Anyone who knows me in person knows that I’m a big fan of The Smiths; the title of this very blog is taken from the name of a compilation of theirs. Earlier this year, my lovely other half arranged a surprise trip to Manchester for my birthday, knowing that I’ve wanted to go for years and traipse the hallowed paths that Morrissey, Johnny Marr, Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce once did.
There are guided tours for this sort of thing, but they didn’t seem to be running in February, or else you needed to have a group in order to book – so we took it upon ourselves to make our own way around the city to see some Smiths-related sites. Manchester isn’t that big and the public transport is great, so it was relatively easy to get around to a few places over the course of a morning. Maybe this post will come in handy for other people planning a similar trip, because there’s not that much sensible info out there.
The first place I wanted to go was Morrissey’s childhood house on Kings Road in Stretford. Starting off in Manchester city centre, we got the green line Metrolink tram from Market Street in the direction of Altrincham. It takes about 20 minutes with no changes necessary.
Once you arrive at the Stretford stop, go up the steps, turn left and walk straight ahead. In about 200 metres, you’ll come to a junction and the beginning of Kings Road.
Sounds easy, right? Well, it is until you realise what a big long bastard of a road it is. Morrissey grew up in number 384, so be prepared to walk for about 15/20 minutes. Luckily, there’s another Smiths-related landmark along the way to break up the journey.
The Iron Bridge (from the song ‘Still Ill’) is about halfway down Kings Road, on the left hand side beside a small row of shops. It’s nice to walk across and have a look at the Smiths and Morrissey-related graffiti that still lines much of the bridge, a lot of it fresh. It just goes to show how much this band still means to people. Of course, we had to leave our own mark (sorry, Manchester City Council, but at least we didn’t leave one of those ridiculous love lock things).
We continued down Kings Road and eventually came to Moz’s house. Bear in mind that there is absolutely no distinguishing characteristic about this house, and someone lives in it – in fact, we saw a woman coming out to hang up washing in the back garden. After a few quick photos, we quickly scarpered so as not to seem like loitering creeps. For Smiths nerds, this is a must-see – just to imagine Johnny Marr knocking on that front door on that fateful day in 1982… magic.
It was back to the Stretford tram stop and on to our next destination, Southern Cemetery in Chorlton (of ‘Cemetry Gates’ fame). If you’re following the same route as we did, you’ll need to go back a couple of stops to Trafford Bar and then get the blue or red line tram to Withington. Once you ascend the steps, you’ll be able to see the cemetery. Turn right as you leave the station and walk for about five minutes. You’ll pass a big car wash on your right, and the iconic sign is just ahead, crossing the road at the junction right in front of you.
The cemetery does guided tours as a lot of well-known people are buried there: Sir Matt Busby, Tony Wilson, early Man Utd. football superstar Billy Meredith: all graves that Morrissey and Linder no doubt sought out on one of those ‘dreaded sunny days’. It’s a nice, peaceful place to wander around.
We couldn’t dally too long, though, as we had an appointment at our next stop: the iconic Salford Lads Club. The travel plans went a bit askew somewhat here, as it’s a bit finicky to get from Chorlton to Salford. We ended up stopping off for a quick lunchtime refreshment (ahem) around Trafford Bar and then just hopped in a taxi, as we were pressed for time.
You can take the chance of just turning up at Salford Lads Club midweek – you’ll still be able to take pictures outside, obviously – but if you want to go inside and see the Smiths Room, it’s highly advisable to book an appointment (it’s open from 11.30am – 1.30pm on Saturdays). They are very friendly and accommodating, and even with two days’ notice they squeezed us in without any problems. It’s still a working club for the community, so it’s quite busy – but a lovely man called Peter (I think?) showed us in, told us a little about the club and brought us to the Smiths room.
This is a must for any Smiths fan. Once used as a weights room for the club in the ’70s and ’80s, there are still old weights on display and pictures of bodybuilders and atheletes from the 1950s and 1960s on the walls. The rest of the walls are covered floor to ceiling in posters, newspaper articles, signed pictures, a Morrissey mosaic (originally on display outside a pub in the city centre), postcards written by Morrissey, etc.
People are invited to write their name and a message on a Post-It; they’re regularly gathered up and pasted on to the wall. It’s great to see the far-flung places that people have travelled from – Smiths fans from Australia, Canada, South America have all left messages.
There are also pictures of some well-known faces who’ve had their photos taken outside the club, recreating the original band pose – from Ryan Adams to Frank Sidebottom.
It was brilliant to see such an iconic building in Smiths lore in real life. But be warned – the surrounding area is a bit rough.
If we’d had a whole day rather than just a half-day, there were lots of other places to tick off on my list – Rusholme, Strangeways Prison, The Holy Name Church, Albert Finney’s father’s shop, to name but a few. But they’ll keep for next time.
Our Smiths day didn’t quite end there, though: our trip coincided with a special gig by tribute band The Smyths playing the debut album in full at The Ritz, the very venue that The Smiths played their first gig at (before bassist Andy Rourke joined), supporting Blue Rondo a la Turk in 1982. It’s a gorgeous venue with a sprung dance floor and the gig was really good (although I must admit that Dublin’s These Charming Men are a superior band).
Here’s a clip from the gig: even a technical malfunction with the band couldn’t stop the crowd from singing This Charming Man:
A great ending to a great day.
Have you done the ‘Smiths pilgrimage’, or have any other advice/pointers to add? Please leave a comment below and I’ll add it to the post.