On 17 September, the Royal Albert Hall was crawling with people for the Last Night of the Proms. The traditional flag-waving celebration of middle-England with all the pomp and circumstance of a Royal procession, attended by Conservative-voting Volvo drivers called Jeremy and Jemima. Tonight, after three years away, the unelected icon of the underclass is back, and those here have come to worship as much as witness.
Morrissey’s followers, like pitbulls with flat tops, never seem to let go and have been accused of viewing the latter stages of his career through rose-tinted NHS glasses. Here in abundance, they wander about still looking like history tells us Smiths fans should do, as they come to pay homage to a man who was a huge part of their youth. There are few people under 25. The drizzle-soaked anthems of disaffection and tales of grey suburban melancholy that soundtracked their formative years have clearly left their mark. The bullied, the lonely, the intelligent and those who received more wedgies than wet kisses have grown up now. Some even have girlfriends or wives (yes, the vast majority here are male) but they were all touched by the words of Morrissey in a way that will never leave them.
The man who has painted musical pictures of dear old Blighty like L.S. Lowry in Oscar Wilde’s clothes now lives in LA next door to Johnny Depp in a house that was designed for Clarke Gable, although he denies it: “Johnny Depp lives next door to me.” But you can take the man out of England and never England out of the man as he staggers on stage to the sound of pealing country church bells and a hero’s reception.
We are promised a night of “music and poetry” as he lurches into “I Want the One I Can’t Have”. Many of those in the lower seats jump over the barriers to get to the standing area and be that bit closer to him, as security guards and red suited ushers, normally used to dealing with classical music buffs and the opera set struggle to stop them. It’s not the behaviour you expect of fans that have been described as fey and effeminate, but there’s hysteria in the air.
“Suedehead”, the single tinged with homoeroticism that rubberstamped his success as a solo artist is as vibrant as the day it was released, and Morrissey’s voice has lost none of the scared-angel quality that made him one of the best singers of his generation. His last two albums are forgotten, though new single “Mexico” should go some way to seeing him secure the record deal that he has been without for a bewilderingly long time.
“Every Day Is Like Sunday” fills the Albert Hall like flood of gladioli and as he twirls and poses on stage he looks, well, happy. The performance is good and his backing band hit the right notes. You can’t really ask for more, I mean you weren’t expecting a brand new direction, were you? The people here are in raptures as Morrissey croons and skips about shaking the front row’s hands. To be fair, he could be playing the greatest hits of Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass Band on a battered old accordion and they would still love him, but the performance was almost worthy of such adulation.
The one-song encore is, as predicted, “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” and, in the circular splendour of the Albert Hall, thousands of people are on there feet basking in the reflected glory and self-celebration of a man who spoke for a generation. Musically he was near faultless and it would be wrong to call this a nostalgic trip, it was as if he’s never been away.
Some say Morrissey has descended into self parody and is a pantomime dame of alternative, with critics looking at his career and sneering “it’s behind you!” but tonight he soars on a tide of adulation and reciprocates with a performance that proves there is life in the old dame yet. I wonder if Johnny Depp knows just how influential his neighbour is?