Morrissey as a punk seems farcical to comprehend considering how he and Johnny Marr forged a well-crafted, beautiful sound with poetic lyrics that exists on a different end of the spectrum to punk. However, it could have all been very different for Moz if his first band The Nosebleeds took off.
The Nosebleeds originally went under the name of ‘Wild Ram’ before Morrissey was even in the group which, in truth, isn’t the catchiest of names. The original frontman for the band was Eddie Garrity, a musician who was in the crowd for the Sex Pistols’ famous gig at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976. When the crowd at the gig became violent and Garrity and a friend were injured, someone said: “You’re a right bloody mob aren’t you? Headbanger here and him with a nosebleed,” words which inspired Wild Ram’s transformation into Ed Banger and the Nosebleeds.
However, Ed Banger and The Nosebleeds were quite the volatile group who quickly began to argue about money, a factor which led to Garrity and guitarist Vincent Reilly walking away from the band. Now, with the future looking bleak, they needed to find a new vocalist. This is where local music writer and future frontman of The Smiths, Steven Morrissey, comes into the story as he then joined the group along with Billy Duffy, later of The Cult, who replaced Reilly.
However, despite renewed optimism, this new line-up of The Nosebleeds was even shorter-lived. Only managing to play a small number of gigs, it was a fortunate coincidence that one of them was reviewed by the NME when they supported legendary spoken word artist John Cooper Clarke.
“The Nosebleeds re-surface boasting a Front Man With Charisma, always an advantage”, wrote reviewer Paul Morley. “Lead singer is now minor local legend Steve Morrison [sic], who, in his own way, is at least aware that rock ‘n’ roll is about magic, and inspiration,” the article added.
The fact that the writer managed to get his name wrong will surely have infuriated Morrissey greatly but, overall, it’s a glowing review that shows that the future Smiths leader always had that special something—which helped him become one of the leading voices of his generation, albeit his recent political stance has gone some way to dispelling that legacy.
Despite a review from the NME which clearly states he was in the band, Morrissey later denied he had any involvement with The Nosebleeds. “A Wythenshawe band called the Nosebleeds have broken up,” he wrote in his autobiography before adding, “Billy enlists their rhythm section for a wrangled spot at Manchester University where a cast of thousands will play, and we are ready with our five songs – but no name. Astonishingly, the night is reviewed in print by Paul Morley for the New Musical Express. The band is listed as the Nosebleeds, and I am lumbered with this miscued name.”
However, the gig that was covered by the NME took place at the Manchester Ritz rather than at the University which suggests that this was not a one-off ‘wrangled spot’ as Morrissey suggested in his book. His punk background seems to be a source of shame and one he has continued to deny over the years rather than admit and talk freely about. Unfortunately, there is no footage from the Morrissey era of The Nosebleeds but below is one of their tracks pre-Morrissey and it is downright impossible to imagine him singing it.