Morrissey influences: Mark E Smith and Howard Devoto

Qvist

Active Member
Among the bands you often see referenced as important influences on Morrissey pre-Smiths are The Fall and Magazine. I like both of these bands immensely, but I have to admit I don't find it all that easy to make the connection to Morrissey or The Smiths when I listen to them. Magazine perhaps occasionally (such as Song From Under the Floorboards, which Morrissey has covered), and all three bands thrived on a somewhat funky bass, but generally no.

But I have started to think perhaps the influence resides rather in the personalities of Mark E. Smith (The Fall) and Howard Devoto (Magazine) - specifically, what one for want of a better word could call "attitude"? They both unabashedly approach their music and lyrics from the point of view of an acerbic and intelligent observer.

Smith's famously in-your-face vocal delivery (The Fall being, in my opinion, a musical evolutionary cul-de-sac that shows us that indie rock could have usurped rap music's call to speak on behalf of aggression-driven rebellion, and done so with considerably more wit and intelligence), uncompromising lyrics and playfully witty complete-bastard approach to interviews seems to presage Morrissey's utter refusal to be apologetic about anything.

The slightly androgynous figure of Devoto is of course in a more direct way reminiscent of Morrrissey, but there too there is that thing about unapologetic intelligence. As Garry Mulholland memorably put it, " Their favorite subjects were fear, paranoia and an overwhelming suspicion that people were more stupid than they could possibly imagine". There's a dark undercurrent of violent misanthropy and self-loathing that seems also to have become more pronounced in Morrissey's case over time, and which at times assumes downright frightening form. Anyone who's listened to "Permafrost" (from Secondhand daylight) will know what I'm talking about. But mainly, Devoto is defined by a capacity for ruthless observation - more distanced perhaps than Morrisseys, but nevertheless of like ilk.

I'd be interested to hear the thoughts of others out there who share a taste for these bands, and if and how they relate to the Smiths and Morrissey in your subjective experience?

cheers
 

Tingle3

Member
In October 1987 Morrissey and Devoto appeared on the BBC radio show "Singled Out". Appears that they got along very well together. I'm not sure I can detect any similarities between bands. I like all the Fall records I have - I don't have the complete catalogue. Maybe Morrissey admires the sense of self/ confidence to be different that Mark E Smith has.
 

Johan de Witt

Senior Member
I like Magazine a lot, Fall not quite so.
Don't know about influences though, although maybe the style of Devoto's singing influenced Morrissey.

Here are the relevant passages from Stephane's site:

Magazine / Howard Devoto

- Magazine leader Howard Devoto is a close friend of Linder (see Ludus above). Through her, he became friends with Morrissey in the early 1980s.

- In a private letter to penpal Robert Mackay in the early 80s (since leaked to fans and on the internet), Morrissey wrote "Presently in mourning over the death of Magazine. So tragic. My life will change. Have you heard their "About The Weather"? Go out and buy it at once." In a different letter to the same penpal, he mentions that he particularly likes the Magazine song "Sweetheart Contract".

- The line "I am angry, I am ill, and I'm ugly as sin" in Magazine's "A Song From Under The Floorboards" very likely inspired the similar one in the Smiths' "Accept Yourself".

- Morrissey joined his friend Howard Devoto and his new band Luxuria on stage on 13 March 1988 at the Town & Country and read from the Proust classic "À la recherche du temps perdu".

- They were slotted by Morrissey at #6 in a list of favourite Manchester musical artists published in the 16 September 1989 issue of the NME under the title "Moanchester, So Much To Answer For".

- In an interview to KROQ on 6 July 1997 Morrissey requested that their song "About The Weather" be played. On the subject he said "Magazine are an overlooked Manchester group. In assessments of Manchester, they never mention Magazine. I don't know why. An excellent group, very strong, and this was the first single in England that really had attention. Great lyrics."

- Their spoken piece "The Book" was played during intermission on the 1997 Maladjusted tour. This was also the case on one later date, Tulsa Oklahoma on 13 March 2006 at the very beginning of the Tour Of The Tormentors MMVI.
Morrissey recorded and released his own version of their "A Song From Under The Floorboards" in 2006.

Fall, The

- Morrissey mentioned the Fall as one of the most promising new Manchester bands in issue #7 of the Kids Stuff fanzine (July 1977).

- In a private letter to penpal Robert Mackay in the early 80s (since leaked to fans and on the internet), Morrissey mentioned that he liked their song "How I Wrote Elastic Man".

- In an interview in late 1986 or early 1987 Morrissey chose the songs "Mr. Pharmacist" and "Living Too Late" among his favourites of 1986.

- They were slotted by Morrissey at #8 in a list of favourite Manchester musical artists published in the 16 September 1989 issue of the NME under the title "Moanchester, So Much To Answer For".

- Their song "Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul" was played in 1994 during a Morrissey signing session at HMV for the release of the album "Vauxhall & I".

- It was also played during intermission on the 1995 Boxers tour.
 
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Worm

Taste the diffidence
But I have started to think perhaps the influence resides rather in the personalities of Mark E. Smith (The Fall) and Howard Devoto (Magazine) - specifically, what one for want of a better word could call "attitude"? They both unabashedly approach their music and lyrics from the point of view of an acerbic and intelligent observer.

I like both, The Fall more than Magazine, and you've pretty much got it here, with the paragraph I quoted above. The draw is more the personalities than the music, and where he likes the music it's probably where it best showcases their personalities. Morrissey is friends with Devoto and likes his music, so that's easy to explain, and as for Mark E. Smith, I'm sure he likes tracks here and there but admires Smith as a legendary local eccentric.

Sometimes he seems so finicky in his tastes we forget that Morrissey probably knows the history of pop music better than anyone. Except in the obvious cases of Top 40 tomfoolery, which he doubtless dismisses without any serious consideration whatsoever, he's probably listened to and carefully evaluated just about every band in history. I think we'd be surprised at his tastes, if we could sneak into his room and read his diary-- er, flip through his record collection.

The connection may also be hard to spot because, if you think about it, Morrissey's singing is unique and has been since The Smiths formed. The music was written by other people, beginning with Johnny Marr. So the influences on Morrissey are difficult to spot-- he may have been playing The Fall twenty-four hours a day (surely outlawed by the Geneva Convention) but when he came to the studio Johnny, Mike and Andy were playing something totally different.

In other words, perhaps Morrissey would've sounded more like The Fall or Magazine if Smith or Devoto had teamed up with him to write songs. I doubt he'd give a straight answer, but one question I'd love to ask him is, if he was entertaining thoughts of singing in a group in 1981, what did that group sound like? Did his daydreams revolve around a guy playing Johnny Marr's style? Or more like The Fall's? Or, going back, The New York Dolls? Patti Smith? Marc Bolan? I suspect the answer would be surprising.
 

spacehopper

New Member
Great thread, and interesting replies.

As already pointed out, he knew Devoto well and I seem to recall an ancient MM/NME interview where he recalled wandering round cemeteries with him. I was half-expecting a story to emerge of him attending the Magazine reformation concerts as I believe he was in London at the same time.

As for MES, genius that he is, there must have been some contact for the bizarre and frankly unlikely story of Morrissey talking dirty to him on the phone to appear in his autobiography. Morrissey also lauded This Nation's Saving Grace at every opportunity back in the day. Can only conjecture that MES's increasing eccentricity (and possibly professional jealousy) put an end to any ongoing friendship.

But possibly the central importance is of these two Manchester luminaries rising to prominence just before Morrissey, if my mind's chronology serves me. If nothing else, it must have sub-consciously given him greater belief that he , too, could make an impact.
 

Brel

Guttersnipe
As already mentioned, Morrissey and Devoto go back a long way and Morrissey has been a fan of The Fall from early days. Mark E Smith was always quick to write off The Smiths. He called them "South Manchester" and "Catholic" as opposed to his North Manchester and Protestant upbringing. It says more about Smith himself than anything at the time. In reality he was an ex Grammar school kid paving a career out of post punk.

More recently he has been spotted at Morrissey concerts as a lone attendee!
 

Qvist

Active Member
playing The Fall twenty-four hours a day (surely outlawed by the Geneva Convention)

Heh, well put. This is the sort of thing you listen to for an hour, totally immersed, and then you think, in a semi-detached sort of way, "This could be the most brilliant music ever invented. I think I'm going to have a lie-down now". Has anyone ever gotten quite so much vitriolic angst out of a "la - la la la la" as Smith does in No Xmas for John Quays, or made gibberish sound as meaningful as he manages in The Man Whose Head Expanded? I'm still semi-convinced there has to be some sort of deeper meaning in there, I just haven't figured out what it is yet.

cheers
 

Worm

Taste the diffidence
Heh, well put. This is the sort of thing you listen to for an hour, totally immersed, and then you think, in a semi-detached sort of way, "This could be the most brilliant music ever invented. I think I'm going to have a lie-down now". Has anyone ever gotten quite so much vitriolic angst out of a "la - la la la la" as Smith does in No Xmas for John Quays, or made gibberish sound as meaningful as he manages in The Man Whose Head Expanded? I'm still semi-convinced there has to be some sort of deeper meaning in there, I just haven't figured out what it is yet.

cheers

They really do alter your capacity to listen normally. I played a few Fall tracks the other night, culminating in the epic "I Am Damo Suzuki", and I realized, listening to it, that the song is built on the drummer's crazy time scheme. Smith must have been sitting in the studio intentionally tweaking the song to make it disorienting. He's as much a saboteur as anything else. And as you rightly say, it's impressive but then you need to rest your head.

I don't find much deeper meaning in The Fall's music, just a really nasty attitude. Which I rather like, in shortish bursts.
 

Qvist

Active Member
Spot on again, although I'm not sure "nasty" is the word I'd use. "Puckish" perhaps? Somewhat more cynically, and to borrow the title of one of their better songs, "totally wired" might be the most accurate. It could certainly explain the lyrics of The man whose head expanded. :)

It strikes me that similarities aside, there are also some fundamental disconnects between Morrissey and Smith/Devoto in terms of attitude. I believe a key component of Morrissey's is a strain of generosity - and that's something you'd be hard pressed to find in these two.

cheers
 

Worm

Taste the diffidence
Spot on again, although I'm not sure "nasty" is the word I'd use. "Puckish" perhaps? Somewhat more cynically, and to borrow the title of one of their better songs, "totally wired" might be the most accurate. It could certainly explain the lyrics of The man whose head expanded. :)

It strikes me that similarities aside, there are also some fundamental disconnects between Morrissey and Smith/Devoto in terms of attitude. I believe a key component of Morrissey's is a strain of generosity - and that's something you'd be hard pressed to find in these two.

cheers

Ha, yeah, maybe "nasty" isn't any good-- maybe puckish or perhaps "witheringly sarcastic". You're right to tilt it toward humor. Smith is hilarious. "Totally wired" is an apt description, although I have a softer spot in my heart for "Living Too Late", its polar opposite. They're both funny; in fact I enjoy his sense of humor so much that even a near-instrumental like "L.A." makes me laugh. "Hit The North Part 1", the first Fall track I fell in love with, is a scream.

Right again on the generosity in Morrissey's music. It's certainly absent in Devoto and ostensibly so in The Fall. But I think if you peel back that first layer of bug-eyed hostility in the latter's stuff there's something kind of generous about Smith's music-- the sheer volume of it more than anything else. Of course, it might be explained by the fact that Smith's persona is a colorful hodgepodge of compulsive disorders, but I like to think that he has a very giving soul. You can't be as thorny as Smith for this long without really loving what you do, and love and generosity are never far apart. Devoto always seemed like he could walk away at any moment, and in fact did, a few times over.
 
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Kewpie

Member
Moderator
Subscriber
Just remind you that Grant Showbiz is the key person between The Fall and The Smiths. ;)
 

Jukebox Jury

Retired
The Smiths supported The Fall at London's 'Electric Ballroom' in May 1983 and The Fall were due to support The Smiths at the postponed 'Artists Against Apartheid' gig at 'The Royal Albert Hall' in November 1986, but at the rearranged gig (which turned out to be The Smiths final live gig), former Buzzcock Pete Shelley supported them instead.
The Smiths / The Fall / New Order played a joint benefit gig early 1986, in Liverpool in support of Liverpool City Council - the gig being named ''From Manchester With Love''.

Morrissey's stint as singer of The Nosebleeds lasted for two gigs! The final gig in the summer of 1978 was at Manchester's 'The Ritz' (venue of The Smiths debut gig) and The Nosebleeds supported Magazine.
The Smiths supported a solo gig by Howard Devoto at London's 'Lyceum Theatre' in August 1983

At 'The Festival Of The Tenth Summer' at Manchester's 'G-Mex' in July 1986, The Smiths, The Fall and Howard Devoto (solo) appeared during the day along with other local bands (New Order, Pete Shelley, Flag Of Convenience, A Certain Ratio, John Cooper Clarke, Frank Sidebottom and not so local Sandie Shaw, John Cale, OMD etc.)

(Info courtesy of the excellent book 'Panic On The Streets':thumb:

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