Billy Bragg Writes

Billy Bragg posted this on Sunday, a powerful and fantastically well written piece about Morrissey and his dangerous association with the far right, white supremacist propaganda and racist ideology (also taking in Stormzy, Brandon Flowers, Johnny Marr, Donald Trump, Rita Tusingham, The Smiths and culture generally). I can’t find anything in it to disagree with.

Last Sunday, while much of the British media were lauding Stormzy’s Glastonbury headline show as epoch defining, Morrissey posted a white supremacist video on his website, accompanied by the comment ‘Nothing But Blue Skies for Stormzy…The Gallows for Morrissey’. The nine minute clip lifted footage from the grime star’s Pyramid Stage performance while arguing that the British establishment are using him to promote multiculturalism at the expense of white culture.
The YouTube channel of the video’s author contains other clips expressing , among other things, homophobia, racism and misogyny – left wing women of colour are a favourite target for his ire. There are also clips expounding the Great Replacement Theory, a far right conspiracy trope which holds that there is a plot of obliterate the white populations of Europe and North America through mass immigration and cultural warfare.
My first thought was to wonder what kind of websites Morrissey must be trawling in order to be able to find and repost this clip on the same day that it appeared online? I came home from Glastonbury expecting to see some angry responses to his endorsement of white supremacism. Instead, the NME published an interview with Brandon Flowers in which the Killers lead singer proclaimed that Morrissey was still “a king”, despite being in what Flowers recognised was “hot water” over his bigoted comments.
As the week progressed, I kept waiting for some reaction to the white supremacist video, yet none was forthcoming. Every time I googled Morrissey, up would pop another article from a music website echoing the NME’s original headline: ‘The Killers Brandon Flowers on Morrissey: ‘He’s Still A King’. I’m well aware from personal experience how easy it is for an artist to find something you’ve said in the context of a longer discourse turned into an inflammatory headline that doesn’t reflect your genuine views on the subject at hand, but I have to wonder if Flowers really understands the ramifications of Morrissey’s expressions of support for the far right For Britain Party?
As the writer of the powerful Killers song ‘Land of the Free’, does he know that For Britain wants to build the kind of barriers to immigration that Flowers condemns in that lyric? Party leader Anne Marie Walters maintains ties with Generation Identity, the group who both inspired and received funds from the gunman who murdered 50 worshippers at a Christchurch mosque. How does that sit with the condemnation of mass murder by lone gunman in ‘Land of the Free’?
As an explicitly anti-Muslim party, For Britain opposes the religious slaughter of animals without the use of a stun gun, a policy that has given Morrissey a fig leaf of respectability, allowing him to claim he supports them on animal welfare grounds. Yet if that is his primary concern, why does he not support the UK’s Animal Welfare Party, which stood candidates in the recent European elections?
mong their policies, the AWF also aim to prohibit non-stun slaughter. If his only interest was to end this practice, he could have achieved this without the taint of Islamophobia by endorsing them. They are a tiny party, but Morrissey’s vocal support would have given the animal rights movement a huge boost of publicity ahead of the polls.
Instead, he expresses support for anti-Muslim provocateurs, posts white supremacist videos and, when challenged, clutches his pearls and cries “Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me”. His recent claim that “as a so-called entertainer, I have no rights” is a ridiculous position made all the more troubling by the fact that it is a common trope among right-wing reactionaries.
The notion that certain individuals are not allowed to say certain things is spurious, not least because it is most often invoked after they’ve made their offensive comments. Look closely at their claims and you’ll find that what they are actually complaining about is the fact that they have been challenged.
The concept of freedom pushed by the new generation of free speech warriors maintains that the individual has the right to say whatever they want, whenever they want, to whoever they want, with no comeback. If that is the definition of freedom, then one need look no further than Donald Trump’s Twitter feed as our generation’s beacon of liberty. Perhaps Lady Liberty should be replaced in New York Harbour with a colossal sculpture of the Donald, wearing a toga, holding a gaslight.
Worryingly, Morrissey’s reaction to being challenged over his support of For Britain, his willingness to double down rather than apologise for any offence caused, suggests a commitment to a bigotry that tarnishes his persona as the champion of the outsider. Where once he offered solace to the victims of a cruel and unjust world, he now seems to have joined the bullies waiting outside the school gates.
As an activist, I’m appalled by this transformation, but as a Smiths fan, I’m heartbroken.
It was Johnny Marr’s amazing guitar that drew me to the band, but I grasped that Morrissey was an exceptional lyricist when I heard ‘Reel Around the Fountain’. Ironically, it was a line that he had stolen that won my affections. “I dreamt about you last night and I fell out of bed twice” is spoken by Jimmy, the black sailor, to his white teenage lover, Jo, in Sheila Delaney’s play ‘A Taste of Honey’
The 1961 movie, starring Rita Tushingham was an early example of a post-war British society that would embrace multi-racial relationships (and homosexuality too). By pilfering that particular line for the song, Morrissey was placing the Smiths in the great tradition of northern working class culture that may have been in the gutter, but was looking at the stars. Yet, by posting a white supremacist video in which he is quoted as saying “Everyone prefers their own race”, Morrissey undermines that line, erasing Jo and Jimmy and all those misfit lovers to whom the Smiths once gave so much encouragement.
A week has passed since the video appeared on Morrissey’s website and nothing has been written in the media to challenge his position. Today it was reported that research by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a UK based anti-extremist organisation, reveals that the Great Replacement Theory is being promoted so effectively by the far right that it is entering mainstream political discourse.
That Morrissey is helping to spread this idea – which inspired the Christchurch mosque murderer – is beyond doubt. Those who claim that this has no relevance to his stature as an artist should ask themselves if, by demanding that we separate the singer from the song, they too are helping to propagate this racist creed’.
Johnny Marr’s set at Glastonbury seemed to be, at least partly, an artist and a crowd revelling in reclaiming those songs from the damage the lyricist has done to their memory, a celebration of outside culture and what The Smiths meant- Bigmouth Strikes Again, There Is A Light And It Never Goes Out- and what they can still mean. But still, with every sentence Billy writes above, the songs are tarnished further.

This re-edit of How Soon Is Now by Maceo Plex will probably annoy the purists but would I imagine sound pretty great chucked into the midst of a DJ set, possibly pitched down a tad. Can’t imagine Morrissey’s a fan.

Hand It Over

The Top Of The Pops repeats are up to 1987 now which is making for some pretty awful episodes. Last week though the run of bands to keep your finger on the fast forward button came to an abrupt halt with The Smiths in all their glory miming to Shoplifters Of The World Unite (the episode was first broadcast on February 5th 1987).

The Smiths wouldn’t survive 1987, splitting up in the summer after Marr took a holiday, but they sound imperious on Shoplifters. The slow T-Rex riff, the swampy groove and Marr’s guitar solo sounded wonderful back then (and still do now). We’re going to have to leave to one side everything Morrissey has said in the 21st century and concentrate on his performance here- the double denim and Elvis/Smiths T-shirt, his gyrating dance- unique and then some. His lyrics for Shoplifters are something else too. No one else would have or could have written these words (or borrowed them from other sources and stitched them together). The final verse for example…

‘A heartless hand on my shoulder
A push and it’s over
Alabaster crashes down
(Six months is a long time)
Tried living in the real world
Instead of a shell
But before I began
I was bored before I even began’

This is the instrumental demo version from that Smiths bootleg that regularly does the rounds on the internet.

Shoplifters Of The World Unite (Instrumental Demo)

In April they were back on Top Of Pops with another non-album single, Sheila Take A Bow. They also travelled up to Newcastle to perform Sheila and Shoplifters live on The Tube (and it turned out to be the last time they’d play in front of any audience). The idea that something like this could be broadcast on Friday at teatime seems incredible now. Truly, they were different times….

 

How Soon Is Dub

You may think that the recorded works of Morrissey, Marr, Rourke and Joyce are so sacrosanct that they shouldn’t be mucked with. I don’t as it happens, I’m more than  happy for people to rework and remix almost everything and anything if it’s done well. Plus, seeing as Morrissey sees fit to spew shit all over his legacy there’s no reason why the odd bootlegger and remixer shouldn’t (and given his ‘all reggae is vile’ comment back in the 80s this seems even more fitting). This is a dub version of How Soon Is Now, using the original track, especially Johnny Marr’s wonderful guitar parts, and adding the dub elements in increasingly as it rides on. As a bonus there’s precious little Morrissey involved in it too.

How Soon Is Now Dubweiser Remix

The Lowlife Has Lost Its Appeal

Many words have been written recently on blogs about Morrissey and his views in interviews and pronouncements. His statements on all sorts of political and social issues are starting to stand in the way of the music, becoming a barrier to being able to listen to the songs. Not his solo career, which is patchy anyway, but the songs made by The Smiths between 1983 and 1987, which are among the finest made by anyone at that time. So, to try to counter that here are a couple of songs from the early days of the group. If you try hard enough, switch off from now, and allow yourself to listen properly, be immersed in the music of Marr, Joyce and Rourke and words of Moz, you can block out the shite and be transported.

These two songs, both from their early days have a busy, clattery, garageband quality. Morrissey’s lines in Jeane come straight from kitchen sink drama while Marr finds space to play rhythm and lead, the repeated circular riff sparkling. The Smiths recorded their debut album with Troy Tate but then dropped almost all the recordings, switching to John Porter. Only Jeane and the Tate mix of Pretty Girls Make Graves survived as official releases. Jeane was the B-side to second single This Charming Man.

Jeane (Troy Tate Mix)

Recorded for a Radio 1 David Jensen session in June 1983, These Things Take Time was one of Morrissey and Marr’s earliest songs, with some ear-catching lyrical lines and ringing Rickenbacker guitar lines. I think the John Porter produced version is probably superior but there’s nothing wrong with this.

These Things Take Time (David Jensen Session)

Still

Johnny Marr looks the business in this photo- the black barnet, drainpipes, denim jacket and white shirt buttoned all the way up (from The Smith’s appearance on the Oxford Road Show). As does his songwriting partner next to him, but Marr’s look was always a bit more streetwise.

Johnny’s been promoting his new solo album with his band, playing the 6 Music red button thing this week. I haven’t got Playland yet so can’t comment. But the version of Still Ill was first rate.

Still Ill (6 music live)

Still Ill is a reminder of what an inventive guitarist he is (and he wrote it aged about 18) and also of how stunning Morrissey’s early lyrics were. This song has more great lines than some people manage in an entire career- ‘I decree today that life is simply taking and not giving, England is mine and it owes me a living’ for starters. And whatever your opinion of Morrissey it is sad and unpleasant that he has been having treatment for cancer.

Getting Away With It was Electronic’s masterclass of a first single. Marr and his band played it live at Maida Vale. Opinion seems to be split on this live version but I think it’s alright. Watch it quick, these red button sessions have a habit of being taken down.

Klactoveesedstein

Blue Rondo a la Turk were a briefly hip bunch of baggy suited, jazz-funkateers from the early 80s who unwittingly paved the way for the likes of Matt Bianco. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anything by them until recently. Jazz-funk was pretty low on my list of interests in 1982, aged 12. And it has been ever since really. They were mainly known to me as the band The Smiths supported at their very first gig at The Ritz and almost every account of The Smiths’ rise uses Blue Rondo a la Turk as symbolising the old guard and old ways about to be shoved aside by Morrissey and Marr with their faded Levis, quiffs, flowers and Rickenbackers.

Blue Rondo’s 1982 album Chewing the Fat has been released on cd for the first time with a second disc of extras, the main draw for me being the Andrew Weatherall remix of Klactoveesedstein (or Klacto Vee Sedstein, I can’t work out which it is). I downloaded, legally I should add, the Weatherall  remix a couple of weeks ago. I keeps the ooh-ooh-ooh-oh-ah vocal part and turns jazz-funk the down and machine-funk up, adding an upfront bassline, pretty good really if not as earthshattering as some of Lord Sabre’s recent remixes. I can’t find a listen only or streaming version of it on the net, no Soundcloud or Youtube file, and seeing as it only came out in the middle of June I don’t think I should share it as an mp3 yet. But you can buy it at the usual digital places for 79 pence/99c if you’re an avid Weatherall head. Instead, here’s the original.

Klactoveesedstein

Lord Knows It Would Be The First Time

This American TV performance of Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want is a beaut. I saw Johnny and his band at The Ritz back in March and the reviews have been gathering pace and praise ever since that tour. Johnny turned 50 at the end of October as well. Looks well for it doesn’t he?

This was a cover of a Rabbit MacKay song, a 60s hippie anthem, for a compilation lp from a few years ago and is one of the best things Johnny has done solo. Especially the guitars.

Tendency To Be Free