This is what The Smiths played at their last ever live show

12 December 2021, 15:00

Morrissey of The Smiths performs on stage at Brixton Academy in 1986
Morrissey of The Smiths performs on stage at Brixton Academy in 1986. Picture: Peter Still/Redferns/Getty Images

Morrissey and Johnny Marr brought the curtain down on the legendary Manchester band in December 1986 - how did they end their magnificent career?

By Martin O'Gorman

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On 12 December 1986, The Smiths performed a show at London’s Brixton Academy - little did they know it would be their last “proper” gig.

Apart from some TV and radio appearances, the Brixton show marked the last time - to date - that the four members of The Smiths have appeared on stage together. The very last song they played in front of a paying audience was their debut single, Hand In Glove… leaving Morrissey to close The Smiths’ live career with the line “I’ll probably never see you again…”

Here's what The Smiths played at their final gig:

Morrissey performing with The Smiths in April 1985
Morrissey performing with The Smiths in April 1985. Picture: Andrew Turner / Alamy Stock Photo

The Smiths setlist

Brixton Academy, 12 December 1986

  • Ask
  • Bigmouth Strikes Again
  • London/Miserable Lie (medley)
  • Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others (only live performance ever)
  • The Boy With The Thorn In His Side
  • Shoplifters Of The World Unite
  • There Is A Light That Never Goes Out
  • Is It Really So Strange?
  • Cemetry Gates
  • This Night Has Opened My Eyes
  • Still Ill
  • Panic

Encore 1:

  • The Queen Is Dead

Encore 2:

  • William, It Was Really Nothing
  • Hand In Glove

The show was something of a bonus for Smiths fans at the time - the band’s Queen Is Dead tour had ended on 30 October and the extra show was a benefit for the charity Artists Against Apartheid. Scheduled for 14 November 1986 at the Royal Albert Hall, the show was postponed when Johnny Marr was involved in a terrible car crash.

The reaction to the postponement only served to highlight the tensions that were growing within the band. With no real management, Marr was taking on a number of organisation duties, as well as playing guitar and writing the music.

He recalled: “There was a letter from one of our fans saying the whole thing was a cover-up. I thought, ‘What kind of people are calling themselves our fans?’ The top half of me was bandaged up and braced, and I had splints and all this kind of crap. That was the first time I can remember feeling a separation between what the fans were believing and the truth.”

The gig was rescheduled for 12 December and the slightly less grandiose locale of Brixton Academy in South London. Support came from the late Pete Shelley, former frontman with fellow Manchester band Buzzcocks.

Opening with their latest single, Ask, the setlist showcased the band’s seminal album The Queen Is Dead, which had been released that June. In fact, the Brixton show was the one and only time that The Smiths played the LP’s final track Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others. A recording of the live version was later included as a B-side to the single I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish and features a verse not included on the studio recording.

Morrissey sings: "On the shop floor / There's a calendar / As obvious as snow / As if we didn't know / Some girls are bigger than others..”

The setlist also included a live airing of their next single, Shoplifters Of The World Unite, plus a unique medley of the boisterous track London, which segued into the outro of the early Smiths song Miserable Lie.

The first encore featured the title track from The Queen Is Dead (with Morrissey brandishing a sign that read “TWO LIGHT ALES PLEASE”) and the second and final return to the stage saw the band play the early classic William It Was Really Nothing.

And, as Morrissey howled the final words of Hand In Glove, The Smiths called time on their incredible career as a live band.

The Smiths at what was to become one of their final public appearances together - the San Remo Music Festival in Italy, February 1987
The Smiths at what was to become one of their final public appearances together - the San Remo Music Festival in Italy, February 1987. Picture: Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

1987 saw the quartet make couple more TV appearances (including the San Remo Music Festival and The Tube in April, having released two single-only tracks (Shoplifters Of The World Unite and Sheila Take A Bow).

The band issued one final album, Strangeways Here We Come in September 1987, before the pressure got too much for Marr and he found himself in the position of having to quit the band he loved.

Morrissey, of course crafted a solo career, staring in 1988 with the album Viva Hate, but it wasn’t until 2013 that Johnny Marr released an album under his own name, although he’d had some success as one half of the Manchester supergroup Electronic (with New Order’s Bernard Sumner) and with the band The Healers.

Thanks to the excellent Passions Just Like Mine Smiths site for a wealth of background information.