Smiths fans, mark your calendars.
Indie icon Morrissey celebrates his birthday on May 22 (he's turning 59), and what better way to pay tribute to the man than to belt out tunes from his days with the Smiths and as a solo artist with New York City act Sons & Heirs?
Tribute bands to the 1980s English rock band can be found along both coasts, including the Los Angeles-based Sweet and Tender Hooligans, but the only ones recreating the music live in New York are Sons & Heirs. They bring their act to Park Slope's Union Hall for a chance to hear a pretty spot-on emulation of the band.
Formed nearly two years ago, the group's appreciation of the Smith's music goes back years before then, with members having first being introduced to them in college, as was the case for bassist Jonny “Rourke” Taylor, seeing Morrissey live at Madison Square Garden (in the case of guitarist Ravi Marr), or through friends (says drummer Kevin Joyce: “As soon as I heard the falsetto ending in “Miserable Lie” I knew my life would never be the same again). Lead singer Ronnissey has found his voice compared to Morrissey's for as long as he can remember.
“That's actually what got me into The Smiths. People would always be calling out for Smiths songs whenever I played out with my original bands,” says the singer, who while auditioning for the spot writhed on the ground a la Morrissey, in the process earning him a spot in the group. “At first I was a little bothered by it, because I didn't know who The Smiths were…but once I checked them out, I began to take that as huge compliment.”
Relying on live recordings, videos and, of course, the band's four albums, as well as Morrissey's own eight as a solo artist, the group has been perfecting their act, playing at such venues as Rififi, where they celebrated Morrissey's birthday last year, and Rehab, both in Manhattan, as well as regional gigs in and around New York.
While Sons & Heirs is a side project for the musicians, who came together the way most bands do today – through Craigslist – with the members involved in other bands or the music industry in some capacity, the tribute band is very much a passion.
“The most important thing is we are all very passionate about the music of the Smiths,” says Taylor. “We each saw an opportunity to really study the individual parts of the musicians we are emulating.”
The most challenging aspect of dissecting the music, says Taylor, comes in the form of the guitar work.
“Johnny Marr is an extremely versatile and amazing guitar player,” says the bassist, with layered guitar parts on the Smith's recordings making it difficult to just pick one to do on stage. “[Ravi Marr's] very skilled at making a composite of the part.”
The Sons & Heirs repertoire spans nearly 60 songs, including the popular “Bigmouth Strikes Again,” “Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now,” and “Girlfriend in a Coma,” and it's constantly growing.
“Our goal is to learn and eventually play live every song the Smiths ever wrote and/or recorded,” says Taylor, as well as to, naturally, “recreate what it would have been like to see them live.”
Personal favorites of the band include “You've Got Everything Now” (Taylor), a more recent add to the group's canon; “Paint A Vulgar Picture,” “Back To The Old House” and “Driving Your Girlfriend Home” (Ronnissey); “Heaven Knows,” “This Charming Man” and “Headmaster Ritual” (Ravi Marr); and “What She Said,” “Angel, Angel We Go Down Together” and “Let Me Kiss You” (Joyce).
At their upcoming gig at Union Hall, maybe the band will play one of your favorites, too, as they romp through classic Smiths and Morrissey tunes, and even end the night with a gladioli left on stage.
Joining them for the celebration is DJ Spencer Cobrin, a drummer who has co-written songs with Morrissey, including “Wide to Receive,” “Now I Am A Was” and “Lost,” as well as performed with the man himself live.
“We're certainly honored to have him join us there,” says Taylor. “It's amazing to hear from people who have actually performed with and even wrote for him.”
Celebrate Morrissey's birthday with the Sons & Heirs on May 22 at Union Hall (702 Union Street at Fifth Avenue) at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased in advance at www.ticketweb.com. For more information, go to www.unionhallny.com. For more on the band, go to www.thesonsandheirs.com.