THE PASSING OF TIME AND ALL OF ITS CRIMES… MORRISSEY’S PRODUCER-OF-CHOICE MICK RONSON (WHO’D HELMED HIS MOST ROBUST EFFORT TO DATE, THE PREVIOUS YEAR’S YOUR ARSENAL), BUSINESS MANAGER NIGEL THOMAS AND PROMO VIDEO DIRECTOR TIM BROAD PASSED AWAY WITHIN A FEW MONTHS OF EACH OTHER EARLY IN 1993.
The losses prolonged the singer’s very own annus horibilis.
The NME – former champion of The Smiths and admirer of his early solo material – furthered its campaign of goading based on issues of racism extrapolated from dramatis personæ belter THE NATIONAL FRONT DISCO and a set at Madstock where he’d draped himself in the Union Jack in front of a backdrop picturing skinheads.
In March 1994, beaten down by press bludgeons and personal loss, Morrissey retaliated with an iron fist in a velvet glove. His fourth full solo studio album, VAUXHALL AND I, was a masterpiece.
With a grieving sigh seemingly ingrained deep in its textures, there was a sense of resigned self-acceptance about much of VAUXHALL AND I; Morrissey allowing himself to be happy, allowing himself to be sad, and tending to lingering psychological injuries with an Autumnal maturity. But, despite this uneasy and developing truce with himself, others were held to account throughout.
Across adversarial and sometimes violent lyrics, Morrissey seemed to look outwards with a determination to settle all scores before finally moving on. It was rumoured – a notion occasionally furthered by the man himself – that VAUXHALL AND I was to be his last work.
I THOUGHT IT WAS TIME TO PUT LOTS OF THINGS AWAY IN THEIR BOXES AND THEIR CUPBOARDS, AND ALLOW AGE TO TAKE ITS NATURAL TOLL – FOR BETTER OR WORSE…
~ MORRISSEY on VAUXHALL AND I
In new and exclusive interviews with The Mouth Magazine, former Morrissey band members JONNY BRIDGWOOD (bass guitar) and WOODIE TAYLOR (drums) look back on the making of VAUXHALL AND I as it reaches its twentieth anniversary.
BOZ BOORER - Morrissey’s long-standing guitarist, musical director and current chief songwriting partner (and co-writer of five songs on the 1994 album) – offers additional exclusive comment.
JONNY BRIDGWOOD: I first worked with Morrissey in December 1990, Clive Langer was still producing him. Boz, Alain and I played on the PREGNANT FOR THE LAST TIME single – Alain’s harmonica part didn’t make the final mix, though! We were meant to do some other songs (which would eventually turn up on the YOUR ARSENAL album) but Morrissey was a bit overwhelmed by the collective enthusiasm!
Morrissey first met bass player Jonny Bridgwood, guitarist Alain Whyte (from trio The Memphis Sinners) and multi-instrumentalist Martin ‘Boz’ Boorer (founder member of The Polecats) in the winter of 1990, when recruiting for a recording session inspired by evenings spent in the Camden Workers Social Club – hub of London’s 90s rockabilly revival scene. His intention was to put out a rockabilly set as a mini-album to quickly follow-up imminent long-player KILL UNCLE and, though that project would eventually flounder, his new acquaintances took part in a lively studio session in late 1990. Morrissey’s most brazen flirtation with 50s twang, ribald psychobilly skitter PREGNANT FOR THE LAST TIME was eventually issued as a standalone single in July 1991 – midway through the extensive KILL UNCLE world tour.
Bridgwood’s services were not hired for either the tour or a TOP OF THE POPS appearance for PREGNANT FOR THE LAST TIME (nor the Camden Workers Social Club dancehall video shoot for SING YOUR LIFE, the single which closely preceded them). This may have been in consideration of both time and technical convenience, as the band Morrissey quickly routined for the KILL UNCLE dates was made up of Boz Boorer alongside The Memphis Sinners; taking advantage of the obvious musical shorthand between Alain Whyte, bassist Gary Day and drummer Spencer Cobrin.
The six-and-a-half month globe-trot, brand new band finding its feet with old material as it went, was effervescent; particularly in the USA, where box-office records broke and audiences were often out-of-control – as can be glimpsed in fizzy concert film LIVE IN DALLAS and friend Linder Sterling’s book of photographs, MORRISSEY SHOT.
Morrissey had played just a single, brief, concert since the demise of The Smiths (eight songs at Wolverhampton Civic Hall, a few days shy of Christmas 1987), but confidence instilled by the pumped-up gang-mentality of the 1991 tour propelled him towards more regular live performance. By the last of 70 KILL UNCLE shows his new quartet was firmly bonded; Whyte and Boorer could legitimately consider themselves to be Morrissey’s wingmen.
The following year’s 55 concerts in support of YOUR ARSENAL, when the 1991 line up truly came into its own as a powerful live force, were represented on the exuberant BEETHOVEN WAS DEAF. Recorded at December 1992 shows in Paris and London, it was released in May 1993 as a cheerful stopgap between studio albums.
YOUR ARSENAL, produced by Mick Ronson and issued in July 1992, had been perfectly suited to the live arena. Butch, brassy and brilliant, it was the first bona fide ‘classic’ of Morrissey’s solo career.
Two of its ten songs were hungover from previous work with Mark E Nevin (of Fairground Attraction, co-writer for most of KILL UNCLE and its associated singles), including Bowie-referencing melodrama I KNOW IT’S GONNA HAPPEN SOMEDAY. The remaining eight were new co-writes with Alain Whyte, chief among them the contentious but misrepresented THE NATIONAL FRONT DISCO and WE’LL LET YOU KNOW, and the soporific drift SEASICK, YET STILL DOCKED (its ethereal quality somewhat foreshadowing VAUXHALL AND I).
Boz Boorer’s debut credits as a Morrissey co-writer arrived with YOU’VE HAD HER and murder ballad JACK THE RIPPER, December 1992 b-sides for CERTAIN PEOPLE I KNOW, the Bolan-shaped third single lifted from YOUR ARSENAL.
By the spring of 1993, when the singer was ready to record his follow-up, both Day and Cobrin had been temporarily relieved of their duties, but Boorer was contributing new material regularly. Five of his songs would be included on VAUXHALL AND I.
BOZ BOORER: My songs were written in my little room in my basement, and mixed onto cassette.
BRIDGWOOD: Boz gave me a cassette of demos and asked me if I’d be into recording a new album with Morrissey. I’d only recently begun playing again – 1992 had been a terrible year for me, personally. To cut the story short, one of my twin daughters had passed away late in the year, much of it having been been spent in hospital. Anything else was insignificant.
Boorer invited Woodie Taylor (former drummer for rockabilly revival acts The Meteors, The Escalators, The Johnson Family and, with Boorer and wife Lyn, Shillelagh Sisters) to audition alongside Bridgwood for the forthcoming Morrissey recording sessions.
WOODIE TAYLOR: Jonny and I auditioned around the middle of May 1993 – on FA Cup Final day, from what I remember. But I couldn’t tell you who was playing. I was rather distracted. The night before, when we were in Soho at the More Than Vegas club in Wardour Street, Boz had given me a cassette containing four backing track demos. They all had song titles but there was no singing on them.
BRIDGWOOD: Although there was an album’s worth on the tape, half of them were scrapped either before, or early on in, the studio sessions.
TAYLOR: NOW MY HEART IS FULL was definitely on the cassette Boz gave me. I’m pretty sure the other songs were BILLY BUDD, WHY DON’T YOU FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF and THE MORE YOU IGNORE ME, THE CLOSER I GET.
BOORER: Back then we didn’t rehearse before we went into the studio.
BRIDGWOOD: We didn’t rehearse but we did go in to Nomis Studios near Shepherds Bush in West London to run a couple of tunes. We played BILLY BUDD and WHY DON’T YOU FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF. Morrissey came along for a listen. I think he just wanted to make sure that the rhythm section of Woodie and I would work.
TAYLOR: I have a vague recollection of meeting producer Steve Lillywhite with the rest of the musicians at a rehearsal studio near the North Circular, some time before the end of May, and running through a few songs.
BRIDGWOOD: Steve Lillywhite told us Morrissey didn’t want to make an ‘indie’ album. That was the brief!
Veteran of distinctive engineering work for U2, Peter Gabriel, Siouxsie And The Banshees, Talking Heads, Simple Minds, The Pogues and Big Country, stalwart Steve Lillywhite had previously remixed The Smiths’ 1986 single ASK (including backing vocals from his then wife Kirsty MacColl) at Morrissey’s request.
He was invited to helm the making of the follow-up to YOUR ARSENAL after the untimely death of Mick Ronson, and his clever steerage would prove absolutely crucial in establishing a new artistic high watermark for Morrissey.
VAUXHALL AND I was recorded during the summer of 1993 in a long residency at Hook End Manor. An impressive Tudor pile constructed in 1580 for use as a monastery, the house is seated in a 25-acre estate just outside Checkendon; a quiet village with a population of around 500, six miles west of Henley-On-Thames in South Oxfordshire and nine miles north-west of Reading in Berkshire.
The estate was owned by Pink Floyd guitarist Dave Gilmour at the time of the VAUXHALL AND I sessions, with the manor’s state-of-the-art studio facility (‘the finest in the UK’) situated in a converted barn. Hook End offered idyllic seclusion during the recording of Morrissey’s new album and, despite the various tribulations of the previous year and the mournful nature of much of the new material, the general mood was open-minded and optimistic.
BRIDGWOOD: I really wasn’t that aware of what was going on outside of my own experience, but the mood was optimistic. It was palpable. It was a new beginning for me personally – but the mood was up all round.
TAYLOR: I certainly think it helped that there was a huge amount of new blood injected into proceedings. They were the first Morrissey recording sessions Steve Lillywhite produced, Chris Dickie engineered, Danton Supple assisted on, Jonny Bridgwood played bass on, Boz Boorer wrote a lot of the music for and that I drummed on… We had a lot to prove!
BOORER: We lived together in the studio for three months. It was a lovely old manor house.
BRIDGWOOD: Hook End Manor is rather grand and very idyllic… so it was a particularly lovely summer in the middle of nowhere. The recording sessions for VAUXHALL AND I ran from 1st June to 31st August. There was a lot of socialising, particularly early on. We’d go for walks at night and try out the pubs in the area. We’d take a different road, eventually find a pub, have a couple of drinks and then walk back to the house… Morrissey and his band walking the lanes of Berkshire of a summer’s night! We went bowling a few times, and played Trivial Pursuit, the Pop Edition! And we played football – Moz and band vs engineers and studio staff. We won!
TAYLOR: Steve Lillywhite wasn’t able to start at the studio right from the beginning of June and we were recording for a week or so before he arrived. Of those original tracks we recorded I think only BILLY BUDD made it to the finished album. Certainly up until Steve arrived we kept the recordings quite faithful to the original demos. Alain’s demo of WHY DON’T YOU FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF was in the style of the previous album so our first version of it was too.
It’s not difficult to envisage what VAUXHALL AND I might have become had Mick Ronson lived for long enough to work on it. Monitor mixes from early on in the recording sessions have circulated amongst the cognoscenti, demonstrating Morrissey in bold voice and his quartet rippling YOUR ARSENAL-toned muscles on toughed-up runs through two Alain Whyte co-writes. The well-defined BILLY BUDD and WHY DON’T YOU FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF had both featured on the original cassette of demos distributed by Boorer.
Two minute BILLY BUDD – title from a Herman Melville novella and 1962 film starring Terence Stamp – has accurate enough chronology to read as an address to Johnny Marr: “Now it’s twelve years on / since I took up with you”… But who will ever really know?
Much less opaque, battle-scarred WHY DON’T YOU FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF re-arms The Smiths’ PAINT A VULGAR PICTURE, firing off a new stockpile of seething ill will towards music industry figures who “take a special interest in your career” only to peddle hypocrisies, money-grabbing and manipulation (“the glass hidden in the grass”). Having begun by declaring that “The sanest days are mad…”, Morrissey pays off with exasperation: “But that’s just the way it goes”...
BILLY BUDD would remain in more-or-less its brisk early shape, but with layers of incendiary guitar grafted on, and a line of Anthony Newley’s Artful Dodger dialogue (“Don’t leave us in the dark!”) dubbed in from David Lean’s 1948 film version of Charles Dickens’ OLIVER TWIST. Steve Lillywhite would strip out everything but Morrissey’s lead vocal from WHY DON’T YOU FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF and rebuild the song’s attack along softer, more insidious, lines; effectively crafting a radio-friendly trojan horse.
BRIDGWOOD: We kicked off with the rockier stuff - BILLY BUDD was the first thing we recorded, and WHY DON’T YOU FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF was one of those early tracks. As the album evolved and was taking shape that version didn’t fit.
TAYLOR: I think we did three different versions of WHY DON’T YOU FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF in all. The final album version was almost like a remix – building a new backing track around Morrissey’s vocal from the second version. I’d imagine this was done to bring the song into keeping with the emerging sound of the album.
BOORER: I don’t think VAUXHALL AND I had an intended sound before we started the recording.
BRIDGWOOD: I think the sound was there at the beginning, but became more apparent – maybe at the midpoint when most of the backing tracks were done and overdubs were happening. The sessions definitely evolved – and maybe that was the plan… Three months to do an album… to have that amount of time to be able to try things out. That’s Beatle-esque!
Though absent of the dialogue snippets from 1959 Karel Reisz documentary WE ARE THE LAMBETH BOYS which run throughout the final version (notably “we’re gonna get a team up and go out and do it” and “and they catch ‘em and they say he’s mental”), the pulsating early mix of SPRING-HEELED JIM suggests Boorer’s dense and atmospheric material found perfect match in Lillywhite’s inventive studio techniques, perhaps even having a considerable bearing on the aesthetic direction the recording took.
BRIDGWOOD: On recording sessions, Morrissey doesn’t give direction in a musical way. It may be a mood or a feeling he conveys. He lets everyone get on with their part and is quite open minded in that regard. If he’s not happy, then a different approach is tried. It was never a big deal though.
TAYLOR: Steve Lillywhite was interested in recording in slightly more unconventional ways.
BOORER: I got on great with Steve, and it was great to work with him. He definitely put his stamp on the record and helped make it what it is.
BRIDGWOOD: Undoubtedly Steve Lillywhite had a big creative input into VAUXHALL AND I. He’d suggest different approaches, and had a way of getting performances out of people.
TAYLOR: I learnt so much from Steve, who has the incredible gift of being able to draw the best performances from all whom he works with.
BRIDGWOOD: The sessions gathered momentum and we were definitely on a roll, trying different things. We tried several songs that didn’t make it, some never got past routining, some were half recorded.
TAYLOR: I didn’t have a preconceived idea of how the album would turn out, and the way it developed felt very natural.
Boz Boorer’s creeping clarinet lines lend a dolorous monochrome to LIFEGUARD SLEEPING, GIRL DROWNING (with its metaphor of a lazy lifeguard who lets a girl in peril drown, a uniquely Morrissey twist on the eery death disc genre of the 1950s and 60s).
TAYLOR: It’s possible the direction of the overall feel of VAUXHALL AND I changed once that LIFEGUARD SLEEPING, GIRL DROWNING had been recorded… so beautifully atmospheric and understated. I can still see Boz overdubbing that excellent vibrato solo on a bass guitar now!
BOORER: It was just one of the songs I wrote. I can’t remember what the direct influence was, but the track came first then the clarinets went on as an afterthought. I play the clarinet and thought it’d make a nice change.
TAYLOR: It was Steve Lillywhite’s idea to try a small high tuned snare drum with the snare off on the “tell her shhhh” sections in that song. The obvious thing would have been to put in a bigger BE MY BABY-type snare. Steve also had the new Eventide Harmoniser effect unit on evaluation from his Pro Audio supplier for the duration of the recording of the album, which was certainly put to good use.
BRIDGWOOD: Alain’s original demo version of I AM HATED FOR LOVING was quite Clash-like. Morrissey obviously liked the song but wanted it to be more in keeping with the album. When we came to do it, Steve handed me a Hofner Beatle bass to play. I was playing round the chords and came up with the bass line – Steve then knew how the song was going to sound and we took it from there…
TAYLOR: Steve was always into trying out different things that were the opposite of what would be expected. The backing track for I AM HATED FOR LOVING was recorded with all of the musicians in the control room of the studio.
BRIDGWOOD: Steve worked on the drums with Woodie and we layered up the track. We couldn’t record with the Beatle bass as the intonation was out, so I borrowed a Hofner semi acoustic from a friend. However, the bass line I wrote for the song came about directly from Steve handing me the Beatle bass… It was good work, I AM HATED FOR LOVING… Morrissey described my bass line on that as beautiful.
BRIDGWOOD: I wasn’t too surprised by the overall finished sound itself on VAUXHALL AND I, because we lived with the album every day for several weeks, so we’d all watched it grow. But I do remember there being a point where I thought it was really special; a one of a kind…
Cheek-bones, quiff, crisp shirt and eyes, Morrissey broods handsomely from the sleeve of VAUXHALL AND I in a rose-tinted Dean Freeman portrait evoking the Elysian spirit of unreachable 1950s matinee idols. And then, over flickers of cinematic guitar lustre, he delivers the deadpan Coronation Street opening line “There’s gonna be some trouble”…
“What a way to start! Is he being serious or is he being throwaway?” asks Mark Morriss, whose band The Bluetones had used VAUXHALL AND I as a reference point during the recording of their 1995 debut EXPECTING TO FLY (Radiohead did something similar, Thom Yorke recently suggesting that Morrissey’s 1994 album was “all over THE BENDS”).
Released as a single in the US only, opening epic NOW MY HEART IS FULL is still a favourite for Morriss in 2014: “It’s dark and it’s funny from one line to the next. It’s Morrisey’s ‘classic’ voice, really”.
Graham Sampson, singer in the UK’s premier The Smiths / Morrissey tribute band The Smyths: “Quite simply, the song is a work of musical art”. Morriss, again: “There’s not a single song on VAUXHALL AND I that shouldn’t be on it or that’d fit better elsewhere on it. But – blimey! – NOW MY HEART IS FULL… The way it starts, how it builds, the way it ends… It’s just the perfect introduction – the best possible opening to any record you’ll hear”.
BOORER: I wasn’t involved in choosing the running order for VAUXHALL AND I, but I agree NOW MY HEART IS FULL is a great opener!
TAYLOR: The finished album version of NOW MY HEART IS FULL was actually Boz’s original demo version with added overdubs. The night that he’d given me that cassette of his demos, I’d played it in the early hours when I got home, drifting in and out of sleep… I can clearly remember arriving at Victoria Station the next morning on the way to the audition, trying to imagine the kind of melody Moz might sing over Boz’s epic music, and being overcome with emotion…
NOW MY HEART IS FULL was perfect expression of what Morrissey would later describe as VAUXHALL AND I’s “sense of jubilant exhaustion”.
In a new relationship around the time of the album (or, according to 2013′s AUTOBIOGRAPHY, “the I becomes we”) the song’s highly emotional slow motion grandeur sees self-deprecating Morrissey stirred and open-hearted. Letting go and moving on towards a ‘something else’ – presumably happiness – was such an unfathomable shift that “I just can’t explain so I won’t even try to”... In 1995 he told French music magazine LES INROCKUPTIBLES that NOW MY HEART IS FULL had been the “definitive expression of my change to adulthood, of my maturity”.
References to the ultimately tragic criminal gang in Graham Greene’s BRIGHTON ROCK (“Dallow, Spicer, Pinkie, Cubitt / Rush to danger, wind up nowhere”) may be Morrissey’s acknowledgement, albeit obliquely projected at silver screen scale, of the fated trajectory of his former love: The Smiths. The vigour of youth; storming the ramparts; the threat and the thrill of four kindred spirits in siege-mentality battles; the catastrophe of a final, feeble, wasteful surrender. All done, now dust… The passing of crime and all of its times…
In 1994, discussing NOW MY HEART IS FULL with SELECT magazine, he said: “I have realised that the past is actually over – and it is of great relief to me. It’s like being told that you’ve been cured of chronic tuberculosis or housewife’s knee or something”.
TAYLOR: If push came to shove I would have to say NOW MY HEART IS FULL is my favourite track, for the way it makes me feel every time I hear it, and the way I imagine it must make most Morrissey fans feel, too…
TAYLOR: It was the only song on which I’d not finished the drum track by bedtime! One of the hardest things for a drummer to do is replace a drum machine on a demo and lock in with the feel of the guitars. Steve was very patient and told me not to worry, and that the drums on U2′s SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY had taken three days to track! We nailed it quickly the next day, though. It was worth the hard work. Maybe I love NOW MY HEART IS FULL even more because I sweated some blood for it.
Just as the euphoric NOW MY HEART IS FULL had begun VAUXHALL AND I at intense emotional pitch, so the bellicose SPEEDWAY closed it.
Following jaw-dropping opening address (“And when you slam down the hammer / Can you see it in your heart?”), and the briefest moment of silence, the plea for some human understanding from those who would deign to sit in judgement is abruptly ripped apart by the piercing scream of a chainsaw, signalling that the song has quickly become a violent reckoning.
Since 1989 Morrissey had been pursued through the High Court by Mike Joyce over division of The Smiths’ royalty payments (he would find later judgement ruling in favour of the drummer). And, in the year leading up to the recording of VAUXHALL AND I, the NME had continued to sling mud, barbs and brickbats at its former favoured son. SPEEDWAY can be read as Morrissey’s most implicit calling forth of Oscar Wilde; inhabiting the writer at the moment of his terrible 1895 trials to find some dramatic parallel with his own recent experiences of betrayal and persecution: “You won’t rest / Until the hearse that becomes me / Finally takes me”.
Trembling and defiant, Morrissey rages through those who failed to speak out in his defence: “I could have mentioned your name / I could have dragged you in… / Guilt by implication / By association” – though, perversely, pollutes clear water of innocence with “All of the rumours keeping me grounded / I never said that they were completely unfounded”. Years later he would comment: “Well, life’s a game isn’t it?”
Boz Boorer’s chill is brought to apocalyptic burning point by Steve Lillywhite’s production guile, as the song builds with a progressive intensity over its final section. Release (but not closure) comes from a stark drum tumble signifying the final slam of a judge’s gavel.
TAYLOR: SPEEDWAY was originally intended to be a b-side for a single, or an extra track. We treated it the same as the others, listened to Boz’s original demo version of it and laid down a live backing track one morning. I came up with the tom-tom rhythm for the final section, and Steve Lillywhite said that part would sound great if the drums were recorded in Hook End’s wood-panelled dining room. From what I remember, he said that he’d once done something similar with Simple Minds and so had a good idea of how it would sound. I think he’d recorded their drums in a similar-sized wood-panelled studio – not in a dining room specifically!
BRIDGWOOD: During the recording of SPEEDWAY Steve had the idea of recording the drums in the dining room. We had to wait for several hours while various cables were delivered from London so that it could actually be done. We recorded the first half of the song before lunch and the second half much later in the day!
TAYLOR: We spent most of the afternoon waiting for the necessary 50 metres or so of cabling to be delivered from a hire company and for it all to then be set up. The tape ran and Steve dropped us in for the final section; I played in the dining room and the others were playing in the studio. The crash cymbals for that part were overdubbed in the laundry room because Steve liked being able to control all the levels separately to avoid the drum track sounding too splashy. To get that massive sound at the very end of the song he turned up the level of the ambient mics, which were quite high in corners of the room.
BOORER: I put two harmonised e-bow guitars on SPEEDWAY, then the chainsaw sound got put on in the studio.
The first VAUXHALL AND I single was released a fortnight in advance of the album, on 28th February 1994. THE MORE YOU IGNORE ME, THE CLOSER I GET (“Beware! / I bear more grudges / than lonely High Court judges…”) provided Morrissey with his first UK Top Ten hit single in five years.
An accompanying promo video featured Boz Boorer’s young daughter Billie-Rose sporting a tiara and an Angelic Upstarts t-shirt. The guitarist’s intoxicating glam intro riff – which may not have sounded too far off piste had it landed on Bowie’s THE RISE AND FALL OF ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS – was possibly inspired by recent experience of working with Mick Ronson.
The NME described THE MORE YOU IGNORE ME, THE CLOSER I GET as “formless neutered ramble”, and the backing-track / live vocal performance on BBC TV’s TOP OF THE POPS saw Morrissey appear to playfully respond to the paper’s review by slyly substituting the final line “oh, you’re asking for it” with “oh, I need to shag it”… Followed, of course, by a brief glimmer of confusion.
The three-track single also included ballad I’D LOVE TO (a Boz Boorer co-write) and Alain Whyte’s most affecting music from the forthcoming album.
Sympathetic production and a delicate waltz-time chord progression sit in perfect marriage with lyrics on the possibly autobiographical USED TO BE A SWEET BOY.
A father faces down faded sideboard memories of his offspring as innocent; heartbreakingly “holding so tightly to Daddy’s hand”. Puzzling sadly over the “something” that “went wrong” after the “blazer and tie and big bright healthy smile” which “used to make all of our trials worthwhile”, he describes his son’s childhood as “some distant land”.
Of its wretched concluding lines “I know I’m not to blame / I can’t be to blame”, Morrissey later commented: “In that song it is the parents who speak, and decline all responsibilities… To me, though, parents must assume responsibility. They bring children up, not the other way round”. USED TO BE A SWEET BOY remains amongst his most plainly sincere and quietly devastating work.
TAYLOR: I think USED TO BE A SWEET BOY may have originally been earmarked only for a b-side but graduated to the album.
BRIDGWOOD: Later on we did try playing USED TO BE A SWEET BOY live – on the 1995 tour – but it didn’t work. Too bare!
BRIDGWOOD: I’m not entirely sure that I have a favourite track from VAUXHALL AND I, but I do really like my bassline on THE MORE YOU IGNORE ME, THE CLOSER I GET. It has a different part for the outro which descends, and paved the way for the guitar overdubs.
BOORER: The riff for THE MORE YOU IGNORE ME, THE CLOSER I GET wasn’t on the original demo but it came out in the studio. I was playing Marc Bolan’s SG guitar.
“Be mad, be rash / Smoke and explode / Sell all your clothes / Just bear in mind / there might come a time / when you need some friends”. It is human connection that truly counts… HOLD ON TO YOUR FRIENDS was the second single to be taken from VAUXHALL AND I; issued two months after the album, in May 1994. On the 12″ and CD a spectral extended cut of Henry Mancini’s Oscar-winning torch song MOON RIVER (memorably first sung by Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in the 1961 film of Truman Capote’s 1958 novella BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S) drifted along to an almost sedative ten minutes. MOONRIVER (one word, no space) featured an overdub of actress Peggy Evans in tears, taken from the 1950s Ealing crime film THE BLUE LAMP. Surprisingly, until an unnecessary issue of YOUR ARSENAL’s GLAMOROUS GLUE to promote the 2011 greatest hits package, HOLD ON TO YOUR FRIENDS held the curious distinction of being Morrissey’s lowest charting single.
Aesthetically at least, three further releases seem to belong to VAUXHALL AND I. Produced by Boorer on a free weekend during 1993′s Hook End sessions, a stately cover version of INTERLUDE – Timi Yuro’s love theme for the 1968 film of the same name – was issued as a duet with Siouxsie Sioux in August 1994.
INTERLUDE was the first solo-era release not to display a portrait of Morrissey on the cover – instead harking back to the aesthetics of The Smiths by featuring an evocative retro shot (taken in 1957 by London street photographer Roger Mayne). Morrissey and Siouxsie argued over potential content for a video, which was subsequently abandoned, hampering promotion of the single. INTERLUDE remains something of a ‘lost’ or ‘forgotten’ classic – though a Morrissey solo take surfaced as a curio on 2011′s VERY BEST OF…
BOXERS – an overt celebration of Morrissey’s new five-knuckle interest – was released as a single in January 1995. Its romanticised lyrics reflect on the inner tragedies of defeated pugilists he doubtlessly observed in his trips to various bouts (“The sound, the smell, and the spray / You will take them all away / And they’ll stay ’til the grave”). 1930s fighter Billy Conn appeared on the single’s UK sleeve, and subsequent era-compilation WORLD OF MORRISSEY featured up-and-coming scrapper Cornelius Carr in a tinted still culled from the video for BOXERS. WORLD OF… was issued shortly before an 18 date tour of the UK on which songs from BOXERS, YOUR ARSENAL and VAUXHALL AND I featured heavily.
At career best, a vaguely menacing Morrissey took to the stage each night in (make-up) scars and bruises, emphasising the brutal edges in the set list. Though Boorer, Bridgwood, Whyte and rehired Spencer Cobrin (Woodie Taylor did not tour) took on the daunting challenge of reproducing the subtler textures of VAUXHALL AND I in the live environment, February 1995′s intense and masculine performances were more successful as a reminder of much of its dark underbelly.
The inherent threat of tough-loving shows in Blackpool and Sheffield was captured by director James O’Brien for release as breathtaking concert film INTRODUCING MORRISSEY.
BOXERS was originally scheduled to include a fourth track, SUNNY, but it was withdrawn shortly before release. Eventually issued as a single in its own right late in 1995, SUNNY suffered slightly by featuring alongside a superior new song – the wistful but occasionally camp A SWALLOW ON MY NECK (“I have been smashed again /with the men / from the Old Valhalla Road / crematorium / Boring ‘em / with the same old patter…”). Shimmering 1993 outtake BLACK-EYED SUSAN – originally mooted as the b-side for THE MORE YOU IGNORE ME, THE CLOSER I GET in 1994 – was also included, neatly book-ending the VAUXHALL AND I era.
BRIDGWOOD: INTERLUDE was a standalone single. It was always separate from VAUXHALL AND I. The three songs on the BOXERS single and the track SUNNY were recorded at Olympic Studios in early October 1994, and were meant to have been released as a four track EP. I don’t know why SUNNY was pulled from that. Obviously it came out later as a single. BLACK-EYED SUSAN on its b-side was a VAUXHALL AND I out-take. The personnel was the same.
BOORER: INTERLUDE was recorded during the sessions for the album, I believe. BOXERS and SUNNY belonged to a later session, in Barnes.
BRIDGWOOD: It wasn’t difficult to do the songs from the album live because we played them pretty much as we’d routined them when we were recording. For example, the bare bones as it were; two guitars, bass and the drums. It was just the songs minus the production.
BOORER: I just had to arrange the songs using as many of the important parts as we could to play them live.
BRIDGWOOD: The gigs were very enjoyable. I’ve always thought it’s a shame that we didn’t tour the VAUXHALL AND I album in the same way that Morrissey had toured YOUR ARSENAL.
TAYLOR: I’m very fond of YOUR ARSENAL, too, but VAUXHALL AND I is top of the pile for me… Such a powerful and cohesive body of work… I never imagined I’d ever play on a number one album or get a gold disc.
Released by Parlophone on 14th March 1994, VAUXHALL AND I was the second Morrissey album to reach number one in the UK charts. Abiding on all levels – lyrically, vocally, musically, aesthetically – it stands as the unsurpassed artistic achievement of his years as a solo artist. His most complete statement.
Graham Sampson of The Smyths: “It has a very solitary feel. There’s a sobriety throughout that adds to its grandeur. It’s very complete as a piece”.
Mark Morriss: “I was listening to it in the car the other day, actually, and got a bit lost in it. It’s beautiful and it still sounds fresh and new and… whole, to me. It’s him and that group of musicians at their absolute peak. VAUXHALL AND I is the best record Morrissey made, I think”.
BRIDGWOOD: All the fans I’ve met say that it’s Morrissey’s best album, and his best line up… I think everyone involved with it made a major contribution – my bass playing is an integral part of the album, so I’m proud of mine. For me, VAUXHALL AND I is a moment in time – learning to live again after the loss of my daughter.
TAYLOR: It was an honour to play such wonderful songs and be a part of such a brilliant team. Moz was in fine voice too… I think he was happy – honestly! He’d reached a new songwriting high with Alain and Boz.
BOORER: It was a great time in my creative life.
BRIDGWOOD: I think all the songs are key – it’s impossible to imagine the album any other way. I think it’s one of those ‘classic’ albums. Name any you like - FOREVER CHANGES by Love, ASTRAL WEEKS by Van Morrison, KIND OF BLUE by Miles Davis… If you have one Morrissey record then VAUXHALL AND I is most likely the one.
TAYLOR: VAUXHALL AND I is certainly my favourite Morrissey album. But then, I’m biased!
BOORER: VAUXHALL AND I is a mighty piece of work.
BRIDGWOOD: If my discography is a crown then VAUXHALL AND I may well be the jewel in it, I think. And quite possibly the same goes for Morrissey. It‘s his masterpiece, for sure.
PEACE CAME AT LAST WITH VAUXHALL AND I, STREAMING OUT IN A LAVISH FLOW AND LEAVING ME STUPID WITH SMILES. VAUXHALL AND I IS AN ARM HELD OUT, AND USHERING OTHERS TO JOIN – EVEN THOUGH ITS SINGER HAS FEELINGS IMPOSSIBLE TO SATISFY…
~ MORRISSEY (in AUTOBIOGRAPHY)