The night Norwich was mesmerised by a quiff and gladioli - 30 years since The Smiths played in the city

'The Smiths' lead singer Stephen Morrissey at Liverpool Empire.Copy: Emma Outten

'The Smiths' lead singer Stephen Morrissey at Liverpool Empire.Copy: Emma Outten

Today might be a special date for admirers of romance, but for Norwich fans of The Smiths it marks three decades since the hugely influential group played a memorable gig at the University of East Anglia ahead of their debut album release. Here UEA pro-vice-chancellor Neil Ward shares his memories of the gig.

Prof Neil Ward, executive dean at the UEA.PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Prof Neil Ward, executive dean at the UEA.PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY - Credit: Archant Norfolk

After a foggy drive over from west Norfolk, I set foot on campus for the first time that night.

The Smiths had broken on to the national scene in late 1983. Their first two singles – Hand in Glove and This Charming Man – were a breath of fresh air, with Johnny Marr's exquisite guitar bringing to life Morrissey's radical lyrics.

They had taken Top of the Pops by storm with an iconic performance of This Charming Man on November 24 – check it out on You Tube!

Beginning the New Year as the hottest new band in an age they embarked on a 32-date tour to promote their eponymously-titled first album.

On February 14 they rolled into Norwich. (Tickets £3). Because the LCR was being refurbished, the gig was held in the foyer of Union House. A stage was constructed under the balcony, and the crowd packed the foyer, straining to get a good view.

After the Red Guitars finished their support slot, the atmosphere of anticipation became spine-tingling.

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As the lights dimmed, roadies tossed several armfuls of gladioli into the crowd. Amidst a euphoric storm of flowers and leaves, The Smiths took the stage.

The set contained much of the first album, which was released six days later. Still Ill, Pretty Girls Make Graves and the new single, What Difference Does it Make, were highlights, with Morrissey pirouetting around the stage, gladioli aloft.

They also played Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now, their next single, and a new track, Barbarism Begins at Home, which appeared on their second album – Meat is Murder.

Morrissey kicked off the encore of You've Got Everything Now by saying, 'Thank you Norwich, you're very convivial people' and more flowers were strewn around.

I was wide-eyed at the front, and when Morrissey left the stage casting off his necklaces into the crowd I managed to grasp a fistful of his beads, which I still have to this day.

Inspired, I set about growing a quiff straight away, which I carefully maintained for the rest of the decade.

They were an immensely important cultural force in pop music. I remember being really thrilled to see this mesmerising new band so close up in an intimate venue.

As a 17-year old King's Lynn A-level student, little did I know that 30 years later I would be working at UEA and writing this rather belated review.

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