(Pictured above, L-R: Jude Stewart, Anna Doble)
The tang of hairspray in the air, crushed daffodils underfoot, and the offer of a covert French kiss from a boy who looked like Ronnie Kray’s runner. It could only be a celebration of one band, or rather one man: Morrissey. So this is how it came to be that I was standing, freshly bequiffed, in pretend NHS specs, back pockets sprouting petals, in the middle of the bar at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts. And if the people stare, then the people stare.
Only Morrissey, patron saint of perma-youth and chief antagoniser of the British press, could pull in a crowd spliced and diced like this one: from thoughtful men in striped tops mouthing every word to Girlfriend in a Coma, to ladies in “Mrs Morrissey” T-shirts (will you tell them or shall I?), rockabilly dads with Queen is Dead tattoos and a clutch of sweet and tender hooligans born long after The Smiths’ split in 1987.
It just wasn’t like the old days anymore. Except it absolutely was. Smithsfest, a two-day jamboree at the ICA made up of films, talks, cabaret performances, DJ sets and a murder-free zone at the strictly vegetarian cafe, was everybody’s excuse to spend Easter weekend in the Church of Morrissey: a pop conclave in which deciding whether Morrissey was saint or sinner was the order of the day. White smoke overhead… in the shape of a massive quiff.
Morrissey fandom is a time capsule like no other, whether it takes you back to an early eighties moshpit dripping with topless youths and floppy gladioli or, in my case, to the monotony of a teenage bedroom; spending warm summer days indoors revising for A-levels. These songs rattled round my twin cassette player until the lyrics, unlike the treaties of medieval Europe, were indelibly stamped on my brain. He liked to help me get through my exams. Then came the disloyal years, for me during the trip-hop haze of university in the late ‘90s. But, as Simon Mason said in his CultureKicks post, we all come back.
Morrissey is 53 but shows no sign of settling into the armchair labelled “national treasure”, try as we might to plump up the cushions, offer a nice cup of greased tea and mutter “now, now, try not to sound racist Steven”. He still issues diatribes about the royals, fast food chains and Margaret Thatcher like an angry young man. Albeit an angry young man trapped in a pre-internet age.
As curator of Smithsfest, Amy Lamé, puts it, he may now have the appearance of “a bruiser” and “everybody’s chunky Irish uncle” but his years of refusal shine strong: refusal to be gay or straight or anything, refusal to reform The Smiths, refusal to mellow, refusal to become a safe icon of the Outstanding Contribution to Music variety.
And so his fans suspend reality too. An opportunity to get your hair quiffed up and loll about in front of a mocked up Salford Lads’ Club (the Sistine Chapel of indie) is one not to be missed. The majority of quiffees are probably 42, some bring their teenage kids. And one wonders if, in this Top of the Pops-less age of austerity, the act of being a music fan has become a purely middle-aged pursuit. Bieber versus eBayer of rare vinyl?
Mark Simpson, author of Saint Morrissey, believes the singer’s self-appointed outsider status hinges on this doorway he offers back to eternal youth. Morrissey has chosen to stay juvenile, says Simpson, through the outbursts, the rows with the NME, the nomadic life of tour buses and five-star hotels, while his fans have grown up, changed nappies and got on the bus to work. Yet the world of Morrissey puts a chink of light between the scaffolding of “normal” life; a reminder of our own bigmouthed days of hairwax and alcoholic afternoons. He also represents a truly independent life, unhampered by responsibility and relationships. Oh, it could have been me.
So there I was with a gravity-mocking quiff, delivered unto the skies via the fine topiary of Open Barbers. One part Teddy girl, one part Morrissey; all parts concerned I might now be An Attention Seeker. Then something strange occurred, perhaps brought on by The Quiff’s subtle movement as I walked. Was this great shard of barnet just a tiny wee bit phallic? Had I found the sacred source of jus de Morrissey? Unworried by the cheap plastic specs, my new look propelled me into the streets – I stood boldly bequiffed at ATMs, I flamboyantly hailed cabs, I star-jumped on stage at Duckie, the alternative club night in Vauxhall. And the people stared! I was happy in the haze…