A Light that Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of The Smith, By Tony Fletcher

If you're going to write 700 pages on The Smiths, you'd better get your facts right

"I never read a book I must review," wrote Oscar Wilde, "it prejudices you so." And how! Having been a suitably bequiffed Smiths devotee across Manchester dance-floors in the 1980s, I'm sceptical about any publication that interferes with my (nearly) 30-year relationship with the band. I think most Smiths fans will say the same. It was never anything but personal.

For starters, I don't like the way Fletcher has clipped a classic Smiths song for his title, or contaminated it with an "enduring saga". He's referring to lawsuits, concert cancellations, the band's lack of a decent manager, and growing problems with their label and each other, but that can't excuse reducing such a deliciously witty songwriting partnership to a soap opera.

For all his research, Fletcher just doesn't seem to get the band. Referring to the delightfully camped-up song "Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others", he notes a song that's "a simple statement of biological fact". Oh matron! Then he gets the lyrics wrong for "Handsome Devil", and dismisses a track on the final album as "inconsequential" (his italics). Unforgivable!

A key influence on Morrissey was Shelagh Delaney, the teenage playwright from 1960s Salford who wrote A Taste of Honey. Fletcher describes Jo's love interest in the play as a "black soldier"; in fact, he was a sailor passing along the Manchester ship canal.

If you're going to write 700 pages about a band who perfected the art of the three-minute pop song, then you'd better get your facts right. Sadly, Fletcher's lack of vision is compounded by clichés, split infinitives and dead-end phrases.

There is respite in fascinating passages about the band's producers: Troy Tate, John Porter, Stephen Street. Pages on the members' childhoods add meaningful context, and there are some thrilling glimpses of the Smiths on tour. It's all very earnest, but this standard biography left me longing for an author with the wit and flair to give The Smiths the book they deserve.

Order for £18 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Heinemann, £20

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