take me home


Interview with photographer Kevin Cummins, about Morrissey

When did you first meet Morrissey?
"I met Morrissey in the mid to late Seventies when he used to be with Slaughter And The Dogs. I lived in Manchester and you used to see Morrissey at quite a lot of gigs. He'd always come to Bryan Ferry or Roxy Music, Marc Bolan. He was into all that glam thing. I remember him jumping onstage once with Marc Bolan and playing air guitar and then diving into the audience. Bolan didn't know what was going on. And Morrissey was sort of involved with them and Headbanger And The Nosebleeds and I saw the first gig Morrissey ever did when they supported Magazine at the Ritz. With him and Billy Duffy playing guitar. Their only moment together. It was sort of slightly rocky, a bit odd really.
"We were aware of The Smiths, we'd seen them a couple of time, and then I was asked to photograph them for the NME and they were going to put them on the cover. So we did all the pictures in the park and all the shots of Morrissey lying in the grass and so on.
What were your first impressions?
"Pretty shy really. I thought Johnny was more aware of himself. Moz was quite shy the first time we met, although he had very definite ideas of what he wanted to do for pictures. I didn't want to do urban street shots of them. I wanted to photograph them in a park. A lot of my pictures, we shoot out on the street. Because it's practical more than anything. But I thought with The Smiths, it wouldn't really suit being photographed around the rubble and building sites of Manchester, so we went out to a park in Chesire and it was a bit more genteel. And they were realy into that. It was quite a relaxed atmosphere, nice afternoon out sitting in a park."
It's rare for a young group to have such definite ideas.
"I think Morrrissey had always been very aware of his own personality. He wanted to control that side of it as much as he could. The way the band would look, the way the band were photographed, the record sleeves, the t shirts, everything, flowers onstage. Everything was quite orchestrated by Morrissey. He carried that through to his solo career, so that some people might say that he's a megolamaniac. Not me obviously.
So he didn't say much that first shoot?
"We just had a nice day taking pictures. When the pictures went in the paper, it was supposed to be an NME cover and the editor decided no, the Smiths will never be big enough to be on the cover of NME so he put Big Country on. I got a postcard from Morrissey after the pictures went in and he said that picture of himself, the one of him lying on his back with his arms out, had moved him dramatically and he needed a copy of it. So I sent him a ten by eight and he phoned me up and said that wasn't big enough, how big could I do the print. And he eventually bought one that was six foot by four foot.
"He was quite into, not just the images of himself, if he wanted a photograph or a picture, he had six foot prints of the New York Dolls and Terrence Stamp, so he was very into the big overdramatic statement.
What did he do with it?
"I believe it went on his bedroom wall but I never found out. I might be making that up. Someone in the band once said to me, oh Morrissey puts all the photographs of himself on his bedroom wall but it may have been a wind up. I think it was for his mum.
So he'd made the personal contact. What happened next?
"I photographed them live a lot after that. The problem with the Smiths, because they wanted to control everything they did they tended to use a series of friends and contacts to do pictures. Most of whom would do them without payment. So apart from that session, I didn't really photograph the Smiths, apart from live, until they split up. I was going to photograph them once and I was on the same flight as them from Manchester to London and they were off to the States a few days later, and I was going to do some stuff in America with them, but for some reason it didn't work out. I think again the NME decided they didn't really want to do that American tour and then once they split up I started working much more closely with Morrissey on his own and then I started working with Johnny on his own. And it was quite difficult sometimes because although Johnny wasn't that bothered I'd find for a period that I'd go from one to the other. I was doing a Morrissey tour book when Kill Uncle was out and I'd fly from Frankfurt and I'd go and do some pictures of Electronic and Johnny was go oh how's Moz. I'd have to think what does he want me to say and then I'd go from that back to Morrissey and for about two days Morrissey wouldn't say anything and then he'd say, and how's Bernard Allbran, I think he called him, and he would ask about Johnny in the end. He'd ask about Bernard first which I assumed was code for how's Johnny. I got to a point where I said to Johnny, look do you want to meet Moz because Moz would like to. I think in the end I was semi instrumental in them getting back together to actually chat to each other. They lived really close to each other outside Manchester as well so it was a bit of an awkward position all round.
Like a child in a divorce.
"It was like a messy divorce wasn't it, because they were very close in the band. They were a great partnership, so when they split up neither of them fulfilled that promise in a way. Whatever they did, however much Morrissey's solo stuff was great but I think you almost felt that a lot of those songs had been left over from the Smiths days ­ viva hate ­ education in reverse ­ and every musician Morrissey worked with afterwards you always thought, oh if Johnny had done that how would he have done it. And there was always a sense that they worked better together.
How did you find Morrissey? Does one grow to know Moz?
"I don't think you do really. As long as you get on with him and he likes what you're doing, then you get a little bit closer, but he doesn't sit down and confide in you. I'll have a beer with him. Musicians generally just ask fairly direct questions that aren't about your personal life so it tends to be a more professional relationship than anything else. And I'd do photographs of Morrissey and he'd say, when he's in Europe for instance, can you bring them out and I'd say where are you and he'd say Cologne, and I'd say, I'll just post them to you. And he'd say no no you've got to come and show them to me. So he'd like the persona touch because he'd like to look at the pictures with you and talk about what he liked and what he didn't like, and then he'd say, they worked really well , let's do some more like that, so you'd build on the way you were working. Which was quite a nice way to work with somebody. Whereas Johnny worked in a completely different way. With the Electronic stuff he was just happy to let me get on with it and then go and do another session a few months later. Morrissey always wanted a more hands on approach to everything.
What's he like?
"I've no idea. I like him. I've always liked him. I think he's very creative and he's got a lot of ideas but I think he needs somewhere to channel them now. He's apparently big with the Mexican community in LA, but sorry, so what? He should come back over here and make some music. I don't think it helped, when the NME decided it had had enough of Morrissey.
"I think with Moz we were so desperate for years to put him in the paper. We'd put him on the cover for anything. And he knew. He knew he didn't need to do interviews with the NME. He'd do a q and a for my favourite things and we'd put him on the cover. Or I'd go to Japan to photograph him for a week and he'd write the captions to the pictures and there was no interview. He got such an easy ride from us for so long that when they decided to turn on him, it must have been a real shock. And I think when the NME decided to turn on Morrissey, it was a ludicrous affair to accuse him of racism for using the union flag onstage. Because Oasis have used it since, Blur used it and they're still darlings of the music press. The Who had used it. Suddenly Morrissey was because it suited one person in the NME office.
Do you know how he was affected?
"We've got mutual friends and he was obviously very upset by it all. It was pretty unfounded. It was just the NME had an agenda and they decided they were gong to go after it like a rottweiler. Make their one half minute onstage fit into what they wanted it to be. It was bollocks I thought.

We then talk through specific pictures in Kevin's excellent book "The Smiths And Beyond".

"I think it was taken in either long island or new jersey, it was part of an American tour. He has a limited appeal in the states, but the fans in America are absolutely devoted in the way Morrissey fans are in territories like America and Japan. So the thing in bubble wrap beside him is a picture, a head shot of Morrissey, that someone it looks like they spent three months drawing, and they'd been passing presents up to him and throwing flowers. And during one song he lies across the monitor and I'd shot it form a different perspective the night before and thought it would be nice to do it from the side of the stage because I'd just get all the flowers and the presents.
Why does he lie like that?
"Switching off from the audience. Eye closed, switch off, listen to them screaming.
It's lke he's going "adore me", soaking up the love and devotion, thinking "I am loved".
"Yeah. I think Smiths and Morrissey gigs have always been like that. They're full of devotees. They do absolutely adore him. I don't know what it's like. As a photographer standing onstage while all that's going on, it's ver exciting because you feel part of it for an hour. You get sucked into the whole thing and you almost feel that you're part of the band. So...it's very exciting watching a Morrissey gig form onstage rather than out front. Watching it out front it's a rock show to me. When you're onstage, you almost feel that these peopleyou can understand what Morrissey feels when he's standing there. 3000 people just saying I love you for an hour. It's an incredible difference to be onstage.
Were there people coming up to hug him?
"Yeah, jumping onstage all the time and hugging him. It's absolutely exhausting for Morrissey. By the end of the show, he's shattered. Constantly fighting people off who want to hug you and kiss you. Every show he's sit backstage and he'd be virtually asleep because it was so knackering.
Did he ever find it annoying, distressing?
"I don't think he ever found it disruptive either. That was his moment. You're onstage. That's what you're in a band for. You're in a band because you want to stand onstage and you want people to love what you're doing. And all these people want ten seconds of Morrissey don't they, and they're jumping onstage and hugging him and kissing him and it's great. It's fantastic. It was a love in. It was incredible.
But if you're such a private person, I would have thought you wouldn't want anyone to come near you...
"But when he's onstage, that's his open moment, because all he's giving them is a touch. He's not telling them anything about himself, he's not having to spend time justifying why he wants to spend time with somebody, so he can have that touchy feely moment without actually telling these people anything about him. They think he's probably telling them something about him by his lyrics. They're hugging Morrissey the lyricist, they're not hugging Morrissey the private person. It's a different animal offstage.
In what way?
"He's very private and he was a certain shyness I think and a certain reserve. The fans don't really want to necessarily talk to Morrissey after the show. They get that buzz from getting onstage and hugging him. That's it that's what they want. Some bands people want to sit and talk to for hours after a gig to the point of tedium, and they don't know what they want to ask. So I think Morrissey's got it right, give them a hug onstage and don't talk to them afterwards.
"The Moz picture. That's the one that moved him deeply. It was always going to be the NME cover, so space for logo, it's the perfect cover shot and then it didn't go on the cover, because Stuart Adamson, god rest his soul, went on instead.
Maybe Moz got big NME letters and stuck them on himself.
"Yeah. I would."
What was the band interdynamic?
"Morrissey and Marr would always be together in pictures. It's almost like they're lined up there like they'd line up onstage. Andy would be this side, Johnny would be over on the other side and mike behind them. They've put them selves in those positions. It doesn't occur to them that they could go anywhere else. I thought that was nice because it's a bit more casual. Andy's looking at the camera, Moz is being Moz, Johnny is posing like a rock star and mike's the drummer.
He is being Moz.
"Yeah, they're all in their own world. It's like they're all being photographed individually there. Mike's maybe looking across at Moz. The rest of them are just doing what they do without interacting at all. Whereas later shots of the band they'd be shoulder to shoulder or Moz would have his arm around Johnny. They're still not really sure how to pose as a band so they're in stage positions.
It looks like a picture taken in the Fifties.

"It's odd. I always found with Morrissey fans it was like that. There are some pictures in the exhibition of some fans in Dublin that look like they could have been taken in 1952. It's bizarre. Morrissey is quintessentially English but his look is 1950s America, with that James dean, white t shirt and jeans, and it's like that there. It's quiff central isn't it.
"We were doing a piece for the NME with Johnny, where he finally agreed to talk in depth about the Smiths and what it all meant to him, so we decided to take him on a Smiths day out around Manchester and photograph him in places the Smiths had been photographed. Albert Finney's dad's betting shop in Salford was a shot that somebody had done where they were all in the doorway, so we were doing a picture outside there and talking to him about what he remembered from that period. And just as he was standing there this old bloke started to walk across us. He had absolutely no idea that we were taking a photograph and as you can see he's in his own world there. He took about twenty minutes to get form there to the six foot past me, and Johnny's looking at him and thinking how much longer are you going to take man. He's obviously dressed up to go to the pub in his new cream trousers, he looks great but we thought it's going to be dark soon if you don't get a move on.
What was he like?
"He was quite laid back about it all. I think he quite enjoyed it. The shot outside Salford lad's club and I said why here and he said Moz wanted me to do it and he did a Morrissey impersonation outside Salford lads club, which was quite funny. It was all woe is me angst. So he enjoyed it I think. It was quite a nice day out. I had just done a thing around that time on a Smiths convention in Manchester and part of that was taking a coach around famous Smiths landmark. Like the iron bridge and all the stuff was mentioned in the lyrics. I was telling Johnny about this.
"We were in Japan and obviously morrissey would get about three thousands presents at about every gig. While we were outside the bodakan someone came up and handed it to me and said, do you think Mr Morrissey would wear this onstage and I said probably not but what is it, so he gave it to me. I thought oh god, what will Moz think if I give him this, but I thought I may as well, so I gave him the t shirt backstage and he said oh great, let's do some pictures in it. He'd seen the picture I'd done a year earlier with Johnny with ex smith fake tattoo on his arms, so I think he thought it was his answer.
Johnny is very defiant
"Yeah, he's hamming it up. I used to be in the Smiths and now I'm here with Bernard sumner. We asked him to get a proper tattoo at that tattoo parlour and he wouldn't go that far, so we drew it on his arm in magic marker.
It's the kind of thing you do when you're a kid.
"Yeah, I'm dead hard me. So they work nicely as a pair. I think that was partly what I liked doing about the book. Taking it further than doing a Smiths or a Manchester book. It was nice to be able to say Moz has gone that way and Johnny's gone that way but you put these together and it's like, sort it out, reform please.
Should they?
"No. I think after we had the Madchester period when the Smiths didn't sound that relevant any more, I think The Smiths sound dead fresh at the moment. Suddenly there's a host of new bands who stand there as four piece and play what people consider to be English music. The Smiths sounds great again now.
What was Morrissey's experience in Japan like?
"I think he loved it. He found the food hard to deal with. He's not really vegan but he's not very adventurous with his food, so it tended to be omelette and chips backstage before the gig. But they're so devoted the Japanese fans. I think he also liked the imagery of the whole thing, like the t shirt. The fact that they wouldn't just send you a fan letter they would give you presents and they felt that because Morrissey was putting on a concert for them they had to give a present in return. So there was so much stuff it was ridiculous. There were literally three or four thousand packages left backstage. It was incredible.
What are your favourite memories of Japan?
"When I first went to do the pictures, I bumped into him in the lift and I'd been there a day and a half and no one had had the nerve to tell him I'd turned up. He said oh have you just got here and I said no I've been here for a day and a half and he was well why didn't you tell me. People who worked with him were almost afraid of disturbing him and we said let's go and do some pictures. We both went straight out and went to do some of the pictures in the backstreets around Tokyo around the strip clubs and so on. And then the wanted to go to Virgin records, he claimed to buy a CD but I thought probably because he thought he might meet some people who wanted to meet Morrissey. And within about ten minutes there was about three or four hundred in Virgin all desperate to get his autograph. So he signed patiently for ages and then we thought we've got to get out of here because it's getting out of control. We got out and got in a cab and then we both realised that we didn't remember the name of the hotel and our Japanese wasn't that good at the time and we just sat there looking at the bloke and laughing because we've got no idea what to say to the poor guy. And in the end we just grabbed the fan whose face was pressed up against our window, and dragged her in the cab and said can you explain where we're going and take us back. Moz said I'll give you a CD, I'll give you anything but get us back to our hotel.
And another time when we were in Nagoya and we were going to Osaka, all these kids were on the platform, taking photographs and then we had about an hour on the bullet train and when we got off the other end, the same fans were on the platform with the photographs they'd taken at the previous station. And we thought how have they done those. Is there a lab onboard the train or something? So that was bizarre.
"The Oxford Road show was a Friday evening youth culture programme that was filmed in Manchester. My studio was about half a mile from the BBC so I quite often went down on a Friday night to take some pictures and when I knew the Smiths were on I thought it was a good opportunity to take some more. It was different to a live gig really because Morrissey was obviously performing for a TV camera so he was a lot more expressive. He's very aware of the camera all the time. He projects, as I think the Americans like to say. They'd always try to get fans in, but the Oxford Road Show was weird really because you'd get a handful of fans who were invited by the band and the rest of them who were just punters who'd go to a TV studio to see anything. So it's always weird watching a gig in a TV studio because it's always full of people who'd never normally go to see them. So Morrissey I just think switches off from the audience and performs for the camera and imagines the adoring millions sitting at home watching it. He was expressive for the TV cameras.
He probably imagines himself watching it later.
"That's the photo really, isn't it? Moz sitting at home watching himself on telly. Must do one of those."
"It was partly record company session and partly NME session. I'd just been to his house and taken a lot of photographs around the house. He wanted to be photographed with some of his six foot by four foot pictures. Not the one of himself. So he brought out a framed picture of Terrence stamp and said let's put this in the tree and see what it looks like. So I had these bizarre photos of Morrissey standing around with a photograph of Terrence Stamp in a tree. I just carried on taking pictures until he was bored. Then we went into Manchester. He just had a big detached outside of Manchester and Altringham. Then we went down to the canal that virtually separates Manchester from Salford. That's Granada TV studios in the background. There was a nice cobbled walkway and I thought it looked very English so we did a lot of shots there. You know, cobbled road, Morrissey, bridge. Northern. Just northern. I always thought it was quite nice to put him into some northern settings when I had the opportunity. And I thought, it was a nice session really because I managed to spend from lunchtime until it got dark doing the pictures and he didn't get bored. Because he does quite enjoy having his picture taken if it's working.
Does he feed off being photographed?
"Yeah. I think Morrissey is one of the few people I've photographed who has a very definite idea of his image and likes..he enjoys having his picture taken. He doesn't just see it as part of the job. I think he enjoys seeing the results.
It's almost narcissistic.
"Yeah. It's like Morrissey's developed an image and likes to see the results of it every day.
But who takes it now?
"I've not seen any pictures of him for years. I'd like to do another session really, but I think he isn't doing anything. He's not even got a record contract at the moment.
"The festival of the tenth summer was Tony Wilson's Factory records event and it was his dream to get all the Manchester bands on one bill. It was the tenth anniversary of the Sex Pistols playing the Free Trade Hall, which was the moment punk began in Manchester. It was ten years to the day. Obviously being Factory it was a loss making exercise and a big arts event. We did things like, I had ten postcards, there were ten bands on the concert, ten photographs at the corner house, ten of everything. It was nicely conceived but it was ill conceived because everyone lost money on it. No one saw any money. Everyone bought my postcards and I never got a penny for them. The only person who became rich out of it was Tony Wilson. I think The Fall were on and I'm sure the John The Postman was on. New Order played. We had Echo And The Bunnymen for some obscure reason. It was what people in Manchester might consider to be art wank and I'm not sure it worked. But the band that Tony Wilson could never sign, The Smiths, were on as well.
He passed over them?
"He didn't pass over them, they'd never sign to Factory. They didn't want to be seen as yet another Manchester band who had a contract on the back of a cigarette packet. They wanted to be a real band. They wanted to earn money. Promoting them. They played the Hacienda once.
"He is a writing a set list. That was in Japan, when he was working out the running order. That's the set list from the night before and he's doing a different one. He liked doing a different set for his own benefit and also for the bootleggers and the fans that slavishly go to every show. If you're going to go to every show, it's tedious.
Do you have pictures that haven't been seen?
"Offcuts. I wouldn't print pictures where he looked terrible because I want him to look a certain way. In the same way that when I photographed Joy Division, I wouldn't release pictures at the time of Ian Curtis laughing because didn't suit the image. There are Ian Curtis laughing pictures around.
Any of Moz laughing?
"I don't know. I might look for one. Does Morrissey laugh? Maybe not on camera. I don't think so. Morrissey chuckling to himself in a corner. I don't think I've got that one.
Does he laugh?
"I don't think I've ever told Morrissey a joke. I only talk about football and it's not his thing, even though he pretends it is.
"That picture was taken just after the German journalist started his interview with 'so then Morrissey have you never fancied a fuck?' That was his response. He looked at me and then he just cracked up laughing. It was a great moment. The guy just thought I've got to go in all guns blazing. He said to me, that was in Koln, he said come and sit in while we do the interview because German interviews are great, they're really funny. The first question was that and he just looked at me as if to say I told you so and then cracked up. So that's the raised eyebrow as soon as the question's asked. He cracked up laughing and said I'm not gong to tell you. I think the journalist peaked a little too early.
"This is very un Morrissey. He wanted to trawl the backstreets of Tokyo and I said are you sure this is what you want to look like and he said yeah. He just thought it was a bit of a departure, he thought people wouldn't expect it of him.
But he's not looking at the porn, he looking at himself in a mirror.
"Yes. You're the first person who's noticed that. I know. Everybody thinks he's looking at what's on that night, but of course he's looking at himself.
"That's Morrissey being Oscar Wilde isn't it? It's one of his epigrams. He wrote that. We were doing pictures of the t shirts and rather than just stand there wearing a range of t shirts, he put that on the wall for a couple of them. Quite smart really.
"Backstage in Tokyo, you'd get a whole gaggle of fans just standing there and you'd say to them, look do you want to come and meet him and they'd say oh no no no and they'd stand there and giggle behind their hands and look. Very voyeuristic, Japanese fans.
When was the last time you saw Moz?
"I think maybe when he supported Bowie, mid nineties I think. I haven't seen him for five six years. But apparently he's having a great time in LA. I was talking to someone last night who used to work with him who says he still loves being in LA. I said tell him to come home.
What was the last thing he said to you?
"He was probably asking for a photograph for nothing again."

© Ian Watson, 2002

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