Sexually Ambiguous: Finsbury Park

The Sun, 30 July 1992 – ‘Lots of people I knew used to go gay-bashing but I never got involved. Ronnie Kray was an inspiration to me. He’s gay but nobody calls him a faggot. He’s probably the hardest gangster ever and that helped me cope in the difficult times’.

On July 29th 1992, Nicky Crane – National Front/British Movement skinhead and roadie for neo-Nazi band Skrewdriver; who featured in the same Nick Knight photo essay as the V-flicker on a Morrissey t-shirt – came out as gay on a UK Channel 4 documentary, Out: The Skin Complex, that explored gay skinhead subculture. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-25142557

Nicky Crane. Children of the Sun by Max Schaefer, is based on his life. https://muswell-press.co.uk/product/children-of-the-sun/

On August 22nd 1992, the NME spent 5 pages denouncing Morrissey as a racist – for holding a Union Jack for 3 minutes and using an art print of two skinhead girls as a backdrop – while supporting headliners Madness, at Finsbury Park, on August 8th 1992, after he cut his set short and cancelled the next day’s appearance, due to the crowd throwing missiles and heckling homophobic abuse. https://illnessasart.com/2020/11/26/nme-22-august-1992/amp/

NME, 22 August 1992

Select reported the homophobia while blaming Morrissey for it.

Bad move one: he appears in front of a backdrop featuring two androgynous skinhead girls – one – perversely – resembling Carrie Fisher. The men’s men in the crowd offer the opinion that Morrissey is a “poofy bastard” and elevate many a middle finger. It’s boneheaded bullshit, sure, but nothing you shouldn’t be able to weather. Bad move two: Moz produces a Union Jack which he brandishes throughout “Glamorous Glue” as an art statement. This is a spectacularly stupid stunt, given the unwelcome right-wing following Madness always tried to get rid of and the putrid characters milling around outside. Thank God they can’t understand the words to “National Front Disco”… But contrary to his press statements, there was no hail of shrapnel to force a cancellation of the Sunday slot – just a reception that didn’t suit. Gallon Drunk stuck it out, didn’t they? Somewhere in the distance, you can hear The Farm, who would have gone down immeasurably better on this lads’ day out, laughing up each others’ sleeves. Who can even be bothered to feel sympathy for Morrissey? Perhaps we’ll see an end to his terribly modish flaunting of skinhead imagery. Perhaps he’ll learn that you can treat your fans with cavalier disdain once too often (most of the unfortunate Moz kids have bought tickets for Sunday – Glastonbury part 2). Or perhaps he’ll just emigrate. (Select, October 1992)

He certainly got a hard time from the homophobes, but nothing the most acid tongue in pop couldn’t handle. (Select, January 1993)

Morrissey at Madstock, 8th August 1992

The Independent didn’t pick up on anything untoward with his imagery – but blamed the crowd’s negative reaction on his lack of masculinity.

to the gold lame flounce of Morrissey, who, having replaced The Farm, was accorded the proverbial ‘mixed reaction’ for his trouble. But then, Morrissey has never been exactly the most blokeish of performers. (Andy Gill, 9th August 1992, The Independent) https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/rock-cracking-the-nutty-boys-beery-nostalgia-laddish-boisterousness-and-a-bunch-of-ordinary-blokes-andy-gill-on-madness-in-finsbury-park-1539470.html

From the start of his career, he rejected or invented labels for his gender and sexuality – and in the early/mid 1980s he said he was celibate.

Prince says he isn’t… Michael Jackson says it’s a sin. Elton John is married… David Bowie says he was never even bisexual… Lou Reed is maritally heterosexual… Little Richard [and] Donna Summer are on the anti-gay trail… music… has gone homophobic… And there’s also Morrissey, who’s … yes, gay... ensconced in a corner of Salisbury, a gay London pub… Morrissey, spoke with THE ADVOCATE: What do you mean by the fourth gender? I think labels are too restrictive. Like everyone is either heterosexual or homosexual. People are simply sexual. Do gay musicians say they’re celibate to appease the homophobic segments of the public? It may well enter into that, if it’s a lie. Certainly celibacy has a spiritual attractiveness… like a little halo. Is it harder to get into the media if one is gay, rather than noncommittal? It is more difficult. What was your childhood like? Wonderful… the teenage years were rotten… hormones divided us into camps, and as any gay person knows, that’s the time you start losing friends – or those you thought were friends. And then those professional heterosexuals, those people in those boxes, are closed to you for life. (Morrissey, interviewed by George Hadley-Garcia, the Advocate, 16 October 1984) https://illnessasart.com/2021/07/13/the-advocate-16-october-1984/

His imagery was often coded as gay.

As Oscar Wilde himself once said – Jesus bleedin Christ!!!… And… the whole thing is punctuated by shots of rather hunky young schoolboys whose commendably formal uniforms are augmented by six-inch-high-heel shoes! (Danny Kelly, NME, 1 April 1989)

In 1991, he toured with the Jewish, lesbian, singer, Phranc.

Morrissey and Phranc, 1991

In a Facebook post in 2021, his guitarist and co-songwriter, Alain Whyte, wrote that the crowd hated Morrissey because they thought he was queer.

Alain Whyte, Facebook post, 27 October 2021

The NME’s hit piece made a direct link between sexuality and racism, with one paragraph echoing publicity surrounding the Channel 4 gay skinheads documentary.

Caucasian Rut: A child in a curious phase…“? (NME, 22 August 1992) 

Being gay or bisexual was (and sometimes still is) described as a phase. https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2020/12/25/being-gay-is-just-a-phase-show-them-this-viral-twitter/ )

At one extreme, Kylie Minogue miraculously transforms herself from the jovial girl-next-door to a strutting nymphet who cavorts lustily with black ‘dancers’ to suggest risky sexuality. And, at the other extreme, Steven Patrick Morrissey undergoes a gradual metamorphosis from a miserable, loveless outsider with a sense of humour to a miserable, loveless outsider who flirts with racist imagery. (NME, 22 August 1992)

Dr Dinesh Bhugra, a psychologist at the Institute of Psychiatry, speaking on Skin Complex, the Channel 4 programme to be screened on Wednesday, argues that gay men adopting the skinhead image is not surprising. In a society that is producing a tremendous amount of homophobia, you have to try and protect yourself by whichever means you can and if, in order to do it, it means you are identifying with the oppressor then people will do that in order to survive. (Independent, 26 July 1992)

Let’s not forget that the adolescent Morrissey used to be chased through the streets of Manchester at night by leering beer-boys, some of whom may have held NF sympathies, simply for being ‘different’. And he definitely spent a lot of time in Whalley Range, a multi-racial area. Is he now identifying with his former oppressors? Has he changed from the persecuted to the persecutor? Or, is he fascinated by the idea of racism, by the look of violent skinheads, to the extent of being oppressed so much he falls in love with his oppressors? (NME, 22 August 1992)

They falsely claimed that most football hooligans were affiliated with the NF and BNP, and deliberately misrepresented We’ll Let You Know.

We may seem cold
Or we may even be the most depressing people you’ve ever known
At heart, what’s left, we sadly know
That we are the last truly British people you’ve ever known
We are the last truly British people you will ever know
You’ll ever, never, want to know
(We’ll Let You Know, Steven Morrissey/Alain Whyte)

We’ll Let You Know’ is ostensibly a love song to football hooligans, casting them as “the last truly British people you’ll ever know”, which wouldn’t be that irritating if you didn’t realise that a significant percentage of them are also NF or BNP affiliated. (NME, 22 August 1992)

A review in the Melody Maker falsely claimed that Morrissey was holding the Union Jack while singing the National Front Disco as supporters shouted Sieg Heil – so the NME’s admonition that he had racist friends and liked outsider trappings could come from that – or it could point to Nicky Crane.

Sally Gunnell, winning Gold in 400m hurdles, 6 August 1992, Barcelona Olympics

Morrissey is, despite all hopes, despicable… Look, Steven, if you’ve just run 100 metres in 9.98, you can have some sort of vague, if dubious, claims to wearing a Union Jack around your shoulders. If you’re singing the National Front Disco and getting too scared/weary to put inverted commas around the England for the English bit, while Sieg Heils butter you up down the front, don’t expect much sympathy… (Paul Mathur, Melody Maker, 15 August 1992)

For what it’s worth, I don’t think Morrissey is a racist. He just likes the trappings and the culture that surround the outsider element. He has some racist friends. And if he carries on this way, he’ll have thousands more. (NME, 22 August 1992)

Cover of Your Arsenal, often described as “homoerotic“, the album’s track listing included the National Front Disco & We’ll Let You Know.

A gay skinhead fantasy had appeared in Square Peg, a left-wing queer interest magazine, published by a collective of gay men who met at a gay nightclub, The Bell, in King’s Cross, where Morrissey, Derek Jarman, Michael Clark, and Nicky Crane were also, at one time, regulars. https://web.archive.org/web/20180711231035/http://www.gayinthe80s.com/2017/09/pub-bell-kings-cross-london/

Michael Clark, skinhead and dancer. Morrissey would namecheck Clark’s 1987 ballet, ‘Because We Must’ , before singing the National Front Disco in his video Introducing Morrissey, filmed on the 7th and 8th of February 1995. https://flash—art.com/2021/01/something-like-saturn-michael-clark/

Why I’m a Skin: I grew up in remotest and desolate suburbia… Untidy, shy and eccentric, I was first bullied, then ignored… I discovered… what respectable men did with each other in toilets. I joined in with enthusiasm. At school I was Charles Laughton. In the cottages I was James Dean… The skinhead is beyond fashion and cannot be assimilated… This animal’s only secondary sexual characteristics are his braces worn up to exaggerate the width of the shoulders, down to emphasise the curve of the bum… He is pure sex… He is an anarchist, not because he rejects the rules, but because they cannot be applied to him. (Square Peg, No 12, 1986) https://tenderbooks.co.uk/products/square-peg-magazine-a-complete-run-with-related-ephemera?variant=39743140561080

I just felt towards all these figures in popular music who were trying to be gay and outrageous – why does it always have to be so shocking? I think ‘This Charming Man’ was the most revolutionary single in popular music in that area – I’m really quite convinced of it, because it was all just completely natural about male relationships, it was nice and natural, but it wasn’t banal. (Morrissey, Square Peg, No. 6, 1984) https://illnessasart.com/2020/01/06/square-peg-no-6-august-1984/

A union jack flag was used in the video for The Queen Is Dead, directed by Derek Jarman, 1986.

Derek Jarman, left. OutRage! gay rights march, 6 February 1992 https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/derek-jarman/

Morrissey/Smiths fans with a Queen Is Dead Union Jack, Wolverhampton gig, 22 December 1988.

Union Jack boxer shorts, Outrage! gay rights protest, April 1992

In 1981, Nicky Crane’s picture was used on the cover of a compilation album, Strength Thru Oi, that was released by Sounds magazine, causing a scandal over his neo-Nazi connections, and the allusion to the Nazi slogan strength through joy. He also appeared in gay porn films and worked with transgender singer-songwriter, Genesis P-Orridge.

NAZI FARTSY : Earsay’s snippets (Channel 4) on Genesis P-Orridge et al featured an unexpected guest – a certain Nicola Crane. Crane, the neo-Nazi who by a series of errors made the front cover of ‘Strength Thru Oi’, turned out to be one of the ‘stars’ of a Psychic TV video film. Let’s hope the media are as quick to condemn this obviously deliberate airing for Crane as they were with that accidental airing three years ago. (Sounds, 22nd September 1984)

Nicky Crane on Psychic TV : https://timalderman.com/2018/04/30/gay-history-a-contradiction-in-terms-nicky-crane-and-kevin-wilshaw-gay-neo-nazis-part-1/

In 1984, Nicky led an attack on left-wing skinhead band, the Redskins, at a GLC benefit gig. The Smiths were on the bill. He was also working for, Gentle Touch, a firm that provided security for left-wing and gay events. In 1986, he marched at gay pride, under a ‘gay skins’ banner. When asked, gay pride organisers, said they felt it was ok because he’d been seen kissing an Afro-Caribbean man.

https://www.gale.com/binaries/content/assets/gale-uk-en/export/primary-sources/nicky-crane-case-study-_-political-extremism.pdf

Morrissey, left-wing GLC leader Ken Livingstone, singer Mari Wilson http://transpont.blogspot.com/2013/12/nicky-crane-and-1980s-se-london-nazis.html : https://pasttenseblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/10/today-in-londons-radical-history-striking-miners-anti-fascists-beat-off-nazi-attack-on-glc-festival-1984/amp/

Ken Livingstone and the GLC had been under fire for giving money to gay organisations.

Private Eye, January 1982 https://huw.substack.com/p/poove-power-part-ii

Including a gay skinhead disco.

Out, 1985. The Moonstomp Disco, was organised by gay skins at the GLC funded, Lesbian and Gay Centre, London.

The National Front/British Movement/BNP were violently homophobic, assaulting and murdering gay people, attacking and bombing gay events and venues. And had been rocked by gay scandals.

Those naked Nazis: I am somewhat pleased to see the National Front arseholes scratching each other’s eyes out over the Martin Webster scandals. John Tyndall is so so upset about Webster’s homosexual image that he’s formed a breakaway NF organisation and is openly slagging Webster in his publication, Spearhead. It seems he accuses the Front of being full of queers and morally corrupt and that Webster is giving the Front A BAD NAME! It’s okay to smash someone’s head in, but it’s the biggest crime of all to be gay. (Zipper, 24 October 1980)

In 1999, the BNP, nail bombed the Admiral Duncan, a gay pub in London, Soho. Three people were killed. The law in the UK was so homophobic, that it wasn’t prosecuted as a political act of terrorism, but was classed as a personal animosity to gay men. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-47216594

When Crane came out as gay, he was disowned.

It just goes to show that nationalism and homosexuality do not fit in together, because Nationalism is a true cause and homosexuality is a perversion. Nicky Crane left, and I think that it was the best thing he could have done, but he should have left a hell of a lot earlier. He was living a lie for all of them years. I’ve got no respect for the bloke anymore. (Ian Stuart Donaldson, lead singer of Skrewdriver, Last Chance fanzine, 1992) https://amp.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/05/skinheads-christmas-far-right-archive-1985

NME Caption: Morrissey “Jacks off” (slang for sex acts, usually performed on/by a male), NME, 22 August 1992

After the Madstock gig – Morrissey’s press office blamed “projectiles” thrown by a “National Front skinhead” for his refusal to play the next day. Morrissey reportedly said it was “too dangerous” (NME, 22 August 1992).

Madstock’s promoter, Vince Power, blamed the backdrop and the Union Jack, “in a way he got the audience he was looking for” (NME, 22 August 1992).

NME caption: Stop this shit now, Morrissey! NME, 22 August 1992

Peter Hooton, thought it was payback for his band, the Farm, being dropped from the bill, for not being “manly” enough, “I was amazed at the Morrissey camp’s reaction. He’s dealing with contentious stuff, flirting with right wing views in front of a Madness crowdhe’s a very sad and mixed-up man.” (NME, 22 August 1992)

Oi, Oi, not how “the lads” behave, NME, 22 August 1992

Flowered Up’s keyboard player, Tim Dourney, said Morrissey was “asking for a bit of trouble. Maybe he thought he could win over the skinhead contingent but you’re going to put backs up prancing around like that.” (NME, 22 August 1992)

Derek Ridgers worried that the girls who WERE racist imagery (to the NME) were being used in a distasteful or demeaning way. “Being a Morrissey fan I thought he’d use them in a tasteful way. My main concern was that it wasn’t going to be demeaning to people in the picture.” (NME, 22 August 1992)

the ‘racist imagery’ , Morrissey, at Madstock, 8 August 1992

The NME admitted that the National Front was in London on the 8th of August to confront a Troops Out march – but deliberately skipped over the National Front’s hostility to Irish Catholics and Irish Republicans, didn’t mention that Morrissey had expressed Irish Republican sympathies, gave the wrong impression that his ‘ethnic group’ was English (he’s Irish Catholic), and used the skinhead backdrop and the Union Jack to directly connect him to the National Front – with their skinhead membership and their Union Jacks.

Morrissey’s affection for the skinhead and nationalist imagery was given its most public display ever at Finsbury Park. With Derek Ridgers’ skinhead photos used as a backdrop, he waved and wrapped a Union Jack flag around his torso. Meanwhile, outside the park’s perimeter, Union Jacks were also brandished — by National Front and British Movement supporters congregating to confront a Troops Out march. (NME, 22 August 1992)

… could the same writer harbour such seemingly ignorant thoughts as “‘England for the English'” (his inverted commas) considering his beloved England’s past colonial adventures? (NME, 22 August 1992)

The National Front exploited conflict in Northern Ireland. Skrewdriver’s album, Boot and Braces/Voice of Britain, released in 1990, contained the songs White Power and Smash the IRA.

A feature of the Bloody Sunday marches was that the far right (BNP etc.) often mobilised to oppose them, so that in the pubs and streets surrounding the demonstrations there would be skirmishes between anti-fascists and racists. In 1990 for instance, three Anti Fascist Action (AFA) members were jailed after notorious Nazi skinhead Nicky Crane was dragged out of a taxi in Kilburn in the vicinity of the Bloody Sunday march. (History Is Made At Night, 30 January 2012) http://history-is-made-at-night.blogspot.com/2012/01/bloody-sunday-1972-forty-years-of.html

Blood and Honour, a neo-Nazi group set up by Skrewdriver, from their magazine, 1998: Once again the National Front have made national news and this for marching to protect the rights of Ulster on 23rd May in Central London came under the title ‘No Surrender to the IRA’. The NF put out the march and called for loyalists to attend. https://www.channel4.com/news/ian-stuart-donaldson-a-legacy-of-hate

The NME invents a variety of motivations for the crowd’s hostility – all of which blame Morrissey – one of which implies that he’s a gay man trying to join the National Front and getting the violence he deserves.

It almost doesn’t matter who pelted him offstage (NF skins who don’t want his glitter-shirted type diluting the ‘movement’, Farm fans disgruntled at his alleged part in getting them chucked off the bill, ordinary Joes and Jos disgusted by his toying with nationalist imagery, people who just never liked The Polecats!); the fact remains: given all the above, it was almost inevitable. (NME, 22 August 1992)

Madstock, NME, 22 August 1992

While positioning themselves as ‘right-on’, ‘compassionate’ and ‘liberal’ – concerned that Morrissey has chosen to incite violence, racism and genocide.

In agitated times when the twin spectres of fascism and ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ are sweeping across Europe, and when there’s been a return in England to the horrifying incidence of burning immigrants out of their homes, we must wonder why Morrissey has chosen this precise moment to fuel the fires of racism by parading onstage with a Union Jack and writing such ambiguous dodgy lyrics as ‘The National Front Disco’ and ‘We’ll Let You Know’ on his recent album. Is he so starved of lyrical ideas that a touch of controversy is the best way to cover-up ‘writer’s block’? Is he completely fed-up with the liberal consensus in the more compassionate side of the media that he’s resorted to baiting the right-on crowd? Is there a sizeable degree of irony at work? (NME, 22 August 1992)

In contrast to Morrissey, who is now the opposite of ‘gentle and kind’.

Equally, his recent response to the publication of Johnny Rogan’s Smiths book The Severed Alliance, was at best distasteful, at worst illustrative of a severe lack of perspective… Morrissey, while admitting that he’d never even read it, condemned the book, and said that he hoped Rogan died in a car smash on the M3… Is this the same man who, in The Smiths’ finest moment (‘I Know It’s Over’) wroteIt’s so easy to laugh, it’s so easy to hate, it takes guts to be gentle and kind? Sadly, yes. The same man but now displaying a cruelty and lack of deftness that makes his golden days seem light years away. (NME, 22 August 1992)

A picture taken in Dublin is used to label him a Little Englander, NME, 22 August 1992

They try to firm up the accusations by bringing up the ‘hip hop wars’, fabricated by music journalists who were excluding black artists from rock music, and accusing him of ‘race-hate‘.

1992 isn’t the first time Morrissey has been accused of fanning the flames of race-hate. When The Smiths released ‘Panic’ in 1986, at the height of what’s now known within NME as ‘the hip-hop wars’, certain writers at this paper branded Moz a ‘racist’ because of the sentiments “Burn down the disco… Hang the DJ” expressed therein, seeing the song as an all-out attack on dance music and therefore black people. (NME, 22 August 1992)

The National Front’s most violent organiser, Johnny ‘Mad Dog’ Adair was a fan of reggae band UB40 and his paramilitary loyalist gang would kill Catholics while listening to rave. https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/the-uda-killer-nicknamed-top-gun-behind-a-dozen-sectarian-murders-1.4628830 : https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2000/aug/27/northernireland.henrymcdonald1 : https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/opinion/news-analysis/how-loyalists-got-out-of-step-with-fascism-28657619.html : https://ansionnachfionn.com/2011/09/16/fascists-neo-nazis-and-the-british-unionist-minority-in-ireland/

Johnny Adair, on the far right, National Front march, 1980s : The NME’s coverage of ‘the troubles’ in Northern Ireland: https://journals.openedition.org/etudesirlandaises/10464?lang=fr

They interpreted Bengali In Platforms as an anti-assimilation diatribe – so they could conflate him with anti-immigrant-anti-Irish-Catholic, ex-Tory, Ulster Unionist MP, Enoch Powell.

Viva Hate’, his first ‘solo’ LP, contained the charmingly titled ‘Bengali In Platforms’, a convoluted diatribe against assimilation: “He only wants to impress you/Bengali in platforms/He only wants to embrace your culture/And to be your friend forever/ … Oh shelve your Western plans/ … life is hard enough when you belong here.” And where does this somewhat gentle ridicule leave the Bengalis who were born in England? On the next boat captained by Enoch Powell? In the lurch? The main complaint Little Englanders have about immigrants is their seeming abhorrence of the host culture and feisty determination to cling to what they know and understand. But here we have someone who won’t let them do the opposite either... (NME, 22 August 1992)

Pro-Enoch Powell, anti-immigration march, 1972 https://www.readingmuseum.org.uk/explore/online-exhibitions/windrush-day/windrush-day-enigma-arrival/4-caribbean-resettlement

They created a list (the template of all future lists) of out-of-context faux-racist quotes (Andrew Collins, Angelfire, 26 July 2001) used as evidence that he’s racist, violent, and a hypocrite, who has no right to complain about being attacked (by homophobes).

“I’m not totally averse to violence. I think it’s quite attractively necessary in some extremes. Violence on behalf of CND is absolutely necessary… obviously CND care about the people and that’s why they do what they do. That’s patriotism.”  (Morrissey, December 1984)

“The common sense for the future is to try and preserve as much as we can from the past.” (Morrissey, December 1984)

“Reggae is vile.” (Morrissey, NME questionnaire, February 1985)

“Personally, I’m an incurably peaceable character. But where does it get you? Nowhere. You have to be violent.” (Morrissey, March 1985)

etc: https://mycuttings.blogspot.com/2021/04/1992-08-22-morrissey-nme.html

All of this is a smokescreen – they even tell the reader how it’s constructed. They charge him with being a nationalist, a racist, right-wing and violent – then accumulate ‘problematic’ associations: Panic hates black people. Rusholme Ruffians hates Asians – who ‘duffed Moz up’ – as if his songs are literal and autobiographical.

The novel Suedehead is black-hating and gay-bashing, so the song Suedehead is black-hating and gay-bashing, which makes Bengali In Platforms, Asian Rut, We’ll Let You Know and The National Front Disco, black-hating and gay-bashing. He’s ambiguous – he causes unease and disquiet – he’s always carping about black people – it’s accelerating now he’s solo – he’s a danger to gullible and suggestible fans – he’s unwholesome.

Let’s deal with the first, and infinitely more difficult of these charges, the whole ugly grab-bag of nationalism, right-wingery, violence and racism… The Smiths’ ‘Panic’ could be construed as an attack on black music and therefore, by extension, black people. But the unease predates even that. One Mancunian music journalist has voiced disquiet that the ‘Ruffians’ on ‘Meat Is Murder’ — who duff up the Moz at a funfair — should be from ‘Rusholme’, the only part of Manchester that might be identified as ‘Asian’. It’s since the advent of Morrissey’s solo career, however, that misgivings about some of his chosen subject matter, lyrics, imagery and associations have begun to accelerate. His very first solo single, ‘Suedehead’, was named after the black-hating, gay-bashing post-skinhead gangs glamourised by Richard Allen’s notorious 1971 novel of the same name. Since then there’s been ‘Bengali In Platforms’ (from ‘Viva Hate’), ‘Asian Rut’ (‘Kill Uncle’) and, most recently, ‘We’ll Let You Know’ (with its line about “we are the last truly British people you will ever know”) and ‘The National Front Disco’ (from ‘Your Arsenal’). Nobody is denying Morrissey’s right to write about what the hell he likes and nor are any of these songs intrinsically problematic, but not all of his audience are as smart as him and the constant, unfocused, reference to these delicate matters, allied to Morrissey’s steadfast ambiguity in interviews (see quotes) does have a cumulative effect. Add to this his constant carping about reggae, disco and any other music that’s usually prefaced with the word ‘black’ (and the ‘Panic’ provision, that hating black music doesn’t mean to hate black people, still applies) and you can see how the gullible or suggestible fan, or the suspicious critic, might start to build up a pretty unwholesome portrait of the artist. (NME, 22 August 1992)

The skins are Nazis – but also male – and there are homosexuals about.

The original skins were about working class (primarily male) solidarity and an alternative to the stultifying mundanity and bullshit of everyday life, recurring themes in Morrissey’s writing. But they were also, despite their taste in ska and early reggae, generally racist, nationalistic, chauvinistic British bulldogs, proud wavers of the Union Jack and standard bearers (at a time when Enoch Powell was talking about the race ‘problem’ turning Britain’s streets into “rivers of blood”) of the Keep Britain White fanatics. Richard Allen’s Skinhead chronicles are full of sickening accounts of violence against blacks. And, for that matter, homosexuals. As the ’70s progressed, the skinhead faction began to shrink, boiling down to the hardcore rump of the ‘Oi’ movement, overtly racist nutters served musically by groups like The 4-Skins and Skrewdriver and responsible for the Southall riots when an Asian pub was fire-bombed. And although the cultural signals of shaving your head and wearing boots have remained confusing (no-one’s calling Sinead a fascist!) it’s undoubtedly true that in recent times, the skinhead has enjoyed a new lease of life in France, Italy, Scandinavia and especially Germany, as the vanguard of the post-Wall revival in Nazism. Are their flag-waving certainties and xenophobic imagery fit icons for him to be playing with, however cleverly? (NME, 22 August 1992)

The language used throughout the article is leading, loaded, and sexualised – the NME wondered how far his infatuation had gone, hoped his thrills with Mensi, a good guy, were only vicarious, but feared he was there to meet his desired skins in nail varnish. The shadowy iconography could be innocent, but, like his sexuality, it’s ambiguous. He could be actively seeking a less pleasant new image; he won’t let them near to find out.

How far has his infatuation with the skins and their paraphernalia gone? (NME, 22 August 1992)

Angelic Upstarts, 16 April 1979, Acklington Prison, a skinhead band, usually playing to an audience of skinheads, with a Union Jack. https://www.facebook.com/oithearchives/

He’s still got the rockabilly quiff, sure, but recently, as the pictures scattered around these five pages show, he’s taken to presenting himself with the iconography of the shadowy nationalistic right. Union Jack badges … Union Jack flags … cross of Saint George T-shirts … Oi T-shirts … suedehead backdrops; all innocent enough in their own right (or at least safely ambiguous) but, again, collected together they present a sorry and worrying spectacle. He’s also spent time recently with Mensi from right-on skins the Angelic Upstarts who, as a decidedly good guy, perhaps provides the Moz with a safe route to vicarious skinhead thrills. (NME, 22 August 1992)

Ian Stuart Donaldson, lead singer of neo-Nazi band, Skrewdriver, on the left, Suggs, lead singer of Madness, in the late 1970s https://edinburghfestival.list.co.uk/article/43221-madness-frontman-suggs-tells-life-story-at-2012-edinburgh-fringe/

And finally, given Madness’ sad and unwanted link with the National Front skin faction, why did he choose to make his only UK appearance so far this year at the Finsbury Park bash? Precisely to address his desired new congregation of ‘skinheads in nail varnish’? (NME, 22 August 1992)

What about the second contributory strand to Morrissey’s current problems, his apparent decline from blessed and effortless surfer on the golden wave of pop fortune, to unreliable, grudge-bearing seige-mentality curmudgeon? From a distance (and Morrissey doesn’t allow journalists any nearer), it all looks like one of two things: either he’s just lost all sense of judgement and subsequently effective control over his career, or he’s got it all perfectly under control and is actively seeking a new and less-pleasant-than-the-last image. (NME, 22 August 1992)

They implied that he was at Madstock to pick up racist men, despite the fact that he’d worked with Madness producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley on two albums – Bona Drag, and Kill Uncle – was friends with Cathal Smyth of Madness, and Suggs, sang on Picadilly Palare.

Steve Sutherland had singled them out in a review of Kill Uncle that called Asians ‘dusky‘, Morrissey fans ‘emotional retards‘ and Morrissey a snide, crabby old spinster, creepy sniching perv.

In ex-Madness cohorts Langer and Winstanley, he was [sic] chosen the two most parochial producers alive, as if to diminish his international appeal as far as possible… ‘Asian Rut’… mentions drugs, a tooled up dusky assailant hellbent on vengeance, and racial tension in schools, but it’s not even vivid soap opera… Morrissey once managed the improbable by focussing on the peripheral – no sex, no drugs, no life to speak of – as the centre of attention and in doing so, he caressed the nerves of millions of other emotional retards… but now he’s like some snide, crabby old spinster… he’s become some creepy snitching perv. (Steve Sutherland, Melody Maker, 23 February 1991)

When he was in the Smiths, the press mocked his sexuality – but thought he was sexless.

Our Ste’s looking a bit weepy… Them daffs’ve got a touch of the Larry Graysons, haven’t they? But he bought them, mind. He didn’t pick them from Piccadilly Gardens. Look at them sequins! You just can’t keep him from meddling in his Mam’s sewing box. (NME, 24 March 1984) Larry Grayson was a camp comedian. https://www.camdennewjournal.co.uk/article/people-used-to-think-being-gay-meant-you-were-larry-grayson

The Smiths perverse glamour lay in their self-denial… [thier] manifesto of vengeneance on the world through disability, withdrawl and asexuality (it was impossible to imagine that Morrissey actually had a penis) was immensely attractive… It is now widely assumed that most of Morrissey’s lyrics were coded references to homosexuality… the male is invariably feminised… “This Charming Man”, which first aroused the is-Morrissey-gay debate, is way too obscure to fathom… (Simon Price, Melody Maker, 15 August 1992)

By the late 1980s they panicked that he might be a sexually active gay man – putting real gay culture into his work – with a fanbase of teenage boys – who were desperate to touch him.

Bona Drag, 1990. The title means good outfit, in Polari, a secret gay/theatrical language used when homosexuality was illegal. The song Picadilly Palare, is about male prostitutes, and palare is an alterntive spelling of polari. https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20180212-polari-the-code-language-gay-men-used-to-survive

Picadilly Palare might have been inspired by bisexual skinhead and former Picadilly prostitute, Mick Furbank. Mick designed the ‘crucified skin‘ logo for London skinhead shop, The Last Resort, where Nicky Crane was a regular customer.

Mick Furbank, Sounds, 10 January 1981

Mick Furbank is a shock tactician. Former Piccadilly rent boy—gasp! Skinhead artist—never! Mimes buggery in public performance—disgraceful! Masturbates with a Doc Marten boot on stage—appalling! Says many skins are gay, just too hung-up to acknowledge it—the world turns upside down! What he wants to tell us about is ‘Gangs. Uniforms. Pain.’ All the tender emotions suppressed, sexuality suppressed, violence expressed. His chosen approach is part and parcel of his skinhead persona. ‘No fuss. Mo mess. Pure impact.’ Very hard art. (Phil Sutcliffe, Sounds, 10 January 1981) https://standupandspit.wordpress.com/2015/01/04/skinhead-art/

No Skin Off My Ass, a sex comedy-drama about a hairdresser who has an affair with a Skinhead, 1991, directed by Bruce LaBruce. https://www.frieze.com/article/bruce-labruce-porn-and-revolution

The NME warned him that his sexual ambiguity could end his career. Which mutates into an accusation that he’s equivocal about Englishness.

If Morrissey has sinned in his rise to self-styled King of the Western World then it must surely have been indulging in his only weakness, which he himself credited as being a ‘listed crime’… it is Morrissey’s own ambiguity which has led to what many people insist on hinting at as being a somewhat spectacular cover-up… apart from a very early interview with our own Cath Carroll where Morrissey spoke directly about the eroticism of the male body (and an interview in a lesser rag that was littered with tawdry references to public toilets), Morrissey has rarely been questioned about the highly sexual nature of his lyrics… As it is, without wishing to undermine his aggressive challenge to the staid institution of compulsory heterosexuality and monogamy, I find it hard to believe that it is a Crown Prince Of Celibacy who is responsible for such knowing or flirtatious songs as ‘Late Night, Maudlin Street’, ‘Reel Around The Fountain’, ‘Hand In Glove’ and ‘Alsatian Cousin’. Or for the specifically sexual visual control of his image, from the topless NME front cover to the particularly lustful dancing of the young tearaway hoodlum on the new video… Maybe it is this over-enthusiastic curiosity from fans that forewarns him of a more offensive and dangerous threat to the often remarkable relationship with his art and his audience that he has developed – ie from the blood-hungry tabloids. If this is the case, then Morrissey should be wary of the fate that killed off both his heroes Wilde and Dean… (James Brown, NME, February 1989) https://www.nme.com/features/morrissey-talks-sex-stalkers-and-the-smiths-in-classic-nme-interview-756834

How has Morrissey come to this none-too-pretty pass? The answer comes in the convergence of two trends that have intensified as his post-Smiths career has developed. The first is his penchant for clever but equivocal lyrics (and, in fact, interview statements) about ‘Englishness’, ‘Britain’, insiders, outsiders and belonging. Wittingly or otherwise, he has continued to pick away at the scab of race relations in this country. (NME, 22 August 1992)

Sounds, January 1989

In-coming NME editor, Steve Sutherland, had written a homophobic review of Morrissey’s Hulmerist VHS implying he was abusing his fans via his t-shirts. The NME ridiculously linked his t-shirts to a flirtation with racism.

The faint hint of homoeroticism around “The Last of the International Playboys”… opens a whole different can of worms. Is the tee shirt thing a sick joke – the celebrated celibate getting his kicks sticking to the sweaty skin of every boy and girl in the hall? From “Playboy”, with Mozzer like a stripper constantly tugging at his neckline and threatening to expose a nipple… [to] barely able to sing “Sister I’m a Poet” for the boys invading the stage and embracing him… (Steve Sutherland, Melody Maker, 26 May 1990)

Morrissey’s flirtation with racism didn’t really begin until The Smiths split and he became a law unto himself, gleefully wearing his own T-shirts, aspiring to be the consummate egotist. (NME, 22 August 1992)

NME caption: some of the 1, 200 kids waiting to meet Morrissey, NME, 22 August 1992

The NME’s concerns about his ‘sway’ over the minds of ‘a generation’ echo social fears that predatory older gay men corrupt children, then playing out in a fierce debate about lowering the gay age of consent from 21 to 16. In Ireland (where most of Morrissey’s family are from) male homosexuality was illegal until 1993. https://www.beh-mht.nhs.uk/news/history-of-lgbtq-rights-in-the-uk/1750

Firstly, Morrissey has held, and continues to hold, sway over the minds of a generation who take tips from his every utterance, try to model themselves on his sense of fashion and live their lives at least partly according to codes he’s laid down with a flourish (just try imagining the number of people who converted to vegetarianism upon hearing The Smiths’ ‘Meat Is Murder’). (NME, 22 August 1992)

At Glastonbury, where this paper was one of the sponsors, kids came to the NME tent and literally wept about Morrissey’s absence. (NME, 22 August 1992)

Sad, young male, Morrissey fans, NME, 22 August 1992

The point about “protecting the young” was made over and over again. Lynette Burrows in The Sunday Telegraph (7 Jun) based her objections to any change on the idea that adolescent boys are easily persuaded to give up their heterosexuality by “predatory homosexuals who would gain most if they were allowed to recruit from among them… One must conclude that the basis for the relentless self-advertisement of many homosexuals is related to this desire to recruit new partners. Many are dedicated to the untrammelled appetite for sex that… often results in degradation and disease. It is… a life-style that can easily be portrayed to a vulnerable teenager as the answer to all his problems of identity and sexual longing.” (Media Watch, Gay Times, July 1992)

They don’t have a snowball’s hope in hell of getting this through… There is a small minority of paedophile homosexuals who want to corrupt and ensnare youngsters. They must be stopped at all costs. (Geoffrey Dickens MP, the Daily Star, April 1992)

The gay skinhead look, Outrage! campaign poster, 1992

The Melody Maker/NME – both publications owned by IPC and working out of the same building – couldn’t directly attack Morrissey’s sexuality. Gay rights was a small, and unpopular cause, but it was edgy, young and fashionable.

It was also desperately needed. A Galop survey in 1991, published in 1992, found that 80% of gay men in London had been verbally abused, and 50% had been physically assualted. Four gay men had been murdered. https://galop.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/galop-annual-report-1992.pdf

On November 30th I went along to a peaceful demonstration in central London marking this year’s World AIDS Day. Organised by the London AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT-UP), the London Bisexual Women’s Group and the National Union of Students, the demo aimed to draw attention to the scandalous lack of information surrounding treatment, healthcare and safer sex/ drug use in this country. The action was interrupted by a violent and brutal attack by the police.. (Nicola Field, Mainliners, January 1992) https://history-is-made-at-night.blogspot.com/2010/12/world-aids-day.html

Left-wing activists at a gay rights protest, 1988

Accusing him of racism deflected attention away from the NME’s homophobia and created a ludicrous debate over whether his use of the Union Jack was racist or ironic.

Marvel UK, 1991.

Six months before Finsbury Park, the NME had featured a Union Jack on their cover, alongside a celebration of young female groupies.

NME, 20 March 1992

The myth that it was rarely used before ‘Britpop’ reclaimed it was concocted by Stuart Maconie and Andrew Collins to explain why they used it on the front cover of Select in April 1993, just 8 months after claiming that Morrissey waving it could cause a genocide in Europe.

Select, April 1993

In 2019, The Guardian used the myth to claim that it was Morrissey who was being aggressive at Finsbury Park. And this was somehow a clear signal to fascists in the audience that he was ONE OF THEM.

Waving the Union Jack during his show at Madness’s Madstock festival in Finsbury Park, London, in 1992, felt like a more aggressive move (this was before Britpop’s Cool-Britannia-era reclamation of the flag; and its association with the far right was still strong). And it was done in the knowledge that the Madness crowd contained a significant fascist/skinhead element. (Tim Jonze, the Guardian, 30 May 2019)

Union Jacks 1970-1990s: on bedding, worn by London Marathon runners, at the Queen’s Jubilee, on toys, worn by comedian Ken Dodd, waved by children on a Royal visit.

The NME repeats the Melody Maker’s lie about Seig Heiling skins, but they focus on his ‘camp’ performance – dancing, draped, glittering. Randomly selecting the Who and the Jam as flag-wavers, who reclaimed the flag, from a vocal mirco-minority – as if we’d have to reclaim the official flag of the United Kingdom from a micro-minority. It’s also inacurrate. The National Front was bigger in the 1960s and 1970s. And the 1992 version of the BNP had been formed in 1982 after a gay scandal in the National Front, in order to exclude ‘queers’. https://eprints.bbk.ac.uk/id/eprint/46529/1/46529.pdf

The Observer, August 2017. The Battle of Lewisham, 13 August 1977, is credited with halting the rise of the National Front.

All this is sad, but not as sad as the day Morrissey appeared on the Madness bill at Finsbury Park, and danced around with a Union Jack draped around his glittering shirt during ‘Glamorous Glue’. For his pains, he was attacked with various minor missiles by an unruly element in the audience, but anyone could have told him that there was a small but vocal contingent of Seig Heiling skins in the audience… Of course, one realises that The Jam used the flag to optimum effect when they were in existence, but they explained themselves by claiming they were reclaiming the flag from The Far Right. In the ’60s The Who were also notorious flag-wavers, but those were markedly different times and both the NF and the BNP didn’t exist in the same form (a vocal micro-minority) then. Morrissey, however, must be aware of what flag-waving means in the Euro-90s… (NME, 22 August 1992)

Describing him as a shallow, laughable, eccentric who wants to be a teenager, is less like a violent racist, and more like a gay stereotype.

But then, along with being an English eccentric who wishes he was a teenager in the ’50s, Morrissey has often been attracted to surface gloss, to style-over-content. Is he satisfied, this way? Would he like to be a laughing stock? (NME, 22 August 1992)

They demanded an interview. Morrissey refused.

Morrissey was told of both the general gist and some particulars of this piece and asked for his comments and if he was prepared to do a full scale interview. He responded, through the press office, with the following statement: ‘My lawyers are poised. NME have been trying to end my career for four years and year after year they fail. This year they will also fail.” (NME, 22 August 1992)

Students protested, beneath the Union Jack that decorated the entrance to his record company, EMI.

NME, September 1992

The band Cornershop burned his picture.

27 years later, the Guardian, used the 3 minutes he held a flag to ask if he was showing his true colours, and to claim that he had a long history of supporting far right organisations.

The Guardian, May 1992.

Morrissey might have just been looking for some temporary credibility from Love Music Hate Racism. Certainly, the long history of support for racist and far right organisations speaks to something else. We certainly wouldn’t be taking any further donations from Morrissey‘ (Zak Cochrane, the Guardian, May 2019) 

The intention was to kill his career.

Moz is history, and we’d all do well to learn it. (Andrew Collins, NME, April 1992)

… a lack of grace and control… seems to have become endemic in dealings with him; a career that once looked effortless, touched by the hand of God almost, has now become characterised by a series of feuds, upsets, no-shows and general tetchiness. (NME, 22 August 1992)

And seperate him from the Smiths.

Melody Maker, Vox advert, 16 March 1991

They could have sensationalised his sexuality more overtly. Sire had sidelined the Smiths in America after Rolling Stone labeled Morrissey gay.

A piece in Rolling Stone claimed Morrissey was gay, completely contradicting his stand against sexual roles and their divisive consequences. “That brought a lot of problems for me”, he recalls ruefully. “Of course I never made such a statement”, Immediately their American record company, Sire, recoiled from supporting The Smiths. “They were petrified”, he remembers with disgust. “I thought that kind of writing epitomised the mentality of the American music press. That sicking macho stuff. After it appeared in Rolling Stone it ran rife through the lesser known publications, which to me was profoundly dull”. (Melody Maker, November 1984) https://illnessasart.com/2020/01/05/melody-maker-3-november-1984/

But it may have felt too risky. In May 1992, Jason Donovan had sued, The Face, over accusations that the was gay in their ‘Queer As F*ck‘ issue. He won, and could have bankrupted them if he hadn’t waived the damages. https://gtmediawatch.org/1965/07/01/gay-times-may-1992/

Jason Donovan, leaving the High Court, 3 April 1992

The publicity around Out: the skin complex mentioned that some gay black men were angry that it was hard to tell a gay skinhead from a violent skinhead. Morrissey’s quiff & gold lame shirt – as well as the description of him as ‘prancing’ & the fact he was attacked by the homophobic crowd – wouldn’t cause that problem, but in 2001, Andrew Collins was using Dele Fadele’s skin colour to justify the story and labelled him a cultural tourist for holding a Union Jack, and standing in front of a picture of two girls with shaven heads.

The skinhead look is a dominant one in the gay scene at the moment,’ according to Harvey Gillis, fashion editor of Boyz magazine. ‘It’s a fashion statement not a political one.’ Some black gays oppose the trend because of the difficulty in separating violent fascists from the simply fashion-conscious. (Martin Wroe, the Independent, 26th July 1992)  https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/reformed-fascist-ready-to-admit-homosexuality-martin-wroe-reports-on-the-conversion-of-a-right-winger-that-highlights-a-thriving-gay-fashion-1535856.html?amp

I never said the Morrissey witch-hunt issue was ‘real journalism’, Jon. I said it was “real” journalism, ie. closer to real journalism than the shit we usually did. I was at Madstock and the crowd was pretty dodgy… Whether Moz is/was a racist or not was less important than the fact that he was flirting with far right imagery – like a cultural tourist – and not going on record about his real reasons, or his real feelings. He could have stopped that cover story with one statement. He chose to remain enigmatic and distant, compounding his error… At first, as features editor, I refused to get involved, but I was ordered by my boss into an emergency staff meeting, and once the decision was made, it was up to the senior staff (me Danny Kelly, and Stuart Maconie) to get the copy done, along with an excellent piece by Dele Fadele who is black and could therefore give a perspective none of us NME white boys could. (Dele was furious about Moz’s actions and needed no coercion to write.) All I did was compile Morrissey’s faux-racist quotes from every interview he’d ever done, and collate the lyrics… We did our job. (Andrew Collins, Angelfire, Re NME disappearing up its own PR, 26 July 2001) https://www.angelfire.com/super/sotcaabits/forums/nme01.html

In the mid-90s, Morrissey was rumoured to be in a relationship with Jake Walters, a photographer, and skinhead.

Morrissey and Jake Walters, 1994. Following the revelation of his first serious relationship with a man in his new book Autobiography, Morrissey has issued a clarification about his sexuality. “Unfortunately, I am not homosexual,” he wrote from Sweden in a note posted on fansite True to You. “In technical fact, I am humasexual. I am attracted to humans. But, of course, not many.” (Guardian Music, the Guardian, 21 October 2013)

In 2002, the NME wrote an article about the Smiths that entwined their obsession with Morrissey’s sexual ambiguity with their lie that he was unambiguously a racist. The UK didn’t have a predominatly black DJ culture and the crowd at Madstock made no comment on the Union Jack. They heckled that he was a ‘poof’ (a UK slur for a gay man).

He fastidiously cultivated his own eccentricities into an iconography. A depressive nature could be a flamboyant selling point, not an introverted whimper. An unspecified sexuality could be ruthlessly exploited, especially when there was speculation of a homoerotic tension between him and his stoic foil, Johnny Marr... Morrissey always chose to be brutally upfront about some subjects: his hatred of black music, for one thing – ‘Reaggae is vile’, he told us in February 1985. But on matters of sexuality, he was tantalisingly ambiguous… ‘The Queen is Dead’… another title calculated to draw controversy: cheers from the generally leftist, republican NME, and its readers; moral indignation from the mainstream. Morrissey’s paranoia may have been increasing, but his knack of sensationally voicing the prejudices of his followers was undimmed. Only when he began to misjudge the balance – to offend the liberal sensibilities of the paper – did the love affair start to founder… ‘Panic’ was both brilliant and newsworthy, pivoting as it did on the chorus of ‘hang the DJ’. After Morrissey’s previous comments on black music, certain critics saw the line as implicitly racist, an attack on the predominantly black DJ culture of the time… to imagine that Morrissey hadn’t considered the statement’s ambiguity would be to credit him with implausible naivety… a certain discomfort with Morrissey that had already been brewing started to flourish… The story reached a climax in 1992… On August 22… he was photographed at a show supporting Madness in London’s Finsbury Park. In his hand, he waved a Union Jack – in spite of the fact that the gig was known to have attracted a number of skinheads who would have interpreted the gesture unambiguously. ‘Flying the flag or flirting with disaster’ read the headline, while the article calmly examined what it interpreted as a distasteful infatuation with the imagery of British racism… One of Morrissey’s most potent skills was to encourage an illusion of intimacy, appearing to confess when in fact he was being scrupulously protective of his private life – never openly discussing his sexuality… We ridiculed him, demonised him, accidentally split up his band… but for a few magnificent years, we were bewitched by him… (NME, 20 April 2002)

The press kept obsessing about his sexual and ethnic ambiguity.

Morrissey intends to remain undefinable. He’s a conversational escapologist, eluding any attempt to pin him down. Take, for example, his sexuality. It’s 20 years since Rolling Stone magazine described him as gay, much to his annoyance, and he still refuses to specify. Often he denies any kind of sex life at all. That’s his business, but it’s a long time to maintain ambiguity... On his new single, Irish Blood, English Heart, he sings of “standing by the flag not feeling shameful, racist or partial”. He’s referring to his notorious performance at Madness’s Madstock weekender in 1992, when he wrapped himself in a Union flag and was branded a racist by the music press, casting a long shadow over his solo career… Could he not have simply explained his intentions? “Well, you know, I haven’t just arrived from the village,” he snaps. “I did think of all these things. I knew the people I was dealing with and there was no point in reaching out to them. It’s more dignified to step away than to run towards them and say, ‘Please forgive me for something I haven’t done.’ (Dorian Lynskey, the Guardian, 9 April 2004) https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2004/apr/09/shopping.morrissey

The success of his album in 2004, You Are The Quarry, gave him a brief respite.

… excised from the hearts of many, horrified by the messy “flirtation” with racist imagery. (Victoria Segal, NME, November 1999)

… nevermind the shaky accusations of racism… all those years of being Mother Teresa for the clumsy and shy and suddenly he was being reviled for crimes he’d never committed. (Victoria Segal, Mojo, May 2004)

But in 2007, the NME hyped some mild comments about immigration and reprinted the Finsbury Park story, this started a press persecution that escalated after Tim Jonze became the Guradian’s music editor in 2010.

Len Brown’s biography has come under fire in the September issue of Q magazine. Dorian Lynskey, who interviewed Morrissey for The Guardian back in 2004, argues the book is “fundamentally flawed” because of Brown’s “20-year relationship” with the artist. He accuses the ex-NME journalist of “having no flair for narrative” and also complains that Brown “fudges the issue of the singer’s contentious statements about national identity”. The review awards the book three stars but is headlined “Friend Of Mozzer Pens Biography – Thorny Subjects Ignored”. (Anonymous, Morrissey Solo, 9 September 2008)

https://folk-devil.com/2022/07/05/immigration/

Dele Fadele died in 2018. In his belated Guardian obituary, Jonze, managed to echo the homophobia of 1992.

I’m surprised that it has taken so long for the press to get round to “The Secret Gay Life of Star Frankie” (Sunday Mirror, 9 Aug). I don’t know who is supposed to be surprised by the knowledge that Frankie Howerd was gay, but apparently the papers find it “shocking”. Of course, as they tell it, the comedian’s gay nature was part of his “dark side” . (Media Watch, Gay Times, September 1992)

[Dele summed up] the dark side of Morrissey... [he] famously helped persuade the magazine’s staff to run its Flying the flag or flirting with disaster? cover story, which called out their most bankable star Morrissey’s dalliance with the far right for the first time. (The former Smiths man refused to talk to the paper for more than a decade after it was published; his reputation remains tarnished to this day.)… It was in 1992, though, that Dele played his most pivotal role. He had attended Madstock in Finsbury Park, the now-notorious gig in which support artist Morrissey draped himself in the union jack, a move some saw as a move pandering to the crowd’s skinhead element… Dele was appalled by what he’d witnessed… “It was Dele’s finest hour,” recalls Andrew Collins, who along with then-editor Danny Kelly reworked the cover around Dele’s critical piece – an arduous process to do at the last minute back then. “He wrote from the heart – and, uniquely among the staff – from an actual vantage point. [Dele was’t gay] This was not a moment to be lily-livered and Dele seized the day. It was a turning point for Moz’s provocations. Dele wrote if not his most important piece, certainly one that gave urgency and weight to an otherwise hand-wringing situation.” (Tim Jonze, the Guardian, September 2020) https://www.theguardian.com/music/2020/sep/14/dele-fadele-remembered-nme

For 30 years (and counting) Morrissey has been called a racist because he was the victim of a homophobic hate crime.

He’s been dehumanised, demonised, and made a pariah.

His public image has been fused with Nicky Crane – a bad gay – toxic, vicious, fascist. His moving solo work conflated with Skrewdriver. A queer second generation immigrant singled out as the only artist in the UK who can’t touch a Union Jack.

Union Jack on the microphone. The Observer, How to treat Morrissey? Stop listening to him, 8 July 2018

Side Note: My Favourite Worst Nightmare – Morrissey & Madstock

Of course, I was only through the Park gates for a few moments when a lager-swilling huddle of bovver-booted neo-Nazis spotted my quiff and garb and blew poisoned kisses in my direction, tweeting, ‘ooh, Morrissey, Morrissey!'” “Meanwhile, Morrissey, a Liberace shirt slung over his skinny frame, is waving these fascist-spawned monsters’ Union Flag at them while relating the experience of Davey, the young man who went to the National Front Disco’; if ever there was an sudden irony failure at NME, who’d slated Morrissey’s solo work for not treading on the taboos of old’, it was right here. Only a couple of years later, they would laud Britpop and the reclaiming of the British flag, yet here, it was Morrissey, and not this foul minority in Madness’s audience, who they cast as the racist.” “Morrissey finished his otherwise triumphant set early and failed to show for day two; Suggs never mentioned, nor was he ever quizzed upon, his band’s neo-fascist supporters’ behaviour that day. Meanwhile, me and my fellow Moz heads made our tremulous way to the tube station, well before midnight, in blissful ignorance of just how this story was about to be spun by the popular music press we’d supported for years; so long as we remember exactly what took place that day, the chroniclers and revisionists can simply get on with glossing over the inconvenient truth.” (Johnnie Craig, State, 11 October 2009) https://web.archive.org/web/20131027211741/http://state.ie/features/archive/my-favourite-worst-nightmare-morrissey-madstock

Side Note 2: the artistic closet

“Outside” effectively marked the end of George Michael’s career as a serious artist. Not because “coming out” turned the straight world against him, but because, paradoxically, it meant that he could no longer write about “inside” feelings honestly. He could only be a spokesperson. (Mark Simpson, Salon, 30 April 2004) https://www.salon.com/2004/04/30/morrissey/

Side Note 3: Homophobia has never been taken as seriously as racism – and racism has been used as a reason for ignoring homophobia. In 1992 Buju Banton released a song with lyrics about torturing and killing gay men. The Guardian accused gay rights campaigners who complained of being racist. And found it easy to accept his explanation that it wasn’t literal.

In the 11 years since Buju Banton released his single Boom Bye Bye, which appeared to advocate shooting gay men, the singer has done much to shake off the controversy that surrounded him… Banton pointed out that he wasn’t literally advocating murder, but maintained that homosexuality was against his religious beliefs… Banton is fiery enough to make me feel personally responsible for every British injustice towards Jamaica in the past 300 years. (Dorian Lynskey, The Guardian, March 2003) https://www.theguardian.com/music/2003/mar/03/artsfeatures.popandrock

In 2009, Buju would meet with gay rights activists in San Francisco, but went on to blame them for a pepper spray attack: This is a fight, and as I said in one of my songs ‘there is no end to the war between me and faggot’ and it’s clear. The same night after I met with [gay activists], they pepper-sprayed the concert. So what are you trying to tell me? I owe dem nothing, they don’t owe I nothing.”https://www.queerty.com/buju-banton-met-with-the-gays-then-he-spat-in-their-faces-20091016

Side Note 4: the NME’s claim they were just as hard on Eric Clapton, David Bowie & Elvis Costello is untrue.

So why, at the end of all this, is NME bothering? Why are our knickers in such a twist? Well, there’s nothing new in this. In the past, when the likes of Eric Clapton, David Bowie and even Elvis Costello have dipped their unthinking toes into these murky waters, the music press have been equally quick on the case. And Morrissey, unlike, say, a bigoted idiot like Ice Cube, holds tremendous sway over thousands of fans in Britain and is generally regarded as one of our most intelligent rock performers. Therefore when he sends out signals on subjects as sensitive as those discussed above there seems little room for playfulness, never mind ambiguity. In Europe in 1992, with ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ a reality and the new Nazis on the rise across the continent, the need for clear thinking and clear statements is more acute than ever. (NME, 22 August 1992)

Eric sailed past an anti-racist letter appealing to his better self into 1980s rock aristocracy while still supporting Enoch Powell. The worst it got for David Bowie was the NME faking the picture of a Nazi salute that became gossipy rocklore (although it might be significant that he dropped his gay alien persona for something more hetero). And the NME refused to believe that Elvis Costello could mean it when he called James Brown a “jive-arsed n——” and Ray Charles a “blind, ignorant n——.”

Eric: https://genius.com/Red-saunders-letter-to-the-uk-music-press-regarding-eric-clapton-annotated

David: http://www.chalkiedavies.com/blog/b9wr8hr5mr79wkkbx83lf8cd7p54f7

Elvis: http://www.elviscostello.info/wiki/index.php/New_Musical_Express,_October_30,_1982

Side Note 5: The Union Jack is ubiquitous in UK culture – at no point in our history has it ever been a clear signal of fascism or has it needed to be reclaimed from the far right. Some comrades on the hard left hate it as a symbol of the British Empire, but that’s a minority opinion.

Brand Britain: Milk Bottle, British Airways Advert, Vimto Sparkling Fruit Juice mascot, skinhead fashion.

1960s: football fans and swimwear.

1990 FIFA World Cup. Pay No Poll Tax was a left-wing protest.

Footballer Paul Gascoigne, NME, 24 November 1990. They made no mention of the Union Jacks on his shorts.

Skinheads were a working-class subculture that spanned the political spectrum and listened to Reggae, Punk and their variants. They had widespread coverage in the press, including in the NME.

NME, 6 August 1977