The Smiths: the making of Meat Is Murder

Band members, their closest collaborators, fellow musicians, MPs and activists on how the politics of the mid-Eighties shaped The Smiths' radical album

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Asked for an enduring image of Morrissey during the Meat Is Murder period, Dave Harper alights upon the singer’s choice of clothing. “He started to wear a rather large hat, bigger than a trilby. A homburg? Wide-brimmed. And a long overcoat, probably an expensive one. He always had expensive luggage. He bought Rimowa. It was aluminium, almost corrugated; it might have even been a wheelie case. I was pretty impressed with his taste in luggage. He liked having nice, expensive things.”

Hats? Coats? Luxury luggage brands? Clearly, in 1985 Morrissey and The Smiths were going somewhere. A No 1 album. A sell-out tour, including a headline show at the Royal Albert Hall (“each of our families had a private box,” remembers Rourke). But such was the speed at which they were moving, in August, 1985, they returned to the studio to begin work on their third album, The Queen Is Dead. “They brought vegetarianism into the middle of the debate for young people at the time in a way that nobody else could have done it,” insists Bragg. “Instead of writing a gentle song about loving the animals, going in there like that with a buzz saw, with the sounds of the abattoir in the background, it was a fabulous piece of agitprop.”

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The Smiths further reinforced their political agenda by briefly allying themselves with the Red Wedge tour. But Meat Is Murder remains their most enduring statement. “It was a very important record,” reflects Andy Rourke. “It educated a lot of people as to the plight of animals and their mistreatment; the barbarism, literally. What Morrissey and The Smiths have done in terms of promoting vegetarianism is amazing.”

The album’s title song, meanwhile, continues to be a live highlight of Morrissey’s solo sets; still lit with the familiar blood-red wash devised on the 1985 tour. Introducing the song onstage at London’s O2 Arena, on November 29, 2014, Morrissey was moved to cite a story that had recently broken in the UK newspapers. “I read the other day that 75 per cent of chicken sold in the UK is contaminated and therefore poisonous,” he observed. “And I thought to myself: ‘Ha, ha, ha, ha…’”

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