NME News, 8th August 1987
NME News, 8th August 1987
The split in the ranks of The Smiths - exclusively reported in last week's NME while the other titles were blithely announcing tour dates - has now been confirmed by the group's record company, Rough Trade. A statement issued on behalf of the band (but written, it later transpired, without the knowledge of guitarist/composer Johnny Marr) ran: "The Smiths announce that Johnny Marr has left the group. However they would like to confirm that other guitarists are being considered to replace him. The Smiths would like to state that although Johnny's departure is sad, they wish him every happiness and success with his future projects."
The obvious questions thrown up by this statement - What exactly constitutes "the concept" of The Smiths? Can that concept possibly survive the departure of half of the band's creative force? Who are those "other guitarists"? - remain unanswered. Some of the mysteries surrounding the break-up of Britain's biggest (still) independent band were, however, cleared up when Marr himself rang NME to put his side of the case.
"First of all," he said, "it's very important to me to clear up some of the inaccuracies that were in your story last week. There is nothing even approaching 'acrimony' between myself and the other members of the band. I've known them all a long time and I love 'em. Nor was there any truth in the idea that Morrissey has any problem with the company I keep, personally or work-wise; we're very different people and lead different kinds of lives but that stuff is just patently untrue. And lastly, the stuff about me using record company funds to pay for a trip to America is totally wrong."
Why, then, the split?
"I'm not denying that there weren't certain problems involving the band, and it's also very true that a group like The Smiths can begin to take over your whole life and all your energy. That's certainly happened to me, but the major reason for me going was simply that there are things I want to do, musically, that there is just not scope for in The Smiths."
The infamous "musical differences"?
"I've got absolutely no problem with what The Smiths are doing. The stuff we've just done for the new album is great, the best we've ever done. I'm really proud of it. But there are things that I want to do that can only happen outside of The Smiths."
One potential source of acrimony yet to emerge from the split is the use of the name "The Smiths". Marr was genuinely surprised when informed that Morrissey intended to continue using it, but contented himself, when pressed for a response, with "I think that's probably tied up in a whole load of legal things..."
Although understandably uncertain about his immediate plans, Marr intends getting back into public view as soon as possible.
"I've already recorded some stuff and it's gone really well. If the rest of it goes as well, there's every chance that I'll be forming a permanent group, though obviously it's a little early to be too certain about that. But I definitely want to have some live dates set up by the new year at the latest, regardless of the situation with other musicians.
"Part of the reason I've spent so much time in America recently is to get exposed to some different music. The stuff in this country at the moment has got me baffled; I can't find much in any of it. but it's a pleasure listening to new ideas and trying to use them. I've not been unhappy with the things I've done up to now - far from it - so don't expect me to explode off into some crazy new direction, but there will be some changes..."
Any further thoughts on the parting of the ways?
"I don't want to get too over-emotional about this but I really am massively proud of all the things that The Smiths have done and achieved and so from that point of view, of course, it's all really sad, especially for the group's fans who've always been brilliant. But on the other hand, I'm looking forward to doing new things, and to hearing what Morrissey will come up with. I think the change will actually do him a lot of good. I certainly hope so. But, in the final analysis, the thing that used to make me happy was making me miserable and so I just had to get out."
"But I never, ever, wanted to turn The Smiths into The Rolling Stones. That was just more lazy journalistic bullshit..."
So what becomes of the "million dollar" long term deal The Smiths have with EMI? No doubt it will have to be renegotiated, as it is unlikely the label will want to commit themselves to a lengthy contract with what is, without Marr, an unknown commodity.
Nick Gatfield, head of A&R at EMI, couldn't shed much light on the situation: "It's all up in the air at the moment, we're not sure what's going to happen."
But Gatfield did confirm that EMI have the rights to any recorded product from either Marr or Morrissey's revamped Smiths.
"Both artists have signed on the dotted line, every contract has a clause which gives the label the rights to any work they do whether the band splits up or not. Essentially we now have two acts for the price of one."
That may be so, but with The Smiths split right down the middle, who can guarantee there will be positive creative results from either camp? And what of the name? Morrissey intends to continue under the banner of "The Smiths" but he could face a new legal obstacle along the way.