It’s sometimes hard to think of Brexit loving grump Morrissey as a cultural icon who once spoke to a generation of young people who felt like outsiders.
Gary McNair was growing up in a working class town on the outskirts of Glasgow when he saw the former Smiths frontman on TV, and he felt so inspired by the Mancunian contrarian he started writing letters to his hero when he was 15.
That long distance ‘relationship’ with a man he was never likely to meet forms the basis of his new show Letters To Morrissey which has a week-long run at HOME Manchester from Tuesday 12th September.
“This show came from a very real place so it’s looking back on who you were, and what was going on your life at that time,” recalls Gary. “Morrissey has always stayed a very important icon for me as he does for a lot of people.
“It gets slightly more complicated as Morrissey gets older, but he’s always had that streak of controversy about him, and I believe he is well intended. The show tries to deal with that, who your idols are and who outside your immediate life helps you in your formative years.”
Morrissey is the classic bookish and gauche outsider who refused to conform to the rigid - but often - unspoken rules in working class communities. Morrissey’s defiant rejection of what was expected of him growing up in Manchester, and in the pop world, continues to be a beacon of hope for fellow outsiders like McNair.
“He dared to show emotion and dared to speak to things that were outside of the established idea of what a young man should be in a working class town. He did it in a strong, confident and brazen way.
“I’ve got other icons like Belle and Sebastian, who are great, but a bit softer. Morrissey demanded you be emotional which I totally adored.”
McNair’s correspondence with his idol started as Morrissey was on an extended career break after the failure of his poorly received Maladjusted album, and there was no guarantee at that point he would ever pick up a pen or microphone again.
“I’m 31, and I’ve had to coin this phrase that I am a third wave Morrissey fan as you have The Smiths era, and then you have Morrissey's solo career. That was going on without me but I got into him during his career hiatus.
“I discovered this amazing, emotive, bold singing, writing and speaking. Being in that hiatus as a fan you think you’ve missed it, but then you hear he is coming back and with a vengeance. Those four albums he came back with blew everything out of the water since Vauxhall and I.
“We saw him at Glasgow Barrowlands and he came bouncing back out with You Are The Quarry material, and he played four or tracks off that which was still two years before it came out. It felt like we were getting something new, real and important. In that third wave, it felt like it was something we could own as young people and it was really important."
Anyone who has even vaguely followed Morrissey’s career will know he delights in winding people up, but in recent times he seems to have misjudged his taste for controversy expressing an admiration for Nigel Farage and support for Brexit. McNair has little time for fans who might be considering turning their back on their hero after his latest outbursts.
“I get really annoyed at fans who say I loved Morrissey when I was young, and he was so important for me, but now he is just this or that,” asserts McNair. ”If you were a real Morrissey fan then he really helped you. So when people turn their back on him having taken what they needed from this guy then It’s a very consumerist angle to say this is a guy who helped me but I turn my back on now because he’s grumpy.
“Stand by him, and offer to help him out, as he always tried to shake things up. He can get that wrong sometimes, but he is probably still saving people’s lives with his lyrics. It’s the Woody Allen paradox.”
Writing To Morrissey was produced by Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre where it enjoyed a successful run during the city’s Fringe festival. McNair wanted to make a show that would appeal to hardcore Morrissey fans and people from around the world who had no idea who he was.
“I’ve people come up to say I’m a huge Smiths fan and you totally capture it. Others have said I’ve never heard Morrissey in my life so I’m going to check him out. Some people will turn up expecting it to be a jukebox musical which it just absolutely isn’t.
“When we were in Edinburgh a lot of young people 16 or 17 came to the show with t-shirts, spectacles and quiffs. I thought it is beautiful to see this happening again so with Low in High School coming out soon it will mean the world to them. Long may he keep grabbing us out of our outsider perspective. Maybe there will be a fourth wave - I hope so.”
This time round McNair is upping the ante as he is performing his show at HOME which is only a couple of miles away from Mozzer’s old stomping ground in Davyhulme.
“To get a week’s run in Manchester is really exciting but it is a little bit terrifying. There’s a wee bit of pressure as you are right into the heart of Morrissey’s world, and there might be people there who have had a pint that week with a member of The Smiths.”
Letters To Morrissey is at HOME Manchester from Tuesday 12th September to Saturday 16th September. To book go to www.homemcr.org or ring 0161 2001500.