I had it on my wall as a teenager and a university student, at the height of my discovery-and-admiration phase with this band. I’m pretty sure that the Smiths are one of those outfits you’re supposed to grow out of but somehow, I never did and I never want to. I still enjoy them quite a bit and listen to them quite a bit, now well into my third decade of fandom.
I’m not sure Morrissey’s lyrics and Marr’s chirpy guitar licks “speak to me” (whatever that means)the way they did when I was 18. However, as the years past, my appreciation for the subtext of the Smiths’ music has grown. In their words and sounds, I now hear more humour, more bombast, more classicism and more appreciation for the way things were (and the way things aren’t).
Their debut full-length is more than 30 years old but the Smiths kinda nailed that timeliness that many bands aim for and very few achieve.
On a solo jaunt through the UK in late Spring of this year, I found myself in Manchester and through a small amount of Google research, I learned not only could you visit the Salford Lads’ Club itself, there was a room (shrine?) housed within dedicated to the Smiths and Morrissey.
That sounded just great. So I went.
A bit of geography. Exiting the Metrolink tram at the Exchange Quays stop for the 15 minute walk to the club, you’re close to two other Manchester landmarks that should be of interest to anyone else with Anglo-ish leanings. One is Old Trafford, home to the Manchester United football club. The other is the massive (and semi-new) Media City development which contains a mix of retail, theatres, museums, residential properties and most notably, a good chunk of the BBC’s present day operations (including the sound stage where Coronation Street is filmed). Both are worth exploring in their own right. But I digress…
The Salford Lads’ Club is tucked away in a fairly dense residential area that was, at one time, proper council flats and now, appears to moreso be a sleepy working class neighbourhood. After a few false turns, I finally came upon the Club which I should mention is also notable for its appearance in the tremendous bike-based video for the Smiths’ “Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before”.
The Lads’ Club is still very much a lads’ club, although there weren’t any lads mincing about upon my arrival. The opening foyer was full of present-day schedules for youth programs, rosters and various other artifacts from Manchester’s sporting past (with a large focus on soccer/football/futball and boxing). It’s a slightly bizarre juxtaposition considering you’d never really associate sports and the Smiths (with the exception of the decent Morrissey tune “Boxers”) so while the parallel is pretty incidental and purely based on some album artwork, a poster and a music video, visiting the club does give off an aura of Manchester past and present that is quite impactful on a few levels. At least for somebody who grew up in suburban Toronto.
Here are a few snapshots from my visit with a few descriptions for context and commentary.
The very understated name plate on the door frame. Kinda perfect.
Note THAT SAME POSTER in the top left, alongside tons of press clippings, fan photos and some really old gym equipment. Again, nice contrast that kinda works somehow. I do wonder who could bench press more–Morrissey or Marr? Important question, there.
Tons of Post-it notes from fans across the globe. And I mean, literally across the globe: Brazil, Peru, Mexico, China, Australia, Thailand, Russia, etc. All represented. I declined writing my own note. Seemed a bit too “grade school” but I’m happy other visitors took advantage. They were fun to read.
Some transit geek replicated the Manchester tram and streetcar map with all the Smiths albums. A magnificently nerdy and wonderful effort. A better look at the map here. Loosely related, I enjoyed blogTO’s recent TTC/bar breakdown in the same vein. Good job.
A cool and slightly creepy mosaic that used to reside downtown on the outside of the campy art/fashion haven Afflecks in downtown Manchester (worth visiting with low expectations BTW). It has now found a second home in the Smiths room (obviously) and the piece contains likenesses of various Manchester notables. Morrissey was front-and-centre and I was able to pick out Noel and Liam Gallagher (Oasis), Bez (the Happy Mondays), Bernard Sumner (Joy Division/New Order) and Ian Curtis (Joy Division). I checked in later on who everybody else was: Factory Records bawse Tony Wilson, writer/theorist Frederich Engels and footballer Denis Law. Blame the Morrissey message board if this isn’t accurate.
After my tour, I was shown a selection of Smiths and Club keepsakes, all quite reasonably priced given the premium put on nostalgia these days. I went with the Salford Lads’ chocolate bar and the (not pictured) coffee mug which I now obnoxiously display on my office desk like the aging hipster I consider myself to be. It’s an attempt to stay relevant, I guess.
Vanity shot of me outside the club. I wish I moved my backpack out of the frame.
Thanks to Leslie and the staff at the Salford Lads’ Club for arranging my visit. Most appreciated.