Why does Morrissey love performing in small venues in provincial towns?
Why his 2011 UK tour of Hawick and Dunoon is in everyone’s best interests
A snapshot of any Morrissey gig at any given venue at any point in his career paints the same (vulgar?) picture. From the bequiffed to the balding, via gladioli and vegetarianism, a congregation of grasping hands reach and strain towards the stage where the Pope of Mope stands at his electronic pulpit offering up something unseen, be it confirmation or salvation - or simply a reason for his followers to keep the faith.
For an icon constantly lurking in the shadows of true superstardom, devotion follows Morrissey in a way the skinny misfit of 1982 could barely have imagined. Blurring the lines between pop icon and religious deity, a gig for many is akin to a pilgrimage. Consider an entire hall chanting his name before the curtain goes up and the climactic rush to touch the hem of his robe, not to mention the ‘do as I do’ rise in vegetarianism among young people after the release of animal lovers’ anthem ‘Meat is Murder’. However, as with any elevated figure, controversy has never strayed far from Morrissey, whose foibles reveal themselves in controversial statements, mid-gig walk outs and a facade which is tougher and more impenetrable now than ever. It’s challenging being a fan of someone so adored and hated in equal measure.
A lot of the appeal is pleasingly simple, and lies in his self-proclaimed role as the 'outsider's outsider'. Always attracted to the most dreary, miserable and dark of society’s nooks and crannies, his magnetism is irresistible to every misunderstood teen who never quite fitted in, the disenchanted of life’s gatecrashers and each smalltown boy or girl who ever longed for something more.
This goes some way towards explaining the choice of venues for his upcoming 2011 tour, which kick off on July 15th. Of a nine-date jaunt (so far confirmed as his only UK shows this year), a surprising five shows have been awarded to Scotland. And while we might imagine a return to 2008’s Edinburgh Playhouse or 2009’s Glasgow Barrowland, true to his eccentricities, Perth, Inverness, Dunoon, Dunfermline and Hawick are deemed a sufficient round-up. Odd choices and ones that have divided a lot of the fan community, but should anyone really be surprised?
His affinity with the outskirts of society has often translated its way into a fascination with the kitchen sink domesticity and eerie normality of small town living. Whether overly romanticising bland high rise flats and iron bridges or bemoaning humdrum coastal towns, an air of begrudging familiarity with, if not affection for, the unexcitingly ordinary has left a lyrical mark on the man’s emotional landscape.
School-night gigs in the middle of nowhere would be a risk for an artist with a more laissez-faire fanbase. To travel the length of the country and worship at the feet of Saint Morrissey is just another way of demonstrating extreme loyalty. And given Morrissey’s recent professional disappointments, this arrangement could well be a mutually beneficial one. Following the ‘meek disaster’ of 2009’s b-sides collection ‘Swords’ and a two year split from management, as well as the minimal airplay which has dogged him throughout his solo career, touring is a chance for Morrissey to see first-hand that his candle has not yet burned out. Much is made of fans’ adoration to Morrissey, but of equal import is his respectful allegiance to his fans. This is no one-way street: gig footage may show a tide of hands swelling stagewards, but wait until security’s back is turned, then the fourth wall is broken, handshakes are encouraged, bodies slyly welcomed onstage.
It’s sneaky, but, funnily enough, in everyone’s best interests. To gig in such small venues in innocuous towns means Morrissey is not simply preaching to the converted, as he simultaneously reaches out to newcomers while reaffirming his status with regulars. Similarly, fans will accept the mission, fawn, moon and worship, happy in the knowledge that this is a relationship in which everyone is singing from the same hymn book.