by Ollie Hopewell

A review for Ay Up Duck Radio’s Sugarmill Show


When I think of a Smiths gig, I imagine standing alone in quiet reflection, perhaps contemplating how the band’s music relates to my own experiences. I certainly don’t imagine moshing, jumping around, or a violent melee of passion in the limelight of The Sugarmill’s dancefloor; but I wasn’t at a Smiths gig, I was at a Smyths gig.

I was born 12 years after The Smiths broke up and it always seemed unlikely that I would get the chance to see them, so imagine my pleasure when a friend of mine told me about a tribute band who shared my love for Morrissey and co. I had to see for myself.

Entering The Sugarmill, I was immediately taken, though not surprised, with the large and diverse crowd who had gathered for the gig; parents bringing their children to hear the music they loved growing up, people my age and younger who wanted to experience as close to the real thing as possible, and those lucky enough to have seen The Smiths play live and wanted a nostalgia trip were all intermingled and conversing, unified in their love of live music and the work of The Smiths.

Taking to the stage just before 8pm, the band were met with thunderous applause and rapturous cheer, with frontman Graham Sampson bowing and beckoning for more praise in a manor immediately resemblant of Morrissey. If the dramatic and exaggerated movements of Sampson were not enough to display his role as Morrissey his aesthetic certainly was, donning the iconic quiff and glasses combination in an outfit straight out of Morrissey’s wardrobe.

The Smyths took little time to allow the applause to subside before drummer Tom Harris began the tribalistic drumming to The Queen Is Dead, a drumbeat which was quickly met with reserved licks of bass guitar by Simon Smyth and the jangle-pop sounds of a Johnny Marr guitar riff played by Andy Munro. Immediately, I was hooked.

The tempo was slowed by The Boy With the Thorn In His Side, a song composed as a dig at the music industry’s lack of belief in the band. It was during this performance that I noticed how hard Sampson has worked on achieving not only the sound but the musical range of Steven Morrissey, quickly jumping from the iconic baritone drone of the singer to the high-pitched melodies found across the work of The Smiths.

The setlist of songs from The Queen Is Dead album continued with Vicar In a Tutu, Cemetery Gates, and Frankly, Mr. Shankly, Sampson consistently continuing his persona of Morrissey throughout the night by occasionally punctuating the gaps between songs with quips and gags much like the real Morrissey would; at one point The Smyths front man urged the crowd to come as close to the stage as possible, the reason being “I smell fantastic!”. Sadly, I couldn’t get close enough to tell.

After the upbeat and gentle riffs had petered out, things slowed down with I Know It’s Over, and Never Had No One Ever, getting everyone feeling reflective and introverted, a talent of The Smiths. If only frontman Graham Sampson had brought a bouquet of gladioli to solemnly twirl round on stage.

All the swagger of the real thing was quickly brought back with a bouncy performance of Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others, and it was during this section that I began to really hear the talents of the band; not only had The Smyths faithfully replicated the work of The Smiths, but they had given their very own spin to The Smiths in a rockier and more upbeat take on the Manchester Band.

The whole room sang along to There Is A Light That Never Goes Out which was followed instantly by Bigmouth Strikes Again, the crowd so active and involved that they were on the verge of moshing at this point, but more on that later.

The riotous atmosphere was briefly calmed by single Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now and Meat Is Murder track Barbarism Begins At Home, with all the unruly boys and girls in the audience being given a breather as the first act of the gig came to an end.

During this 15-minute interval I overheard conversations of praise aimed at the band and their excellent performance thus far, though my attention was focused on a man at the bar telling me about why Morrissey swore to never play in Stoke-on-Trent again having been hit by a projectile string of sausages back in the 80s. Who knew?

Act two began with another loud cheer, Sampson emerging in a bright red cardigan, something he’d previously teased. Getting through a two-hour set night after night must be difficult, but there were no signs of fatigue as the band rolled straight into singles Panic, Ask, Sheila Take A Bow, and Shoplifters of the World Unite with determination and swagger, the crowd rallying and cheering the band all evening long.

A duo of Strangeways, Here We Come tracks followed with Girlfriend In a Coma and Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before just as The Smyths slowed things right down with Reel Around The Fountain, the opening track on The Smith’s self-titled first album.

Things perked back up with another hit from The Smiths in Still Ill, in which the band seemed to really lose themselves in the music, passionately playing their instruments as Sampson lurched and jived round the stage. Single William, It Was Really Nothing followed as The Smyths kicked it up a notch by returning to The Smiths’ first album, playing hits What Difference Does It Make, This Charming Man, which got the biggest cheer of the evening, and Hand In Glove.

It was during this trio that a lively crowd became restless and a mosh pit broke out, so I pose a question to those of you privileged enough to have seen The Smiths in person; did a mosh pit ever break out during a gig? Answers on a postcard addressed to Ay Up Duck Radio as we’d really love to know.

I was astounded by the electric atmosphere and slight edge the band had created, especially as Graham Sampson hit every single note at the end of What Difference Does It Make, which I can assure you is no mean feat.

I was more than satisfied as the band said their thanks and headed off stage for the second time, thinking the gig was all but over, but The Smyths took to stage for a final time, each member with a menacing grin on their faces as they knew the spectacular finale they had planned was certain to send each and every audience member home in delight.

A now-shirtless Graham Sampson promised a full striptease on his return to The Sugarmill as the band let out the cacophonous raw that is the instrumental introduction of How Soon Is Now?, the audience could no longer be contained.

The crowd surged forwards as a packed-out dancefloor seemed to gain a surge of energy despite hours of dancing in a very hot auditorium. It felt like the whole world opened up as the final mosh pit of the night formed, the circumference of which was practically wall-to-wall. Guitarist Andy Munro lead the charge with a perfect rendition of Johnny Marr’s work, with bassist Simon Smyth holding the ship steady alongside drummer Tom Harris for the perfect explosive finale of the evening. Frontman Graham Sampson could only watch on in delight.

The Smyths will return next year as they tour the country playing through all of Strangeways, Here We Come, and I for one cannot wait to be back in and amongst it when they make a triumphant return to the Potteries.

  • **THIS FRIDAY** It's BOGOF on Spirits and Mixers at Electric Fridays, including our Bodega Bay Hard Seltzers! 🍸🍸… ,






Tickets: 0115 896 0163
Telephone: 01782 243 104