It was Saturday evening, to be precise, and I remember the moment well. I was listening to two middle-aged Northern blokes banging on about
The Smiths, frog noises and Kit Kats. They were in a shed.
I know how to live. Why was I envious? Well, one of the blokes was the poet laureate Simon Armitage, a Yorkshireman who has landed the dream job. Besides batting for Yorkshire County Cricket Club.
These days, when he is not sitting in a garret dipping his quill in ink, he is sitting in his bottom-of-the-garden sanctuary interviewing his favourite people for a new Radio 4 series. This is the life.
Armitage’s is no ordinary shed. Mine, for example, contains a few bikes, the odd, rusting, garden tool and several uncomfortable garden chairs.
His – surrounded on all sides by the Pennine Hills – contains a desk, daybed, harmonium and pizza oven and is described in the Financial Times as “a wood-and-glass haven”.
This was not the only reason for my resentment. For the other middle-aged Northern bloke, albeit from the wrong side of the Pennines, was the great Johnny Marr, ace guitarist of The Smiths, one of my favourite beat combos.
And Johnny had brought along, and kept strumming throughout, his new twelve-string acoustic guitar.
For a middle-aged Northern bloke this is the equivalent of a previous generation’s fantasy of the Queen coming round for tea.
Like Simon, I am a big fan of the Marrster. And his former band – although the recent utterings of its provocative singer have tested my faith.
Only this week, Stephen Patrick Morrissey has been, preposterously, likening the UK’s Covid response to slavery. “The Government,” declared Morrissey, “act like Chinese emperors”.
Armitage, I should point out, is to be commended for the insightful conversation with Marr, the opening episode of a new series of The Poet Laureate Has Gone To His Shed.
There were discussions about serious and silly subjects, ranging from favourite poetry to favourite confectionery. Armitage even wrote a haiku in his distinguished guest’s honour.
And we also discovered that The Smiths wrote their first song in less than 20 minutes, Marr’s favourite track is Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me and he has always had a strong work ethic; quoting David Hockney, he noted: “The muse exists but she doesn’t visit the lazy.”
A particularly fascinating insight emerged when the conversation turned to influences. Armitage’s favourite view is from West Nab, a summit at the top of the road. When he looks out at the Yorkshire side, he sees the places that inspired his writing.
When he looks over to Manchester, however, he is reminded of his musical heritage: The Stone Roses, Oasis and Marr’s iconic band.
Why is the city, he asked his guest, such a hotbed of musical innovation? Is there something in the water? “In my case,” Marr replies, “and say in the case of the Gallaghers – Noel particularly, and say, Mani from the Roses – we came from immigrant families.
“The Irish, for example, are not really that dissimilar from the Eastern Europeans in that a lot of them grew up in villages and a lot of them made their own music in their kitchens with brothers and sisters and aunties, uncles and grandparents, for entertainment – and they brought that with them.”
Not for the first time, Johnny was expressing a view diametrically opposed to the opinions of his former songwriting partner. Morrissey has faced criticism in recent years for several anti-immigrant statements. In one interview, for example, he complained that “England was thrown away” and in Knightsbridge “you’ll hear every accent under the sun apart from the British accent”.
I’m not sure if Moz is a football fan but he is famous for toying with patriotic imagery.
The next time he claims that this country has been lost to an “immigration explosion” he should be shown the wonderful graphic, currently doing the rounds on social media, which imagines alternative starting line-ups for England games in the Euros – without any first or second-generation immigrants.
Only three players remain.