Back in 1992, 27 years ago, British indie band Cornershop felt compelled to protest The Smiths frontman Morrissey amid a racism debate.
The band, famed for their hit single ‘Brimful of Asha’, were formed in 1991 by lead singer Tjinder Singh, his brother Avtar, drummer David Chambers and guitar player Ben Ayres.
Since their formation as a band, right up to their eventual reunion in 2011, Cornershop have repeatedly challenged stereotypes affiliated to British Asians and the band name itself was born out of a lazy occupational stereotype of its own.
Cornershop, for a long time, reigned against the music press for the way in which their music was represented and were publicly vocal about standing up for what they believed in as a band. So, with that mind, a major media storm began to surround one of their idols of the time, Morrissey, as claims of racism began to dominate the press.
Morrissey had recently performed a headline set in Finsbury Park, London, for Madness’s Madstock festival. During his set, the singer had draped himself in the Union Jack flag while performing in what was described as an “aggressive move” by The Guardian who added that “it was done in the knowledge that the Madness crowd contained a significant fascist/skinhead element.”
What followed was a damning article written by Dele Fadele, the NME’s only black writer of the time, who detailed a significantly critical feature article which resulted in a lawsuit and Morrissey refusing to speak to the magazine for 12 years.
In the midst of the storm, Cornershop were furious by the lack of criticism towards Morrissey and decided to act upon it. “We were compelled to burn posters of Morrissey at our gigs and also outside his EMI record label to stage against Morrissey’s flamboyant racist overtones,” the band explained.
“He himself was a fully formed 33 years of age, so we were surprised and disappointed at his quick succession of far right volleys – such as using Richard Allen skinhead imagery to being draped in a Union Jack, at a time when far right sentiment was on the rise and Blacks and Asians were being attacked and murdered.
“He was such an influential artist that we needed to try and stamp it out, and it was further compounded because he never responded to discussion about far-right wingism as he does today,” they concluded.
Cornershop’s decision to burn Morrissey’s poster was met by praise and criticism from both sides. When asked if the decision to burn the poster was a publicity stunt, Tjinder Singh answered bluntly: “No, not at all,” as part of Rehan Hyder’s book ‘Brimful of Asia: Negotiating Ethnicity on the UK Music Scene’. “It was a move because the papers were fucking around, pussyfooting around the issue and using it to sell papers and putting his picture on the front page and leaving it at that. I don’t think you can do that.”
In an interview conducted in 1996 and featured in the same book, guitarist Ben Ayres confessed that the decision to burn the poster was a spontaneous decision after the band spent the day in London. “There had been all this ambiguity about Morrissey’s Lyrics and stuff and we had been fans of his – Avtar in particular was a massive fan,” Ayres said.
“We felt really pissed off that he hadn’t said anything to justify where he was coming from; and the fact that he hadn’t said anything almost pointed ot the fact that accusations were perhaps right and so, on that basis, we decided to stand up and say that it was wrong and that he was being so ambiguous.”
On reflection, of course, Cornershop’s anti-Morrissey protest has shed light on his political stance which is again dominating headlines but this time 29 years later.
The former Smiths frontman has been involved in a well-documented furore after he publicly showed his support for far-right political movement ‘For Britain’. The ‘For Britain Movement’ is a political group—often described as extremist—founded by the anti-Islam activist Anne Marie Waters after she was defeated in the 2017 UKIP leadership.
Morrissey had initially voiced his support of For Britain in an interview, saying: “For Britain has received no media support and have even been dismissed with the usual childish ‘racist’ accusation…I don’t think the word ‘racist’ has any meaning any more, other than to say ‘you don’t agree with me, so you’re a racist.’ People can be utterly, utterly stupid.”
What has ensued has been a very public backing of the movement from the former Smiths frontman, which has included some high profile controversial comments and, twice in recent weeks, Morrissey has been spotted wearing a For Britain badge, most prominently during a performance on Jimmy Fallon’s major American TV show.
For Britain has been largely labeled as dangerous members of the political spectrum, Morrissey’s decision to support them has been heavily criticised by Journalist and ex-friend of Morrissey Dave Haslam: “My former friend sporting a For Britain badge, a party violently anti-Islam, filled with ex-BNP and ex-EDL, pro-privatisation, far right and prone to exploiting tragedies to disseminate divisive anti-immigrant rhetoric online, what happened to ‘It takes guts to be gentle and kind’?” Haslam reacted.
The news comes as little surprise given that Morrissey, in the recent past, has defended the likes of Tommy Robinson, suggested that Hitler was left-wing and hit out at London mayor Sadiq Kahn in a slur about his speech.
Most recently, Morrissey has been thanked by For Britain leader Anne Marie Waters, thanking him and the Daily Mail for their support: “Thank you so much for your support since the UKIP leadership election,” Waters said in a new YouTube video. “Thank you for giving us so much publicity.”
Perhaps more concerning, Waters went on to suggest that the popularity of the political movement has grown substantially since Morrissey’s show of support: “I can tell you that the traffic to our website exploded with the story breaking of you wearing the For Britain button badge, which you have been wearing everywhere from what I can see. We have sold out of those, but the good news is we have more, and they have been selling like hot cakes, so thank you very much for doing that,” she added.
Signing off her YouTube video, Waters thanked both Morrissey and the Daily Mail for spreading the word about For Britain: “Thank you, Morrissey. I hope to meet you one day,” said Waters. “Thank you, Daily Mail. Keep up the hysterical smearing. It’s having the opposite effect. You are driving people to us.”