LLast Monday, Rick Astley (like in the ’80s, thrilled, Never Gonna Give You Up Rick Astley) made a surprise appearance at the O2 Forum Kentish Town in London, along with Blossoms, to sing The Smiths’ Panic and This Charming Man. It was to announce two tour dates in October – Rick Astley and Blossoms Perform Songs of the Smiths. With images immediately circling, people quickly went nuts.
“I’m not a Twitter slave,” Astley said three days later, having an afternoon beer outside the Mikkeller Brewpub in Exmouth London Market. (“I’ve had a pint already, and some are pretty strong,” he warns.) He’s been a part-owner of the pub since 2019 (“Working in a pub is tough, I don’t work here!”). And he’s playing a gig here tonight with his house band (“No Smiths, we’re just gonna jam”).
“But” – back to Twitter – “some of the responses were hilarious. I was in bed with my wife this morning… ”
Celebrate? “We’re going to leave this where it is… and I would kill myself with laughter.” “
Turns out we both read the same thread, so we pull out our phones to compare our favorite tweets.
“Has anyone stolen ideas from Alan Partridge?” “
” And after? Marti Pellow and McFly perform songs from NWA?
“Shakin ‘Stevens and the Charlatans perform the songs of the fall?”
Even Johnny Marr floundered. “It’s both funny and horrible and at the same time,” the guitarist tweeted.
“Obviously after all the Rickrolling thing,” – the internet bait and prank that got you to land on the Never Gonna Give You Up video – “people are going to see Rick Astley Sings the Smiths and think, yeah, n ‘is this not ? So that was our way of saying: it really happens.
So where does this improbable unfathomable idea come from? “I played with Noel Gallagher, the Courteeners and Blossoms at Manchester Arena in 2017,” he continues. “We were backstage having a drink, which led me to appear on the Blossoms Pubcast podcast, discussing the music we loved growing up. (The flowers are from Stockport, Astley from Lancashire.)
“My older brother Mike introduced me to the Smiths. We had played in Manchester, seen [bass player] Andy Rourke with his girlfriend and I’m ashamed to say it followed him because he was a real living human, from Manchester – a stone’s throw from us – making the music we loved. We shouldn’t have followed him into the center of Arndale… God knows what would have happened if we had seen Johnny Marr or Morrissey…
“So I confessed: one day I just want to do a gig where I sing my favorite Smiths songs, come off stage and say, ‘Check that box. Thank you so much.’ A few weeks later, they sent a message: “We can be the other part of this equation …” “
The Covid has obviously delayed things. But why are they only playing in two small venues (one in Manchester and one in London – which sell out within minutes later in the week), when they could fill Wembley… or Knebworth?
“It seems like the kind of thing you would want to see in a small room,” says Astley. ” I to do understand that the Smiths mean a awful a lot to people, so I don’t want to walk on this story. I know the lyrics to almost every Smiths song. I’ll sing them in the shower, but that’s another thing in front of 2500 people… Besides, the arrangements don’t work: intro, chorus, verse, bridge, chorus. They are not conventional. I will have the words on a monitor. I’ll have a karaoke machine if I have to… ”
This is not Astley’s first side project. His band, the Luddits (Astley sings and plays drums) has been pleasing crowds for charity since 2008. “Yeah, my punk rock dad band in midlife crisis. Our philosophy is this: if we can’t learn it in the time it takes to listen to it, we don’t. We do the Sex Pistols, Bit of Clash, Foo Fighters, Kings of Leon… and of course Radiohead, Creep.
The thing with Rick Astley, I realize, is that his “tonight, Matthew, I’m gonna be…” Stars in Their Eyes moment doesn’t take a lot of effort…
“I’m 55, so wear glasses most of the time,” he said as he fingered his pair on the table. “But, I’m sorry, Morrissey can’t claim the quill. “
To compare – the two quiffs are glued to the left, in this case – Astley appears on the cover of Morrissey’s 2013 reissue of The Last of the Famous International Playboys. The photo was taken, Astley tells me, backstage at Top of the Pops in 1989, at Morrissey’s request. Apparently Mozzer (who is smiling in the photo – smiling!) Wanted to use an invisible photo of him and Bowie, Bowie said no, but Astley happily agreed.
“Plus, we haven’t even discussed what I’m going to wear on stage yet …”
Gladioli, frilly shirt and hearing aid, surely…?
“It won’t work because I will have monitors in my ears. “
So, before we go, let’s go back to those tweets, “Can we now elect Rick Astley to take over all of Morrissey’s duties?”
” No. I’m not going to repeat things he used to say on stage, ”adding his take on the current Morrissey, that while most will agree, we won’t get into here. “I’m just paying homage to incredible music that still means so much to a generation that I could be their father. “
And does that mean Morrissey is now legally allowed to play Never Gonna Give You Up, I ask?
“He always has been,” smiles Astley.