On July 29th 1992, Nicky Crane – National Front skinhead and Screwdriver roadie; who featured in the same Nick Knight photo essay as the V-flicker on a Morrissey t-shirt – came out as gay on the UK Channel 4 documentary, Out: The Skin Complex, that explored gay skinhead subculture.
On August 22nd 1992, the NME spent 5 pages denouncing Morrissey as a racist for playing 1 of 2 planned gigs with headliners Madness, at Finsbury Park, where he was heckled by a homophobic crowd while thrashing about a Union Jack flag in front of a Derek Ridgers art print of 2 skinhead girls.
Despite lead singer, Suggs’s skinhead past and old Skrewdriver connections, Madness was deemed ‘unfortunate’ for attracting the racist crowd. Derek Ridgers worried that Morrissey had demeaned the girls in the art print, who WERE racist imagery. Flowered Up, another band on the bill, thought Morrissey had asked for trouble by ‘prancing around‘.
Most of the National Front supporters were outside Finsbury Park to oppose a march for a cause Morrissey supported, British troops out of Northern Ireland (he’s from an Irish Catholic family). The National Front’s most violent organiser, Johnny ‘Mad Dog’ Adair, was a fan of reggae band UB40, and his loyalist paramilitary gang killed Catholics while listening to rave.
But still the NME lied that Morrissey was a Little England British Nationalist, that his imagery was racist, that he was fanning the flames of race-hate, that Bengali in Platforms was a diatribe against assimilation, supportive of ex-Conservative Ulster Unionist MP Enoch Powell, inciting calls for immigrants to be deported, that he wanted a pre-immigration green and pleasant England, that he wanted an English ethno-state, that he was provoking genocide, and – in a technique that now dominates his coverage – cobbled together so many snippets of lyrics and interviews spuriously branded racist that to refute them all would look demented; no fire without all THAT smoke. Even his quiff was racist for being a 1950s style.
And, taking their cue from The Skin Complex, they speculated that he had a sexual fetish for racism, that he was getting vicarious skinhead thrills, that he was using real men, like skinheads, The Angelic Upstarts, as a cover; and noted that ‘Richard Allen’s skinhead chronicles are full of sickening accounts of violence against blacks. And for that matter, homosexuals’.
And for that matter, that was their real point.
Someone must have watched it, got excited, thought OH THAT’S WHAT HE’S UP TO and decided to disguise their usual prurient, repressed homophobic obsession with his sex life beneath a heap of lurid faux righteous anti-racism.
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, 26th 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, August 1992)
Maybe they wanted to kill his career.
Moz is history, and we’d all do well to learn it. (Andrew Collins, NME, April 1992)
Or ‘out’ him without risking a libel trial as catastrophic as The Face losing to Jason Donovan in May 1992 over their ‘Queer As Fuck’ issue.
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)
Saved by the success of Vauxhall and I, but battered by label, legal, personal and management issues; and excluded by the music press from Britpop, he moved to LA and built an audience of equally excluded Chicanos.
In 2002 the NME mournfully accused him of giving the illusion of intimacy while never discussing his sexuality, and of being ambiguous, unambiguous, brutally upfront and distastefully infatuated with racism.
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. (VS, 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. (VS, Mojo, May 2004)
But his shyness, difficulty with social norms and outsider art meant the press soon fell back on ridicule, demonisation, inflammatory headlines and witch-hunts.
For a spell his public image has fused with the forgotten Nicky Crane – a bad gay, toxic, shunned, unwholesome; his empathetic solo work unbelievably synonymous with Skrewdriver.
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)
…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)
Side Note 1: Nicky was on the gay scene from 1984, made gay porn films, attacked a benefit gig that had the Smiths on the bill & drank in a gay pub, The Bell, in Kings Cross that Morrissey also frequented. The video for Our Frank, directed by gay filmmaker John Maybury, used skinhead extras & was shot around Kings Cross.
Brief clip of The Skin Complex in a news report about another gay NF ex-member. https://www.channel4.com/news/neo-nazi-national-front-organiser-quits-movement-comes-out-as-gay-kevin-wilshaw-jewish-heritage
Side Note 2: the NME’s claim they were just as hard on Eric Clapton, David Bowie & Elvis Costello is untrue. Eric sailed past the 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. 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——.”
Side Note 3: 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, nevermind from Morrissey. Some on the hard left hate it as a symbol of the British Empire and the British State, it’s a minority opinion. 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.
Madness film: https://youtu.be/cwWvKnU9zCE