Earlier this month, I headed up north to attend the Glossop Record Club Smiths night in deepest, darkest Derbyshire, where I spent an evening listening to albums by The Smiths and Morrissey – on vinyl – in full. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…
In the lyric of The Smiths’ How Soon Is Now? Morrissey sings, ‘There’s a club if you’d like to go – you could meet somebody who really loves you. So you go, and you stand on your own and you leave on your own and you go home, and you cry and you want to die…’
At this month’s Glossop Record Club Smiths night, I’m pleased to say that no one stood on their own, and plenty of people shared their love and mutual appreciation of The Smiths and Morrissey. A few people left on their own, but they weren’t harbouring any feelings of misery and despair – instead they were just happy that they’d spent an evening in the company of like-minded individuals, listening to classic albums by The Smiths and Morrissey on vinyl and hearing an eclectic playlist of music related to Manchester’s masters of melancholy.
Glossop Record Club describes itself as the musical equivalent of a book group or a film society. Once a month, music fans meet up at Glossop Labour Club in Derbyshire to listen to albums – on vinyl – in full. Mobile phones must be switched off and there’s no talking while the main albums are being played. But there’s also plenty of time to drink and have a chat about the music you’re listening to.
Organised by record collector Simon Galloway, Glossop Record Club has been running for over a year. Past sessions have included nights devoted to Bowie, Merseybeat, Sun Records and John Peel. Guest speakers are invited to talk about their specialist subjects and attendees are encouraged to bring their own records to play on the night.
My first visit to Glossop Record Club was for The Smiths special, featuring guest presenter and Smiths/Morrissey enthusiast Gavin Hogg. I made the long train journey up from London – ‘home of the brash, outrageous and free’ specially, clutching my carefully selected vinyl – a 2013 7in picture disc of Morrissey’s The Last of The Famous International Playboys and Johnny Marr’s recent single Easy Money – also on 7in.
Simon Galloway introduces the listening session and spins some Smiths and Morrissey-related sounds, including songs from his favourite Morrissey 12in Everyday Is Like Sunday (Sister I’m A Poet/Disappointed/Will Never Marry – 1988) and The The’s The Beat(en) Generation – from the 1989 album Mind Bomb and featuring Johnny Marr on guitar and harmonica. We are also treated to some Smiths rarities, including a reggae version of Girlfriend In A Coma. What was that Morrissey once said about reggae being vile?
Guest speaker Gavin Hogg then sets the scene by telling us how he fell in love with The Smiths more than 30 years ago: “I heard This Charming Man on the radio and saw The Smiths on Top of the Pops in November 1983 – the world changed from that point. It was Morrissey’s big quiff, his love beads, outsized ladies blouse and the gladioli he was swinging around his head and knocking all the Top of the Pops balloons out of the way. You also had Johnny Marr with his Rickenbacker and his cool Brian Jones hairdo.”
He adds: “I didn’t really know much about what The Smiths were singing about – it was something to do with a desolate hillside, a bicycle and returning a ring, but I instinctively knew there was something more nourishing about what The Smiths were doing than Marilyn or The Thompson Twins, who were also on the same edition of Top of the Pops.”
Those attending the night were asked to vote online in advance for The Smiths album that they wanted to hear played in its entirety. Gavin tells us that the winner of the poll is The Queen Is Dead – by 45 per cent – which is met with much enthusiasm by the – mostly male – crowd – myself included.
Released in 1986, The Queen Is Dead is my favourite album by The Smiths – in fact it’s one of my favourite albums of all time – and is arguably Morrissey and Marr’s masterpiece. An emotional rollercoaster of a record, it starts with the epic garage rock assault of the title track and takes the listener on a journey through music hall comedy (Frankly, Mr Shankly), funereal balladry (I Know It’s Over), sublime jangle-pop (Cemetry Gates) and doomed romanticism – There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, which is quite simply one of the greatest songs ever written.
Before we settle in to listen to The Queen Is Dead, Gavin gives us the lowdown on the album: “It’s regarded as The Smiths’ finest moment – although I think there’s a case for all of the albums having classic status,” he says. “It was released in June ’86 – it was The Smiths’ third album. Their musical abilities had developed and progressed – they started doing different things.
“Morrissey’s lyrics on the first two Smiths albums were about his diaries and his life up to that point. By the time of The Queen Is Dead, he had started to expand the things he was writing about. It was recently voted the Greatest Record of All Time by the NME – I’m not sure that’s entirely true, but it shows you what high regard it’s still held in.”
He adds: “The title track is heavy and starts with some feedback – Johnny Marr was listening to a lot of Stooges and MC5 when he recorded it. Frankly, Mr Shankly is a music hall number, Bigmouth Strikes Again is like an early Rolling Stones song and There Is A Light That Never Goes Out is one of the most well known songs by The Smiths.
“When [music journalist] Nick Kent reviewed the album when it came out, he said it was the album that, in due course, history will denote as being the key work in forcing the group’s philistine opposition to down chisels and embrace the concept of The Smiths as the only truly vital voice of the ‘80s.”
Adds Gavin: “If you’re a Smiths hater – and there maybe one or two of you here tonight – then you should down your chisels, have a listen and see what you make of it.”
He then puts The Queen Is Dead on the hi-fi and all of us sit in silence, as the opening sample of Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty – from the title track – gives way to a shriek of feedback, Mike Joyce’s thundering tribal drums and wild wah-wah from Johnny Marr.
As we sit and listen, it’s clear that The Queen Is Dead is an album that is designed to be listened to loud and on a great hi-fi system – it sounds fantastic when it’s cranked up. At certain points during the playback, some of my fellow listeners and I exchange knowing nods and smiles, as we hear specific musical references, instrumentation and lyrics that we know and love. There are several times when I feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
Speaking after the listening session, Simon says: “Who knew there were so many Smiths fans in Glossop? There was a special moment – Bigmouth Strikes Again (Side Two – Track One of The Queen Is Dead). As the acoustic guitar and drums blasted out, the Glossop Labour Club became a sea of nodding heads and tapping feet, with air guitar, air drums and lots of singing along. It was a wonderful sight and it was a reminder too of the old side one/side two dynamic. In the digital age we sometimes forget how important the sequencing of songs and sides were – and are – on vinyl. Both our featured albums were perfect examples of getting it right.”
Indeed, the second album we’re going to listen to is Morrissey’s Your Arsenal from 1992 – but more on that later… Before we sit down to concentrate on Mozzer’s glam rock/rockabilly-inspired classic, there’s a chance to grab another pint and hear some more records that have a connection with tonight’s featured artists.
Simon plays the superb Getting Away With It by Electronic – the supergroup that featured Johnny Marr, New Order’s Bernard Sumner and Neil Tennant from the Pet Shop Boys. There’s also an airing of Take Me by Adult Net, featuring fifth Smith Craig Gannon; while my friend – and regular Glossop Record Club goer – Matt Hill gets the opportunity to play Sandie Shaw’s version of The Smiths’ Hand In Glove – from her 1988 album Hello Angel. I’m pleased to say that my Morrissey picture disc is also chosen to be played – heaven knows, I’m miserable now…
We are also treated to a cover version of Ask by Gigolo Aunts and a rendition of Panic by The Sidebottoms, featuring Manchester cult hero Frank Sidebottom, whose music is a regular feature of Glossop Record Club.
As Simon tells me: “It seems we have quite a few Frank fanatics among our attendees. It all started quite innocently when Gavin brought one of his records along to the Cult Heroes session last November. The following month Brett [another regular visitor to Glossop Record Club] brought his Christmas record along, and then someone suggested that we should try a find a relevant Frank song for every session. He’s probably been featured more than he hasn’t. It’s a challenge people seem to enjoy. Daft sods!”
After the Sidebottom in-joke, Gavin then introduces the Your Arsenal listening session by giving us some background to the album: “There’s quite a different sound to this record – there are some elements of rockabilly, as it was Morrissey’s first album with Boz Boorer, who was in rockabilly band The Polecats. The other musicians on the album are also from the same rockabilly scene. Mick Ronson produced the album – so there’s a glam rock sound to it, as well.”
He highlights the influence of T Rex’s Ride A White Swan on the track Certain People I Know and the nod to Bowie’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide on I’m Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday.
Says Gavin: “There was some controversy when this album came out. There are some darker elements in the lyrics, dealing with football hooliganism [We’ll Let You Know] and racism [The National Front Disco].”
Gavin finishes his presentation by reading a humorous extract from Morrissey’s autobiography, in which the singer talks about recording Your Arsenal with Mick Ronson. It ends with Morrissey recounting a bizarre telephone conversation he had with Bowie…
Next up is Your Arsenal – my second favourite Morrissey album (1994’s Vauxhall & I is top of my list), which blazes its way into the Glossop Labour Club with opening track You’re Gonna Need Someone On Your Side – a rockabilly riot of a song with a filthy guitar riff that sounds like it was half-inched from the theme tune to the ‘60s Batman TV series. Like The Queen Is Dead, Your Arsenal is another album that sounds great up loud – Mick Ronson’s superb, dynamic production work and the songs’ great arrangements really come into their own when played on the PA.
However, it’s clear that some of the Record Club attendees find songs such as The National Front Disco uncomfortable – there’s a definite sense of uneasy listening – and some people’s attention starts to waiver during the second side of the album. This is a shame as it means that we can’t fully enjoy the more subtle tracks, such as the wonderful, haunting acoustic ballad Seasick, Yet Still Docked – surely one of Morrissey’s finest compositions.
After the final song on Your Arsenal has finished – the punchy arena rock of Tomorrow – there’s another chance to hear some of the records that tonight’s attendees have brought with them, as well as some of Simon’s weird and wonderful selections.
Highlights include Bowie’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide, The Jam’s That’s Entertainment, which was covered by Morrissey, and For The Dead – the debut 7in from ‘90s Smiths sound-alikes Gene – one of my own personal favourites.
Glossop Record Club regular Brett plays us recent tracks from 2014 albums by Johnny Marr and Morrissey. He chooses Easy Money from Marr’s Playland and Staircase At The University from Morrissey’s World Peace Is None Of Your Business. Enthusing about the latter, he exclaims: “It sounds like Girlfriend In A Coma brought back to life.”
Later on, over a beer, Brett tells me that he has a huge collection of British comedy records. He points out some connections between vintage British comedy and Morrissey. Firstly, the school in the film Carry On Teacher is called Maudlin Street Secondary and Morrissey has a song called Late Night, Maudlin Street. Secondly, Carry On star Joan Sims appeared in the video for Morrissey’s single Ouija Board, Ouija Board.
It’s these kind of pub conversations about obscure pop facts that make me want to become a regular Glossop Record Club visitor. What better way to spend an evening than listening to albums – on vinyl – in full, with a bunch of people who are passionate about pop music.
This night has opened my eyes – and my ears.
Here’s the entire playlist from the night:
Morrissey – Sister I’m A Poet/Disappointed/Will Never Marry (Everyday Is Like Sunday 12″, HMV, 1988)
The The – The Beat(en) Generation (Mind Bomb, Epic, 1989)
The Smiths – Girlfriend In A Coma (reggae version)/Death Of A Disco Dancer (alt version)/Paint A Vulgar Picture (alt version) (Unreleased Demos & Instrumentals, bootleg)
The Smiths – Asleep/Unloveable/Half A Person/Stretch Out And Wait (The World Won’t Listen, Rough Trade, 1987)
THE SMITHS – The Queen Is Dead (Rough Trade, 1986)
SIDE ONE: The Queen Is Dead/Frankly, Mr. Shankly/I Know It’s Over/Never Had No One Ever/Cemetry Gates
SIDE TWO: Bigmouth Strikes Again/The Boy With The Thorn In His Side/Vicar In A Tutu/There Is A Light That Never Goes Out/Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others
Electronic – Getting Away With It (7″, Factory, 1989)
Adult Net – Take Me (10″ blue vinyl, Fontana, 1989)
Sandie Shaw – Hand In Glove (Hello Angel, Rough Trade, 1988)
Morrissey – The Last Of The Famous International Playboys (7″ picture disc, Parlophone, 2013)
Julian Cope – Drive, She Said (Peggy Suicide, Island, 1991)
Gigolo Aunts – Ask (7″, Fire Records, 1993)
The Sidebottoms – Panic (cd single, 11:37, 1993)
MORRISSEY – Your Arsenal (HMV, 1992)
SIDE ONE: You’re Gonna Need Someone On Your Side/Glamorous Glue/We’ll Let You Know/The National Front Disco/Certain People I Know
SIDE TWO: We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful/You’re The One For Me, Fatty/Seasick, Yet Still Docked/I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday/Tomorrow
Mick Ronson – Billy Porter (7″, RCA, 1974)
David Bowie – Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide (7″, RCA, 1974)
T.Rex – Ride A White Swan (Ride A White Swan, Music For Pleasure, 1972)
Roxy Music – Street Life (7″, Island, 1973)
The Jam – That’s Entertainment (Sound Affects, Polydor, 1981)
Johnny Marr – Easy Money (Playland, Warner Bros, 2014)
Johnny Marr – Generate! Generate! (The Messenger, Warner Bros, 2013)
Morrissey – Staircase At The University (World Peace Is None Of Your Business, Harvest, 2014)
Vincent Gerard & Steven Patrick – I Know Very Well How I Got My Note Wrong (7″, Factory, 1989)
Magazine – A Song From Under The Floorboards (7″, Virgin, 1980)
T.Rex – Metal Guru (7″, EMI, 1972)
Gene – For The Dead (7″, Costermonger, 1994)
Nancy Sinatra – Happy (7″, Reprise, 1968)
Sandie Shaw – Girl Don’t Come (7″, Pye, 1964)
Morrissey – Suedehead (7″, HMV, 1988)
Lou Reed – Satellite Of Love (Transformer, RCA, 1972)
Morrissey – Everyday Is Like Sunday (12″, HMV, 1988)
Sandie Shaw – Please Help The Cause Against Loneliness (Hello Angel, Rough Trade, 1988)
The Smiths – Rubber Ring (The World Won’t Listen, Rough Trade, 1987)
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