He may be famed for his wonderful lyricism (among other things), but the writing talents of Morrissey had been in his blood for years before ever entering the public consciousness as the lead singer of The Smiths. The singer was a prolific letter writer and extended his thoughts via pen and paper to anyone who would listen. It was part of his neo-romanticism charm and grabbed the attention of the masses.
Taking a trip down memory lane, we thought we’d take a look back at the young Stephen Morrissey and his review of the Sex Pistols in 1976 as they performed at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester—as part of that tour and perhaps more potently that show.
The shows, in that particular venue, would be the spark for a host of Manchester bands into life. The now-iconic show has been credited with helping to form Joy Division among some other notable names. Yet, it would appear, someone who was wholly unimpressed was the incredibly spiky 17-year-old Stephen Morrissey.
At the time, the Sex Pistols were the most salacious band around. Following their run of low-brow publicity stunts, the Rotten-led band were a commodity too hot to touch. They had started to accrue a reputation which would see them struggle to release their music and perform their songs.
It was the kind of behaviour that makes you the most famous band in Britain. However, that behaviour had seemingly no effect on Morrissey who was not quiet about his feelings for the band. He wrote: “The bumptious Pistols in jumble sale attire had those few that attended dancing in the aisles despite their discordant music and barely audible audacious lyrics, and they were called back for two encores.”
Morrissey goes on to question the band’s supposed lack of American influence. The precocious teen says, “The Pistols boast having no inspiration from the New York / Manhattan rock scene, yet their set includes, ‘I’m Not Your Stepping Stone’, a number believed to be done almost to perfection by the Heartbreakers on any sleazy New York night.”
The Smiths’ frontman then took affectionate aim at the most famous punk in the world at the time, “the Pistols’ vocalist-exhibitionist Johnny Rotten’s attitude and self-asserted ‘love us or leave us’ approach can be compared to both Iggy Pop and David Johansen in their heyday.” Two figures the singer would mark out as huge influences on his own career.
Moz does concede to the band’s impressive stature though, despite letting the letter end with a sharpened barb, he says: “The Sex Pistols are very New York and it’s nice to see that the British have produced a band capable of producing atmosphere created by The New York Dolls and their many imitators, even though it may be too late. I’d love to see the Pistols make it. Maybe they will be able to afford some clothes which don’t look as though they’ve been slept in.”
It would be one more step along the pathway to Morrissey becoming one of the most literarily-inclined rock and roll performers of all time. He commands the pen here as well as he would when writing lyrics. Poetic and poignant in every line.