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“After reading A Light That Never Goes Out, I'm on the path to understanding Morrissey... In the end, I came away with a richer appreciation of the ethics, psychology, and artistry of [The Smiths]. Plus a burning desire to listen to the music.”
—The Austin Chronicle
“The terrific British music writer Tony Fletcher has just published the definitive biography of [The Smiths].”
“If there's a ghost fifth member of the Smiths, it might be Tony Fletcher…Fletcher reveals detail after detail.”
—The Village Voice
“Meticulously chronicles the rise of one of the '80s' best bands. This charming man Fletcher…did a fine job of recounting England's The Smiths.”
"There's no shortage of books on the Smiths, but this 600-page tome is the one fans want, and rightly so."
“Mr. Fletcher accomplishes the key task of a music biographer, which is a richer enjoyment of the music.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“Fletcher, who has written biographies of drummer Keith Moon and R.E.M., combines original interviews with quotes and anecdotes from the vast paper trail of the British music press to piece together this enigmatic band’s rise and fall in obsessive detail.”
—The Boston Globe
“Consistently perceptive… Fletcher demonstrates a great facility for placing the band's work in perspective.”
–The San Francisco Chronicle
“[Fletcher] was blessed with full access to the band’s records, its business associates and, critically, its actual members. Guitarist Johnny Marr and bassist Andy Rourke granted the author extensive interviews….Fletcher’s book is exhaustive in its attention to detail.”
–The Washington Post
“Fletcher perfectly captures the wit and complexity of the band and its music…Best of all for the group’s ongoing admirers and fans, [he] displays an unflagging enthusiasm in describing every aspect of how the Smiths produced a ‘torrent of brilliant work in a blazing stream of exhaustive glory.”
“A full account of the singularly influential English band, drawing on extensive research and interviews...An up-to-date and revealing rock biography that sets a standard of completion that will likely prove hard to beat.”
"Finally, the full story of the Smiths: four kids, a city, a sound, a dream, a scandal, a legend. Tony Fletcher reveals the emotionally intense, wildly comic, totally fascinating details of how this band changed the world. It belongs in any fan’s scholarly room."
—ROB SHEFFIELD, bestselling author of Love Is a Mix Tape
"A Light That Never Goes Out is an exhilarating read! Tony Fletcher not only examines the Smiths’ impact on the music and culture in their UK homeland, but he explores their lasting effect on America and their undeniable influence on American indie rock. I highly recommend it."
—MATT PINFIELD, host of MTV2’S 120 Minutes AND The Hivecast on iTunes
"An intriguing portrait of an intriguing band that is as rich in intellectual history as it is in rock trivia. Keith Richards, eat your heart out."
—GARY MARCUS, bestselling author of Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning
"Written with love and filled with gemlike moments—like Johnny Marr singing along with a 45 of the Marvelettes ‘You’re the One’ during his first meeting with Morrissey—Fletcher chronicles one of the twentieth century’s most gorgeous and subversive bands. Fans will swoon; the inexplicable rest of you will learn what the fuss was about."
—WILL HERMES, author of Love Goes to Buildings on Fire
From the Hardcover edition.
Before its transformation in the eighteenth century, Manchester served as but a respectable agricultural center, with an additional reputation for textile production thanks to an influx of Flemish weavers exiled there in the 1300s; it was Liverpool, thirty miles west along the River Mersey, that stood radiant as the “Gateway to the British Empire.” Liverpool’s fortunes were built in part on the export of Manchester textiles, and on guns made in Birmingham, but they were especially enhanced by the exchange of such goods on the west coast of Africa for human cargo, which was then transported for sale into slavery in the West Indies or along the American Atlantic coast before returning from the New World laden with raw goods. Come the year 1800, and Liverpool was considered the second wealthiest city in all of Europe.
By then, however, the harnessing of steam power, and the successive inventions, mostly in the British Midlands and northwest, of a series of jennies, looms, frames, and mules that exponentially increased the production capabilities in the cotton industry, were already serving to shift that balance of regional power. Manchester benefited from these inventions in part due to its existent foothold in textiles, but also because it had the attributes required by the new large-scale industries—natural high humidity, heavy rainfall, a copious supply of soft water, and, thanks to the pioneering Bridgewater Canal that connected a private regional coal mine to the owner’s warehouse in Manchester, easy access to coal and a burgeoning system of further arterial canals. The world’s first water-powered mill was built in Royton, in the east of modern Manchester, in 1764; the city’s first steam-driven mill opened in Shudehill, in the heart of modern Manchester, in 1782. From there, the mills expanded by the dozen, many of them built on the banks of the Rochdale Canal in Ancoats, the border of modern Manchester’s fashionable Northern Quarter. Mills were also constructed on the northern edges of Chorlton-on-Medlock, through which ran the Oxford Road south from the city, and on which was later built the University of Manchester, the city’s most populous seat of higher learning and one that, studies have frequently shown, now attracts students as much for Manchester’s musical reputation as any educational one.
Britain abolished slavery in 1807, and Liverpool’s position at the core of its global trade suffered accordingly; the “Middle Passage” having been eliminated, ships arrived at the Mersey port increasingly laden with raw cotton from India or the Americas, and departed with finished cotton textiles from Manchester for sale around the globe. In 1830, when the world’s first passenger railway line opened, connecting the two great northwestern English cities, there was little doubt which of them held the key to Britain’s future prosperity: “Cottonopolis,” as Manchester had come to be known, the engine room of the Industrial Revolution.
By this point in time, fully one-fifth of Manchester’s population was Irish.1 They had come in part because of the poverty in their homeland, where, especially since the Acts of Union at the start of the nineteenth century, they had been subjugated by absentee British landlords to the point that the greater part of their food production ended up on English dinner tables. They came to Manchester especially for the promise of jobs in the vast new cotton mills, as well as the iron foundries, machinery plants, and glass works that were built in large part to service this industry. And yet they arrived to find themselves shunned by the English, who viewed them not only with the religious prejudice of a Protestant nation, and not just as a threat to employment but, with their foreign tongue (for many of the immigrants spoke Gaelic) and equally distant ways, as a different and inferior race entirely.
As a result, the Irish had been cast into ghettoes, where they lived in quite possibly the worst conditions yet witnessed in a (then) modern society. Details of their hardships were eventually publicized by Dr. James Phillips Kay in his 1832 study entitled The Moral and Physical Condition of the Working Classes Employed in the Cotton Manufacture in Manchester. Kay served as physician to the Ardwick and Ancoats Dispensary, neighborhoods that, along with New Town (or Irish Town), served as the main residential areas for the Irish immigrants and were, not by coincidence, the core of the city’s squalor. In these areas, entire families of sixteen or more could be found cohabiting in single, sublevel, damp, pestilent rooms barely one hundred square feet in size, crowded in with pigs and other animals. Such was the lack of basic sanitation that on Parliament Street, some 380 people shared a single “privy,” from which the human waste not surprisingly ran over into adjacent houses. (In whole swathes of inner Manchester, there were a greater number of beer houses, taverns, and gin shops than there were toilets.) Allowing too that the city’s rivers were poisoned with any number of odorous colors by chemical dumping and that the air was thickened with polluting soot to the point that the houses were coated black with the stuff, it was no wonder that cholera epidemics often swept the city—and that fully half the city’s infants died before the age of five.
Those children who survived found themselves called to work in the factories and mills; it was a mark of just how deeply they were enslaved in such premises that an 1819 Cotton Factories Regulation Act had been required to restrict their labor even to twelve hours a day. Still, partly because there was no enforcement of these laws until a new act of Parliament in 1833, children as young as five—many of them orphans provided by local parish authorities—continued to be freely beaten, easily injured, otherwise mistreated and abused, and disciplined violently, often dipped headfirst into water cisterns when they inevitably became drowsy from overwork. Men, women, and children alike worked in a machinery-driven din of such volume that the French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville wrote of the Manchester of this time that he heard it before he saw it, using appropriately rhythmic language to bemoan the “crunching wheels of machinery, the shriek of steam from boilers, the regular beat of the looms.”
Likewise, in his groundbreaking report, Dr. Kay rightly compared “The dull routine of a ceaseless drudgery” in the mills to “the torment of Sisyphus—the toil, like the rock, recoils perpetually on the wearied operative.” Yet Kay could not hide an underlying contempt for the unskilled Irish among these toilers. With free use of the term “savage,” he cited their “contagious example of ignorance and a barbarous disregard of forethought and economy,” and concluded that “such a race is useful only as a mass of animal organization, which consumes the smallest amount of wages.”
By the end of the 1830s, cotton accounted for fully half of Britain’s export earnings, but there had been little change in living standards. When the German-born Friedrich Engels came to town in 1842, sent by his father to oversee the family’s cotton spinning mill in the hope that the experience would temper the young man’s radical beliefs, his exposure to the effects of large-scale industry encouraged him instead to formulate his own vision of society alongside his political partner, Karl Marx, with whom he would meet and devour economic theories at Chetham’s public library (the oldest in Britain) during the latter’s visits to Manchester. Engels and Marx would later pen The Communist Manifesto, but first, in 1845, Engels was to publish The Conditions of the Working Class in England, at the age of just twenty-four. In it, Engels—suspecting that it was more by design than accident—astutely noted of Manchester how its city center was filled with impressive offices and warehouses, and the main roads out of town were lined with well-kept shops. As such, a businessman “commuting” from his suburban village, or a visitor whom he might wish to impress, could make the journey in and out of the city center without exposure to the destitution of the working-class residences that lay hidden behind the main roads in a vast, unmapped configuration of alleys and terraces and jerry-built cottages—out of sight and, to many, out of mind.
Detailing the conditions of the slum people and the factories that employed them as a powder keg ready to explode, Engels framed his study not just as an indictment of the Industrial Revolution but as a warning of an inevitable Workers Revolution. “The fighting proletariat will help itself,” he believed. Yet Engels, like Kay before him, seemed to simultaneously believe that self-emancipation was beyond the Irish. In a special section of his “Conditions” devoted to Irish Immigration, he stooped to every caricature ever identified with the nationality:
“The worst dwellings are good enough for them; their clothing causes them little trouble, so long as it holds together by a single thread; shoes they know not; their food consists of potatoes and potatoes only; whatever they earn beyond these needs they spend upon drink. What does such a race want with high wages?”
It has sometimes been suggested by Engels apologists that these comments were a form of bitter sarcasm, perhaps intended to reflect the views of the Industrial barons, but his conclusions still made for awkward reading: “Even if the Irish, who have forced their way into other occupations, should become more civilised, enough of the old habits would cling to them to have a strong degrading influence upon their English companions in toil, especially in view of the general effect of being surrounded by the Irish.” Engels’s theory was to be immediately put to the test, as potato crops repeatedly failed across Ireland in the 1840s, leading to famine and the mass emigration of up to a million young Irish in less than a decade, many of whom followed a now familiar journey—to the mills, works, and slums of inner Manchester.
Manchester gained renown as more than just the birthplace of modern capitalism and communism. In 1801, the Church of England Sunday Schools in Manchester, proud of their part in helping to educate the poorest of factory children, paraded them to the Collegiate Church on Whit Monday to hear a special holiday sermon. The practice soon spread across the country, while growing more popular in Manchester so that by the middle of the century, a minimum of 10,000 “scholars” could be found marching behind church banners; in time, the children would come to anticipate the Whit Walks as an alternate Christmas, a day for new clothes and financial gifts from relatives and friends. Other events carried a heavier weight of history. In 1819, years of worker unrest following the Napoleonic Wars culminated in an astonishingly large crowd of 60,000 gathering in the city’s St. Peter’s Field from all across Lancashire to hear the top orators of the day call for parliamentary reform.
Posted January 26, 2013
No text was provided for this review.