The Smiths Convention July 1988

As well as the many gigs there was another significant event that occurred in 1988. In issue no.8 of Smiths Indeed I spotted an advert for a Smiths Convention which was being held in Manchester in July. For a Smiths obsessed individual it sounded like something I couldn’t miss. So I despatched my cheque for seven pounds and looked forward to finally visiting Manchester. The place where it had all begun.

I’d read a lot about the city and places such as Whalley Range, Rusholme and Ancoats where as fascinating to me as Abbey Road was for a Beatles fan. The city that had spawned Buzzcocks, The Fall, Joy Division as well as The Smiths must have something special in the water and I was keen to experience it.

So on Thursday the 28th July I found myself in Oxford Road, Manchester waiting to hop aboard the Convention coach trip. This was probably the part of the day I was most looking forward to, seeing in the flesh the places that up until now I’d only read and heard being sung about. The feeling of excitement and anticipation was overwhelming as I climbed the stairs onto the coach, camera in hand.

Once the line of quiff sporting Smiths fans were on board we set off through the Manchester streets.

It wasn’t long before our first stopping point. The coach driver pulled over on the side of a busy road and at first I couldn’t see why we’d stopped there. As we walked off our guide pointed us in the direction of what was a very familiar looking road sign. I took a deep breath. Who would have thought that a battered road sign directing drivers to Piccadilly, St Peter’s Square, Ancoats, Strangeways and Salford could have such an effect? Out came the camera and we all tried to replicate the angle used by Stephen Wright for the shot on the rear of the ‘Strangeways…’ album sleeve.

Passing locals understandably gave us all some very strange looks.

For me this was more than a road sign, it had a direct connection with a group of people who had changed my life. I remember touching it as if I was touching some religious relic.

Once everyone had taken their photographs we boarded the bus again and travelled just round the corner to Strangeways Prison. The building, built in 1869, was an imposing sight with its dark gates, high walls and looming tower. Despite the sombre nature of the place we happily took some photos before we were directed to the nearby Stephen Street. This was where Morrissey had his photograph taken and was also the name of the Smiths producer and more lately Morrissey’s writing partner. This part of the world was also where some of the ‘I Started Something…’ video was filmed. For reasons discussed in a previous post I didn’t dwell on this too much.

“It could have been me!”

Once back on the coach we headed towards Salford. For many the view from the coach window would have looked like any other inner city, for me it felt magical. This was a city where special things happened. Where a certain Sex Pistols gig in ‘76 had inspired a small group of individuals to form some of the greatest groups this country had ever seen.

It wasn’t long before the coach turned off the main road, leaving the busy traffic behind. We found ourselves in a quiet red brick terraced street. I looked up and saw a road sign, ‘Coronation Street’. This means we were here, at the Salford Lads Club.

I wonder when Stephen Wright took that iconic photo on a cold November day in 1985 he had any inkling that it would become a focal point for Smiths fans the world over. It wasn’t even the cover shot but was found inside on the gatefold. It somehow seemed to have everything, intrinsically Northern, with the then tatty looking facade, the Coronation Street sign with its obvious connection to the long running Manchester based soap. Unlike some eighties groups who would have jetted off to a glamorous sunny beach location for a photo shoot, The Smiths positioned themselves clearly in the reality of the mid-eighties in the North. The here and now.

The coach came to a halt and we eagerly disembarked and rushed to the end of the road to take in our first view of that famous green doorway. As you can see from my one surviving photograph of the day, it didn’t look as grand as it does today. With graffiti on the walls it looked shabby and uncared for.

Despite this it still felt like somewhere special. A link to a piece of work that many see as The Smiths highpoint. Despite never having been there before I felt a connection, probably down to the number of hours I’d pored over the album sleeve, memorising every lyric. A queue formed so people could get their photo taken in front of the entrance. I wasn’t concerned about getting a photo of myself, I was just happy to get a shot of the building.

Once everyone had taken their pictures we were ushered back to the coach for the next instalment of our musical pilgrimage. From Salford we made our way to what was the Albert Finney shop. I don’t remember much about that part of the tour but from there we travelled to Morrissey’s primary school in Hulme and from there to Stretford to see his infamous secondary school, St Mary’s.

Next up was 384 Kings Road. Morrissey’s old house and where the mythical meeting with Johnny Marr took place. At first glance it just looked like a very ordinary semi-detached house in what was a long, very ordinary suburban street. However once you focused on the front door and appreciated the importance of what occurred there in 1982 it took on a whole new meaning. This was the birthplace of what became The Smiths. Lots of photographs were taken and we all respectfully stayed on the pavement and resisted the temptation to go and touch the front door. I’ve always wondered whether the occupants knew what they were buying and how long it took them to get used to coach loads of people taking pictures of their house every day.

By this point I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all and couldn’t quite believe what I’d seen and experienced. There was however still one more venue to visit. Another place strongly associated with Morrissey’s life in Manchester and a song from The Queen is Dead LP. A tour round The Smiths’ Manchester wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Southern Cemetery and those famous ‘Cemetry Gates’. I’d read interviews in which Morrissey had spoken of his times meeting up with Linder and spending hours in this place. And now here I was, at the same place. We didn’t have that much time to explore the Cemetery itself so lots of pictures where taken of the gates and the sign before getting back on board the coach.

That was the tour done and to be honest I would have been content with that but there was more to come.

Once back at the Convention centre, which I think was part of the University, there was a hall with stalls selling Smiths and Morrissey related items. Videos were played and there was a constant Smiths soundtrack wherever you went.

The next part of the day was a trip to The Hacienda. For the music press devouring indie fan The Hacienda was one of those places that I’d read a lot about. So come ten o’clock I was in the queue with a large number of other Smiths fans waiting to step inside the famous building. Thursday night was ‘Temperance Club’ night aimed at the indie / student crowd so it was right up our street. Inside it was stark, industrial and felt more like a place of work (a factory?) rather than a nightclub. I’ve got a vivid recollection of what it looked and felt like but I sadly can’t recall any of the music.

At one point a rumour swept the club that Morrissey was outside the club in a white VW Golf. I’ve no idea if this actually occurred but it does appear from doing a bit of research that both Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke were there that evening and were in the DJ booth. This, let’s face it, very important bit of information didn’t reach me so I’m afraid I missed the opportunity to meet them.

At some point I left The Hacienda and headed back to the Convention Centre. There were still videos being played but most people by this point were taking the opportunity to have rest or a snooze before the final event of the day (night). You can’t say we didn’t get our monies worth!

Come 4am there was an auction of Smiths memorabilia. There were all sorts of goodies available if you had the spare cash, including numerous signed records and rarities. I sat down in the hall and hurriedly tried to decide what I was going to bid for. The auction got underway and some of the signed records started to go for over forty pounds. Looking back there were some real bargains to be had but at the time forty quid seemed like a lot of money. Putting it into perspective then a decent ticket for a gig would only be around the six quid mark. So I sat there anxiously watching item after item get sold. Then next up was a pair of Mike Joyce’s drumsticks. These felt a bit more personal, one of the group actually played with these so I put my hand in the air as the bidding commenced. For whatever reason they didn’t appear to very popular so I managed to nab them for fifteen pounds.

And that was that. My first visit to Manchester came to an end.

I moved to the North West a few years ago and have naturally visited Manchester a number of times since. Seeing those familiar place names and iconic sites still gives me the same buzz of excitement that it did all those years ago.

It’s a special place.

March 2018
July 2015
July 2015
March 2013

3 thoughts on “The Smiths Convention July 1988

  1. Brilliant post! I too read the same add in Smiths Indeed and took my first flight out of Dublin to Manchester. I stayed with my aunt near Whalley Range the first night then travelled to Stockport by train to meet a girlfriend. I made it to the convention and later the Hacienda and can confirm Rourke and Joyce were in the DJ box.


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