The Smiths In Posters: A Review

Currently running in the centre of Manchester at BarcelonaNQ Cafe Bar is the UK premiere of The Complete Collection of “The Smiths‟ Original Posters. An absolute must see for all fans of The Smiths (as well as anyone with a keen sense & appreciation of cover art &, indeed, art in general), Louder Than War sent one of our reporters, Kate McCarthy, along to check it all out.

Her review of the exhibition is below but before you all rush off to read it the owner of the collection, a true Smiths’ lover and former indie music DJ, Marc Capella, has given us permission to reproduce 18 posters from the collection. These you can find in a separate post by following this link. Full details about the exhibition can be found at the foot of this blog but please be aware that it finishes on 1st Sept.

In the 1980s The Smiths were known for their distinctive record sleeves featuring photographs of actors, musicians, models and the occasional playwright. The Smiths In Posters Exhibition, on now at BarcelonaNQ Cafe Bar & running until August 31, is made up of over 30 original promotional posters, most of which incorporate sleeve images into their promotional remit and draw on The Smiths’ distinctive sleeve aesthetic. Dotted around the walls of the bar, as well as dominating the bar service area itself, the posters give the casual and not-so-casual visitor a strong visual impression of this 1980s Manchester band whose records and reputation are often remembered, although their visual sleeve (and poster) aesthetic is often neglected. Following Morrissey’s long solo career, it is now images of the frontman himself that conjure up the spirit of The Smiths for many, although at the time it was somewhat different.

The posters are taken from the collection of Marc Capella and have been exhibited only once before, in his native Catalonia. It is rare to see such a collection of original posters together 25 years after the fact of The Smiths and offers a valuable insight into not only the particular aesthetic developed by Morrissey through their artwork but also hints at the intensity and rapidity of their releases and the accompanying promotional activity by Rough Trade (and occasionally Sire in the US) in their brief five-year existence. From the first single Hand in Glove in May 1983 the posters range to later releases such as Panic (with the alternative poster featuring Morrissey’s hand-written lyrics to the song), Ask (a photograph of Yootha Joyce), and Bigmouth Strikes Again (James Dean on motorbike) to American tour posters and American promo posters for their albums. It was only the latter US album posters which featured the band themselves. The ‘stars’ on almost all the others ranged from hints towards Morrissey and Marr’s appreciation of the Velvet Underground and Warhol with Candy Darling on the Sheila Take A Bow poster and sleeve, to those starring James Dean, Presley, and several actors.

Perhaps best known is the image of Alain Delon from the film L’Insoumis on the cover of The Queen Is Dead album, and the exhibition of course includes the promo posters for this album. Cover (and promo poster) stars ranged further than well-known French actors, with playwright Shelagh Delaney appearing on both sleeve and poster for Girlfriend In A Coma in 1987. Delaney can be seen as a point of entry into Morrissey’s preoccupation with northern realism in the cinema of the 1960s, and it was from her play A Taste of Honey that the film adaptation drew. Other images from what was also known as ‘kitchen sink’ drama on the sleeves and posters include Rita Tushingham from Richardson’s film of A Taste of Honey on Sandie Shaw’s version of Hand In Glove, along with Avril Angers from the 1966 film The Family Way on I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish. The emerging sleeve aesthetic also featured images that were often associated with Morrissey’s enigmatic sexuality and included the striking male nude on Hand In Glove (from a photograph in Margaret Walters’ book _The Male Nude_). The photograph from Jean Cocteau’s _Orphee_ starring Jean Marais on This Charming Man and those sleeves (and posters) featuring James Dean also represent this thread in The Smiths’ visual aesthetic.

While a good part of The Smiths’ cultural legacy appears to be drawn from Morrissey’s dark, humorous and witty lyrics and, musically, from Johnny Marr’s distinctive guitar sound, it is interesting to see an exhibition in which their visual legacy is able to stand alone, and *apart* from the numerous chaotic post-Smiths strands of remembrance and representation that have developed in the years since their 1987 split.

With the range of posters encompassing singles, albums, and tour posters from both sides of the Atlantic, Capella’s exhibition is both wide-ranging and representative. It is a worthwhile accompaniment to a drink or a coffee in Barcelona NQ and definitely worth seeing. Co-incidentally, it is just around the corner from Piccadilly Records, who currently have on their wall a selection of Johnny Marr’s sleeves from his career with various bands and as a solo artist. Curated by artist Mat Bancroft, the 7″ format of the sleeves are presented in a manner that emphasises both the unity of Marr’s career as represented by the 7″ format and also the importance (he has claimed it is almost of ‘spiritual’ significance) Marr places on the 7″ single or the 45.

The exhibition runs till 1st September at:

Barcelona NQ Bar & Restaurant (whose website is here)
6 Hilton Street,
Northern Quarter
Manchester

Manchester Photographic are co-organizers of the exhibition. His website is www.manchesterphotographic.com

Full details about the exhibition are here.

Marc Capella’s site is here and he  has a Facebook page “The Smiths in Posters” (with 22.000 followers) which is here.

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