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‘The Smiths were authentic’ - drummer Mike Joyce

Wednesday 03 April 2024

‘The Smiths were authentic’ - drummer Mike Joyce

Ex-Smiths drummer Mike Joyce told students at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA) that being authentic was key to the band’s success.

Founded by singer Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr, The Smiths are one of the 80s most influential bands. Mike joined Morrissey, Marr and bassist Andy Rourke in 1982. He says the band were always going to do their own thing. “At that time fads were coming and going, bands were coming and going. Because we had no interest in that, we just did our own thing.

“Morrissey and Johnny had a strong idea of what the band’s identity was even before we recorded anything. They had an agenda already set out, regardless of what else was going on.”

Using this ‘agenda’ as a starting point the band’s sound, lyrical content and aesthetic quickly set them apart from their contemporaries. They released their first single, Hand in Glove in 1983 and quickly found a large and committed following. Mike, now a DJ and broadcaster as well as musician, says it was a surprise. “We only played the Hacienda three times. The first time there was just the sound of one person clapping. That was February 1983. In November we played our third gig there and we were mobbed.

“We went from nobody caring to being mobbed and having to jump into cars in just six months. That’s fast, that’s quite a trajectory. Especially when there was no social media.”

The Smiths were prolific, releasing 21 singles and four studio albums between 1983 and 1987, with sales of over 10 million copies. When they weren’t recording, they were touring performing around 200 gigs across the UK, Europe, USA and Canada. They dominated the music press while the highly quotable Morrissey ensured they were also mainstream media regulars.

They split up in 1987 when Johnny Marr announced to the band he was leaving. Mike, who went on to work with Sinead O’Connor, Public Image Limited and Julian Cope, says it came as a complete shock. “I couldn’t get my head around it. I didn’t understand why because I thought we sounded great, and the quality of the songs was getting better.

“It was the first all three of us had heard, it wasn’t like there’d been any whispers. I wanted to carry on just so I could hang onto what was left of what I loved. But that was never going to work.”

The Smiths have influenced some of the biggest bands of the last 35 years including Radiohead, Oasis and The 1975. Mike thinks their longevity is as much about their attitude as their music. “When I’m DJing in a club I can play How Soon Is Now (originally a Smiths’ B-side) and it sounds fantastic. It could have been released last year.

“But I think it’s the whole package that The Smiths brought to the table. We were normal looking lads, we didn’t hide behind crazy haircuts or matching clothes, Morrissey had NHS specs. It was normal and very relatable. And at gigs it felt like a community. It wasn’t rock stars performing to an audience. That’s not something you can fake.”

Mike Joyce took part in a Q&A with Music students in January. Previous guests include Nile Rodgers, Toyah Willcox and Damon Albarn.

Image: L-to-r Damian Morgan, LIPA and Mike Joyce in the John Lennon Lecture Theatre. Photograph: Brian Roberts