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Reader Meets Author – An Interview With Matt Jacobson

MATTHEW JACOBSON is a local man from Aigburth, his day job is as a Business Connector but he has also written a book about his real life entitled ‘Pieces of Morrissey’ which chronicles his love for the man and his former band The Smiths.

It was following appearances on television and radio discussing Morrissey that many other fans from all over the world contacted Matt with their recollections, wanting to share their collective memories and tales of treasured memorabilia and the huge positive effect Morrissey and The Smiths had on their lives.

This was all Matt needed to get him going as he had is own story to tell of his most treasured possession, an actual Morrissey shirt that he had plucked from the air with Olympian effort as it flew towards him from the stage at a gig In 2009.

These tales of fandom became the subject of his fascinating book.

We arrange to meet for the interview at the wonderful Peter Kavanagh’s pub on Egerton Street, over an hour and a pint we share memories of being fans of The Smiths/Morrissey, being fans of music and the powerful effect it has on one’s life, we touch briefly upon a number of other subjects related, the politics of the 1980’s, media hypocrisy, dispelling fan stereotypes and remembering The Smiths as the band of their generation.

‘Simon Cowell is the Margaret Thatcher of the music world’

Hi Matt, so from reading the book, it’s clear that your love of the music has had a huge impact on your life through the years, when did you first become aware of The Smiths/Morrissey?

Yes, I discovered The Smiths when it was just coming to an end, which is just my luck (laughter) it was a funny old time as I was looking for something I could really get my teeth into and adore. I was really into music, and especially the music that my Mum and Dad had in their collection ; Elvis Presley, Billy Fury and The Everly Brothers. And going through the 80’s – it was just nonsense, I just couldn’t cling on to it, there just wasn’t enough there. And my friends were finding their own taste’s and becoming obsessed by The Beatles, Rolling Stones, U2, Iron Maiden, Metallica and Rush, lots of bands like that, and it just wasn’t for me, and then I heard The Smiths.

But that then introduced you to the solo years.

Yes, very much so and the obsession grows and still does to be honest. You don’t need anything else when you’ve got it, I love buying music, but nothing comes close to Morrissey.

I was lucky enough to be at the right age when The Smiths first came along, I was 15 and they became my Beatles, people look back on the 1980’s and I’d say, particularly for this city it was a strange time, Thatcher’s government seemed intent to basically strangle the life out of the city and for young people like myself who were becoming politically aware The Smiths were our soundtrack, Morrissey’s lyrics were very political and alongside the statements he was making in interviews he became something of a spokesperson for our generation, but he was also able to inject it all with humour which made it all the more appealing.

I think you’re right there was lots of talk of Smiths/Morrissey fans and the stereotype; of fans being student wallflowers who wouldn’t say boo to a goose, but I found them to be the opposite, if you went to the early solo concerts, it was pure rock and roll, seats up ripped, stage invasions, and I’ve been part of all that. I’ve thrown the seat and invaded that stage. And yes, for me, it was a huge political statement being a Smiths fan. It was a defining moment – here’s our reaction to what was going on, sod the lot of yez, this is us! As a Smiths fan from the working class North and especially coming from cities like Liverpool, or Manchester, there was a real determination to not let them bring everything we stood for down around us, It was a gang mentality. Morrissey spoke for us.

You mentioned before we began the interview a number of bands from the 80’s who I think wouldn’t get a look in now because I feel , the exposure to a variety of music and scenes has gone – there doesn’t seem to be room for bands these days. Simon Cowell is the Margaret Thatcher of the music world in my eyes because he has single-handedly whitewashed and muted the music world – which is exactly what she tried to do with the North of England.  It’s horrendous – it’s the same 10 artists on the radio during the week that appear at the weekend on those horrendous reality shows. There’s no real room for anyone else on television or radio to be given exposure or attention. It’s drips and drabs, mainly drab.

I remember going on marches and we would wear our Smiths T-shirts as they were the band that represented how we felt and best expressed our anger and determination to fight a reactionary government that we felt wanted to destroy our city and culture, but even as earnest young people feeling that we could change the world we had lots of laughs also and partied, that’s another way we identified with The Smiths because of the great humour in the lyrics and Johnny’s tunes which were very uplifting.

Yes, the music was very celebratory and along with Morrissey’s lyrics which are witty, sardonic wit, very much gallows humour, it could turn a person, a house, upside down couldn’t it! (laughter)

Yes and the anger.

Yes, but again it’s a celebratory anger, not violent, it was passionate from the heart.

Yes, It was never negative.

No, No, I found Morrissey is the perfect pop star – the voice, the lyrics, the songs, the imagery, the interviews, the views, created a perfect package – a lot of the other groups didn’t have any of those attributes.

That’s what made them so appealing and when you saw them on Top of the Pops it was the look also.

Yes, I think they made looking uncool, cool, if that makes any sense? They were the opposite of everything going on, it was a pure statement. To me it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen, as a unit not just Morrissey, but all of them.

When I first saw them on TV it must have been like what kids felt seeing Bowie in the 70’s. Although shall we say with The Smiths the look was a bit subtler… (laughter)

Yes, I don’t know whether it was much more cleverer also, Bowie for me is someone I’ve tried to get into but I just can’t get there, for me with Morrissey and The Smiths it almost seemed to be a step above the pop world. I don’t think it was just about the music and lyrics there’s something else about it, something that can, and has, changed society and the way people interpret the world. If you look now at bands who quote The Smiths and Morrissey you can see the evidence of this.

Yes and by being so outspoken and strident he certainly got a lot of flak.

I noticed also through the 90’s when you had all this brit pop malarkey, Morrissey was receiving a lot of criticism about not being relevant, but he rose above it, he has already become a legend a true original, a rock icon and in 50 years’ time, I’m sure they will have his work on the school syllabus.

Looking back after he released his 2nd Solo LP ‘Kill Uncle’ he appeared to be galvanised into action, he gathered together a band from the scene around Camden and started to tour again, eventually going to America where he’d become the biggest cult star they’d ever witnessed and was greeted with scenes that recalled Beatlemania, and yet unless you were a fan, you would never have known it at the time.

As you mentioned earlier about the 1980’s ,the political messages and what he stands for – I think there is a snobbery against those type of messages, and certainly therefore against him, they won’t celebrate his success. If he tours here in the UK you won’t see it in the papers, you won’t hear it on the radio, you won’t see him at the airport, he’s off the radar, his fans know because word of mouth get around and that causes a frenzy and he has a sell-out tour with no promotion.

The ‘how dare you’ attitude, I think because he has been so outspoken, was it inevitable that they were going to ‘get him back’ so to speak in the press?

Yes, and I think the press take his comments out of context. I also noticed with ‘autobiography’ and ‘List of the Lost’ that some of those reviews appeared to have been written before the books landed on their desks. It was just set up to bring him down by certain papers. There was an article recently in the Guardian “Do we need a Morrissey biopic” and this again is just to bring the guy down because he doesn’t follow suit, but for me they can try and slap him on the knuckles or about the face but it’s never going to work, they’ll never bring him down, they have done their best to ruin him in the past but it’s never worked. And the fans whether they be from the Smiths days or new Morrissey fans know what he’s about and what he’s not, although we don’t know him per se, as much as we’d like too, we all have an idea of the psyche of him and what he believes in and continues to believe in, his last album ‘World Peace Is None of Your Business’ contains some great political messages.

It’s such a great album isn’t it?

Yes I think it’s fantastic, It’s right up there with his best and the more I listen to it the better it gets – it contains messages within that some people in the media don’t like. They prefer artists that please them; agree to the interview, agree to this, agree to that, but he won’t do that. He’s also started answering interviewers via email because I think he’s sick to death of the same old questions, plus it must be a nightmare when he sees the finished article and it, and he, has been torn to shreds. You know he’s been here for a long time and he has every right to distance himself from it all – I also like the fact that he’s not everywhere all the time and across the media.

As such a massive fan do you have a favourite period from the solo years or is it just one whole for you?

It’s difficult to pick one-because it’s been a journey of many wonderful periods of special times; such as the very first time I saw him, 1991, I had front row tickets at the Empire Liverpool, I remember the stage , and the green lights and then a silhouette suddenly appeared, I saw the quiff, the tambourine in the air, then the lights went up and I turned to my friend Peter and said “Is that really HIM”, I just couldn’t grasp that it was really him, then he was leaning out shaking hands, suddenly chairs began flying into the orchestra pit, Pete and I joined in throwing our chairs into the pit and I remember Morrissey just stopped, looked right at us all, smiled with his eyebrows raised, I don’t think really believing what he was witnessing – I couldn’t ! . That was such a wonderful era as I seeing it all for the first time, but overall it all rolls in to one special journey.

I remember that really great rawness about the band at the time and how they threw themselves into the chaos.

I agree. All the shows on the tour where like that, Morrissey would often be upside down whilst singing. Kevin Cummings the photographer caught the photo, Morrissey was on the floor with his head on the stage, and his legs draped over the monitor, whilst all this chaos was going on around him, fans screaming and scrambling to touch him and he has his eyes shut as if he was asleep, there was something really romantic and poetic as all this crescendo erupted around him, he looked god like in a portrait. But there are so many special moments, gigs in the likes of Denmark and America stand out but it does all roll into one beautiful journey, I even jumped on the stage at Blackpool Empress Ballroom and hugged him to near death, (laughter) that was special, but I could sit here all night and quote memories from 60+ gigs but again I’d have to say it all rolls into one every time he comes on the stage. I’d pay £50 to be in the same city as him… (laughter)

One particular gig that sticks out for me was at the Royal Court here in Liverpool in 1991, he was without a contract and probably had no management and was more or less written off by the music press, but for me it just added to the atmosphere and made the gig even more special, there he was in paint splattered jeans and West Ham boys club t-shirt not feeling sorry for himself but out there making himself heard and connecting with the fans, despite what must have been a difficult period, The band also sounded great and he encored with ‘Shoplifters Of The world Unite’ which took the roof of the place.

I remember that gig, well he wasn’t part of that 90’s Britpop scene that was erupting , he was being shunned because he wasn’t part of the scene. I think at that time he survived, well not so much survived , he carried on doing what he does away from the whole record industry, but when you look back and when he looks back over his career, He’s won, whatever the competition it is, he’s won.

I found the 1990’s a fascinating period for him, he was in such a strong position after Vauxhall and I and the response had been overwhelmingly positive, then around the same time that whole ‘Britpop’ scene burst through and he could have easily rode that wave but instead he went away and produced ‘Southpaw Grammar’ and it did seem such an odd album to release at the time.

I enjoyed Southpaw Grammar when it came out but radio and television was so saturated by Britpop and it certainly didn’t sound like any of that, which was a good thing it really stood out and still does from that whole era, plus he’s never been part of any ‘scene’ so I think that’s probably exactly what he wanted, and the fact that he’s gone back to it and it’s been remastered with extra tracks shows he cares about it.

Then in 1997 he released ‘Maladjusted’ which apparently he doesn’t care for much himself these days, but I thought it was a great record.

Agree, it has great tracks like ‘Alma Matters’ and ‘Trouble Loves Me’ especially.

Yes ‘Trouble Loves Me’ is one of his great ballads, and then following was the so called ‘7 year hiatus’ but again it wasn’t, he was still regularly touring the world through those years.

Yes during that time he couldn’t find a deal that he was happy with, and it has been the same recently, if you’re not prepared to flog your arse for every social media site they don’t want to know, but he didn’t and wouldn’t sign up for anything like that, he’s original, he won’t be moulded or controlled, he’s an artist.

During that period at record company meetings he said they would say to him “such and such a thing is very popular at the moment, do you think you could do something like that” and he’d say “Dear god I hope not” (laughter) and I think his words where, “I’m on the pavement” (laughter).

Yes – get out then!…. (laughter)

At some point in 2002 American late night host Jimmy Kilbourn started a campaign on his show to track down ‘Morrissey’. He eventually appeared on the show for an interview and sang ‘Fist of The Gang to Die’ the reaction from the audience was ecstatic and it seemed to generate record company interest again, which eventually led to him signing to Sanctuary and the release ‘You Are The Quarry’ in 2004.

‘You Are The Quarry’ also brought a whole new set of fans to him, when you go to gigs now it is such a wide range of age groups and that’s the same all over the world.

That’s very much how it was with the Smiths, many ages and styles together.

I think when people get to a Morrissey gig it’s a time when the rest of the world doesn’t get a look in. You’re there in this arena, dressed whatever way you like, surrounded by likeminded people, and nothing else matters. You feel at peace, and for those few hours you can just let yourself go, and that doesn’t come along too often in life. It’s the feeling giving your shoulder to someone and someone giving you theirs and I just love that, and then afterwards recalling it all over a few drinks with friends. I remember a time in Copenhagen when I was at the stage door and Morrissey walks past , smiling to fans cheers and applause – and the tour bus driving off, I nearly started crying because I knew I couldn’t make it to the next gig but I really wanted to, wanting to follow the tour to the end.

I think I understand as post gig there can be something of a come down following the gigs celebrations as you’ve just spent those hours with like-minded people in celebration of the songs that have changed your life in many respects.

Very much so, you go through that moment the next day when you are looking at the ticket stub and telling everyone about the gig, and then after that, it’s back to the day to daily grind. I’ve also spoken to people who say “I haven’t got a Morrissey in my life” and I find that quite sad in terms of – it’s nice to have this obsession, and its one that I’m going to celebrate, I’m not ashamed of it, I’m not weary of how it sounds to people. Other people don’t get it because they haven’t got one or if they have one, it’s not as obsessive, so they criticise it. But I love everything about it.

Yes, I think you’re right, but as a fan, you sort of look down on that attitude…. Sod you (laughter). A few years ago I saw The Libertines at Hyde park and the crowd was incredible, you felt the connection and what the music and band meant to them, they loved them, I remember thinking I understand this, I know this feeling.

I recently saw them in Wirral, at Tranmere’s ground, it was the same there, it was chaos before they even came on stage and I got it, I understood were they were coming from.

I’ve always had friends/colleagues who will go to say, a Sade concert, and I’ll think well, that’s a nice night out for you with a meal and maybe a night in a hotel very pleasant but…

Do you remember the restaurant Berni Inn? I used to refer to that type of music as Berni Inn music, you know the likes of Adele, Coldplay, it just restaurant music to me.

Indeed, just a pleasant noise in the background.

Yes, You’re never going to stop eating and say “what the hell was that’.

I suppose you either get lucky or miss out on the intensity of fandom and that’s what you end up settling for.

I think Morrissey music creates huge intensity of fandom and obsession and this crops up everywhere. A good friend of mine, Mike, recently celebrated his wedding and his best man mentioned his Morrissey obsession – during the best man speech! Fans really get Morrissey , but radio, TV and presenters are really scared of him. If you look at some of the singles that Morrissey has released, there’s no one else in the world who’s recorded songs like that, past or present; they are so above the pop world, he was too clever for that world and the executives or radio producers do not know how to handle that, or him.

Yes, It was a similar story back in the 80’s when radio 1 newsbeat would cover politics, war, famine, etc. and then the DJ would go straight into Karma Chameleon but would deem it inappropriate to play, say  ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’ because they thought that wouldn’t have worked but it certainly would have.

It’s always been that way.

His songs have always sounded great on radio, I remember hearing ‘Istanbul’ on a driver’s radio when I was boarding a National Express coach in London and it sounded incredible and unlike anything else on the air at the time.

Yes, It’s often a shock to hear Morrissey on the radio even though I’ve probably listened to the track a million times, I agree there is an excitement at hearing it on the radio. I often receive a text or tweet saying did you see him on this, or hear him on that, during daytime radio/TV, its amazing that everyone is thinking the same as its not commonplace.

Exactly, I’d say the one time I remember him getting daytime airplay was 2004 during the ‘You are the Quarry’ period, Interestingly, at that time I went with some friends to see the Everly Brothers/Simon and Garfunkel in London, and I can remember once we had parked up and as we headed to a pub I had to take a detour to a record shop to buy “Let me kiss you’ 7 inch and two CD’s  as it had been released that week, It never goes away does it.

I understand, When a single is released you’ve got to be there and buy it, it’s all part of the obsession, I’ve done it all, buying the National Health glasses even though I didn’t need them. I didn’t put this in the book, but it came back to me afterwards. As the years progressed, I thought, Mozzers hair was maybe, slightly receding and the quiff was becoming more prominent – but it was probably just a bigger quiff ! It got to the point that I actually shaved the sides of my head to have a receding hairline. (laughter)

I was at the barbers in Quiggins once and he asked me ‘What the hell has happened to your head’ (laugher) I’d actually shaved my head with a BIC razor, so you can imagine I had cuts everywhere (laughter), and at that point I thought Matt, you’ve got it bad. (laughter)

You definitely had it bad, you must be the first man in history to willingly want a receding hairline….(laughter)

It was a long way from the first time I heard him. I remember being at school and I’d just heard ‘ASK’ , and you know you think about a song the next day- and it’s playing constantly in your head. I can remember standing watching 4 or 5 of my friends who I’m still friends with now, one of them was into the Beatles, one the Stones and we were getting together for a football game that evening, one of the lads had our school team football socks pulled up to his knees over his uniform trousers, a tie wrapped around his head prancing around pretending to be Mick Jagger, another singing Beatles tunes, and the one who was into Iron Maiden giving me all this rocker attitude. I remember just looking on and thinking ‘what the hell are you all going on about’, (laughter) none of this is for me ! this band I’ve discovered is, that was the turning point for me.

I had a similar experience, being the youngest of 4, I had a brother and two sisters’ record collections plus my parents bought music also, I was able to delve into it all, brothers 60’s/70 pop and rock, one sister disco/funk (from which I’m still in recovery from) and the other sister’s soul and punk, new wave stuff, I was absorbing all this and it was great but then I heard ‘This Charming Man’ and I knew straight away  I’d discovered something of my own and this was my time.

Yes, I have a friend who is a big ‘Doors’ fan and I sent him a text recently asking, ‘is it true you can’t listen to a Doors album from start to finish’….(laughter) because I certainly can’t, one or two tracks and I’m done. (laughter)

Indeed people label the Smiths/Morrissey miserable…, but try getting through ‘The End’ by The Doors in one sitting… (laughter)

Yes, I don’t get that miserable tag, It’s a tired stereotype that you hear relentlessly when people want to have a dig at you or him, You just think, you know nothing about the man.

I think a lot of it is solely based on ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’.

yea and ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’, but they just don’t get the humour.

And on that note about humour it seems apt to bring an enjoyable chat to a close.

I had asked Matt to bring a piece of memorabilia with him from his travels around the world following Morrissey and we’d get a photo of him holding the piece to accompany the interview.

I ask Matt if he can stand by the window with the piece whilst I busy myself with the camera, at this point Matt pulls out a bag and tells me as I’m a fellow fan, he’d decided to bring the treasured blue Morrissey shirt for the photo and takes it out and hands it to me, suddenly and unexpectedly, I’m holding a Mozzer shirt, I try to stay cool, but it’s a direct connection to the man whose music has helped shape my life, it is humbling on two fronts as from reading Matt’s book and chatting to him I’ve come to realise what this shirt means to him.

I hand the shirt back to Matt and fumble some words of thanks (what do you say? these things are grail like to us music obsessives)

Matt Jacobson’s book ‘Pieces of Morrissey is available from

www.empire-uk.com/mozarmy.html

Twitter: @MatthewMozzer

READ MORE: Matt Jacobson meets with George Richards – Singer / Guitarist with The Illicits

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