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Hong Kong gigs

Hong Kong welcomes Morrissey – unrepentant and still as bristling as ever

A sold-out concert in Hong Kong this week is testament to the enduring popularity of the former Smiths frontman – and age has neither wearied nor filtered his outspoken views

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 October, 2016, 8:04am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 October, 2016, 8:04am

Morrissey’s sold-out concert in Hong Kong this week comes at an interesting time in the life of the former Smiths frontman.

Manchester’s favourite son spent most of last year being uncharacteristically quiet after news emerged that he’d been treated for cancer. But that silence was broken in spectacular style earlier this year with the announcement of a major world tour. Since then it’s been hard to avoid him – and the good news for his fans is that he’s just as cantankerous as ever.

While he’s largely shunned interviews with newspapers (he’s had a prickly relationship with the press since the influential Smiths emerged in the mid-1980s, and didn’t respond to requests for an interview with SCMP.com), he’s hit the headlines with onstage pronouncements on everything from the state of his health to the US election (“Trump is staying in my hotel,” he told one audience recently. “I’ve never been so close to an open grave.”)

And 30 years after the release of the Smiths’ greatest album, The Queen is Dead, Morrissey remains unflinching in his hatred of the British royal family.

“I don’t know anyone who likes the ‘boil family’,” he recently told the Australian news portal News.com. “You either buy into the silliness or else you are intelligent enough to realise that it is all human greed and arrogance. [Prince] Harry killed 34 people in Afghanistan and the UK press called him a hero. If he ate 34 poor people in Haiti the UK press would still call him a hero. It is insufferable.”

Even the young Princess Charlotte isn’t spared his rapier tongue.

“The British media every morning tell us that the royal baby is very popular, although in practice, she’s not,” he told the Israeli website Walla. “That baby is before all else an economic burden on British citizens.”

After the death of singer Prince, Morrissey managed to bend his republican rhetoric to support another of his famous passions, veganism.

“Prince, whose vegetarianism was never mentioned, made something of his life as opposed to having fortune handed to him,” he told Walla. “He’s far more ‘royal’ than Elizabeth II, and he will be mourned far more than she, for she could never make herself loveable.”

Such outbursts will sound familiar to fans of Morrissey, who has criticised social morals and sensibilities for four decades.

Even at his most controversial – for instance, when he’s toyed with right-wing iconography or appeared to support racist views – his enormous fanbase has stood firmly by him.

Morrissey has scandalised and outraged with his thoughts on animal welfare (“The calf that you carve with a smile/ Is murder” he claimed on the song Meat is Murder), abstinence (he famously said at the height of the Smiths’ success that he’d rather have a cup of tea than sex) and even wrote a song about then prime minister Margaret Thatcher called Margaret on the Guillotine.

Behind the wit, however, there has been a darker side to his character. Many thought Morrissey went too far in the 1980s when he championed the cause of Myra Hindley, a Manchester native who was jailed in the 1960s for her part in the abduction, sexual assault and murder of a number of young children.

He has also been dogged throughout his career by accusations of racism sparked by incidents and comments that, had they been committed by anyone with a fraction of the devotion Morrissey commands, would have been career-ending.

And he continues to court controversy. During the interview with News.com, Morrissey appeared to offer support for British far-right politician Nigel Farage. In the same interview, he accused the Muslim mayor of London, Sadiq Kahn, of being incoherent.

There’s one subject, however, that unites fans: rumours of a Smiths reunion. The light that never goes out is the wish that Morrissey, guitarist Johnny Marr, drummer Mike Joyce and bass player Andy Rourke will follow in the footsteps of fellow Manchester band The Stone Roses and pick up where they left off in the late 1980s.

The Stone Roses release first song in two decades

Much bad blood has been spilled between Morrissey and Marr since the acrimonious split. But while the two Smiths protagonists appear to be back on speaking terms, both are adamant that the four will never play as one again.

“It’s no longer a question of time or wounds, but simply that the issue is now so remote that the question doesn’t make sense any more,” Morrissey said in the Australian interview.

The queen – and The Smiths – may be dead, but to Morrissey’s many fans, the king lives on.

Morrissey, October 6, 8.30pm, MacPherson Stadium, 38 Nelson Street, Mong Kok. Sold out