People thought the Smiths were miserable…but we had a blast, says Mike Joyce | Music | Entertainment
The Smiths – There’s a light that never goes out
For while many musicians of this period put aside their differences to produce their hits on lucrative nostalgic tours, the Smiths remain rock’s ultimate underdogs.
Joyce (centre-right) was the drummer for The Smiths
While bands like Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet celebrated glamor and made flamboyant pop, the four young Mancunians made intense guitar music and lyrics that went against so many accepted norms of the 1980s.
Singer Morrissey, guitarist Johnny Marr, drummer Joyce and bassist Andy Rourke had only been together for five years, splitting after their fourth studio album Strangeways, Here We Come – which is currently celebrating its 35th anniversary.
Refusing to get caught up in the savage hedonism of the time, they stood aloof from all other musicians of the time, while Morrissey made headlines for his controversial comments attacking the royal family and the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
But even the Smiths weren’t totally immune to being starstruck. At a gig in New York in 1986, the band was thrilled to see Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger dancing off the side of the stage.
Drummer Joyce told the Express: “Mick was doing his own ‘Mick Jagger’ dance. Johnny looked at me and whispered, ‘Check that!’ I looked the other way, saw Mick dancing and I thought, “Isn’t that cool? I make Mick Jagger dance!”
It was a typically funny moment for The Smiths.
Although they have often been described as miserable due to their dramatic lyrics and reluctance to party with other bands, Joyce – who is raffling off the silver record he received for Strangeways, Here We Come, to raise money for a Manchester charity (£15,000 so far) – insists life in The Smiths has been a blast from start to finish.
But, he believes, their insularity is what makes them so special. Joyce, 59, explains: “We felt so outside of everything that was happening in music, and it made the four of us so close. We weren’t part of any scene.
“We were very, very different from any band I had heard before. We were a closed store. It was very insular and we were together all the time.
Of their complicity, Joyce remembers: “I went to Johnny’s and he always answered the door with a guitar around his neck. He was like, “Oh, I dropped that guitar riff last night.” He was playing me the guitar riff he was working on and it would be the best thing I ever heard. Johnny was, and is, so prolific from the moment I met him.
“Morrissey was the same. I had never heard a singer like him before and he had an incredible empathy for Johnny’s music. His words and his voice were so moving. Their separation from the other bands was brought home when The Smiths appeared on Top Of The Pops with Spandau Ballet.
Joyce smiled, “We were polite to each other and said hello. But we looked quizzically at Spandau. They were all in leather and wore bullet belts to top off their chunky hairstyles. 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 their condition!’ The Smiths just didn’t really belong.
“There was a ‘Best of the 80s’ compilation recently with all the typical 80s stars, like Culture Club, Nik Kershaw and Duran Duran. But the Smiths weren’t on it. I took that as a big compliment.
The Smiths seemed out of place next to 80s acts like Spandau Ballet
“All of our music came out 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 would still do well. Our sound was unique.
This distinctive style was there from the start, leaving Joyce blown away by his first rehearsal with the band. This first session spawned the classic debut single Hand In Glove.
“I was blown away when I heard it. I thought, ‘What is that?’ That wasn’t rock, that wasn’t punk,” Joyce recalled “My brother asked me, ‘What does your single sound like?’ and I thought, “Well, how do you describe it?” It’s good pop music, but that’s about all you can say.
Although Joyce’s tight, rhythmic drumming is an integral part of the Smiths’ sound, he admits he was left blown away by the talent of his bandmates.
“I had the best view in the house through The Smiths, because I could see both the rest of the band and the audience. Seeing the expressions on the faces of the fans, they were always amazed at what they were living.
“I was desperate for a little while when we left after a concert in Boston. I ran to the bathroom and heard 15,000 people chanting ‘Smiths! Smiths! Smiths!”, begging us to come back. I was tapping my foot as I sang, when I suddenly realized, “Wait a minute, I’m in that band!”
After making seminal albums Meat Is Murder, The Smiths and The Queen Is Dead, the band broke up almost as soon as Strangeways, Here We Come came out in 1987.
Joyce believes guitarist Johnny Marr wanted to experiment with music outside of the Smiths and understands the guitarist’s reasons. He reflected: “I think Johnny felt he had done the right thing in The Smiths. He has itchy feet and maybe for him it has run its course.
On reflection, Joyce thinks it was the right decision, noting, “I thought we would still have 10 great albums left in us.
“But maybe we would have lost our spark and, by our eighth album, people would be like, ‘They lost it. It’s much better to be at the top. Who knows, maybe we would have continued to make great albums, but the legacy we left is very strong.
“Some people think we could have continued if we had taken six months after Strangeways, Here We Come, but I don’t think that’s the case.
“The five years we have spent together have been brilliant. It was relentless, but I’m certainly not complaining. I would have preferred to be in the studio playing drums on How Soon Is Now than to 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 lovely guy. Every time he plays bass he sounds fantastic,” he says.
But the drummer hasn’t seen Morrissey or Johnny since they clashed in court. In 1996, Joyce won the singer and guitarist £1million in a royalty dispute. It helped ensure the Smiths never reformed – an idea Joyce considers a mistake, despite past glories.
Joyce appearing in court in 1996, where he won £1million from his former bandmates
He explains: “I think it’s best to leave The Smiths in the past. It would sound pretty damn good if we got on stage, because we’re all better players and technology has improved.
“But you can’t recreate the four personalities of these people from 1982 to 1987. I haven’t spoken to Morrissey in 30 years, and you can’t go on stage with someone you haven’t spoken to. for 30 years.
Despite their sometimes bitter estrangement, Joyce bears no animosity toward her former bandmates.
“I don’t know them anymore. I’m not saying this in an aggressive or disparaging way, it’s just that. For the people we were in the five years of the Smiths, I have a huge fondness for them.
Some fans believe the Smiths’ legacy has been tarnished due to Morrissey’s recent political leanings.
The singer has made a series of statements which appear to support far-right politics, including the controversial Britain First party. But Joyce insists that Morrissey is entitled to his opinions, commenting: “Morrissey and I differ politically, but that’s it. If someone doesn’t like their views and can’t listen to The Smiths’ music anymore because of them, that’s fine.
“Each in his own way. But Morrissey has also said a lot of volatile things in the past, and he will continue to do so. He’s his own person. He opens Pandora’s box a lot when he speaks, and I like that in front of -the person.
Joyce’s former teammate Morrissey has sparked controversy with his political views
“It’s more interesting than a singer who just says, ‘I wrote these words, I hope you like them.
“It opens a lot of discussions. These are not my political opinions, but Morrissey has always divided opinions.
“He’s also an incredible singer. Someone sent me a clip from their current tour, and it still sounds fantastic.
Since The Smiths, Joyce has performed with musicians such as Sinead O’Connor, Buzzcocks and Julian Cope. He is in the process of forming a new band, Love Tempo, with his guitarist friend Rick Hornby.
He raffles off his silver disc to raise funds for Back On Track. The charity, of which the drummer is a patron, helps people struggling to get their lives back, whether it’s battling addiction, homelessness or mental health issues.
Joyce adds: “The record means a lot, but I can raise much needed funds by dropping it. Plus, I have my memories of the Smiths – and they’re priceless.
- For more information on Back On Track and the chance to win Mike Joyce’s silver disc, visit backontrackmanchester.org.uk Raffle tickets cost £5 each, with entries closing on October 12.