On This Day in 1982: The Smiths Make Their Live Debut
34 years ago today, The Smiths made their live debut on the stage of The Ritz in Manchester, England. It wasn’t a lengthy performance – mostly because they didn’t have many songs yet – but its impact on the British music scene was, in the long run, nothing less than brilliant.
The Smiths’ big break came about as a result of a band called Blue Rondo A La Turk, who took their name from a Dave Brubeck number and whose sound was a musical amalgam consisting of jazz, pop, and salsa. When Marr learned that Blue Rondo A La Turk were set to play a fashion show at the Ritz, he joined forces with a couple of friends – hairdresser Andrew Berry and style guru John Kennedy – and somehow managed to convince the promoters of the fashion show to let The Smiths play a few songs as support to the boys in Blue.
There was only one problem: The Smiths didn’t actually have a rhythm section. After an exhausting search, however, they finally managed to find the necessarily individuals to fill their vacancies. First came drummer Mike Joyce, former member of The Hoax and Victim, who – per Johnny Rogan’s invaluable tome Morrissey & Marr: The Severered Alliance – heard the demo tape that Morrissey and Marr had recorded and said, “This is the most brilliant thing I’ve ever heard.” On bass for the performance, however, was a name you may not recognize; Dale Hibbert. A friend of Marr’s, Hibbert was nudged by Marr to leave his band at the time, The Adorables, and join up with his new outfit, which is precisely what he did.
When The Smiths took the stage of The Ritz, they were introduced by James Maker, one of Morrissey’s mates, but after his intro, Maker stuck around to not only dance but also play tambourine and maracas. As for the band, they performed a grand total of three songs: “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle,” “Suffer Little Children,” and “Handsome Devil.” (It’s reported on some sites that they also did a cover of The Cookies’ “I Want A Boy for My Birthday,” but if this is so, it’s not mentioned in Rogan’s book.) The performance might’ve been one for the history books in one sense, but it definitely wasn’t one of the band’s best: Joyce had an equipment malfunction – the skin of his snare drum split – and Blue Rondo A La Turk wouldn’t let him use their snare drum, so he just had to make the best of what he had. Still, no matter how The Smiths sounded that night, the important bit is that they’d made their debut and were officially on their way.