Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Memories of a thousand* gigs #17

(* probably not actually that many, but who’s counting?)

#17: Morrissey
St. David’s Hall, Cardiff – 15th May, 2006
Support: Kristeen Young
Also in attendance: Mrs Robster

Love him or loathe him, it surely cannot be denied that Morrissey is one of the most outspoken, charismatic and influential artists the UK – make that the world – has ever produced. Almost exactly 23 years to the day that the Smiths released their debut single, I finally caught the great man himself, live in the flesh.

I kind of missed the Smiths, not really ‘getting’ them until they split. I’d followed Morrissey’s subsequent solo career somewhat sporadically, buying many of his early singles but never becoming an obsessive, or a “crashing bore” as he would put it. I was aware, however, of the enigma that was Morrissey; the awe that surrounded him. For one reason or another, I had never experienced it myself, but had built up a serious appreciation for the man and his work.

By 2006, it could be argued Morrissey was well past his best. He was still getting critical acclaim for his records – he was touring Ringleaders Of The Tormentors at the time – and though many fans were deriding his band, who they felt lacked the intricacies and emotion of previous line-ups, reviews of his live shows were almost unanimously positive. So it was with this backdrop that I entered into my one and only live Morrissey experience with high expectations.

Normally, I would have expected Morrissey to have been playing the Cardiff International Arena (now the Motorpoint Arena), but Westlife were playing a three night residency there so it was the altogether more formal (yet strangely intimate) setting of the St. David’s Hall that played host instead. Mrs Robster and I decided to watch from the balcony where we would have an unobscured view. A good decision. From there, we could look down on the pit where the adoring masses gathered, where every word to every song would be hollered (in varying degrees of tunefulness) and where the memories of the days when Johnny Marr et al joined their hero on stage were still fresh in the minds.

This enigma, this aura, this otherworldly presence - I had heard so much about it for 20 years or more yet I remained unprepared. When Morrissey strolled onstage to one of the loudest, most uplifting welcoming cheers I’d ever heard, something hit me like nothing before. This is going to make me sound like such a fanboy, but believe me, I don’t offer gushing praise where it is unwarranted. The guy oozes charisma in abundance; I felt I was in the presence of something very special. This was more than a pop star here; this was a man who is revered, worshipped, idolised like a deity, and you can feel that at a Morrissey concert. I’d never experienced such an outpouring of sheer awe at a gig before, and haven’t since.

Moz at St David's Hall
The thing is, it’s just so effortless. Some performers try for decades to perfect the art of being a star and never succeed. Moz just is and seemingly always was.

Mrs Robster has a small problem with the Smiths though. It’s not them or their music, it’s more psychological and concerns just one song, but it nagged her. Morrissey always played a handful of Smiths songs at his shows, and Mrs Robster had asked me beforehand whether I thought he’d play “that song” or not.

“I doubt it,” I replied. “He hasn’t played that since the Smiths broke up, so I don’t reckon he’s about to start playing it now.”

That song was Girlfriend In A Coma.

Before we were married, Mrs Robster became quite seriously ill with a liver complaint. One morning I had to drive her to hospital for a biopsy. Now to say she felt a little nervous would be one serious understatement. As far as she was concerned, she was being sent to her death. Everything that could possibly go wrong was going round and round in her head; she’s a bit of a worrier is my girl. In the car on the way we played a Smiths tape to keep our spirits up. As we drove onto the hospital site, that song came on. The irony wasn’t lost on her. Ever since that moment, my Mrs has always associated Girlfriend In A Coma with the fear and dread she was feeling at that moment.

I hoped I had allayed her apprehension though. While I couldn’t be 100% certain Moz hadn’t given Girlfriend In A Coma an airing in the past 20 years, I was fairly confident it wasn’t a regular fixture in his repertoire.

So, after a rip-roaring start, which Smiths track did Moz decide to give a run out to? You’ve guessed it! Of all the classics he could have played, he decided, on the one occasion the wife and I went to see him, to play that song! She grabbed my hand and squeezed it for comfort. The only compensatory factor is that it is a short song, a mere 2 minutes, so the agony was short-lived. Fortunately, it was soon forgotten as Moz continued relentlessly through a quite amazing set. Life Is A Pigsty and Ganglord were undoubted highlights, which seeing as both were new songs (the latter even being unreleased at the time, appearing shortly after as a b-side) showed the strength of the material he continued to put out.

Throughout, Morrissey’s unique aura filled the St. David’s Hall and I left feeling rather overwhelmed. The legend was real; being in the presence of Morrissey was what I imagine an audience with the Pope would be like to a Catholic. It was weird, me being an atheist and all, but he held that audience in the palm of his hand and we were totally at his mercy. The strange euphoria I felt remained as we walked back to the car at around the same time as Westlife fans leaving the CIA poured into the streets around us. A rather surreal moment, to say the least.



  1. I'm rather jealous, but perhaps one of these days I'll have the chance to see the great man myself, who knows? But: "In the car on the way we played a Smiths tape to keep our spirits up." Now, isn't this a contradiction in terms? What was on the flipside: some Joy Division?!

  2. Ha! When I read that line back I did consider changing it, but then thought: "Maybe someone will pick up on it and make an amusing comment." Dirk, buddy - you never let me down!

    (And no, not JD, the whole damn tape was the Smiths. Pure driving bliss.)

  3. Well, each to his own, I always say. Or to quote John Peel after having played Joy Division's 'Isolation': "Boy, did you ever have so much fun?" ....