CITY LIFE 29 SEPT, 99
“The pleasure for me is in seeing people develop” Joe Moss – the man who discovered The Smiths
Getting hold of Joe Moss proves remarkably hard work, requiring a lengthy game of telephone cat and mouse with the former Smiths / Marion manager. When we finally meet up, there’s a further problem: he refuses point blank to have his photo taken.
“What about a soft-focus one,” says Nathan the photographer.
“I’m sorry. I’m really uncomfortable with it. I’d hate myself,” says Joe.
“What about one of just your hands or something like that?” says Nathan, creatively.
“”No, I really couldn’t…”
“How about a silhouette, in profile. Like Alfred Hitchcock?” I venture.
Joe looks aghast. He later says explains that there are only three photographs of him in existence. One of those is a family snapshot and another is one a music magazine took without his permission.
“I gave them hell about that,” he says. Then: “There’s a painting my son did, which I think is brilliant. It’s hanging in his workspace at college. I’d like you to photograph that. I think that would be appropriate.”
Head-scratching ensues, after which Nathan is dispatched to find the painting, and I remain with Joe, nursing a cup of coffee in Night & Day cafe.
I won’t beat about the bush here. Trying to interview Joe Moss does not prove any easier. Not that he’s in the least bit surly. He just obviously doesn’t want to be interviewed. Grizzled and slouched with keen, kind eyes, the fiftysomething music fan who played such an important part in the history of English pop music responds to a Q&A situation by shrinking into his duffle coat and regarding my Dictaphone like a turd. Only at the mention of music does he show any sign of opening up, waxing freely on anything from northern soul to punk.
“I think music movements, even punk, aren’t so much about achieving anything really. They’re just about a lot of people having fun. Northern soul was brilliant in the way it got a load of people to travel to Wigan just to experience it. I think that’s fantastic.”
Did he go himself?
“No, but I knew a lot of the records,” he smiles.
After building up a successful chain of clothes shops in the ’60s and ’70s, Joe’s life changed when Johnny Marr walked into his Portland Street premises. The rest, as they say, is history. But The Smiths came at the wrong time for Joe, who had just become a father and wanted to spend time with his kids rather than on the road with a band. He parted company with them as soon as they hit the big time. A few years later, when Marion came along, he was able to take it further. Joe, who’s still working with young bands, is characteristically modest about his role.
“I’m just a background figure. I don’t like to be in the limelight. The greatest pleasure for me is seeing people come along and to see them develop.”