“They were radically different from any of the players I’d worked with”
At this embryonic stage, the band’s classic line-up hadn’t quite fallen into place. Frontman Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr were still finding their way as a songwriting team, and bassist Andy Rourke was yet to enlist. Additionally, Mike Joyce had only been inducted into The Smiths a few weeks before the group’s live debut, but the drummer – who had cut his teeth playing with rudimentary punk outfits The Hoax and Belfast emigres Victim – was well aware that his new colleagues were light years ahead of any musicians he’d rubbed shoulders with.
“Musicality was something that had passed me by in other groups,” Joyce told The Smiths’ biographer Tony Fletcher. “Johnny’s subtlety and his texture and guitar playing was radically different from any of the players I’d worked with up to that point.”
“An Evening Of Pure Pleasure!”
The Smiths were determined to stand apart from their local scene from the off, so in that respect it made sense for them to make their live debut on a bill advertised as “An Evening Of Pure Pleasure!” Presented by local promoters John Kennedy and Andrew Berry, this Andy Warhol-esque extravaganza also featured designers, a drag artist and a dance troupe, not to mention the evening’s headline act, Blue Rondo À La Turk: a ten-piece, jazz-tinged London-based outfit who are barely remembered now but, at the time of the Ritz gig, were very hot news.
With all that in mind, The Smiths felt some pressure to succeed when they took to the Ritz’s stage for their live debut. For just this one show, the group performed with bassist Dale Hibbert, with a slightly anxious Morrissey coming up with a contingency plan that involved inviting his flamboyant friend James Maker along to dance on stage in a pair of women’s shoes.
In his book, Autofellatio, Maker – who later fronted the band Raymonde – recalled, “Morrissey invited me to appear with The Smiths as a guest. I was to present them in French, to dance in a ‘cool and understated manner’ – within the chalked circle he had drawn for me – and to sing backing vocals on What Do You See In Her?… The high-heels component was not borne of camp or frivolity but of an intellectual devotion that originates in the revolutionary sexual appearance of the New York Dolls. I also wore them because I felt like it!”
“The kind of live music fashion show that the British don’t attempt enough”
The Smiths’ live debut was relatively brief. Following the introductory music (Klaus Nomi’s The Cold Song), the group’s four-song Ritz set reputedly consisted of the only live performance of Suffer Little Children, along with The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, a cover of US girl group The Cookies’ I Want A Boy For My Birthday and a vibrant new song, Handsome Devil, which later turned up on the flipside of their debut single, Hand In Glove. The latter song, in particular, suggested Morrissey and Marr were already scoping out highly original territory for what would become The Smiths’ self-titled debut album.