“Rick Astley is on the news, preparing for his tour of Smith’s covers with the Blossoms as a backing band.”
It was all Lamontpaul wrote in his text to me this morning. He’ll send me sporadic texts throughout the week, usually about deadlines, but this was different.
“Rick Astley is going out on tour covering Patti Smith songs?” I thought, confused by the auto-corrected apostrophe. “And who are the Blossoms?”
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But this wasn’t news to anyone paying attention. Astley warned us. He threatened to perform a full concert consisting of nothing but Smiths songs.
“Age has made me think I have to stop giving a shit what anybody else thinks and do exactly what I want to do,” he said in a 2016 Rolling Stone interview. “So one day I’m going to do a gig in Manchester where I’m going to sing [all] Smiths songs because I absolutely love the Smiths. I’ll probably get lynched for it, but I just want to do it. Why not?”
Who knew that Astley’s seemingly flippant comment in Rolling Stone was something he was really entertaining. Except for that one brief moment in time on February 9, 1989 when he bumped into Morrissey backstage before they both performed on Top of The Tops (see the photo above), one would have never assumed Astley cared for the indie rumblings of the Smiths, much less anything else that didn’t have a polished sheen administered by Stock, Aitken, or Waterman.
But if you do the math, Astley was 50 when he made that comment in Rolling Stone, and it’s easy to determine that his formative years growing up coincided with the Smiths’ birth along with the band’s subsequent singles, concerts, and Morrissey’s rise as the region’s poet laureate. The young, malleable, Northern Astley was the perfect teen age to be converted into a Smiths disciple.
“From the moment The Smiths emerged in 1983 I was hooked.” Astley continued in his statement to the press announcing The Sound of the Smiths, a short two-date tour in which he’s being backed by the Blossoms, a Manchester five-piece with a few competent LPs under their belt.
In an unofficial preview of The Sound of the Smiths, Astley definitely had the marks of a fan last night. He appeared with the Blossoms as a special unannounced guest at the O2 Forum in London and they ran through two Smiths chestnuts: “Panic” and “This Charming Man.”
At first glance, it’s clear that Astley did some prep: the flowery shirt, the thick, NHS-esque specs, the quiff -- even the mannerisms -- it was all there. He looked like a malnourished Morrissey circa 1984, waif-thin with arms flailing like a drowning child.
But then Astley started singing with his thick, trained, studio-ready voice and the illusion was shattered. Not that Astley doing a gig’s worth of Smiths songs was going to cure the state of the world, or revolutionize pop music, but Smiths songs were never meant to be sung with such elocution or heavy timbre.
Rather, the Smiths songs are meant to be yelped, screeched in falsetto, with words that stretch, wrap around, and bind Johnny Marr’s intricate melodies together. Only young Morrissey’s untrained voice could truly make sense out of Marr’s intricate song structure.
In last night’s previews at the O2, Astley comes off more like a wedding singer than our flowery Manchurian frontman. Astley didn’t embarrass himself, but there were moments when you could see him trying a bit too much (like when he seemed to be waving a stalk of gladioli over his head.
All that said, Astley singing the Smiths sounds like a fun night out, but then again, I’m the person who goes to bars on karaoke night to watch the local talent butcher the classics.
The Sound of the Smiths Tour: October 2021
8th at the Albert Hall, Manchester
9th at the O2 Forum Kentish Town, London