A Charming Man

I write a monthly column for a magazine looking back at behind the scenes stories from interviews I have done and inspired by autographed records in my collection. I thought I'd share them here after publication, so this week it's Morrisey. The signed album cover is below.

To Smiths fans this original album is probably priceless, the signatures of Morrissey, Johnny Marr, Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce reminding them of better times, the autographs a direct link to their heroes, and  the songs evocative of teenage awakenings. But for me it’s a memory nudge back to a very shy and polite bloke named Steven Patrick Morrisey who was simply delighted that people liked his music.

Today, reviews for his new novel have varied from “The worst book ever written” through to “Do not read this pretentious rubbish even as a dare,” yet the Morrisey who gave me this signed album was as far from pretentious as I could have hoped.

He offered it to me the week before its release, proud that this compilation of Radio One sessions from John Peel and David ‘Kid’ Jensen had been scheduled so soon after the band’s debut album. Morrisey was really proud of the package, a gatefold sleeve L.P. released by Rough Trade, and the vinyl certainly represented value for money with the sticker still showing ‘Maximum RRP £3.99’. As well as those radio recordings, new tracks that were destined to change many people’s worlds were included, such as Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now and William It Was Really Nothing, along with their debut hit Hand In Glove.

No matter how many times over the years it’s been said that Morrisey and Johhny Marr were equals, look at the signatures on my album and you can see there was only one leader of the gang even then.  The other three band members all signed the artwork on the lighter part of the sleeve, but Morrisey put his above them all, and in capital letters in wonky writing that draws attention.

I’ve seen this album sleeve many times since he gave it to me, reproduced on countless posters, T shirts and hoodies, and I still find it striking, despite its simplicity. It features a model named Fabrice Colette whose photograph was lifted by the boys from the French paper Liberation because he was originally sporting a tattoo of a Cocteau drawing. Sadly, the tat didn’t make the final artwork.

So how did I meet Morrisey?

I was presenting a show on BBC 1 called Pebble Mill At One, a programme I used to watch on sick days away from school, so becoming a presenter there was a huge thrill for me, and when I also blagged the job of doing the music interviews, life just couldn’t get better.

I had heard some of The Smiths’ music and thought it was different, exciting maybe, but I was not a huge fan. However, I knew they had a big following and that getting them on the show would be good for ratings and our kudos with younger viewers and students. So, I rang the record company and asked if Morrisey would come on for a chat.

It turned out his mum was a big fan of the show and Morrisey was just pleased to be asked. He turned up early, with no hangers on, settling in to the Green Room and sipping a cup of tea. Not very rock ‘n’ roll, but as far as I was concerned just great. Live telly does not need high maintenance guests when we already have high maintenance presenters.

Alas, that was as good as it got.

I had allowed for a ten minute interview with film clips, but one of my co presenters decided to allow his interview just before mine to overrun. No matter how much the director told him to shut up and hand over to me, this man just kept on going, the result being that I only had five minutes with Morrisey. Three hundred seconds with a man who was becoming an icon. He gave a great interview but it was embarrassingly short.

Afterwards I apologised profusely, but Morrisey, although disappointed, was a big man about it saying something like “these things happen.” When I next tried to get the band on the show they had become global superstars and were hardly ever around, as likely to be in Birmingham Alabama as Birmingham West Midlands, so I never again got the chance to do the interview I had always wanted to do. The embarrassment of that day has followed me ever since.

As for my co presenter? I bought him a copy of the single Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now. I think the irony escaped him.

Smiths 1