Very few rock groups are born fully formed. Even the greats often take years to find the right lineup, compose stellar material and develop a signature sound. As this stunning video from Manchester’s Hacienda club shows, the Smiths were a rare exception to the rule. Believe it or not, this performance on February 4th, 1983 was only their third concert.
They played their first gig just four months before this, but it was with Dale Hibbert on bass. Johnny Marr’s longtime friend Andy Rourke soon replaced him, and the classic lineup played their first show at a Manchester gay club called Manhattan on January 25th. Morrissey’s friend James Maker danced onstage during these first two shows, but by the Hacienda gig just about a week later they made the wise decision to perform without him.
Morrissey was just 23 at this first show, but he was still the wise elder of the band. Rourke, Johnny Marr and drummer Mike Joyce were all just 19.
Steven Morrissey and Johnny Marr decided to form a rock band in May of 1982. They got to work writing songs right away, and by the time they first started gigging as the Smiths they had an impressive arsenal of material that would wind up on their debut in February of 1984.
“Hello,” Morrissey says at the start of the Hacienda show. “We are the Smiths. We are not ‘Smiths,’ we are the Smiths.” The show featured early versions of “These Things Take Time,” “What Difference Does It Make,” “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle,” “Handsome Devil,” “Jeane,” an early version of “Wonderful Woman” called “What Do You See In Him,” their debut single “Hand in Glove” and “Miserable Lie.”
The small audience perks up by the time the band kick into “Hand in Glove.” Few of them could have realized that later that year the song would start climbing the charts, launching one of the most important bands of the past 30 years. Their time together would ultimately be very brief. Less than four years later the Smiths played their final gig at London’s Brixton Academy.