The Smyths returned to Nottingham for a sold-out gig at Rescue Rooms on their ‘Strangeways, Here We Come’ tour.
This was my first time seeing the tribute band, and I’d heard great things about how well they channel the distinctive sound of The Smiths. The venue quickly filled up, and Rescue Rooms was soon heaving with people excited to see the band do their thing. There was no support before the gig, meaning it kicked off just before 8, allowing the band a full two hours to perform Strangeways as well as the tracks the crowd was really there for.
The audience was a mixture of ages – perhaps a reflection of the timelessness of The Smiths and the way in which their music resonates with multiple generations of people. I purchased a ticket for the show following a recommendation from my dad, who has a personal link to The Smiths in their early days. He booked them to play at his Students Union at North Staffs Poly, Stoke-on-Trent on 1st February 1984. Tickets for this gig were a mere £3! The Smiths showcased ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’ and ‘Barbarism Begins At Home,’ amongst other tracks. Not exactly rating Morrissey’s latest releases, I figured seeing the tribute was the closest I’d get to witnessing the true spirit of The Smiths in live performance.
The band took to the stage, the singer, Graham Sampson, strolling on slightly later than the other members, in true Morrissey style. Hair quiffed and necklaces stacked, he looked extremely like the star, without it being too much. Opening with ‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before,’ the crowd was quickly energised, transfixed by Sampson’s skill at imitating the singer’s unique style. It is clear that Sampson, and the band, have perfected the sound over time, having formed back in 2003.
Highlights from the night included ‘That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore,’ ‘William, It Was Really Nothing,’ and ‘There is A Light That Never Goes Out.’ The latter was performed with sincere emotional charge, Sampson having dedicated it to a fan named Jake, who sadly passed away this year. Jake’s friends were in the crowd and were enjoying the gig profusely, perhaps evidence of the power of The Smiths’ music to unite and console listeners.
The opening of ‘Panic’ invigorated the crowd, particularly with some modified lyrics rather blatantly conveying an anti-Tory sentiment which seemed to get an affirmative response. ‘Barbarism Begins at Home’ showcased the sheer musical talent of the band, the bassist executing the solo outro exceptionally. Indeed, each song was performed with striking precision, complete with the wailing falsettos that Morrissey is known for. Sampson adopted Morrissey’s flamboyant style of dancing convincingly, twirling the microphone around and keeping his energy levels high. I was surprised by the way in which he maintained the Morrissey persona in between songs, punctuating the (very short) breaks with witty jokes and asides, which did, admittedly, feel slightly uncomfortable at times.
The gig gave me a new appreciation for Strangeways as an album, having previously considered it one of the band’s weakest releases. The raw emotion of ‘Death Of A Disco Dancer’ and ‘I Won’t Share You’ was particularly stirring: the songs haven’t left my head since the night. The Smyths’ encore track was the classic ‘How Soon Is Now,’ ensuring an electric closure for the gig. There were many occasions during the evening when I forgot I was watching a tribute band – their passion and talent was remarkable. If you’re a Smiths fan, you should definitely catch a Smyths gig – they certainly do not disappoint.