The Smiths and the Anti-Apartheid Movement: “You have incredibly good taste”

I’ve been wanting to write something about the new online archive of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement and had been looking for some angle as a way in, inspired by Gavin Brown’s brilliant write-up on the archive’s material on the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group. And then I found this poster.

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This is the poster for a benefit gig for the AAM held in December 1986 at the Brixton Academy. It may be unremarkable in the history of the AAM, but for Smiths fans, it is easily recognisable as the last ever Smiths live show. On the AAM archive, the poster is briefly described as thus:

Poster advertising a gig featuring The Smiths and The Fall to raise funds for the AAM at the Royal Albert Hall on 14 November 1986. The concert was one of a series organised by Artists Against Apartheid, formed by Jerry Dammers in April 1986. The concert was postponed because Johnny Marr was injured in a car accident and it was rescheduled at a different venue.

The importance of the gig is discussed on the excellent Smiths/Morrissey website Passions Just Like Mine, which describes the gig in much detail:

This concert, put together as a benefit for the Artists Against Apartheid, was originally due to be held at the Royal Albert Hall on 14 November 1986 but it had to be rescheduled following Johnny’s car accident. It turned out to be the last time the Smiths were on stage together, bar a few television appearances. The gig was a much more personal and lively affair than the previous Brixton Academy concert in October when the tensions behind the scenes and the exhaustion of touring could not be hidden. There was a great complicity between the members of the band, nothing hinted that within a year the Smiths would be no more. During “Still Ill”, Johnny moved next to Andy and Morrissey joined them. They could be seen smiling and laughing, as if they were in on some inside joke.

What makes this gig even more special is that it turned out to be the only time songs like “Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others”, the upcoming single “Shoplifters Of The World Unite” and the “London”/”Miserable Lie” medley were ever performed by the Smiths. “This Night Has Opened My Eyes” which hadn’t been played in a long time was also done. Finally, “William, It Was Really Nothing” and the live staple “Hand In Glove” which had been dropped on the recent British leg of the “The Queen Is Dead” tour also returned.

Mike teased the audience with the drum beat to “Panic” then Morrissey said hello before the band launched into “Bigmouth Strikes Again”. The latter song was again extended with a slightly longer intro. The audience was surprised to find that at the end of “London”, soon after the usual live change from “he really goes!” to “my God he goes!”, the band moved from the song’s bridge into the fast-paced outro to “Miserable Lie”. As they switched from the former to the latter, Morrissey wildly whipped the microphone cord in loops. Instead of singing “I’m just a country mile behind the world”, he returned to the early lyric “I’d run a hundred miles away from you”. The medley was extremely well received, the crowd roared in appreciation and Morrissey thanked them by saying “You have incredibly good taste…”

“Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others” was the only song from “The Queen Is Dead” which had never been played live before. It was therefore performed here for the first and last time ever. Morrissey added an extra verse to it, it went “On the shop floor, there’s a calendar, as obvious as snow, as if we didn’t know”. This new verse and the song’s acoustic adaptation made it one of the highlights of the evening. Morrissey replied to the loud applause that number received by growling loudly “Hello!”. A few songs later, the soon to be released “Shoplifters Of The World Unite” was introduced with the announcement “This is our new single…”

After the latter song Morrissey picked a letter from the floor and placed it on the drum rise. He then picked a flower, crumpled it, threw it away, and placed another one inside his jacket, hugging it next to his heart before sending it back into the crowd. As was tradition at that point in time, he didn’t sing the repeated title chorus at the end of the crowd favourite “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out”. The singer acknowledged the audience’s unfamiliarity with the following song by following its performance with the introduction “Thank you, that song was called ‘Is It Really So Strange?’.” He reversed two lines at the beginning of it and sang “Oh yes you can me and you can kick me”. A line was wittily inverted in “Cemetry Gates” to “We stonely read the graves”. Morrissey also sang “They were born, they lived, they died” instead of the usual longer line. In “Panic” he highlighted the “hang the DJ” lyric by swinging a noose around.

Returning to the stage for the first of two encores Morrissey told the audience “Thank you, we love you” then launched into a roaring version of “The Queen Is Dead”. He waved a board around during the latter number, but instead of saying THE QUEEN IS DEAD like it did earlier in the year, the board now had the words TWO LIGHT ALES PLEASE on it. The man also made a slight lyric change in that number when he sang “hemmed in like a boar between arches” instead of “stuck like a boar between arches”. At this point fans started to climb on stage. There would be about a dozen of them making it up there throughout the two encores. After this first encore Morrissey threw his shirt into the crowd and the band left the stage again. They soon returned for a final two-song encore. Morrissey roared loudly “MORE!?”, paused a bit, then teasingly added “No?!”. Final song “Hand In Glove” ended with Morrissey wailing in a high pitched voice for about 20 seconds. No one knew this at the time, but with its final line “I’ll probably never see you again”, “Hand In Glove”, the band’s first ever release, couldn’t have been a better way of saying goodbye to their audience.

Tickets were £8, £7, £6 and £5.

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, you can now watch the whole show online:

The performance of ‘Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others’ (at 14.00) was eventually released on the ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ CD single in 1992.

So there you go, a great overlap of musical and political history!

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2 comments

  1. What a line up. I want to know more about The Fall’s set too. Did they play The Classical, and sing about “the obligatory niggers”? Both Morrissey and Mark E Smith have a chequered history with racism, you’d have to say.

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