The Smiths/Morrissey Convention, The Kings Arms, Salford, 12th April 2015

It’s a good thing The Kings Arms is a good pub. A great pub actually. But even in such a wonderful establishment, some may have balked at the long waiting periods between the events at this convention. With a minimum of one hour waiting time, and at one point a more than three hour gap between events, it felt as though The Kings Arms were trying a little too hard to top up that bar bill. Which seems a little unfair when people had already paid over £30 for tickets. Morrissey might have had a little moan about it if he’d been there.

But, on the other hand, he’d probably have been pretty happy with the vegan food and beer that filled the time. Particularly as the beers were all puns on songs he penned. Real Ale Around the Fountain, Shakesbeers Sister, There is a Pint and it Never Runs out. You get the gist. And in all honesty, there are worse ways to spend an afternoon than sitting in a pub with some good beer in your hand and one of your favourite bands on the speakers.

But what about when we weren’t waiting? Were we fairly rewarded for our patience?

When it came to the convention’s opener, the answer is a definitive yes. Ed Glinert, famed for his Manchester Walking Tours, presented us with an hour of wonderful insights into the band he sees as better than The Beatles, sexier than The Stones, and pretty much superior to all of their rivals. The talk looked at their songs and lyrics, but it was the background information on their inspirations that really caught the attention. Yes, most people there will have known the famous story about Morrissey and Marr’s first meeting, but I wonder how many knew that their name came from a macabre link to the Moors Murders. Even for avid Smiths fans, Glinert’s talk delved a little deeper.  And you got the sense that he could have answered almost any question thrown his way.

Then came our first long wait – only an hour this time, and a good opportunity to buy a t-shirt and taste some beers. So there were no complaints at the time. But a theme was beginning.

It was back up to the theatre after that for ‘Mr Smith’, a one-man show from critically acclaimed playwright Colin Connor. The play, about a Smiths obsessed teacher who loses his job after a false accusation, was an inspired choice for the conference. Not only was it about a Smiths fan, but it also fit the idea of the band perfectly. Hilariously funny at times, dark, disturbing, and sinister at others, it had as many interesting about turns as the average Smiths LP.

Most impressive of all was the acting. It’s a difficult task to command an audience when you are just one man, but from the moment he got off the sofa in the centre of the stage and danced to a track by The Happy Soul the audience was hooked. Going from funny and tender to angry and loud in a matter of milliseconds, Mr Smith is a play that should receive a wider audience in the future. Its themes touch on obsession, sexuality, depression, and grief, all to a backdrop of an eerie soundtrack. Great stuff.

And then back to the bar. After a trip to the cash machine of course – and where was this food we’d been promised? It would be another couple of hours until that arrived.

I was really getting on board after a fantastic play and a fascinating talk, but the memories began to fade as the time dragged on and we waited an hour for the quiz. Which wasn’t much of a quiz, if I’m honest. Just thirty quick questions. Really, it felt like another part of the waiting game.

This meant that in total, between the end of the play and the start of the tribute act, there was a four hour wait for entertainment. Had a speaker cancelled? I don’t know. But it felt like something was missing. We went for a walk in the rain – it’s what Morrissey would have wanted.

And then, when the waiting was over, the highlight of the day: These Charming Men. Fronted by someone who was enough of a lookalike to be convincing, but not too much of a carbon copy that it got a bit weird, they started with some of the lesser known Smiths tracks. This was obviously the right crowd for that. By now, the beers had kicked in and the dancing was brilliant – the room buzzed with Morrissey wannabees, flicking their arms around and singing at the top of their voices.

The almost subdued atmosphere caused by the waiting was gone – a tribute act that sounded almost as good as the real thing was here. The next beer break was a comparatively tiny twenty minutes, and These Charming Men came back with the hits. Starting with Stop Me, rolling on through some of the Morrissey solo material, and through to classics such as Ask, The Boy With the Thorn in his Side, and Panic, this second half had the room in a kind of delirium. And when they closed with This Charming Man and There is a Light That Never Goes Out, the waiting was almost forgiven.

Almost, but not entirely. With the exception of the quiz, every entertainment based section of the event was exceptional. It was just a shame they were so spaced out. The event should have started later, or another speaker could have been drafted in to fill that afternoon lull. Something was needed. It’s a shame to have to say anything negative, though. The Kings Arms does some incredible things for the arts scene in Salford – and this was close to being an incredible event. I’m hoping to go back for the Bowie convention in October. If they can learn from their few small mistakes, it should be an absolute belter.

Fran Slater

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