The man behind the lens on one of the most famous photographs of mid eighties Manchester legends The Smiths, as used on the inner sleeve of their classic LP, The Queen is Dead.
When Stephen Wright was first starting as a photographer in the early 80’s everything was happening in Manchester – a city of rain, sex and rock and roll. The Hacienda had just opened and Manchester music dominated the English music scene. Although a great deal of his work was live concerts, it’s one shot …the Smiths posed outside the Salford Lads club that still haunts Stephen Wright over 25 years later. Used initially on the gatefold sleeve of The Queen is Dead sleeve it has become an iconic shot of the band. The impact on the Lads club has been well documented – For years fans have gone back to the Salford Lads Club and it has become a shrine to the Smiths fans who pose for their own version of the photo. All a bit like Beatles fans posing on the Abbey road zebra crossing.
The Queen is Dead shoot itself was in December in Salford on a damp dark day, ‘It should have been cancelled really as it was so poor for photography. We spent a bit of time at a couple of locations but the Salford Lads club was the key one. You can even see Johnny shivering in some of the images. Somehow the casual poses and the grim weather give the photos certain natural and gritty character and I love the way Morrissey stands there – arms folded and smirking slightly like the Mona Lisa.’
These days that image has been accepted as part of the collections of the National Portrait Gallery, the Manchester Art Gallery and the Salford Art Gallery. All rather funny when the original film was processed in a bedroom / darkroom, with the chemicals kept in old drinks bottles!
As Stephen recalls: “I met some very clever, talented people when I first started and was lucky to shoot some great musicians from the older established stars to the new pretenders. Factory bands led the way in terms of mystique, and whilst New Order were kings of the patch it was the Smiths that took the crown of the Manchester music scene. Trying to describe the Smiths live is a tough one, as it was always just such a great show. An adoring crowd and Morrissey in total command of the whole audience! I shot them live several times and sent the shots down to Rough Trade, The first show was at the Free Trade Hall and was truly magnificent. A riotous moving audience meant taking photos was hard and I only had 2 lenses and 1 roll of film. Later voted as a famous Rock shot by the NME was an image of Morrissey’s rear with flowers hanging from his jeans . But my favourite is one him flaying the flowers above his head, shot from side stage.
A year or so later I had a call asking me to do a session with the band for a possible album sleeve – The Queen is Dead. For me the pleasure is the fact that these photos are enjoyed years later . I love the fact that there are now signed prints as far afield as Australia, Japan, Los Angeles and that they are given pride of place.
I’ve been pleased to donate prints to the first and last Tsumami appeals, several times to the Abbey Road Cancer research auction and various other charities.”