Released today in 1986: Panic

Rough Trade RT193

Rough Trade RT193

The MORRISSEY Story Part 2

“In the year that preceded the final album [Strangeways Here We Come, released in 1987], The Smiths had become a quintet, for reasons that furrowed my brow,” Morrissey recounts in his Autobiography (2013). That quintet was first credited on the sleeve of Panic, a standalone single from the band in the summer of 1986, and to unfurrow that brow of Morriseey’s, we must turn to the events of earlier that year, when (by several, but not all) accounts, The Smiths’ bass player Andy Rourke was fired. Morrissey doesn’t refer to this event in his book, but his song writing partner and The Smiths’ guitarist Johnny Marr did, in an interview just as the band’s third album The Queen Is Dead was released: “I think Andy left straight after the Irish tour [This took place from the 10th to the 12th of February, 1986]. Two of those gigs were great, one of them wasn’t,” he said. Rourke’s behaviour – mostly in relation to drug use – was causing his position in the band to become untenable. Shortly after his dismissal (Rourke has suggested that confirmation of this was obtained via postcard stuck to his car windscreen, something Morrissey treats as an urban myth) he was arrested for heroin possession following a raid at his dealer’s house. Whether his time out of the band was intended to be permanent exclusion or simply to allow him time to sort himself out, his absence was brief. Rourke said in 2013: “I came back just before the last American tour [The Smiths toured the US and Canada for the last time between 30th of July and 10th of September, 1986]. I think the understanding was that because I got busted I wouldn’t get a visa, but somehow my visa came through.”

With no legal or contractual restrictions to his participation, to the general public there would have been little indication that Rourke’s tenure with The Smiths had been interrupted. He played at their concerts and was credited on the sleeve of the single Bigmouth Strikes Again, their first release of 1986, just as he had been on previous single The Boy With The Thorn In His Side, their last of 1985. As both were recorded in the second half of ’85, he would have to have been credited anyway even if he had left the band for good by the time ‘Bigmouth’ made the shops; the sessions both singles were recorded during were for the The Queen Is Dead album, which finally made the shops in June 1986. “We’d finished the album in November and were pretty frustrated about that not coming out,” Marr said. “Me and Phil, the roadie, even went on this midnight jaunt from Manchester to Guildford to try and steal the master tapes of the LP, it got really silly. We drove all the way down in the snow, but they caught us and said we couldn’t have them – not surprisingly, I suppose. Still, we wrote some new songs and got a new guitar player in, so there was something going on.”

The reason for the long gap between its completion and its release was that The Smiths were in dispute with Rough Trade. The band (despite Morrissey’s earlier comments about the benefits of being signed to an indie label) were concerned that their music wasn’t reaching as wide an audience as it should. EMI agreed, and wrote to them to tell them so, offering them the opportunity to sign with them – which Morrissey and Marr subsequently did. But at the end of 1985, with an album in the can, Rough Trade weren’t about to let go of their most commercially successful act without a fight. An injunction was put in place, effectively preventing The Smiths from recording for the time being and preventing the release of The Queen Is Dead by another company. Eventually, an agreement was reached that The Smiths would remain with Rough Trade and the label scheduled the album, but in the time it took for them to do so, as indicated above a fifth member of The Smiths had joined. “It was when we got back from [the Irish tour] that I realized I wanted to get another guitar player in,” said Marr. “I didn’t need much time to think about it, I just instinctively knew. I’ve noticed since Craig’s joined that people are surprised. I don’t know why, maybe they think my guitar ego wouldn’t deal with it, or something like that.”

This was Craig Gannon, previously guitarist with Aztec Camera, and one of those surprised was Morrissey. Of the appointment, he wrote in Autobiography that “it was Johnny’s will, and that seemed good enough on face value, but the reality of Craig Gannon was a fascinating bungle… Once the US tour has ended, Johnny suggests that we do not make contact with Craig, in order to test if he would actually bother to contact any of us. Unsurprisingly, Craig does not contact anyone, and it becomes evident that nothing useful vibrates in Craig’s upper storey… It is not announced that Craig has departed and this is largely because his name is never again mentioned, and the press makes no comment about Craig’s disappearance. Like a mist he evaporates, and it is confusing to think that he had ever been present. Instantly, Craig sues for ‘loss of earnings’ (how? where?) and also claims co-authorship of certain Smiths songs with Johnny (how? where?). Although Craig’s claims are whimsical frolic, the court leaps to his favour and the case is settled for almost whatever he wants. I have no tears left. The law is an ass.”

Gannon is credited only on Panic and its follow-up, Ask, ‘chart certs’ (to use the Music Week column’s title) if ever there were. But while they did chart, they didn’t make the Top 10. “I foolishly looked to Geoff [Travis, Rough Trade executive] for an explanation when the single Panic stalled for two weeks at #11, inching no higher even though it is generally accepted that here is The Smiths’ first unstoppable #1,” said Morrissey. “Johnny sends me a postcard yelling ‘PANIC: NUMBER ONE!!!!!!!!’ , a common sentiment, yet once again, here we are, derailed by non-existent competition. Geoff leans forward and removes his glasses. ‘Do you know why Smiths singles don’t go any higher?’ I say nothing because the question is horribly rhetorical. ‘Because they’re not good enough’. He puts his glasses back on and shrugs his shoulders. I glance around his office searching for an axe. Some murders are well worth their prison term.”

Travis’s attitude furthered Morrissey’s resolve that he needed to be free of Rough Trade. But the most pressing reason for leaving and joining a major label was that it was more likely people would be able to hear about and obtain The Smiths’ records. “It’s all very dignified to downplay popularity as an artistic goal, but if you love your songs as much as we did then there seemed to be no further point in avoiding accessibility,” he said in response to the notion that he had in some way “sold out” by joining one of the big five group companies and becoming an EMI artist in 1987. This, as it happened, would be for a solo career, as Rough Trade had the option on Strangeways Here We Come and by the time it hit the record racks, Marr had quit and The Smiths was over. An end at this point was inevitable perhaps, particularly with Morrissey citing jealousies within the group: “Like a Rank Charm School starlet I had an arranged marriage with the press, whose NME was now known as the New Morrissey Express”… the press had also tagged The Smiths as Mozzer’s Men, a docket that enraged Johnny… a picture of my face would be printed with The Smiths’ name beneath it, and on the pictorial rundown for ‘Top Of the Pops’, the single Bigmouth Strikes Again features my face only in the slot for The Smiths. Johnny fumes and makes steps to have the picture rectified by the following week, by which time the single has fallen off the chart anyway.”

Not that all the attention was on Morrissey. The Smiths wasn’t just his voice and his lyrics: each of the other three was a fine musician in his own right and while Morrissey’s media presence was his special contribution to raising the band’s profile, the others had contributions of their own. Marr, for example, was the musician’s musician: the introduction to his 1986 interview referred to above called him “the maker of tunes,” and pointed out that he was “universally respected … however opinions polarize for his loquaciously quaffed comrade, the person is yet to be born with a bad word to say about Johnny Marr.” And if The Smiths had a pin-up it was Mike Joyce, Marr commenting “is it a lie to say that of all the important groups over the last few years who’ve been in our position, no one’s ever had a drummer as good-looking as ours?” Joyce wasn’t unhappy with this role: asked if he would like to be a sex symbol, he said, “Yeah, anybody would. I certainly wouldn’t say ‘how dare you,’ I’d say, ‘thank you very much’… we get women offering themselves, men too… I’m flattered more than anything.” But when his solo career began, Morrissey would attempt to become all things to everyone, putting himself centre-stage in every respect.

● Interview with Andy Rourke from, “Bigmouth strikes again: Smiths bassist Andy Rourke tells all,” 13 October 2013
● Interview with Johnny Marr from Record Mirror, “Marr he’s making eyes at me,” 14 June 1986
● Interview with Mike Joyce from No.1, “A crisp Smith,” 3 August 1985

NEW SINGLES on sale from Jul. 21
DOCTOR AND THE MEDICS (Clive Jackson) Burn (IRS IRM119)
SINITTA Feels Like The First Time (Fanfare FAN8)
The SMITHS (Morrissey) Panic (Rough Trade RT193)


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