Perhaps you've daydreamed about going out on tour with your favorite band, seeing them in concert every night, and possibly even hanging out with them along the way. It's a dream photographer Nalinee Darmrong actually lived when she followed legendary British rock band The Smiths on the road in the mid-80s.
Darmrong's obsession began when she was given a ticket to a Smiths show at Washington, D.C.'s Warner Theatre as a high school graduation present. She was instantly hooked, and following them on tour just became a matter of pure logic. "You get into this band, and then you find out they're playing two or three hours away," she says of how it all began. "You think, Let's get all of our friends, get in the car, and drive to see that show. There's no question."
She refers to singer Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr as her "Lennon and McCartney," and notes that Morrissey's emotive lyrics played a big part in why she and other fans felt so attached to the band. "It's like he was saying it's OK to celebrate your whole youth," Darmrong reflects. "You should appreciate everything about it—and don't apologize for it."
She soon found herself following the band around the U.S., even trailing them all the way to Scotland—and, lucky for her, the band was more than just polite with regard to her fandom. The guys were so cordial, in fact, that guitarist Johnny Marr went so far as to invite her and a few other fans to his wedding in California. (Sadly, they weren't able to make the cross-country drive in time.)
During her adventures with The Smiths, she took roll after roll of photos, and collected countless pieces of memorabilia. "I joke with people that I want to start an LLC called Healthy Hoarders International," she laughs. But in this case, what some may have once thought to be junk, turned out to be relics of music history. The images she snapped and the goods she collected out on tour are now collected in her new book, The Smiths, out tomorrow.
Below, Darmrong shares a selection of images from the book, and gives Sweet the exclusive stories behind them.
I grew up in the D.C. area, amidst the punk culture of Dischord Records and their bands, regular protests, and the politically charged climate. I appreciated Morrissey's criticism of his own government (headed at the time by ultra-conservative Margaret Thatcher), and I think the American fans did as well, empathizing with Moz's views. Perhaps they reflected a little (as I did) about the state of our government, which was also led by a conservative: President Ronald Reagan.
This was taken during the Meat Is Murder tour. Traveling to Lerwick, in the Shetland Islands, is a little challenging. You have to take a ferry that crosses many bodies of water, and everyone who made it over—band, crew, fans—was relieved to arrive on Lerwick soil, after having been tossed around in the ocean for many hours. I remember the town being quite small, with only about 7,000 residents. That environment definitely contributed to the refreshing, cozy, and intimate vibe of this picture, as well as the show.
I managed to save a few set lists. I appreciate them so much more now, having been in a few bands since then.
I was dancing on stage (The Smiths always encouraged crowd participation and enjoyed blurring artist-fan boundaries), and with amazing luck and timing, Morrissey ripped off his shirt, buttons flying everywhere, and handed it to me. This is one of my most treasured possessions.
I think I picked this up at the end of that tour. If I was ever around at the end of a tour, I'd usually help clean up a little, and people would ask me if I wanted any souvenirs that would otherwise have been tossed in the trash. Needless to say, my healthy hoarding practices began with The Smiths, and I have no regrets! The supporting band on this tour was Easterhouse, and they were on Rough Trade, the same record label as The Smiths.
Later on, I had a photo pass, so I didn't really receive tickets anymore (saving money and paper, which is good). So if I saw strays on the floor, I'd pick them up; sometimes friends had doubles and were nice enough to give me their spares. I guess I've always been a "collector."
My friends Tony Cohen and Tim Hailand helped me rip this poster down off a wall in the wee hours of the morning—stealth! I think Tony has a similar one from the Glasgow Barrowlands show on September 25, 1985. I met graffiti artist Pose recently, and he asked me if he knew how [labor-intensive] it was for someone to create this poster. Of course I had no idea, but I do now!
One of my favorite shots: A rare picture of Morrissey smiling, amongst his fans and crew, holding presents and flowers. I love this photo because it dispels any popular notion of Morrissey as "gloomy" or "miserable." I always found him gregarious and welcoming, as did many other people I met along my journey.
This was taken on one of the last U.S. shows ever. Johnny Marr was always moving, interacting with the other instrumentalists, while Morrissey was doing his own thing, with the crowd. I always felt glad when I could capture those dynamic moments.
I refer to this roll of film as "the magic roll." All the pictures here seemed to capture the best light and motion of everyone. When I first went back to look at these negatives I honestly couldn't believe that, at 17 years old, I had had such amazing luck. I definitely considered myself a photography novice back then, only having taken a couple of photography courses in high school. I showed a bunch of these photos to Johnny, Morrissey, and then-tour manager Sophie Ridley for the next tour program in Scotland.
Ridley suddenly parted ways with The Smiths, and after that, I never had the courage to approach the band again with my work. The next tour program had the same photos as the last. A missed opportunity, perhaps, but I'm much happier that this project is coming out now, rather than 30 years ago. I've had a lot of time to reflect on my unique experience, and now I'm finally ready to share it with others. It's the 30th anniversary of The Queen Is Dead album, and there definitely seems to be a collective resurgence in The Smiths's history and legacy, which is fantastic.
See more of Nalinee Darmrong's photographs of The Smiths on tour, as well as her collection of memorabilia, in her new book, The Smiths, out now. For more info, visit rizzoliusa.com.