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People thought The Smiths were miserable… but we had a blast, says Mike Joyce | Music | Entertainment


The Smiths – There Is A Light That Never Goes Out

For while many musicians of that period have set aside differences to churn out their hits on lucrative nostalgia tours, The Smiths remain the ultimate rock outsiders.

The Smiths band photo

Joyce (centre-right) was the drummer for band the Smiths (Image: Getty)

While groups like Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet celebrated glamour and made flamboyant pop, the four young Mancunians were making intense guitar music and lyrics that stood against so many accepted norms of the 1980s.

Singer Morrissey, guitarist Johnny Marr, drummer Joyce and bassist Andy Rourke were together just five years, splitting after their fourth studio album Strangeways, Here We Come – currently celebrating its 35th anniversary.

Refusing to get caught up in the era’s wild hedonism, they stood apart from every other musician at the time, while Morrissey made headlines for his controversial comments attacking the Royal Family and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

But even The Smiths were not totally immune from being starstruck. During a concert in New York in 1986, the band were thrilled to see Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger dancing at the side of the stage.

Drummer Joyce told the Express: “Mick was doing his proper “Mick Jagger” dance. Johnny looked over at me and whispered, “Check that out!” I looked across, saw Mick dancing away, and thought: “How cool is this? I’m making Mick Jagger dance!”

It was a typically funny moment for The Smiths.

Although they were frequently portrayed as miserable because of their dramatic lyrics and unwillingness to party with other bands, Joyce – who is raffling the silver disc he received for Strangeways, Here We Come, to raise money for a Manchester charity (£15,000 so far) – insists that life in The Smiths was a blast from start to finish.

But, he believes, their insularity is what made them so special. Joyce, 59, explains: “We felt so outside of everything else that was going on in music, and it made the four of us be so close. We weren’t part of any scene.

“We were very, very different from any band I’d heard before. We were a closed shop. It was very insular, and we were together all the time.”

Of their togetherness, Joyce recalls: “I’d go to Johnny’s house and he’d always answer the door with a guitar round his neck. He’d tell me, “Oh, I knocked this guitar riff out last night.” He’d play me the guitar riff he’d been working on and it’d be the best thing I’d ever heard. Johnny was, and is, just so prolific from the moment I met him.

“Morrissey was the same. I’d never heard a singer like him before and he had an incredible empathy for Johnny’s music. His lyrics and his voice were so moving.” Their separateness from other bands was brought home when The Smiths appeared on Top Of The Pops with Spandau Ballet.

Joyce smiles: “We were polite to each other and said hi. But we looked quizzically at Spandau. They were all in leather and wearing bullet belts to top off their big hairdos. We were all thinking, ‘Why are they all so dressed up?’”

He pauses, then adds: “And I’m sure they were looking at us and thinking: “Look at the state of them!” The Smiths just didn’t really belong.

“There was a “Best of the ’80s” compilation recently which had all the typical 80s stars on, like Culture Club, Nik Kershaw and Duran Duran. But The Smiths weren’t on it. I took that as a big compliment.

Spandau Ballet band in colourful outfits

The Smiths seemed out of place next to 80s acts like Spandau Ballet (Image: Getty)

“All our music was released in the ’80s, but we weren’t an ’80s sounding band. Our music could sit in any decade. If our singles didn’t come out until 2040, I think they’d still do well. Our sound was unique.”

That distinctive style was there from the start, leaving Joyce blown away by his first rehearsal with the band. That initial session spawned classic debut single Hand In Glove.

“I was gobsmacked when I heard it. I thought, “What is this?” It wasn’t rock, it wasn’t punk,” recalls Joyce. “My brother asked me, “What does your single sound like?” and I thought: “Well, how do you describe it?” It’s great pop music, but that’s about all you can say.”

Although Joyce’s tight, rhythmic drumming was integral to The Smiths’ sound, he admits he remained dazzled by his bandmates’ talent.

“I had the best view in the house throughout The Smiths, because I could see both the rest of the band and the audiences. Seeing the expressions on fans’ faces, they were always stunned by what they were experiencing.

“I was desperate for a wee when we came off after a show in Boston. I ran off to the loo and could hear 15,000 people chanting, “Smiths! Smiths! Smiths!”, begging for us to come back. I was tapping my foot along with the chanting, when I suddenly realised, “Hold on a minute, I’m in this band!”

Having made landmark albums Meat Is Murder, The Smiths and The Queen Is Dead, the band split almost as soon as Strangeways, Here We Come was released in 1987.

Joyce believes guitarist Johnny Marr wanted to experiment with music outside of The Smiths and understands the guitarist’s reasons. He ponders: “I think Johnny felt he’d done what needed to be done in The Smiths. He’s got itchy feet and maybe for him it had run its course.”

On reflection, Joyce believes it was the right move, noting: “I’d thought we’d have another 10 great albums in us.

“But maybe we’d have lost our spark and, by our eighth album, people would be saying, “They’ve lost it.” It’s a lot better to go out on top. Who knows, maybe we’d have carried on making great albums, but the legacy we left behind is very strong.

“Some people think we could have carried on if we’d taken six months off after Strangeways, Here We Come, but I don’t think that’s the case.

“The five years we were together were brilliant. It was relentless, but I’m certainly not complaining. I’d rather have been in the studio playing drums on How Soon Is Now than have three weeks off.”

Joyce and bassist Andy are still in touch. “Andy is one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met, and a really sweet bloke. Every single time he plays bass, he sounds fantastic,” he says.

But the drummer has not seen Morrissey or Johnny since they faced each other in court. In 1996, Joyce won £1million from the singer and guitarist in a dispute over royalties. It has helped ensure The Smiths have never reformed – an idea Joyce believes would be a mistake, despite past glories.

Mike Joyce at court

Joyce appearing at court in 1996, where he won £1m from his former bandmates (Image: PA)

He reasons: “I think The Smiths is best left in the past. It’d sound pretty damn good if we got on stage, as we’re all better players and technology has improved.

“But you can’t recreate the four personalities of those people from 1982-87. I haven’t spoken to Morrissey for 30 years, and you can’t go on stage with someone you haven’t spoken to in 30 years.”

Despite their at times bitter estrangement, Joyce bears no animosity towards his former bandmates.

“I don’t know them any more. I’m not saying that in any aggressive or derogatory way, it’s just the way it is. For the people we were in The Smiths’ five years, I’ve a massive fondness for them.”

Some fans believe The Smiths’ legacy has been tarnished, because of Morrissey’s recent political leanings.

The singer has made a series of statements that seemingly support far-Right politics, including the controversial Britain First party. But Joyce insists Morrissey is entitled to his views, commenting: “Morrissey and I differ politically, but that’s it. If someone doesn’t like his views and can’t listen to The Smiths’ music any more because of them, that’s fine.

“Each to their own. But Morrissey said a lot of volatile things in the past too, and he’ll carry on doing it. He’s his own person. He opens Pandora’s Box a lot when he speaks, and I like that in a front-person.

Morrissey performing on stage

Joyce’s former bandmate, Morrissey, has caused controversy with his political views (Image: Getty)

“It’s more interesting than a singer who just says, “I wrote these words, I hope you like them”.

“He opens a lot of discussion. They’re not my political views, but Morrissey has always divided opinion.

“He’s still an incredible vocalist as well. Someone sent me a clip from his current tour, and he’s still sounding fantastic.”

Since The Smiths, Joyce has played with musicians including Sinead O’Connor, Buzzcocks and Julian Cope. He is in the process of forming a new band, Love Tempo, with guitarist friend Rick Hornby.

He is raffling his silver disc to raise money for Back On Track. The charity, for which the drummer is a patron, helps people struggling to get their life together, whether battling addiction, homelessness or mental health issues.

Joyce adds: “The disc means a lot, but I can raise some much-needed funds by raffling it. Besides, I’ve got my memories of The Smiths – and they’re priceless.”

  • For more information about Back On Track and the chance to win Mike Joyce’s silver disc, visit backontrackmanchester.org.uk Raffle tickets are £5 each, with entry closing on October 12.



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