Like many students of the mid-1980s Tim Woodhouse (LLB Law, 1985) was captivated as an undergraduate by The Smiths. The archetypal student band, they represented a particular type of undergraduate experience that somehow reflected 1980s Hull: northern grit, sardonic humour, wide literary reading and shabby chic. This piece recalls that short moment when Morrissey and Larkin could both be seen on campus.
I remember the student year 1983 to ’84; I was sharing a double room with a Philosophy student called Brendan Coyne from Enfield. Brendan had a huge (vinyl) album collection including Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul, Prince’s 1999, Van Morrison’s Moondance and The Walker Brothers. He was something of a musical encyclopaedia, and he was very excited if he ever saw EBTG’s Ben Watt or Tracey Thorne walking on the campus or in the library. He gently mocked my small collection of cassettes, including George Formby, Fats Waller and the comedy songs of Jake Thackray, but he did allow me to use his record player for some Oscar Peterson.
It was Brendan who bought The Smiths’ first album and I found the guitar structures hypnotising, the vocals beautifully haunting and the lyrics filled with a dark, rainy, Mancunian humour.
On returning home one holiday to South Manchester, I did my research and found out that the bassist, Andy Rourke, had a cousin called Phil Rourke who played music with a former school friend. This was enough for me to claim to actually know the band. I know it was tenuous, but Brendan was impressed and possibly a little jealous.
We were duly excited when they played the campus in the summer of 1984. His lyrics were edgy and dark with a jumble of confused sexuality reminiscent of all-male school, or so I decided. Brendan was open to this interpretation and allowed me to be seen out with him and his musically knowledgeable friends for what was possibly my first ever gig outside folk clubs.
The Smiths performed at the Union for exactly an hour; Johnny Marr, Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce were incredibly tight musically and Morrissey’s flower-waving posturing was Byronesque as he portrayed the eternally tortured poet. I left on a massive high.
I saw other gigs from 1984 to ’85: Hull Truck theatre hosted Jake Thackray, Stockton’s Wing and The Housemartins as an acoustic duo. I also saw Christy Moore playing an upstairs function room at a Hull hotel.
I also remember seeing Everything But The Girl, who returned after graduating in late 1984.
I quite took it for granted that I would pass Philip Larkin on the campus most days. He had a battered briefcase and a cream gabardine overcoat in all weather. He always kept his head down and never acknowledged us.
Ten years after graduating, in 1995, I read Andrew Motion’s biography of Larkin and I immersed myself in his poems for the first time. Obviously, I was aware of the rude and sweary poem about parents, but I remember a line: Nothing, like something, happens anywhere. It echoed Morrissey’s celebration of pessimism, nihilism and under-achievement.
I think it might be my favourite line!
(c) Tim Woodhouse, 2016
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