By Adrain Peel
The queue down Argyll Street for Morrissey’s sold out gig at the London Palladium on Sunday, October 9, was the longest I’d ever seen for that particular venue – and the longest I’d seen since the line to see Her Majesty the Queen lying in state last month.
Such is the admiration that the often unpredictable former singer of The Smiths attracts, the sheer numbers of people – many in Morrissey T-shirts, of course, and some with quiffs – resulted in the show starting later than billed.
The proceedings began with a video played on the large screen behind (which also displayed images throughout) showing some of Morrissey’s favourite musical acts from the 1950s inwards, including Eddie Cochran, the Sex Pistols, and The New York Dolls – as well as a quote, which I’d not seen or heard before, from actor and Carry On star Kenneth Williams on TV where he called Morrissey a “revelation”.
Excitement reached fever pitch as the singer came out on stage, accompanied by his five-piece band, wearing a black shirt, black leather jacket, striped tie, brown-y grey trousers and two-tone shoes that matched the tie.
His magnetic presence was clear right from the off as he and the band tore into the familiar Smiths classic How Soon Is Now?, the singer’s ability to pack an emotional punch through his impressive vocal talents immediately evident.
It was also immediately evident that tonight was going to be LOUD. The volume often seems to be turned down more than it used to be at gigs these days – but not tonight. Still, it added to the occasion and also meant that it was impossible to have groups of people chatting the whole way through (one of the down sides of going to concerts in the modern age).
Second song of the evening, We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful, was another belter – again highlighting Morrissey’s undeniable talents as a unique and highly expressive vocalist, lyricist and storyteller.
The tie came off and was thrown into the crowd at the start of First of the Gang to Die, one of my top five Morrissey/Smiths tunes, revealing an open shirt with rosary beads and a Crucifix, which he kissed on occasion, around the singer’s neck.
Apart from a few “thank yous” and “well I nevers”, talking had been kept to a minimum up until the point where the star addressed the audience, saying: “I’m delighted to be standing here on my own two legs… very nice.”
At times, he also came to the front of the stage, reaching down and shaking the outstretched hands of some of the admirers and well-wishers – though it was impossible to shake everybody’s. “I’m very selective,” he joked.
Ahead of the truly lovely, Smiths-esque new song, Rebel Without Applause, the sixty-something announced: “I know it’s hard to believe but we do have a new long-player out”, referring to Bonfire of Teenagers, his 14th studio album – although I don’t believe it has a release date as yet.
Morrissey also referenced his “very nice” dressing room, adding: “I like to think Larry Grayson was there.” Cue cries of Grayson’s catchphrase, “Shut that door!” emanating from the audience. The Smiths returned to the set for the first time since the opening number, in the form of Frankly, Mr Shankly and Half a Person.
Speaking “conversationally”, Morrissey spoke of Manchester’s most famous criminals, Myra Hindley and Ian Brady, and expressed surprise that while we’re very familiar with their faces, we’re not familiar with that of Manchester Arena bomber Salman Abedi. Questioning why that is, his comments received a few shouts of support and some applause.
The song that followed, the title track of the new album, was certainly emotionally-charged, with the lyrics “And the silly people sing ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger; And the morons sing and sway: ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ I can assure you I will look back in anger till the day I die”.
A piano rendition of Auld Lang Syne then segued into what is perhaps my very favourite Morrissey song, the nostalgic and reflective Every Day Is Like Sunday (rather apt too, as it was a Sunday), and it didn’t disappoint. What a tune it is.
The final song of the main set, Jack the Ripper, boasted a stunning light show and the singer was all but obscured by the smoke and red lighting. He and the band, whom he had earlier introduced “from top to toe”, then left the stage without saying a word.
For the encore, Morrissey changed into a T-shirt with popular 70s TV character Jason King on the front (“I made this myself,” he said) and performed the explosive Sweet and Tender Hooligan, another tune by his former band, The Smiths.
Until the encore, the adulation had mainly consisted of people shouting “Morrissey, I love you” (“I know you do,” was one of his replies) and chants of “Morrissey, Morrissey, Morrissey, Morrissey!” (to the tune of Here We Go) but nothing compared to what happened during this final song of the evening.
Fans of all ages and both sexes invaded the stage attempting to hug the receptive star, many of whom were successful, as the security guards battled to stop them and return them into the crowd.
I had never seen anything like it – maybe something similar with Mexican singer Luis Miguel but never with that many people succeeding in getting up on stage (mind you, the stage at the Palladium was somewhat lower). A clear sign that the adoration this complex artist enjoys shows no sign of receding any time soon.
For me, just getting the chance to hear these wonderful songs from the last 35-plus years being performed live – from a natural entertainer who still has so much to offer – was pleasure enough.