The Smiths Live In Derby ’83

Remembering an innocent moment of sheer musical appreciation.

It is difficult to predict the course a band will take from their early days of touring, but sometimes it is possible to look back and see how they managed to become so successful. In The Smiths’ history, one particular night in December 1983 showcases this extremely well.

Recorded live for The Old Grey Whistle Test, their eclectic show in Derby holds many of the elements which they made their name with. The fact that John Peel gave away free tickets, dragged an overly energetic crowd to the venue which would eventually result in one of the Smiths’ first major stage invasions.

Before their Derby show, The Smiths had played cult-status venues in Camden as well as in front of crowds of students in university halls. It was especially in the months after they had signed to Rough Trade that their venue choices started to much more reflect the different aspects of their character. The chosen place for this particular gig was The Derby Assembly, a brutalist venue with a deconstructed exterior that definitely stood out within the surrounding cityscape. In keeping with Morrissey’s status as a counter-cultural autodidact, the brutalist architecture of the Assembly Rooms stood against conventional aesthetics while still challenging the viewer to think. As a result, it was absolutely perfect for The Smiths’ unpretentious honesty.

The hardships of the post-war years meant Britain’s cultural loosening lagged behind somewhat. This was especially true in the 80s when the LGBT scene became less taboo. With the band waving bouquets of flowers and audience members doing the same, there is a happy sense that this concert is open to everyone. The fact that this was the very first gig in which fans invaded the stage really hammers this home.

Also, The Smiths appealed perhaps not in spite of but because of the fact that their lyrics were challenging. Ambiguous gender roles hit home with a generation redefining masculinity alongside the second-wave feminist movement. All in all, the atmosphere of ‘anything goes’ gave fans the freedom to express their emotions – whether by stage diving or embracing the band as they played. And as fans rushed the stage towards the end, a couple of tracks after Morrissey unleashed a ghostly falsetto, they returned the love The Smiths sent out. Such a response undoubtedly buoyed the group’s spirits for future gigs, allowing them to be themselves creatively.

Overall, the performance in Derby can be seen as a study of eclecticism and free thought. Inside a stand-out venue, a gentler and more refined version of the Sixties’ free love played out. Emotional expression, bound so longer under the British stiff upper lip, flowed freely. And Morrissey’s repurposing of the laissez-faire ideals of Kerouac for the cold grey skies of northern England went down a storm. A sincere moment in the band’s career.


1.Handsome Devil
2.Still Ill
3.This Charming Man
4.Pretty Girls Make Graves
5.Reel Around The Fountain
6.What Difference Does It Make?
7.Miserable Lie
8.This Night Has Opened My Eyes
9.Hand In Glove
10.These Things Take Time
11.You’ve Got Everything Now

Featured Image by Kmeron

Related Posts

Discover New Music.

Get a monthly update on the best new releases, upcoming tours, curated playlists, and exclusive giveaways.