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Review: The Smyths, Stroud Subscription Rooms by Simon Hacker

Stroud’s Sub Rooms has a punchy reputation for securing some class acts, most of them hoping, I guess, to be collectively hummed about, ever after, in the same breath as that legendary Beatles moment in ’62. 

But they’re never going to get Morrissey. Amen to that, say all the conflicted Smithophiles out there who, having been nurtured on the band’s sweet milk of misery since 1982, find themselves now gagging to various degrees on the artist’s latter-day flirtation with all manner of UKIP-ery.

So how about a Smiths, sorry Smyths, experience? I know that sounds a bit like me handing you a wine-flavoured drink or a facon sandwich (which I’m sure the man himself would approve of), but as the convulsing audience last night would attest, if your feelings about spending £24 on a spontaneous night watching a tribute band stopped you at the door, you just missed a blinder of a night out.

Not that there was much room for latecomers. In fact, you could see from the swelling throng before support act Billy Blagg (aka James Anthony) took the spot that even a sniff of the Smiths is going to draw a huge cross-section of fans from the Five Valleys and beyond. 

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The Smyths. Picture: Adam Dolling.

After all, we all love a bit of Smiths, don’t we? Closer demographic analysis of the turnout here suggests a more accurate definition might be people as old as me, for whom the band is the backing track to all those horribly requited heartaches of yore, plus their poor offspring who, some idiot having shown their dads Spotify, have been inculcated with the endless earwormery of Morrissey and Marr. Whatever the infection route, clearly not all kids of today want their music to be meaningless fun. It gave me a lovely warm feeling that the spirit of hanging the DJ and being flattened by a doubledecker bus is far from dead.

Speaking of multigenerational appeal, Billy Blagg (and surely it wasn’t just me who guessed the name once he’d picked up his guitar?) was one of those support acts that gives you such quality you already feel your ticket was a wise buy. Billy Bragg, of course, is still touring and still whipping up crowds as a political troubadour, finding no end of timeliness for his oppressed-worker oeuvre. He can thank James for adding to his cultural momentum, delivering the spit of all Bragg’s spitting edge. In a word, terrific.

You might say the Smyths have it easier, given there are four of them and any lack of convincing accuracy to the original could be lost in the sound mix. But no such worry here. From the moment The Smyths took to the stage, starting with Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, lead singer Graham Sampson ticks the box as hologram-level Morrissey – but then convinces you he’s far more. 

The Smyths are now in their twentieth year (a stretch of time that’s four times longer than the original act) and I’d suggest you don’t bother to YouTube them in advance; their videos are promising but don’t delivering what we experienced here: in the flesh, they are quite simply bloody brilliant.  It doesn’t hurt that each member is pin sharp on the Morrissey money, delivering two hours of tight, faultless work. Together, they build an aura that seduced the crowd and had us  transported willingly back to a time when protest against the monarchy, disdain towards meaningless pop and overwhelming hopelessness for the future of mankind was what kept us warm at night.

Thankfully such issues are, of course, safely all history now. But all the same, I avoided ten-tonne trucks on the way home.

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