Fans remember when The Smiths played in Lancashire

A new book about indie music legends The Smiths recalls memories of the band’s famous live concerts. Here, in an exclusive excerpt, we look back to some of the Manchester band’s Lancashire dates

Friday, 20th September 2019, 3:02 pm
Updated Friday, 20th September 2019, 4:02 pm
The Smiths singer Morrissey on stage. Photo courtesy of John Baxter

The Smiths – The Day I Was There, compiled by music historian Richard Houghton, is a ‘people’s history’ containing more than 400 fan recollections of the group’s live shows, including memories of the band’s gigs in Lancaster and Blackpool in 1984 and the infamous 1986 show at Preston’s Guild Hall, cut short after a missile was thrown at lead singer Morrissey.

Richard explains: “I’ve tried to tell the Smiths story in the words of fans and the shows they played in Lancashire bookend the beginning and end of their career quite neatly. After forming in 1982, The Smiths played an early gig at the Gum Club in Blackburn in 1983 before going on to the college circuit the following year.”

The Smiths played Lancaster University on March 9,1984. Paddy Shennan was one of those present and recalls: “I remember the massive queue outside the venue and the heat inside the packed hall.

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The Smiths singer Morrissey on stage. Photo courtesy of John Baxter

“Some young women fainted, or at least had to be helped out of the gig, it was just so hot and uncomfortable. My then girlfriend certainly felt uneasy and so we stood towards the back, within easy reach of an exit door just in case she needed to get to the fresh air. The band’s debut album had been released in the February, and, as well as Hand in Glove, The Smiths’ growing army of devoted fans had fallen in love with floor-filling singles This Charming Man and What Difference Does It Make?

“This was a band that was already growing out of the university venue circuit. This was a band that everyone was now talking about. This was the band of the moment.”

Rachel Sowden was also at the Lancaster gig. She remembers: “My friend Helen was passed along the crowd and lifted off the stage after fainting. I was quite jealous as she reckoned she touched (guitarist) Johnny Marr’s hand as she passed him.”

The Smiths were back in Lancashire three months later, playing the Opera House at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens on June 20 1984. Stephanie Hauber was among those present: “I don’t have a ticket stub, just memories which I will never forget. My older sister’s friend rang and asked if I wanted a ticket. She had a spare and knew I liked Morrissey.

Stephen Christian's ticket for seat E23 for The Smiths' Blackpools Winter Gardens gig on June 20, 1984. There were several tickets for this seat as he made several copies of it.

“I had been to one gig before that with the same older crowd. The hardest part was getting past my dad. I was dressed head to foot in my sister’s clothes to look older. With girls my age it was probably more the teen crush, as Morrissey was uber-cool and I thought he looked like a modern James Dean.

“The atmosphere was amazing and I remember I thought the gig had finished and was about to start leaving. When they did an encore I ran screaming down to the front, or as near as I could get. My husband was a ‘proper fan’ who knows all the lyrics and everything about The Smiths. He is so jealous I got to see them.”

Debbie Parkinson was also at the Blackpool gig aged just 16. She recalls: “I only really went because this bloke called David Smith was going on the minibus from Bamber Bridge and I fancied him. I watched a bit of the gig and it was great. Then I went off to the toilets for a wee, where I bumped into Su Pollard of Hi-de-Hi! fame.

“She admired my outfit of a pair of brown paisley pyjamas in brushed cotton, like your grandad would wear, that I’d taken in and made into a skintight pair of leggings. I really can’t remember if I enjoyed the gig. I do remember that it didn’t happen with David Smith. He already had a girlfriend.”

Louisa Kelly (left) and her friend Jane witnessed a mad scramble for discarded tickets at The Smiths abandoned Preston Guild Hall in 1986.

Stephen Christian recalls buying tickets for the Blackpool gig and helping his mates get in for nothing: “When Smiths tickets went on sale, myself and a friend went into town to buy our tickets from the Opera House box office.

“It was probably my idea to take our tickets to the local library and use their photocopying machine to make duplicates. The original tickets were poorly printed and on basic white paper, so our duplicates looked pretty much identical to the originals.

“We ended up with five or six sheets of A4 full of ‘tickets’. We took them home and I had the genius idea of using a pin to perforate them so the stubs were easy to pull apart from the main ticket. We never set out to be counterfeiters and I don’t remember making any money from selling the tickets. But I do remember avoiding sitting in seats E23 and E24 on the night of the concert.

“We had given away most of the tickets, all for the same two seats, to a grateful bunch of mates. The concert was definitely a sell-out. In fact it was filled beyond capacity that night!”

Two years later, The Smiths were to return to Lancashire for a show at Preston’s Guild Hall in October 1986 as part of their Queen is Dead tour, promoting their album of the same name.

The show has gone down in Smiths legend because it was cut short when singer Morrissey was hit by an object thrown from the crowd during the band’s first song.

Marcus Parnell got free entry to the show. He recalls: “I got a call on the day of the gig at about five o’clock off a friend who’s no longer with us, Gary Barton.

“His mother worked in the Guild Hall box office and had sorted us out a couple of passes, in return for which we had to watch the fire escapes to make sure people weren’t opening the doors to let their mates in.

“There were a lot of people milling around outside and trying to sneak in. And lo and behold they were on – and they were off and it was all over before it began. I didn’t see what happened.

“People said it was a two pence coin that had been cut down. I am not 100 per cent whether he got hit by anything. There was a lot of confusion about whether he was going to come back on again.

“Twenty minutes later we got the announcement that they wouldn’t be coming back on and that was it. Everybody was up in arms. There was lots of booing and fire extinguishers were let off. But the lights were all up and that was it. Gone. Finished. Done. People went around picking up off the floor to get the money back.”

Mark Bickerdike was there at the Guild Hall and recalls: “Absolute madness ensued for at least a minute or so when the intro music stopped and the next thing we knew the band had walked off stage, never to return.”

Caroline Allen saw several Smiths shows and remembers being disappointed at the Guild Hall show finishing early. She says: “I didn’t really see them properly this time because it’s when Morrissey went off after the first song. This was a big deal for us because we were only 16.

“We didn’t travel very far and we’d gone to Preston, which seemed like miles away to us at the time. But we thought, ‘We want to see them again’, and we’d heard that this other gig had been cancelled so we didn’t even know if it was going to go ahead. We got front row position again, and it would have been just brilliant because, if he hadn’t have gone off , it would have been the perfect gig.

“We had a brilliant spot and we weren’t too crushed and we had just a brilliant view. I don’t know to this day what it was that hit him. But he wasn’t coming back on. People say it was a coin. I don’t know. When he went off we thought, ‘There’s no way he’s going to go away for good. He’ll come back on.’ And he just didn’t, and we were absolutely gutted.

“It kicked off a little bit when Morrissey wouldn’t come back on. The crowd were really shouting and were getting quite angry. The atmosphere definitely took a turn for the worse.”

Richard Houghton says: “The show at Preston Guild Hall was one of The Smiths’ last ever live appearances. “The show scheduled for the following night, in Llandudno, was cancelled and Morrissey appeared on stage in Manchester two nights later sporting butterfly stitches in his cut forehead. They played one show after that and split the following year.

“The Smiths are greatly mourned by their legions of fans, but hopefully this book, with its memories of shows up and down the country, helps to capture the passion and the excitement of their shows.”

* The Smiths – The Day I Was There – is published by This Day In Music Books and available to order now.