The Smiths only lasted for four years but theyíve still got armies of ardent fans across the world. Morrissey still has lots of devoted fans - especially in Mexico. In a interview he said the band split up against his wishes but it was a good thing as the members didnít like one another much anyway. Their fourth and final studio album was Strangeways Here We Come and it was released in 1987 many months after John Marr left and split up the band. Here I am outside Strangeways Prison which the albums refers to. Itís called HMP Manchester now but everyone I know still know it as Strangeways.
Johnny Marr composed the music for the album and Morrissey wrote the lyrics. Folk still debate whether it was their best one. You might think it was recorded in Manchester but it was finished in The Wool Hall studios in Somerset (owned by band Tears for Fears at the time). In his rare interviews Morrissey claims heís not a musician and only sings but he plays a piano on the song Death of a Disco Dancer. My favourite song is Girlfriend In A Coma.
I approached the prison from the side. Cheetham Hill is a rough area, I donít care what anyone says. Evidence is shown in the height of the security fences and hundreds of metal window shutters on the business premises round there. When you think of tramps you often think of them with thick beards drinking cider. Stereotypes spring from reality and I passed three down-and-outs sat on a low-level wall - all with beards and sharing a huge bottle of Diamond White cider. I headed on down to Strangeways passing nobody else. Tall walls loomed up. It was one of the rare prisons with a gallows set up permanently and about 50 criminals were hanged. Two of the most famous murderers were here temporarily: Ian Brady (theft - before the murders) and serial killer Dr Harold Shipman (held on remand awaiting trial.)
I strolled down to the front and stood around aimlessly. The fastest legal hanging was carried out here in seven seconds. The famous hangman Albert Pierrepoint did it. In 1951 James Inglis (29) admitted arguing without a prostitute about money before strangling her. He pretended to be insane but the jury thought this was nonsense and the shadow of the noose was upon him. He was hanged only three weeks after the trial ended even though legally three Sundays have to pass. Pierrepoint escorted Inglis from his cell to the gallows and hanged him without delay. As his cell was next to the gallows the time from escorting him to the cell, placing the noose round his neck and releasing the trapdoor open was seven seconds.
I wondered when the last time any of The Smiths passed Strangeways. Morrissey lives mainly in Los Angeles but has homes in Rome, Switzerland and England. Johnny Marr lives in Altrincham but when he's in Manchester to perform he might see the prison's tower protruding from the landscape. I did a salute and left.