Just four years after they first began gigging in clubs around England, the Smiths took the stage for the last time at an Artists Against Apartheid show at London’s Brixton Academy on December 12th, 1986. The show was originally booked for November, but it was pushed back a month after guitarist Johnny Marr was involved in a near-fatal car accident.
The delay almost certainly resulted in a better show, since at the time of the accident the group was drained from touring heavily though much of the year. During the downtime, they parted ways with second guitarist Craig Gannon and had time to rethink their set list, adding in previously the unplayed “Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others” as well as “Shoplifters of the World Unite,” which they had just written.
Nobody onstage had any real idea they were playing their final show, but they still wrapped up the night by reviving their first single “Hand in Glove,” which they cut on the previous leg of the tour. It was a great way to bring their brief, but insanely productive career full circle.
The Smiths didn’t break up immediately after the Brixton gig. A few months later, they began work on Strangeways, Here We Come, their final album. The group split before it even came out. Fans have spent the past 27 years praying for a reunion, but it remains extremely unlikely. Morrissey’s anger towards Smiths drummer Mike Joyce — who successfully sued the group for royalties in the 1990s — has not dissipated one bit over the years.
A full 50 pages of Morrissey’s new memoir is devoted to an exhaustive recount of the trial. He also revealed that Joyce, “fattened and bored and watching the clock,” has written him two letters in recent years in an attempt to bury the hatchet. One began, “I know you must hate me. . .” “Yes, time can heal,” Morrissey wrote. “But it can also disfigure. And surviving the Smiths is not something that should be attempted twice. If the Smiths split was designed to kill me off, then it failed. If the Smiths court cast was a second attempt to kill me off, it too must fail. There is another world, there is a better world; well, there must be, and even if the passing of time might mellow you into forgiveness, it doesn’t mean that you ever want to be friends.”
Put another way, the Smiths are never, ever getting back together. At least somebody had the foresight to tape their final gig.