13: Barbarism Begins At Home

The 1984 visit of The Smiths to Belfast’s Ulster Hall is the stuff of legend, primarily because of the stories around the build up to the gig. In the aftermath of the Brighton Bomb, singer Morrissey had lamented in the press that Margaret Thatcher had escaped the blast, as:

The sorrow of the Brighton bombing is that she escaped unscathed. The sorrow is that she’s still alive. I think that for once the IRA were accurate in selecting their targets.

Coming on the eve of a Smiths tour of Ireland, the comments whipped the media into a frenzy, and were picked up on by An Phoblacht, the Irish republican newspaper aligned with Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA. The paper noted that “Morrissey himself is perceived as some kind of guru of the disillusioned, dispossessed and disgusted youth of today”, and praised their latest release, Hatful of Hollow, noting that “having listened to this album several times I have found it increasingly fascinating.”

APRN review of The Smiths following Morrissey’s Brighton bomb comments.

The An Phoblacht review made its way into the hands of the band, with Seán Campbell relating:

The bands anxiousness about the trip increased when they were handed a copy of the Irish Republican newspaper An Phoblacht by an IRA-affiliated individual in Manchester. The paper, whose pages were usually taken up with ‘war news’, praised Morrissey for his Brighton bomb comments (which it reprinted in full) and laid stress on The Smith’s Irish provenance: ‘with names like that who could doubt their antecedents?’ The news-sheet-not known for its interest in rock- also praised The Smith’s anti-establishment ethos and concern for the ‘dispossessed’, before offering a ringing endorsement: The Smiths, proclaimed An Phoblacht, were ‘very good indeed’.

The Smiths tour brought them right around the island of Ireland, from Dublin to Limerick, Galway, Cork, Donegal, Coleraine and Belfast. Stuart James, part of The Smiths touring party, recalled how “I know on that Irish tour we changed hotels a couple of times because of this threat of extreme….whatever. Whether it was paranoia or not, I think we built it up in our minds. But traveling across borders you’d see heads moving in the bushes or a gun sticking out.”

On 17 May 1984, The Smiths delivered a thundering set that was much appreciated by the audience, but reviews were unkind. Adrian Maddox, writing in Melody Maker, piled on the criticism, noting that while the “Smithereenies on the front row will take me to task”, there was little impressive in Morrissey “still playing at being a neo hippy Byron in baggy trousers, flopping (and fopping) about like a bloodhound’s jowl, and it’s about time Morrissey started acting his age on stage and not his bloody shoe size.”

Set List:

Hand In Glove
Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now
Girl Afraid
This Charming Man
Barbarism Begins At Home
Pretty Girls Make Graves
Still Ill
This Night Has Opened My Eyes
You’ve Got Everything Now
I Don’t Owe You Anything
Miserable Lie
These Things Take Time
What Difference Does It Make?
Handsome Devil

Morrissey’s deep hatred of the Iron Lady remained into subsequent years. Interviewed in March 1988, he told Sounds that “I find the Thatcher syndrome very stressful and evil”. When asked by one reporter what he would do if a fan of the band was to shoot Thatcher, he replied “I’d obviously marry that person.”  No doubt his fans at An Phoblacht remained impressed.


Author: Donal

Historian. My work has appeared in The Irish Times, History Ireland, Jacobin, the Dublin Historical Record and elsewhere.

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