I miss the fanzine era. I mean, I sort of missed out on it altogether, but I still miss it. Fanzines once had a surprising amount of clout for homespun concoctions of xerox paper, copyright infringements, and staples. Prior to our all-internet-all-the-time reality, it was zines that united fans with common interests, shared concert reviews and tour schedules, and brought attention to smaller acts not being covered by mainstream publications. Back in 1983 Liverpool, Colin Howe was making a fanzine with a really solid name, The Portable Chat Show. And he did something else I can’t help but be extremely jealous of: he photographed an up-and-coming band with a really boring name, The Smiths.
The Smiths had a new single out, their second:“This Charming Man”. They played Liverpool Polytechnic on October 22nd and, prior to the show, Colin Howe interviewed and photographed singer/lyricist Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr. Then, it seems, Howe forgot all about it. Thirty-two years go by. The Smiths have long since risen to fame and broken up. Morrissey has gone on to release ten solo albums, etc. etc. Howe visits the iconic Salford Lads Club and recalls that (oh right!) he has unseen photographs of The Smiths just sitting in his garage. After digging out his negatives, these photographs finally saw the light of day last year with a showing at the same Salford Lads Club.
Which begs me to wonder: what else is in Colin Howe’s garage? Is there so much cool stuff in there that unseen photos of The Smiths didn’t seem that important? Like the Ark of the Covenant maybe? (Colin, if it’s okay with you, I’d really like to poke around your place and see what else you have stashed away. Invite me over for tea, please.) Maybe you have questions, too. Like, who are The Smiths? And, What the hell is The Salford Lads Club? Well, asking “who are The Smiths” is such a dumb question that I’m not going to answer that one, but I’m always happy to babble on about the Salford Lads Club.
The Salford Lads Club is basically what it sounds like. It’s an after school athletics club, established in 1903 exclusively for lads, but now open to girls, too. It is located on Coronation Street (you know, like the TV show). But the most important tidbit is that The Smiths were photographed outside of it by Stephen Wright for their 1986 album The Queen Is Dead, an image important enough to now hang in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC. The club can also be seen in the band’s music video for “Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before”. Not that any members of the band were ever members of the club. They weren’t even from Salford. But that isn’t important. What is important is that the club has emerged as a mecca for Smith fans and, in turn, transformed a once boarded up weight room into a sort of shrine, The Smiths Room. It was on the door to this room that Colin Howe’s photographs were seen for the first time in thirty-two years.
This last detail pleases me even more than Colin’s magical mystery garage. It is the perfect extension of the fanzine DIY ethos. Artists, never let lack of gallery representation stop you from sharing your work. You don’t need pristine white walls and vaulted ceilings. All you need is a damn door! Sadly, I didn’t get to see them hanging there myself, but that’s okay. To raise funds, the Salford Lads Club (which is a registered charity) is selling a miniature book of Howe’s photographs, Morrissey and Marr: 1983. The book is now on its second edition, cleverly designed by Amber Sanchez. Along with the black and white photos, a letter and postcard from Morrissey to Howe are also reproduced. The interview, however, is nowhere to be seen. (Is it still in Colin’s garage somewhere? Look harder, Colin!) A poster of the photographs tacked up to the door and a t-shirt featuring four of the images are also available.
Are these the best photographs I have ever seen? No, not really. And that is precisely their charm. Half are of the Liverpool Polytechic concert and the other half are Morrissey and Marr standing awkwardly in front of what is clearly a bed sheet. These photos are an artifact of their time, a portrait of a band basically no one had heard of yet (they wouldn’t appear on Top of the Pops until November). Here we see Morrissey already looking confident as hell and Johnny Marr looking, well, at least a little bit frightened. These are great photographs in that they capture their distinct time and place. And so I would like to thank Colin Howe and his magical garage, for finally sharing this unique time capsule with us, an experience thirty-two years in the making.
To order a copy of Morrissey and Marr: 1983, visit the Salford Lads Club online shop.