If Morrissey knew that a group of local Australian bands came together to celebrate his band The Smiths 30th Anniversary of The Queen is Dead (voted the greatest album of all time by NME Magazine) well, he probably wouldn’t give 2 shakes of a gladioli. The relationship between Morrissey and his fans is a one-sided affair, but to his true believers, they wouldn’t have it any other way. Welcome to the world of “Morrissey”. Tonight, the young and old and somewhere in-between have gathered in holy matrimony to pay tribute to a band (and individual) they adore and cherish. Less of a tribute more an evening of celebration that was made up of interesting song interpretations and a warm display of artistry comradery.
First things first, a round of applause must go to J M Harrison, who managed to pull off a night that was a bit “gig”, more a “party” of like-minded Mozza enthusiasts both joyous and miserable. For 5 hours, across 2 stages, 14 bands played hot potato with their favourite The Smiths songs while vintage video clips projected across screens, in-between hurried sets of musical snippets. Soon after the doors opened, devoted and perhaps somewhat intrigued fans filled the band room, completely unaware of what was install, but knowing that side-by-side, they would stand amongst a sold out crowd to honour a band who changed the lives of many.
At the front of the main stage stood young folk who were well on the way to drunken happiness, most of them unborn when “The Queen is Dead” was released in 1986, but clearly made its mark on their musical existence, with every word mouthed to the songs that played through the PA. Mixed among the youngsters, where us older folk, long-term fans who, like me, were old enough to remember when The Smiths first made a few changes to the world’s music scene. Some of them wore their tired band T-shirts while two excited fans, entered the band room wielding a bunch of Lillies, mimicking the days when Morrissey would pass bunches of Chrysanthemums and gladioli to his crowd. It was all a bit of fun, but another gesture of love and devotion.
Musically, the night was a mix bag of personal interpretations, from electronica to acoustic folk moments, some of the covers standing on the shoulders of others. Despite a few misses, tonight was not a showcase of talent, but a showcase of respect and honour. One of the youngest on the bill Luke Seymoup, strummed through “Unhappy Birthday” and an interesting rendition of “Girlfriend in a Coma”. Catching up with Luke backstage after his 2 song set (of which would form the formula for most of the acts tonight), we learnt the extent that The Smiths had on this young artist, a band that was introduced to him by his parents.
Hollie Joyce, rocked out her own take on “London” from Louder Than Bombs and a very raw and theatrical “Shoplifters of the World Unite”, earning the biggest reaction from the almost capacity crowd. PHIA, who is a multi-instrumentalist much like DD Dumbo, Wintercoats and LANKS, offered “How Soon Is Now”, using her trademark style of overlaid beat boxing, harmonies and synth sounds to create a truly unique cover. PHIA cleverly took her interpretation to a whole new level from it’s original, so much so that she should consider bottling up that one as a worthy single release.
At this point, things went all a little quiet, bands were rushing through song after song and with proceedings running ahead of schedule, rare footage of The Smiths helped keep the capacity crowd excited and nostalgic, eyes were peeled to the screens and we are certain helped encourage conversations of recalling cherished Morrissey moments.
Charming man Jamie Hay, doused his favourite songs in folk swagger, playing “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” and “The Boy With A Thorn In His Side”, paying acknowledgment to host James Harrison, who followed soon after on to the stage and modestly thanked the joyous crowd as he took to guitar to offer his tribute songs, “Half A Person”, “Asleep”, “Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others” and “Please Please Please”. Harrison painted each of his tracks with a lo-fi Australiana rock influence helped along with a few chums including Luke Howard and a very oddly placed guitarist who intrigued the audience with his deadly and disturbing stare into the crowd.
We took another interval moment to drop back stage and chat with Sean Whelan whose ode to The Smiths was in the form of poetry. Sitting in the green room with pen and paper, Whelan explained to us that his tribute to The Smiths would be a poem, telling of his story with the band. He noted “The Queen Is Dead” as his penultimate album, an album that in his humble opinion “Nailed It” and that his conversion to vegetarian was instigated from listening to “Meat Is Murder”, some 30 years ago.
Naysayers, grabbed the night with their energetic covers of “This Charming man”, “Stop Me” and “Never Had No One”, with their bountiful nature and honourable spirit from lead singer Gordan, who wore a T-shirt with the words “Johnny Fucking Marr”, again confirmed the extent of loyalty tonight. For a band so young, we learnt that Gordan’s gratitude stemmed from an interview he read from his other beloved singer, Ryan Adams who was a fan of The Smiths. On reflecting his favourite song, Gordan notes “This Charming Man” with his initial reaction after hearing was like “this band isn’t depressing at all, what the f**k is everyone talking about?
Ash Naylor seized the night spawned on by a now wonderfully drunken crowd, it felt like everyone collectively rejoiced and celebrated at a harmonious peak. Naylor was the brightest star of the night playing through “Bigmouth Strikes Again”, “The Boy With A Thorn In His Side”, “What Difference Does It Make” and of course, “The Queen is Dead”.
There would be no doubt that to many fans, this event was sacrilege, a tragedy of re-creating songs that should never be touched, but to the majority, it was a night of pure unpretentious celebration, less about artistry or talent, just an evening to bring friends together and sing-a-long to the songs that marked life’s musical moments and to many of the young ones, confirming just how important and relevant The Smiths are to each and everyone one of us. To James, the organiser, thank you and well done.