Remembering The Smiths’ hair-raising performance of ‘How Soon Is Now’ in 1986
With live music venues forced to keep their doors closes, we are taking a trip down into the Far Out archives to reminisce on the brilliance of The Smiths’ hair-raising performance of ‘How Soon Is Now’ live from London’s National Ballroom in 1986.
‘How Soon Is Now’ is the definition of a sleeper hit. A song that somehow, against all odds, became one of The Smiths’ most treasured tracks despite it initially being dismissed as B-side. With uncertainty around the song upon its initial formation, the band’s record label attempted to bury the track which was, at the time, stylistically worlds apart from the trademark Smiths sound.
The song quickly became a major fan favourite among Smiths fans during their lives and, subsequently, the label was forced into including the anthem on 1984 compilation album Hatful of Hollow. The new attention meant the song was no longer a ‘secret’ among their loyal fanbase and soon enough became a bigger success than most of their A-sides.
It was recorded as part of a four-day studio session at Earl’s Court in London in June 1984 and came as a result of a lengthy period of overindulgence: “We used to smoke dope from when we got out of bed to when we got back to bed,” producer John Porter remembered from the recording session. “You’re from Manchester, you smoke weed till it comes out of your ears,” Johnny Marr added.
Detailing their approach to the song, Marr said: “The vibrato [tremolo] sound is incredible, and it took a long time. I put down the rhythm track on an Epiphone Casino through a Fender Twin Reverb without vibrato.
“Then we played the track back through four old Twins, one on each side. We had to keep all the amps vibrating in time to the track and each other, so we had to keep stopping and starting the track, recording it in 10-second bursts.”
Marr added: “It is possibly [the Smiths’] most enduring record. It’s most people’s favourite, I think.”
The footage of the band performing it live captures a fascinating moment in The Smiths career when tensions between the band we’re reaching breaking point but you would never grasp that by watching this clip. The show in question was broadcast on the radio and later edited down for their live album Rank. Somehow, the impeccable ‘How Soon Is Now‘ was left off the record but thankfully we have fan footage on hand to make up for it.
For this concert at the National Ballroom, The Smiths lined-up as a five-piece following the addition of Craig Gannon, a member who joined the band earlier that year after they fired bassist Andy Rourke because of his heroin problems. Gannon then stayed on as the second guitarist even after Rourke returned to the fold. Having this extra guitar player allowed Johnny Marr greater room to flex his muscles and, in doing so, add another dimension to their already impressive sound.
Although the song never received the full recognition it deserved properly until after the band split, it is now seen as one of The Smiths’ finest moments that showcase their creative juices flowing on all cylinders. This clip of the band performing the track embodies their pioneering greatness.