd just politely decide never to play that venue again. He has an incredible memory."
The last show of the tour for Gallon Drunk. It continues in about a month, mostly in the Deep South, but we're clean out of money so here's where we bail out. Both bands line up with Morrissey in his dressing room for a final photo. This is the largest shed of the tour 19,000 capacity and the crowd are determined to have a good time. Fans are offering a hundred bucks each for backstage passes.
During the Hollywood Bowl weekend, we'd been told that there was a Los Angeles DJ on KROQ who'd devoted a fair amount of airtime to moaning about Morrissey's choice of support band, saying he couldn't believe how bad we were. As luck would have it, the station are holding an auction of Morrissey CDs for a local charity before tonight's show, and that same DJ is brought into the catering room for his big meeting with the man himself, just as we're all sitting with him having dinner. Morrissey, who knows all about how this guy has been running us down on air, does the introductions. It's a nice moment.
BB: "He's good like that, Morrissey. A nice touch."
This article was originally published in
the April, 2001 issue of Mojo magazine. Reprinted without permission for personal