Mike Joyce Interview
I Would Go Out Tonight, But I Had This Charming Man To Talk To.
Ahead of his upcoming visit to Worthing to celebrate thirty years since the release of the album The Queen is Dead, Sim Scott caught up with Mike Joyce, radio DJ and former drummer from legendary eighties’ band, The Smiths.
Bigmouth Strikes Again
I wasn’t yet a teenager when the Smiths were around, but have etched in memories of my cool-as-you-like babysitter, with her bleached blonde flat-top and moody Morrissey-wannabe boyfriend nonchalantly swinging their arms around to this.
I’d look on from my brown velour settee perch with envy. I wanted to be in the gang, but with my incessant juvenile chat, Hair Bear Bunch barnet (Google it if you were born after 1980) and elasticated C&A cords, there was no chance of me being invited along to Northlands disco with them. If only I had her number now.
Quick to notice my accent wasn’t local (I’m from the North East, wey aye!) which somehow led to us starting with the subject of my Worthing to London commute. In his parents’ words, he’s never had a ‘proper job’, and so has never had to endure the grind of rush hour travel. Mike shared his hatred of long journeys, at which point I foolishly waxed lyrical about happily passing my commute reading, writing and researching, to which he replied ‘let’s find out how that research has gone’ and ‘I’ll be the judge of that’. Hmm, so this had better be good…
When The Hype Met The Joyce
Thirty years since the Queen is Dead was released, where did that go?
“Yeh, it’s strange, time gets faster as you get older doesn’t it? Thirty years, I hadn’t been on the planet for that long when it came out so that shows how long ago it was. The thing is, I’ve done a lot since so it’s not as if I’ve been sitting twiddling my thumbs. Musically, even though we were right in the middle of the eighties, we never sounded like an eighties band. We sounded timeless – it could have been 1968, 1978 or 1988…”
I agree! I’ve been looking at eighties compilations, and The Smiths weren’t on any of them.
“I know, I was looking at ‘The Best of the Eighties’, and it had ABC, Human League, Culture Club, Spandau Ballet – all these big name bands. When you consider that we were right in the middle of the eighties, we were nowhere to be seen…”
That’s not such a bad thing, though, is it? (I have pretty bad recollections of some of the stuff from that time and truly consider it a good thing not to be lumped in with much of it)
“Yeh, we stood the test of time; musically we’ve had a good shelf-life regarding influence. When you listen to How Soon is Now it could have been recorded yesterday. I can remember when we started, and I’d say ‘I’m in this band called The Smiths’, and people were asking ‘How would you describe the sound of the Smiths?’ That’s a tough one. It’s the same for bands like Roxy Music who have a timeless sound, or like Bowie.
With the Smiths we tended to genre hop depending on how we felt the song should sound; sometimes quite punky, sometimes trippy and sometimes like a ballad. We weren’t punky, but we could do punky, we weren’t rocky, but we could do rocky…”
You all had very different influences. I know yours were quite punky, but Andy Rourke was into funk. All those different influences are thrown into a melting pot and making music that you wanted to make, rather than music you thought would sell well, which was what everyone else was doing at the time…
“I think bands do that now, but those disparate influences we had helped to make a sound. If we were all into Neil Young, we would have sounded like Crazy Horse, or if we were all into Motown, then it would have sounded like Northern Soul. Morrissey had eclectic taste – Cilla Black and Slaughter and the Dogs – quite different sounding bands!”.
So you’re coming to Worthing. What made you decide to celebrate the anniversary of the album in this way?
“The DJing thing is meant to be a party. I play songs that I like. Because I’m not a punk DJ, or a house DJ, or a rock DJ, I play things from all over. When I first started DJing, I didn’t play any Smiths… it felt a bit shit. I felt a bit embarrassed playing a song that I featured on. Then at about the third gig a girl asked if I could play some Smiths; I asked what she’d like, and she asked for This Charming Man. I played it and loads of people really enjoyed it – I was a bit embarrassed, I won’t deny that. Then a guy came up and said ‘what a wanker, fancy playing your stuff!”.
Can’t win, can you?!
“That’s it! It depends on where you’re playing. If I’m in Manchester, I might play one (Smiths’ track). I’ve seen a few things on YouTube, and there are clips of me DJing and on every one, I’m playing Smiths songs. It looks as though every time I DJ that’s all I play!”
Here he comes, rolling them out…
“I looked at one clip, and I’m playing Hand in Glove, then in the next I’m in Milan playing Panic. Trust me, folks; I do play other music! Worthing will be a big party, and of course, it’s going to be a celebration of the Smiths because I’m really proud of my history in the Smiths”.
So you should be, and we’re really looking forward to having you here. Give us a flavour of what you’ll be dropping in on the night…
“I’ll be playing some Clash, some New Order and some Joy Division – a lot of Manchester bands, obviously.
I play what I think is going to work. If it doesn’t, then I rectify it with the next track. I like the idea of not having a particular set – if I were doing that and playing the same songs every night, it would be boring for me. There’ll be some classics in there, maybe a bit of Northern Soul, maybe some ‘Chic’… then we’ll go a bit dancey later on”.
I make a mental note to stock up on talcum powder, ready for some Northern Soul knee spins…
“It’s just a nice way of meeting the people who are buying our records. This celebration is a great way to see a lot of Smiths’ fans, many of whom have never seen a Smith, partly because they’re not old enough! When people come over saying ‘my Dad’s a massive fan’ it brings it home how long ago it all was. I’m waiting for ‘my grandad was a massive fan’ next!”
Speaking of granddads; I told Mike my claim to fame that my grandad was in the original line-up of ‘The Animals’, but the arrival of a baby (my mam!) meant that music super-stardom gave way to parenthood and forty years of hard work in a steel foundry by the banks of the Tyne. Grandad carried on playing with local bands into his seventies but would have loved the career of Mike, who started The Smiths at a similar age.
It’s unbelievable that you were knocking out this music at such a young age (he was just eighteen when the band formed).
“Yeh, we were kids. My son is eighteen – it’s mind-blowing thinking I was his age when we started. When you’re eighteen you think you know it all, you think you’re cool, and everything revolves around you. Later on, I looked back and realised we were just kids thrown together by circumstance and a love of playing music.
Nothing to do with success, money, or fame – we just wanted an outlet to express ourselves musically. What is amazing is that it happened so quickly. We went from rehearsing in October 82 to releasing an album in May 83 (the first album, The Smiths charted at number two). Some bands go for ten years without getting a bite. For us, It just worked.”
So looking back, what advice would you give your eighteen-year-old self?
“Hmm, get stuff in writing”.
I knew where this was going and steeled myself; 1996 saw a very public court case where Mike and Andy Rourke successfully took Morrissey and Johnny Marr to court for unpaid royalties…
(Getting things in writing) “It’s a difficult thing to do… it’s not that you don’t trust people. The politics of being in a band are scary; nobody knows what is going to happen in the future, and you don’t want to upset your mates. But looking back, it’s an awful lot easier than being in a room with someone in a wig and thinking ‘how did it come to this?’ At the time I didn’t appreciate how serious it was, I didn’t think it would be such a big deal. After the first day, it was all over the newspapers, and it hit home”.
Obviously, a painful experience and one that you needn’t have gone through (if the advice had been available). So in short, ‘cover your arse’?
“Ha ha, that’s a very technical term but yes. The other thing is just to be yourself and enjoy it”.
Because of my grandad I’ve always thought that drums are cool, why did you choose drums?
“I went to see Buzzcocks and was completely mesmerised by (drummer) John Maher. I thought ‘That’s what I want to do. Forever.’
Are you still playing?
“I took a bit of time out as I was doing a lot of radio work (Mike has covered slots on the magnificent BBC Radio 6, as well as having his own shows on New York’s East Village Radio and local Manchester stations). Then (Radio 6 DJ) Marc Riley got in touch to say that Maxine Peake was researching a part and needed to learn how to play. So we had a play… I’d forgotten just how fantastic it was to play. I thought ‘I just want to play again’, but I didn’t want to get in a band and go on tour in a van with five other blokes.
I wanted to keep it minimal. A good friend of mine, Aziz Ibrahim (who brilliantly filled the large shoes of guitarist John Squire when he left the Stone Roses) got in touch, and we just started playing and recording it. We’re rehearsing a few times a week and are going to take it out there at some point.”
Here’s hoping they do, and that Worthing makes the tour list….
I enthusiastically declared my talent for air drumming and squared up an air drum-off for next week, asking whether he’s ever tempted to knock out the drum solo intro to (album title track) ‘The Queen is Dead’ on his living room practice pad. It’s my favourite intro ever and still gives me goosebumps, as does ‘How Soon is Now’.
Mike explained the detail that went it to this, with each part of the drums recorded separately and played back on a loop under the meticulous guidance of producer Stephen Street. I’m seriously hoping he’ll drop this in as the soundtrack to my moment of glory…
We covered a multitude of other topics. Everything from fashion and how he caused a stir in late-seventies’ Manchester Catholic Clubs with Day-Glo sunglasses and sugar water-spiked hair. To football and Mike’s (understandable) excitement at Pep Guardiola’s forthcoming management of his beloved Manchester City, through to parenthood (he’s father to three grown-up children), ‘Dads’ chairs’, vegetarianism and…allotments.
I could have chatted all night, but a Champions’ League semi-final was about to start, from which the victor would face the winner of the following night’s City v Real Madrid match in the final. City lost… I reckon the Milan final would have been one long journey Mike could have tolerated. Let’s hope that Guardiola brings better luck next season.
Sadly, Mike turned down my request to pack his Dunlop green flash and join me in running a marathon the day after the gig. Not even free entry and a complimentary veggie breakfast with a cuppa could swing it. Can’t say I didn’t try.
So, a thoroughly enjoyable chat with Mike Joyce – drummer, DJ, family man, fashionista, expert cultivator of broad beans and all-around cracking bloke. Can it get any more rock n’ roll?