In 1985, budding photographer Nalinee Darmrong experienced several rites of passage. Upon graduating high school at 17, she traveled the across the U.S. and abroad for the first time without her parents, picking up a camera and documenting The Smiths on tour during their prime (the band had formed in Manchester, U.K. in 1982).
“I was at the right place at the right time. I was 17, graduating high school. My friend Tony, who introduced me to the music, got me my first ticket to the show as a graduation present. The night of the D.C. show, a bunch of us hung out inside the hotel and in the morning we all went into the hotel café and talked to the band. Johnny Marr put ten of us on the guest list for New York,” Darmrong remembers. “So three or four shows in succession, they kind of got to know us, be familiar with us, and feel comfortable with us. I had my camera the whole time, I was definitely a novice. I didn’t show them the photos until a couple weeks later.”
Darmrong was given unprecedented access to the band during both the Meat is Murder and The Queen is Dead tours in 1985 and 1986, documenting the short lifespan of the unforgettable, now-legendary outfit.
“I was there for the last U.S. tour. I could tell that they were getting a little tired. Subtle things, like prolonged lulls between songs. They had this non-stop career of albums, singles and tours, during their brief lifetime,” says Darmrong. “I wasn’t surprised, but I guess I was surprised that it happened so soon after I left the last tour. They did one U.K. tour and then they broke up after that. I was devastated, just as many of the other fans were.”
As Morrissey pursued a successful solo career and the other members went off to work on other projects, Darmrong received blessings from the band to release a new photo book immortalizing her time on the road.
“I still haven’t talked to Morrissey, but the last time he was in D.C. I got to take some pictures of his show and they used them on the website. Johnny I’m in touch with the most. Andy I just heard from, hopefully because of the buzz about the book going around the U.K. right now,” says Darmrong.
“At one of Johnny’s shows, I told him that I was thinking about putting something together with images, ticket stubs, whatever. He was like ‘Nalinee, I don’t really think you need my permission.’ and I was like ‘But I want it!’” she says laughingly. “It was the 80s, everything was on the fly, there were no contracts or anything. But I got his blessing for the book and that felt nice.”
The Smiths, by Nalinee Damarong is available June 14th from Rizzoli. Nalinee spoke with Cuepoint about select images from the new volume.
Photos and descriptions by Nalinee Darmrong
“I don’t remember exactly where it was, but I know that was from the first roll of photos that I took in 1985. That I call ‘the magic roll.’ I guess the lighting was perfect for that show and that roll of film I’m very happy with, being a novice at that time. I felt lucky that I could get so close and capture those moments where Morrissey is emoting, especially 30 years on. I’m so grateful that I got that opportunity.”
“I think that is Edinburgh, Scotland in 1985. That was behind the venue and the fans were getting stuff signed. They obviously gave him the flowers and gifts. That is one of my favorite photos because not only is he looking really iconic, but he is smiling a little bit. Of all the photos that I have seen of Morrissey, there are not many of him smiling. I tried to put as many of those that I had into the book. I recently did an interview for a Manchester, U.K. magazine, called Proper Magazine, and they asked me: as a die-hard Smiths fans, do you get tired of people saying that Morrissey is gloomy and miserable? And I say yes, because my experience at that time — pre-break-up — was a totally different energy. He was really gregarious, talkative and humble when he talked to the fans. The fans were so in awe of him, but once you got the courage to talk to him, it was the most amazing experience.”
“That is the Shetland Islands. Lerwick, Scotland in 1985. The venue was kind of down a slope from that sign. I remember that show being really special because you had to travel on this insane ferry that crossed like three bodies of water. Everybody got sick but me, for some reason. It was a real struggle to get there. Anybody, including myself, that made it to that show felt this extreme sense of accomplishment. It was a very small town, very exclusive. There was one clothing store, a couple of churches, maybe two or three pubs.”
“Scotland again, 1985. Morrissey was always very gregarious with his fans, he was very open. If anybody ever had any questions, he would spend time. He never really rushed off. He was always happy to talk to people.”
“I would think this is from the U.S. in 1986. I always tried to get pics of him emoting or feeling it.”
“That was from my favorite film roll. Because it was one of my first rolls, I was a little shy and timid. At that time, I didn’t know them that well, I just felt super lucky to be taking photos. I think that shot is great because you can see the relationship of Morrissey and Marr to the crowd. Morrissey is flailing and feeling it, while Johnny is the ultra cool, guitar hero. It was a great dynamic.”
“Any photos I got with that sign were really iconic. It was awesome to see how an American crowd reacted to the sign, because of the political nature of the song itself. I’ve always appreciated the small education that any band would bring to a performance. The Smiths were political and it was in your face, but it wasn’t like Morrissey was trying to tell you how to think. It was more like he was expressing how he felt about something and if you felt the same way, awesome. If you didn’t, at least you heard what he had to say.”
“That like the iconic rockstar pose. With the 80s garb, Johnny still looks cool with the padded shoulderpads and things like that. Those stances really inspired me as a musician. He’s always been like the anti-solo guitar hero, which I really appreciate. On stage he would have those poses, but at the same time musically he was very humble and group-oriented. It wasn’t about just him.”
“That’s the cover of the book, New York City in 1986. That was getting towards the beginning of the last U.S. tour. Craig Gannon, the fifth member of The Smiths is present, which concretely sets the image in a particular time in The Smiths’ existence. I was shooting the whole time, and Johnny kept winking and smiling at me and I was like ‘Why is he doing that?’ And later he comes up to me and is like, ‘Did you get any good pictures?’ And I was like ‘Yeah!’ and he goes ‘Not of us, of Mick Jagger. He was sitting right behind you.’ I had no idea.”
“Johnny told me this story when I was telling him about the project. That’s the guitar that he lent to Noel Gallagher from Oasis for the recording of their first album Definitely Maybe. So they finished the album and Oasis went on tour. After some weird incident in which it was broken over the head of a fan or something — I really don’t know all the details — but Johnny heard about it and got an identical guitar to give to Noel to finish the tour.”
“[Smiths drummer] Mike Joyce is on the left, the guy in the middle was Johnny’s guitar tech Phil Powell, and on the end is [Smiths bassist] Andy Rourke. This was Washington D.C. in 1986 at the Four Seasons hotel after I asked if I could get some shots of them outside. The crew and the band were like family. Phil I think was Johnny’s roommate in Manchester for a while. They blurred the boundaries between artist and fan, artist and crew, etc.”
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