Paddy English man (Part 1)

 

To some he is "the greatest living Englishman" (Guardian), to others he is the quintessential North-of-England kitchen-sink poet whose work is discussed and dissected alongside that of Alan Bennett and Mike Leigh. Funny that, because when the name Morrissey is mentioned in Ireland, we simply know him as "one of us", the second-born of Patrick Morrissey and Betty Dwyer from Crumlin, two Dublin working-class dreamers who took the emigrant boat to Manchester to find work in the late 1950s.

It was there, in the trenchantly Irish community of Hulme, that the young Steven Patrick grew up being taunted as a "Paddy" and it was there that after "walking home alone in the rain too many times", he hooked up with another bunch of first generation "Paddys" to form a band whose music can still bring a quiver to the lip of thirty- and forty-somethings everywhere.

It wasn't just that The Smiths were a later generation's answer to The Beatles, it was also that they were the very embodiment of classic pop music and the most archly humorous outfit to ever grace our magazines, our programmes and our stages. From 1982 to 1987, The Smiths reigned supreme as awkward, diffident outsiders. They were the logical conclusion of punk rock and the first independent band to disturb the consensus of a then, as now, moribund music industry.

As a solo artist Morrissey has continued to write and perform and, while the argument as to whether his work now is better than with The Smiths would only serve to set so many anoraks a-flutter, he remains one of the most thoughtful and outspoken figures in a music world dominated by all-singing, all-dancing Ken and Barbies.

It's the morning after the gig in Milan the night before (he played Meat is Murder, I almost wet myself) and it's tea for two in his hotel. Morrissey is playing mother. "Bainne?" he asks before pouring the milk into the cup (mental note to self: milk in first, he hasn't forgotten his working class origins). Well dressed, softly spoken and trim of physique, he's in hearty form as I mention how strange it was to hear the Milanese audience last night sing, unaccompanied, the first few verses of Now, My Heart Is Full in a Manchester accent.

"Well, that's odd you mention that," he says, "because I don't think I've ever really had a Manchester accent. The accent is really quite broad, whereas I've always had a very flat accent - there's a soft lilt in there somewhere. But then you have to remember my background. My parents are from Dublin, they met and married there.

"My mother's family grew up in Pearse Street but later moved to Crumlin where my father's from. Going back even further my mother's father was from Cashel. Their name was McInnerny and they used to own half of Cashel, they were wealthy land owners - there's still a few of them down there. So with so much Irishness around us, my sister and I growing up, never really felt we were Mancunians.

"My Irishness was never something I hid or camouflaged. I grew up in a strong Irish community. Of course, early on I'd be teased about it, I was called `Paddy' from an early age. I mean, there I was, born, braised and bred in Manchester but I was still always called `Paddy'. And this was back in the 1960s when it was a bitter and malevolent slur. But that's how Manchester people are - they're extremely critical of everything and everybody."

Other famous Manchester-Irish sons and daughters such as Oasis and Caroline Ahearne, speak volubly and fondly about spending their childhood summers in the "old country", was this also his experience? "Oh yes. I used to come back to Dublin a lot when I was younger. We'd go back to Crumlin and of course I saw it with a child's vision, but the people seemed happier and more carefree and Crumlin seemed so open - certainly more so than the confines of Hulme. We were quite happy to ghettoise ourselves as the Irish community in Manchester, the Irish stuck rigidly together and there'd always be a relation living two doors down, around the back or up the passage. It always struck me as quite odd that people who had lived 20 or 30 years in Manchester still spoke with the broadest and the sharpest Pearse Street accent."

How steeped was he in that emigrant Irish culture, which is a strange one at the best of times? "It steeped into everything I knew growing up. I was very aware of being Irish and we were told that we were quite separate from the scruffy kids around us - we were different to them. In many ways, though, I think I had the best of both places and the best of both countries. I'm `one of us' on both sides. It was always odd later on with The Smiths when I was described as being `extremely English' because other people would tell me that I looked Irish, I sounded Irish and had other tell-tale signs. In fact, the new album - which I have finished writing but has yet to be recorded, is called Irish Blood, English Heart. It's funny, because U2 are always portrayed as being famously Irish and this is the great unsaid: aren't half the band English? All you have to do is hear The Smiths' surnames - Maher, Morrissey, Joyce and Rourke. It was only actually Andy Rourke's mother who was an English parent - all the other parents were Irish. It's an interesting story."

Caroline Ahearne has reflected her similar experiences in the series The Royle Family - does that strike a chord? "I'm not saying it was my personal experience, but the idea of everyone squashed on the sofa, eating chocolate and watching the television, is a claustrophobically horrible one. I liked her and there is floods of truth in the programme. Apart from the scraping, it's the barrel. There is a sense of poking with the stick about it and I don't like that. I question that peering-into-the-cage mentality. The way some people live is not terribly pleasant and although it's OK for the BBC or wherever to make these amusing programmes, there are still people who wake up in that sort of situation. It doesn't sit well." Morrissey - "I'm 40," he says as if he's proud of it, the way all 40-year-olds do - now lives in Los Angeles (in the house once owned by Clarke Gable, celebrity trivia fans), but for a few years previously, lived in Malahide. "There's an element of joy to living in Ireland, without trying to sound too twee or too quaint about it. They are very loving people. When you're in somewhere like the Submarine Bar in Crumlin, you can just step back and blend in and people realise that you are a slightly normal person after all. In Manchester, though, you tend to get "you're not in Los Angeles now" even though you're just standing there doing nothing.

"I still keep a residence in Ireland, I think if anyone is entitled to it, then I am. I fear, though, the property boom in Dublin is in danger of destroying it as a city."

Are you up to speed on the Irish cultural/political life? "It's as dry as it is in Britain. The politics in Ireland doesn't reflect what's going on with the people. It's shocking really that the country hasn't produced a politician with a sense of anger, or a sense of newness. All the politicians look like your older distant relative.

"And the whole breakdown of the church, I can see why that's happening. My grandfather was educated by the Christian Brothers and there is a track of that in my own education."

How bad was it? "Many of the teachers I had were Irish, they were incredibly brutal and in many cases very basically homosexual. It is shocking to think of what was allowed and how the kids were mistreated day after day. My education in St Mary's Secondary School in Manchester wasn't an education. It was all violence and brutality. As soon as you'd walk into the class at 10 past nine, a minute later someone would be viciously beaten. And everybody would just sit there in silence.

"It was so abysmal - and you may snigger, you may not, I'll chance it - that I've considered actually suing the Manchester Education Committee because the education I received was so basically evil and brutal. All I learnt was to have no self-esteem and to feel ashamed without knowing why. It's part of being working class, this pathetic belief that somebody else, somewhere knows better than you do and knows what's best for you. You're supposed to grow up blindly respecting the police and the judicial system. It's part of keeping the working class in their place.

"A couple of years ago, when I was involved in a court case with The Smiths," (in 1994, ex-Smiths drummer Mike Joyce sued Morrissey and his songwriting partner, Johnny Maher for a higher percentage of royalties. Joyce won the case and Morrissey and Maher had to pay out an alleged £1 million and a further £250, 000 in costs to the drummer. In his summing up the judge referred to Morrissey as "devious, truculent and misleading") "and this appalling Justice John Weeks was able to say these things about me. What he said is on record for all time, regardless of what I do in my life: if I'm ever sued in my life in the future, all people have to do is to refer to this judge's words and I will lose all. . . I was working class and I was made to feel like a peasant."