Northern Soul

Smiths drummer Mike Joyce talks to Northern Soul at Salford Lads Club

June 13, 2018 Bands & Gigs, Music Comments Off on Smiths drummer Mike Joyce talks to Northern Soul at Salford Lads Club

Archie Swift installed our oven when we came back to Manchester. Archie is a bloke who gets things done. My wife grew up on the same street as Archie, Rosemary and their kids – the ‘always welcome’ family. So when we needed something done urgently, and done well, she knew who to ask.

Archie’s been getting stuff done and inspiring other Salford lads and lasses to do the same for more than 50 years, not least at Salford Lads Club (he was awarded the MBE for services to young people in 2006). And so we were only too happy to let Archie take our old oven away for use at the club. It’s always been a little source of happiness for me, knowing that our oven played a small part in the history of this important building.

According to Mike Joyce, ex-drummer of The Smiths, it sounds as if some of the older volunteers engage in a bit of Top Trumps. “I saw some footage of some of the guys that were there [at the club] and they were saying ‘I’ve been here 30 years’ and ‘well, I’ve been here 50 years’, and it was some guy who must be in his 80s.” 

That’ll be Archie.

If you’ve been listening to XS Manchester recently or following Clint Boon (Inspiral Carpets) and Mike Joyce on social media, you might be aware of their ongoing mission to out-do each other in terms of achievements in their musical careers. As it stands, Joyce’s figures out-do Boon’s, and while that’s not to underplay the Inspirals’ impact on the UK music scene, it’s fair to say that The Smiths would be the card you’d prefer to hold in a high-stakes money game of Top Trumps. Far from being an effort to turn the high-achieving pair into the next Cannon & Ball, this double act came about more as an accident. 

“It came around as a joke really,” says Joyce. “Joe McGrath [fellow XS Manchester DJ] asked if he could film me and Clint just chatting about what we’d done in the past – a little skit – and make it a bit like Top Trumps.”

When the pair bragged about who played the bigger venue. Liam Fray (frontman of The Courteeners) was in the building at the time. “I just keep trying to trump Clint each time he says where he’s played and then at the end Liam comes in and mentions that he’s about to play Old Trafford, and asks if we’ve played there. We both say ‘no’ and he just says ’50,000’ and walks out. And that was it. There are no rehearsals for it, and we’ve never done more than one take. Clint’s a very clever, funny bloke – and because he is, it works quite well. I’m the stooge, really. He feeds me the lines and I’ll just go with it, go with the flow.”

It works so well because it’s a tried and tested set-up. Clint always loses. There’s an element of Abbott and Costello to their relationship here. “All comedy has to have a victim and there are varying degrees of victimisation, whether that’s a custard pie in the face or whatever. And because it wasn’t something that was planned, that’s why I like it.”

Now the pair have stepped outside the XS Manchester studios to trump each other in public, and what better place to do it than Salford Lads Club. The Smiths’ link to the club is well-documented, but Joyce had no links with the building before the famous 1985 image by Stephen Wright.

He explains: “Morrissey chose the place. It’s on Coronation Street and it’s in Salford. And Morrissey’s affinity with the city of Salford, Albert Finney, Rita Tushingham, Shelagh Delaney. So Salford and Manchester being two great working class Northern towns, cities, there’s also that sign. He thought it looked fantastic. And I think it’s to do with the lads club element that we had as a band, that solidarity and gang mentality. We were the lads and The Smiths was a lads club.”

Salford Lads Club has received funding from Sport Relief, Comic Relief and others – most famously from Channel 4’s ‘Secret Millionaire’ Chek Whyte in 2007 – and even from Morrissey himself. The club doesn’t get council funding or government funding so in terms of keeping it afloat, The Smiths’ link is one the main avenues of revenue. Would the club still be there had it not been for that photo?

“I’m not saying it’s because of that picture, I’m just saying it would’ve been more difficult. I know they do get some funding, Heritage Lottery and that sort of thing, but everyone wants that. They’re doing gigs now, and so because it’s become more of a public building, they need to think more about health and safety, disabled access – and of course that costs money. I remember when they had the roof done and it was a seven figure sum. Just to stop the rain coming in.”

Joyce hadn’t been back for years, until he started working on a project with Bonehead.

“The building still looked beautiful but it was in a pretty sorry state,” he says. “We started rehearsing there with Bonehead and Vinny Peculiar and did a bit of an auction, I think, just to get some funds to pay for the roof. Then a few years ago, Stephen Wright [the photographer on The Smiths’ photoshoot at the club] relinquished the rights to that photograph for a year so the club to do their own thing with it.”

The t-shirt produced in 2015 sold in the thousands, raising around £50,000 for the building. The following year, a t-shirt with a picture of Morrissey taken by Joyce was put on sale, in a similar way. The money raised by these t-shirts was enough to send a group of young people to New York. 

“I was at home, going through some of my old stuff, and I found a picture I’d taken of Morrissey in Boston. Probably around 1985-86. We saw a street sign that said Morrissey Boulevard, so I said to Morrissey ‘go and stand by that’. Now this wasn’t Pentax or Nikon. This was a point and shoot job, in fact it might have been one of these plastic cameras that you take the whole thing in to get developed. Now I had that photograph, and it was very grainy, very old and not a professionally taken photograph, but I wondered if they [Salford Lads Club] could use that picture, because I had the rights – I took it. So I got in touch with them and asked if they wanted the photograph to put it on t-shirts, similar to what they’d done the previous year. They did. I was down there for an event with Man City legend Paul Lake a few weeks later (again as a fundraiser for the club). As we were being introduced, Lesley, the curator, said ‘I just want to thank Mike because the t-shirts have just hit the £20,000 mark’. Well, how cool is that? I wasn’t as if I was on the streets with a bucket in the rain collecting money for Salford Lads Club. All I did was go down with this photograph, said ‘there you go’ and this money was generated from that small idea I had. Those kinds of things work really well for the club. They do great merchandise there anyway.”

They’ve got the dedicated Smiths room there now as well.

“Yes! It reminds me a little bit of that scene from Alan Partridge when he takes a guy round to his house and it turns out he’s got a tattoo of him. Overkill! I mean, obviously if you’re in the band it’s a little bit oppressive seeing thousands of pictures of yourself but it’s a brilliant dedication to us and a great little shrine for people to go and have a look. People travel there from all over the world to get their pictures taken outside.” 

Quite some feat, as there’s not a massive amount around that area, at least not on that side of Regent Road. There are no shopping areas (unless you count the massive supermarket across the street). Unlike the centre of Manchester, there’s no café culture in that part of town. Salford Lads Club is a bit of a tourist destination now, and it’s indicative of the importance of the building to the local community. Joyce agrees.

“Of course the people in there are all volunteers, so any monies raised are sorely needed. Not just in terms of preserving a wonderful building but also in terms of what it’s doing there, and its role in the community. It’s essential that it stays.”

Meanwhile, Boon and Joyce have known each other for more than 20 years, and they’ve known of each other for far longer. Obviously, all Manchester bands are intrinsically linked, and have lived in each other’s pockets since the early 80s. Like some Northern version of Stella Street. Or so I thought.

“I met Stephen Morris for the first time last year. I’d seen him loads and shook his hand a few times in passing but never sat down and chatted until last year.”

I’m stunned. That the drummer from Joy Division and New Order had never properly met the drummer from The Smiths until 2017 doesn’t even compute with me. How can that be?

“Well, The Smiths were very insular. We kept ourselves to ourselves. We did what we did and it was very much a closed shop. There was very little cross-pollination with other bands. We kept ourselves away from other bands, and Johnny kinda broke that mould towards the end by satellite-ing out with other bands, other people. I’m not too sure if Morrissey thought that was a great idea – maybe there was a little bit of jealousy there. And I kinda felt the same way, to be honest with you.”

That’s understandable, considering how the band kept themselves to themselves

“Well, it’s a bit like being in a relationship and they go out for dinner with someone else, come back and say they had a great time. ‘Oh did you?’.” 

After Johnny Marr left The Smiths, he worked with Paul McCartney, The Pretenders and The The, before forming Electronic with New Order’s Bernard Sumner. Joyce recalls what happened.

“When Johnny said he wanted to leave the band, we were in a meeting in London and I said ‘well, can’t we just do one last album?’.  I now realise that that was absolutely the last thing he wanted to hear. And that’s why me and Andy and Morrissey carried on, albeit for a short period. A quarter of what I loved had been taken away, but I still had three quarters left – so I wanted to cling on that. We should’ve jacked it in when he left, but we didn’t. I just thought, well I’ve got Morrissey and Andy and that’s ok, that kinda thing. But splitting up, and explaining how you felt, is difficult to put into words.” 

Joyce tends not to do interviews now. Magazines request interviews all the time, citing the 30th anniversary of a particular single being released or an album’s ‘special’ birthday. 

“I don’t need to go over stuff that’s already been done before and when some of the larger publications have asked me and said ‘oh this is gonna be really good, it’s gonna be different’ I’ll say ‘HOW is it going to be different?’ I know it’s not going to be any different. I know it won’t – and when I see the publication, it isn’t any different. It’s the same stock photos, same stock answers given and there’s nothing, really, which will make it interesting – unless there was a reformation. Then it would make an interesting read. Of course they want to sell copies, but I just find it a bit boring really.”

I wonder if there are any questions which really make his eyes roll back in his head. 

“No. I’m prepared to talk about anything. But the thing is, everything’s been said. When it’s the general public asking me questions then it’s fine, because I’m the general public. I was a massive Buzzcocks fan and I wanted to know everything about The Buzzcocks and when I spoke to them they were lovely. I know how important that is. I’ve never refused an autograph, I’ve never refused a photograph. Regardless of how much of a rush I’m in. The whole ‘Smiths Getting Back Together’ thing is a bit boring but, when people ask me, I don’t say ‘OH FOR GOODNESS SAKE, ASK ME ANOTHER QUESTION’ – I’ll just say ‘no, I don’t think so’. Because it takes just as long to say that.” 

Words and Pictures by Chris Payne

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