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Inside The Smiths

Nicola Mostyn and the new film which reveals the story of the other two in the greatest indie cult band on the planet

Published on July 23rd 2007.


Inside The Smiths

The Smiths always did attract a strange mix of Manc lads and misfits, exhibitionists and wallflowers. So it was in Northern Quarter bar TV21 on the night of the DVD launch of Inside The Smiths, a documentary by Manchester-based Tib Street films which tells the band’s story from the perspective of Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke.

There was a man in a pink skirt, a girl in a breath-takingly tight basque and lots and lots of blokes. Rourke and Joyce were there too, of course, as was Terry Christian, who would give the DVD an intro later on. As is frequently the case, there weren’t as many quiffs as you’d imagine. In fact, I only spotted one, belonging to a small, smart-suited Morrissey look-alike, a sort of Moz ventriloquist dummy.

The bar’s screens were filled with the real thing, though. Moz cavorting around to ‘Shoplifters of the World’ with his peculiar, lanky grace; Moz cycling around Salford Lads Club with several Moz-a-likes. The slew of Smiths songs was much-needed because, due to contractual shenanigans, this film about The Smiths can’t use any of their music.

Except, that is, a familiar drum beat, surely the intro to ‘The Queen is Dead’ which was employed, along with a visual of some sort of heat-seeking guitar, to link scenes which explore what it was like to be in The Smiths from the perspective of the rhythm section.

Beginning with a nice Smithsy intro which sees one of the filmmakers strolling around a graveyard (ooooh ‘Cemetery Gates’ would have been nice here…) we hear Doves ‘Pounding’. Hmm. Well, it’s not quite the same but…well, I suppose it forms a good link to how The Smiths have had a huge influence on the bands which followed, a fact which is emphasised in this film via mercifully brief soundbites from young musicians.

Particularly merciful in the case of Ordinary Boys’ Preston who barrels cockily up to the camera, displays his pig-ignorance, and gets a well deserved boo from the TV21 crowd. The other talking heads (including Nick Hodgson from Kaiser Chiefs and Matt Davies from Funeral for a Friend) were less annoying if largely un-illuminating. But there’s always the less-fresh looking Manc stalwarts Mark E Smith, Pete Shelley and Hooky to add their two-penneth.

But mostly this was Rourke and Joyce’s story. As a Morrissey fan and then a Smiths fan, I’ve always thought it was a freak occurrence that Morrissey ended up in a band with Marr, Joyce and Rourke. Having watched this DVD, it seems even more of a miracle. The difference between Morrissey and Rourke and Joyce is…planetary. They were blokes who played music. Morrissey was something else entirely and, from this film, it seems even Rourke and Joyce didn’t know quite what. They make no bones about their difference to and reverence for Morrissey in this film. Indeed, they seemed to know him only as well that his fans.

But, the film suggests, this unlikely combination of four musicians was pure magic. Though the later infamous court case might have suggested that the ‘other two’ were no more than session musicians, this film gently suggests otherwise, highlighting the instant connection the four had when they first played together - as Joyce recalled: “All of us were so cocksure that what we had was fucking special” - and recalling the foursome’s amazingly swift rise to fame.

Even when Rourke was kicked out for his heroin use (my favourite bit of the film is when Hooky tells Rourke he saw him get busted on Granada Reports – oh the glamour!) he was eventually invited to rejoin, suggesting he wasn’t so replaceable after all.

But then, isn’t that the point of a film like this, to offer a certain perspective? This documentary doesn’t pretend to be the definitive story of The Smiths, it’s Rourke’s and Joyce’s story. And unlike many films which explore a band’s history and pick it apart, this film only adds to The Smiths mystique, simply because even Joyce and Rourke seem star struck by The Smiths.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the documentary concerns the pair’s experiences when Marr quit the band and Morrissey began to lean on Joyce, who realised for the first time what a strange, demanding creature Morrissey was and what Marr had had to cope with. Though I would have expected Morrissey to dominate this film by his absence, it is Marr I was left thinking about, pondering how he was the bridge between these two ordinary boys and the genius of Moz and thinking, as Joyce says, ‘Thank God Johnny knocked on Morrissey’s door and asked him to play’.

There isn’t much that’s new here for the obsessive Smiths fan but this is an enjoyable, if slight film, which reaffirms how rare, how almost-impossible The Smiths was. The day after the screening I saw Rourke and Joyce on the local news. In response to the inevitable “will you ever reform?” question, Joyce replied, hilariously nonchalantly, something like, ‘Yeah, if they called I’m sure we’d get together and talk about it.”

Having watched the film, you know they’d snap Moz and Marr’s hand off. These were some amazing days. Unfortunately, the chances of The Smiths re-uniting is as improbable as them ever getting together in the first place.

Inside The Smiths, www.tibstreetfilms.com Available from Amazon. £12.99

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James Chapman-KellyJuly 23rd 2007.

Should be a great piece. These guys were two sung heroes as opposed to 'unsung' heroes. Just a little note of thanks to them from me as I was living down south at the time and to see these northern boys taking the world by storm was a classic case of one-upmanship for me in my mission to educate those southern jessies. So thankyou Mr Rourke and Mr Joyce.

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