Viva Morrissey

NHS black-rimmed specs, quiffs, gladioli... Bunty Clynch knew it was serious when she joined the ICA's `I Dream of Morrissey' convention
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Unfortunately the man who made the evening possible was in LA and could not make a guest appearance. One wonders what he would have thought of the unbridled passion his fans expressed. He told the Big Issue in an interview last week: "I'm in exile. [In the UK] I'm box-office poison as far as I can gather."

But the fact is that everybody - well, almost everybody - has got a Smiths or Morrissey memory. A look at Smiths / Morrissey Web sites on the Internet puts paid to any theory that his days as an icon are over. Most people are just too embarrassed to admit that the dark days of their adolescence were spent singing alone to lyrics like, "Oh, mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head. Another climb into an empty bed, oh well, enough said."

But one thing is for sure, the queers and straights at the ICA evening, "I Dream of Morrissey", last Friday will, like me, be dusting off their old tapes for a post-ironic new look at Moz. It described itself as "the first ever gay and lesbian Stephen Patrick Morrissey convention". Amy Lame, the media dyke extraordinaire, was the driving force behind the evening. She runs a gay club, Duckie, in south London and is the protagonist who subjected us to a lesbian beauty pageant a few weeks ago. Lame looks and dresses like the humanoid characters from Gary Larson's The Far Side cartoons - her wildly curvaceous body clothed in a polka- dotted sun-dress, and accessorised with flashy mules, little girls' hair accessories and upswept Fifties glasses. Later she adds a Morrissey tour T-shirt to the ensemble.

Lame's recurring dreams of the melancholy Smiths lead singer and songwriter, whom she describes as a "fey wilting flower of a man", prompted her to arrange the evening. "I often dream of Morrissey the same way others dream of Madonna," she says. "It was my own perverted fantasy, I suppose. Mozza never underestimated the intelligence of his fans, and he had a huge gay following, so I thought, why not?"

This is where the fans take over. The ICA was well prepared for the onslaught of 400 queer Morrissey fans. Gladioli were shipped in, as were NHS black- rimmed specs (without lenses), hearing aids, and two hairdressers equipped with enough hair spray to coif a few hundred quiffs. Gay clubbers are not known for their melancholy tendencies. They are generally expected to pop a few pills, become ecstatic, and get down to a pumping techno beat; the poofs displaying luminous naked torsos under the disco lights, and the dykes bopping in their bras.

Last Friday's display of queerdom was a far cry from all preconceived ideas. Imagine walking into a vaulted dance floor, red and green strobe lights flashing, a karaoke stage at one end, and DJ's The Readers Wifes (sic) ensconced on the raised platform above the crowd at the other. They, in their badly done make-up and tangled wigs, are spinning the Morrissey tunes. Now imagine a few hundred revellers caught robotically in the strobe flashes - metre-long gladioli swing through the air, NHS-specced fans pivot on their heels clutching the cuffs of their denim jackets while they feebly beat their chests, punch the air, and throw out their arms as if they are nailed to a cross.

Richard Howell is sitting alone by the miserablist poetry table, where hundreds of individually cut-out words are waiting to be turned into a masterpiece. He toys with "interesting pregnant disc jockey has regret" but then decides upon

famous queen

knew hatred

he was our international somebody



He looks satisfied. "My first and last girlfriend bought me The Smiths album Strangeways, Here We Come when I was 17, and I never looked back." He's sure that Morrissey is gay, but is quite happy for him to remain on the fence. "He's an enigma," he says.

Back on the dance floor, a gaggle of girlies swig from cans of Red Stripe and shuffle to "This Charming Man". "He got us through our early teens," says Helena Reckitt between shuffles, her NHS specs bobbing. A few steps away alarge sexy bed has been constructed where fans are encouraged to writhe around and dream of Morrissey. There is a shrine to the great man above the bed. Lame looks on in a motherly fashion as young quiffed Mancunian Andrew Cope scrawls "Shirtlifters of the World Unite" in fluorescent ink on the white sheets. He is wearing a belt with a "Moz" brass buckle. "When I was a kid, I wasn't allowed to be into The Smiths. I finally admitted it four years ago, when I was 20. It was then that I realised how much I fancied him." On the other side of the bed, Rob Schofield looks on with a smirk: "Morrissey has a very black northern humour that you either love or hate, and I love it."

Schofield is one of the many straight people at the evening, and he's there simply because he likes Morrissey and knew a gay convention would be better than a nerdy purists' bash. Daniel Reid, another of the many Mancunian fans, loiters around the bar after being awarded the prize for best Morrissey lookalike. His girlfriend is on the dance floor. He looks so much like Morrissey that fans take his picture and whisper as they walk past, and he's loving every minute of it. "It's the music, of course," he says, "but it's more than that. I admire his tenacity, his character. He's a misfit in the industry. Morrissey once said, `People who wade through happiness all their life don't know what pain is'."

There he points out the key to the whole event. The people who like Morrissey have a peculiarity to their personality, and the crowd at the ICA positively revelled in their peculiarities