Red Wedge tour (featuring The Smiths) Newcastle City Hall 31st January 1986

Red Wedge tour Newcastle City Hall 31st January 1986
redwedgeThe Red Wedge concert at Newcastle City Hall in January 1986 is one of the most memorable gigs I have been to. Red Wedge was a collective of musicians, fronted by Billy Bragg, who set out to engage young people with politics, and the Labour Party in particular, during the period leading up to the 1987 general election, in the hope of ousting the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher. Billy Bragg was joined in Red Wedge by Paul Weller and The Communards lead singer Jimmy Somerville. Red Wedge organised a number of major tours and concert. The first and most memorable, took place in January and February 1986, and featured Billy Bragg, Paul Weller’s band The Style Council, The Communards, Junior Giscombe, and Lorna Gee. The core touring acts were joined by other guest bands throughout the tour.
The City Hall concert featured Billy Bragg, Junior Giscombe, The Style Council, The Communards, with guests Prefab Sprout and, as a big and very welcome surprise, The Smiths. It is The Smiths who stole the show, and their performance that night sticks in my memory as one of the best I have ever seen, by any band.
All of the bands performed short sets; a few songs each. The Communards were impressive, Jimmy Somerville’s soaring vocals were amazing, and the Style Council were also good. I seem to recall D C Lee guested with them and sang “See The Day”. Local heroes Prefab Sprout also went down well. John Hardy recalls their two song set on his North East Music History Blog: “But topping the local talent was the accoustic Paddy McAloon. The quirky ‘Dublin’ – a nostalgic carol to lost Ireland – his carressing croon and lyrical magic came through on ‘Cruel’, aided by the sylph like Wendy”.
RED_WEDGEprogBut it was The Smiths who stole the show. There were whispers around the hall that something special was going to happen. Without any real warning, The Smiths were announced and stormed straight into ‘Shakespeare’s Sister, followed by ‘I Want The one I Can’t Have’, ‘Boy With The Thorn In His Side’ and ‘Big Mouth Strikes Again’ (“our new single”). There is something about a short set; it allows a band to focus and to maintain a high level of energy and passion throughout. The Smiths were simply phenomenal that night; there was a buzz about them at the time, and everyone was delighted to see them perform. But it was more than that. It was as if they had decided to put everything into those four songs; the power, the intensity, and Morrissey and Marr’s performance were a step above anything I had seen them deliver before (or since) that night. It was as if they knew that they were simply the best band on the planet at the time, and they came out with the confidence and ability to deliver a word class, stunning performance. We sat there, feeling that we were witnessing something special. It was that good. It was the best time I saw The Smiths, and a performance that will stay with me for ever. Perfect rock ‘n’ roll in four songs and 20 or so short minutes.
Johnny Marr said afterwards: “The Red Wedge gig at Newcastle City Hall was one of the best things we ever did. Andy and I had done a couple of gigs already with Billy Bragg in Manchester and Birmingham the week before…I was telling Morrissey about it and he was fairly up for just doing an impromptu show. So we drove up to Newcastle, without telling anyone. I walked into the sound-check…the other bands were a little bit perplexed as to what we were doing there. We had no instruments, so we borrowed The Style Council’s equipment and just tore the roof off the place. In the middle of the set we just walked on to this announcement and the place went bananas.” Morrissey said (NME, 1986): “…that was why we made a very brief, but stormy appearance. When we took to the stage the audience reeled back in horror. They took their walkmans off and threw down their cardigans. Suddenly the place was alight, aflame with passion!”

11 responses to this post.

  1. […] BBC.  I still need to work out some sequencing.  But being asked why there is no footage of the Smiths playing at our gig in Newcastle has really put me on the […]


  2. Posted by sally on March 6, 2018 at 12:04 pm

    Hi, I am writing my dissertation about Red Wedge and would love to have the opportunity to ask you some questions about your experiences with the tour. Thanks.


  3. I was quite involved with the Labour Party at the time through my local MP Don Dixon, and I went with a big crowd from our CLP to this show, and I totally agree, the Smiths stole the show and then some. It was the first time I ever saw them as I wasn’t entirely convinced by them, though I did like the Boy with the Thorn in his Side and a few others. But as soon as they hit the stage, the passion and the fire was evident, and at the end of their short set, I was sold! I caught them once more, at the Mayfair later that year, which was a ragged but riveting gig, I recall a particularly edgy crowd and atmosphere, but it seemed to feed the punky vibe of things like Panic and the Queen is Dead! And then they were gone! Have seen Morrissey a fair few times over the years at the City Hall and elsewhere, up until even just a couple of years ago at the Arena, and bless him, the voice is still there. I’m fairly confused by his politics mind – from supporting Red Wedge to advocating UKIP is some journey of regression!


    • Posted by vintagerock on July 14, 2020 at 2:33 pm

      The Smiths were absolutely amazing that night Craig. Johnny Marr is quoted as saying that this was one of the best gigs ever. Morrisey was on fire that night. Happy days cheers Peter


  4. Alongside Echo & the Bunnymen and the Mary Chain, the Smiths were pretty much the only UK guitar band of the 80’s worth bothering with in my opinion, alongside American contemporaries REM and Husker Du. Like Mr Jackson (hello Craig, it’s been a long time!) i was heavily involved in trying to get rid of Mrs T through engagement with the Labour Party at the time, and i remember this being a great night, we were fund raising in the foyers etc, and the rights and wrongs of RW aside (it didnt work for one), my over riding memory is how amazing the Smiths were, me and my boyfriend, whose no longer with us, talked about it long into the night. So a memory tied up with so much, politics and love, RIP Richard, i’ll never forget you!


  5. Posted by Mark Walker on November 3, 2020 at 7:17 pm

    I will always remember the moment when Morrissey decided to address the fuss being made by the audience about the surprise appearance of the Smith by saying “Don’t pretend”


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