The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead


One Saturday morning I was driving to a cemetery to look for yet more graves when I decided to find Salford Lads Club which became famous for becoming an iconic inner-cover for The Smiths album The Queen Is Dead. Though they were only a group for four years they have a strong following. On the album cover they’re stood below the “Salford Lads Club” sign (surprised it hasn’t been nicked.)


I put the postcode in the Sat-Nav and it said the destination wasn’t reachable by car. I’m sure there isn’t a helicopter pad there so I set off anyway. Salford hasn’t shrugged off its reputation of being a little threadbare no matter how many shiny flats they erect on the quays. The discarded mattress and washing machine abandoned on the estate here in Orsdall didn’t help.


I pulled up outside the club and had coffee from the flask. There were some young lads on electric scooters doing some heavy-revving and jumps up a slanted kerb, also a shop which had probably received a few nasty nocturnal callers with baseballs bats. Salford Lads Club is one of those red-bricked Victorian piles funded by rich local philanthropists to keep youngsters “off the streets”.  They offered pursuits beyond the small crumbs of chess and draughts like boxing, weight-lifting, table tennis, snooker, gymnastics. This one was opened by Robert Baden-Powell three years before he founded the Scout Movement and former members were footballers, also Alan Clarke and Graham Nash who formed music groups The Hollies and Crosby, Stills and Nash. The Hollies practised here before they found success and fame.


It didn’t look like it was open or used. The main door was closed but when I got out and took a few photos I saw there was a door off to the side which was open. I’d left the Sat-Nav on the dashboard of the car and thought quickly I’d take a few more photos then shoot off to the cemetery. As I stood saluting on the steps waiting for the camera’s timer a grey-haired man appeared at the door.

   “Are you coming in then?” he asked.

   Feeling a bit daft I said, “Sorry, I didn’t think the building was used now. I’m not from round here. There’s a famous Smith’s album cover showing this entrance and I was...”

   “Tell me about it,” he said, not needing to hear anymore, “We’ve had 45 Chinese people in this morning already. Come in.”

   This place is still used as a club but the man lead me down a tiled corridor and a large hall to “The Smiths” room. Blimey, this was a surprise. Every surface including the ceiling was splattered and pasted with Smiths fodder - photos, letters, newspaper/magazine articles, drawings, cards, etc. The man lead me around showing me specific things like rare photos and autographs. There was a bang in a kitchen down the corridor and he said he’d have to go so I had the place to myself. I took about 30 photos and a few are here.


People had visited from all the world and when the man returned he said the club was the most visited musical Mecca after The Cavern Club in Liverpool and Abbey Road Studios. A gallery of famous faces had visited and were now on the wall and the man said a woman from Japan had almost fainted when she entered the room. There’s a website selling Salford Lads Club-related tat (which was spread out on a table in another room) but I wanted to know about Morrissey. I asked the man if he was as inscrutable and inaccessible as his reputation suggested but he said the singer had never put one foot in the place. Bummer! I was hoping that wasn’t the answer. Oh well. A poor consultation was a handwritten postcard pinned to the wall from Morrissey. He knew all about the place and the number of visitors it drew and even though he’d returned to do a brief photo-shoot he still hadn’t stepped inside.


I walked up and down the corridors observing the boldness of Victoriana builders - shiny tiles, chunky radiators, patterned metal, ornate coving. Some rooms housed table tennis tables, crash mats, gymnastics equipment. There was a café which would get more visitors if sad geek visitors like me knew they could enter freely. Outside a wide-eyed lad sat on the pavement gazing at the building and when I spoke to him he answered in a foreign accent. He was as surprised as I had been as I led him down to “The Smiths” room and I left him in bewildered silence as he eyes fixed on the walls.


I came outside again and had a chocolate roll and another coffee. One side of the club ran alongside Coronation Street. I wasn’t sure real ones existed anymore. Some scenes had been filmed here - Shameless, The Forsyte Saga, a BBC drama Conviction. The actor Albert Finney had been born nearby in Pendleton and had been a member of the club though I doubt he’d visited for a long time. He’s probably gone to London where an old club like this would have been converted into a Starbucks squeezed beneath glossy apartments. Thankfully some places up North are so rundown they haven’t invited the pulverising wrecking ball and We-Build-Housing-Estates-Where-Ever House-Looks-The-Same developers.





The real Coronation Street…


About to enter The Smiths Room…




A postcard from Morrissey…




I sat in the car and had a sandwich with some bacon crisps chosen especially as they’re by The Smith company…