The voice of the fans: Salford Lads Club, a community project and the Mancunian pop band The Smiths
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Kid: Why do you call yourselves “The Smiths”?
Morrissey: Because it was the most ordinary name and I think it's time the ordinary folk of the world show their faces.
– Morrissey and Johnny Marr interviewed by kids, 1984, https://youtu.be/M6VbSEm8nY0.
Salford is a city just across the centre of Manchester; bus 50 takes you past the River Irwell to the University of Salford in less than 15 minutes. A little longer and you’ll arrive at one of Greater Manchester’s most ambitious and expensive building complexes: Salford Quay’s Media City, home of the BBC North and iTV. In the trajectory you’ll notice the contrast between the bustle of the highly populated centre of Manchester, with its contrast of Victorian architecture and new, ultra-modern developments, such as the Beetham Tower. Salford is quiet in comparison, even slightly desolated.
Walk away from the main roads, into the city, and you’ll notice this is the part of town where the sustainability discourse hasn’t reached; a place where the old toxic industrial fumes from the Manchester of the 1800s are still running, their black smoke directed towards the sky, their buzz vibrating. You’ll walk past homogeneous Victorian style houses with the orange-red of their bricks, and about ten blocks from the University you’ll arrive at the Salford Lads Club.
You’ll recognize it because it will be full of tourists taking pictures at the door and until late 2016, some of them arriving in groups as part of the Manchester Music Tours* that makes an unavoidable stop here, while the neighbors, chatting and drinking on the sidewalks, look at you with the bored expression someone too familiar with the visitors.
Once in, the main hall has an informative panel with the history of the place; medals and photographs of the founders and the members hang on the walls. One of the administrators will greet you in a thick Mancunian accent, and will tell you about the century old project that has been gathering people together around cultural activities, especially youngsters from poor areas. He will tell you the founder later established the Scouts, and will let you know a detailed story of each member whose photograph hangs on the hall.
As you realize the pride and affection the people have for this place, your attention will divert to the groups of tourists who gather at the door of a tiny room by the basketball hall. It’s the room-museum dedicated to The Smiths, the pop group from the 1980s that made this club famous until this day via their visual and lyrical imagery.
Starting with the band’s photograph in the insert of their 1986 LP The Queen Is Dead, a picture that also illustrates the band’s main entry on their Wikipedia page, their video Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before, from their 1987 album Strangeways, Here We Come, pays the type of homage to the city of Salford and its Lads Club that it soon turned into legend among the group's fans, who pay a visit from all over the world. This video shows Morrissey leading a team of his look-alike fans from the centre of Manchester to the streets of Salford, all of them riding bicycles and wandering around on a typical cloudy day.
The main room dedicated to The Smiths is a messy display of fans expressing their love for the band in various forms, mostly written or drawn: posters, photographs, newspaper clippings and post-its form a colourful wallpaper that covers the four walls, as well as the ceiling. The messages are endearing: people remembering when they bought their first Smiths record, the gigs they attended, the mixtapes recorded for their valentines or friends. And then there are the messages directed to Morrissey, the only member of the Smiths who reached wide international success until this day, after the band disintegrated in 1987.
But what’s the story of this community centre? Opened in 1903 as a boys club, it’s served for more than a century as a gathering spot for vulnerable youth in what was one of the poorest areas of Northern England during the economic recession that hit the United Kingdom during the Margaret Thatcher government, and the antisocial programs of this administration that caused high levels of unemployment and poverty.
The great paradox of this era is that it was also one of the most fertile moments for artistic expressions; music in particular empowered “ordinary folk” to express themselves. This is how the punk movement, as well as post-punk and the new wave originated. The Smiths is one of the many bands formed by working-class people who took the stage and the microphone only to inspire generations of others to do the same.
It makes sense that the stories written by Morrissey, all inspired by real life and an angst against all types of authority, found a rich source of inspiration in what was happening at Salford Lads Club during those times, and how this place saved the lives of many youngsters. Until this day, Morrissey donates a substantial quantity of money to this club.
The stories of the fans within the story of The Smiths, related to the story of the Salford Lads Club and the greater narrative of this city in the Thatcher era of the 1980s, are intertwined stories of great sociocultural interest as well as deeply personal stories moved by a band whose legacy is no other than having given a voice to the voiceless.
https://www.morrissey-solo.com/ (Morrissey fan site designated by him as his official site).
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SckD99B51IA Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before.
* Founded and operated by the Craig Gill (drummer with 1980s Manchester band Inspiral Carpets) until his death in November 2016. Manchester Music Tours is now operated by his daughter.