Melody Maker, September 1983
THE CRADLE SNATCHERS
Frank Worrall, Melody Maker, 3rd September 1983
He displays the sort of impassioned conviction you'd expect from a man out to avenge the murder of a close relative.
His eyes glint dangerously at the merest hint of a putdown of his music, his voice or his band. He stresses that he knows what he wants, how he's going to get it and that nothing but nothing is going to stand in his way.
Morrissey, the public face of The Smiths, is - as you may have guessed - a shock to the system. The first interview with a relatively new group usually involves a lot of trivial banter and a certain degree of humility. Not so The Smiths.
Modesty is a word that just doesn't figure in Morrissey's vocabulary. But then he does have a fair bit to shout about and his arrogance isn't as misplaced as it might initially appear. In nine short months The Smiths have completely shattered the dormant glass of the Manchester music scene.
They're not on Factory and they've licked no-one's arses to get where they are - or so Morrissey proudly informs me - and they've found immediate success and acclaim beyond the city's boundaries. They've signed with Rough Trade for what Morrissey describes as that label's "best-ever deal" and they've already got America within their sights.
In fact, I'd stick my neck out and say The Smiths will do even better across the Atlantic than they will in Britain. They certainly won't be lacking any push over there with the giant Warner Brothers conglomerate behind them - a deal set up just before our meeting.
Morrissey takes a sip of wine. Like the other Smiths he was born in Manchester of Irish parents and his voice is an intimate mixture of Anglo-Irish ancestry. He reminds me of a more articulate Bob Geldof (though he goes to great lengths to explain he is much better looking!).
He's eager to talk, perhaps feeling a sense of release after being cooped up for a week working on the band's first album. I ask him if it will sell.
"Of course, yes!" he shouts, without bothering to disguise his scorn at such a ridiculous question. "And I'm not just saying that because it's something that we've produced - although anything we produce is wonderful!
"I'm saying it because we've done everything exactly right and it'll show."
The album, The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, is out next month and, knowing Morrissey wouldn't waste my time with idle boasts, I recommend you grab a copy fast. And while you're at it you might also benefit from listening to Hand In Glove, the band's debut single, which gives a breezy insight into their distinctively gripping style.
Morrissey pushes his hand through his hair and discusses the joy of being on the brink of the big time.
"It feels very comfortable - this waiting period.. I'm ready to be accepted by everybody. I want to be heard and I want to be seen by as many people as possible."
But how important is music to you - and just how important is it in the general scale of things?
"It's a matter of life and death to me. Music affects everybody and I really think it does change the world! Everybody has their favourite song and people's lives do change because of songs.
"For the most part products are disposable, but just for that extra one song that changes your direction in life, the importance of popular music just cannot be stressed enough. Music is the most important thing in the world.
"But because it's restrained by government or whatever it's passively sold as something that's not really that important. But it is and everybody knows it is, so we might as well all admit it!"
Fair enough. But if you accept it is so crucial, why sign to an independent label like Rough Trade who, with no disrespect, are hardly going to be able to push you as, say, CBS would?
"Well, in the world of indies, Rough Trade are a major. We like Rough Trade as people and they like us - that has to be the most important thing. And if people want to buy the records, Rough Trade will supply them. No problem."
The Smiths' music is very accessible despite the occasionally aggressive guitar and vocal outburst. Its major strengths are easy to pinpoint: Morrissey's clear - as in you can hear the lyrics - vocal, a rock solid rhythm section and fellow-cohort Johnny's biting guitar work.
I wonder if one danger of being on an independent isn't that you are often expected to come up with something less accessible, perhaps linked with the ideals of rebellion and anti-whatever?
Morrissey coughs, trying to conceal a giggle. "I think there was quite a trend towards those ideals, but now people are starting to realise you don't actually get anywhere when you have that attitude.
"There's been lots of really wonderful people on independent labels who have failed and disappeared and that's a shame. I don't really understand what being an independent group means. I don't feel part of this little thing, whatever it is.
"When I think of independent people I think of The Fall and even lesser people like that. I don't share their attitude so I wouldn't want The Smiths to be considered in any particular category."
But you are not trendsetters offering something radically new. In a sense what you are offering is a fresh face to rock, relying on traditional instruments and utilising its better moments. You wouldn't consider yourself original?
"I wonder if originality is possible anymore. To me that's not important. What is important is that we have a conviction that is quite rare. We write songs that have good lyrics and everything we say and do, we mean."
Is The Smiths' current conviction a result of events in the past? Have you learned from being in other groups?
"Nothing in the past is important really. I was alive. That's all. If people really like The Smiths - and we do have our disciples! - I don't think they're interested in whether I had a job once or Johnny owned a caravan!
"I was very depressed for a very long time previous to The Smiths, simply because I wanted to do it so much. I don't want to go into it, but everything I put into this group now is an extension of what happened to me previously. People cannot trivialise The Smiths and people cannot trivialise anything we do."
This year's mystery man takes another reflective gulp of wine, looks round the Manchester bar we're chatting in and finally pins me down with a charming smile.
His smile widens at my next question. One of the main talking points of The Smiths live is when Morrissey throws a handful of flowers on the stage, after holding them out to the audience. I wonder why a man of sincerity has to resort to such gimmicky antics?
"But it's not a gimmick!" he bellows. "As long as we've been in existence we've used the flowers and it's interesting that in recent months quite a few groups have also begun to do exactly what I do. Like Echo and the Bunnymen and Big Country!
"The flowers actually have a significance," he continues. "When we first began there was a horrendous sterile cloud over the whole music scene in Manchester. Everybody was anti-human and it was so very cold. The flowers were a very human gesture.
"They integrated harmony with nature - something people seemed so terribly afraid of. It had got to the point in music where people were really afraid to show how they felt. To show their emotions. I thought that was a shame and very boring. The flowers offered hope."
Morrissey Smith begins to open up for the first time during our 90-minute encounter. He moves on to talk about the record sleeve of Hand In Glove, which depicts a nude male. This also is no gimmick.
"I wanted to even the balance out," he says. "It's crucial to what we're doing that we're not looking at things from a male stance. I can't recognise gender. I want to produce music that transcends boundaries.
"I want it to get through to everybody. I don't want it directed at just one generation. I want people to enjoy the music and also to think about what's being said."
And just what is being said?
"The songs are personal - they're there to be discovered. The words are basic because I don't want anyone to miss what I'm saying. Lyrics that are intellectual or obscure are no use whatsoever."
Morrissey falls back into his chair and takes a break from the pressures of being The Smiths' public face. It's a role he accepts and that the others in the band also accept. They haven't turned up because they know Morrissey can handle it for them. They know it will be his face that adorns bedroom walls in a couple of years - and they're happy to stay in the background, thank you very much!
As a parting shot I ask Morrissey if he worries about life after the bubble has burst and middle-age sets in.
"That's a long time off and something I don't think about. But age shouldn't affect you. It's just like the size of your shoes - they don't determine how you live your life! You're either marvellous or you're boring, regardless of your age. And I'm sure you know what we are!"