Profiles

Billy Duffy of the Cult on punk's influence and playing with Morrisey in the Nosebleeds

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They said, "If you can play this song, you're in the band." I was young and cocky, and I auditioned. I'll always remember -- this was my big break into the music business -- I auditioned the bass player, Peter Crookes, in his mom's house, which was kind of a council house where I was from, which is a small suburb of Manchester called Wythenshawe.

All I remember is I sat in his kitchen with my guitar plugged into a little amp and played the intro to this quite complicated punk song they had. I mean, I was sixteen, I think. Their guitar player, who had left, was Vinnie Riley, and he became the Durutti Column, which is in the movie 24 Hour Party People. He was a long-haired hippie guy who was in a punk band for five minutes.

It was kind of weird, so I got the gig. I remember he had a dog that was running around, and it had really bad gas, and it was putting me off. That was my big break in the music business: trying not to gag on some little Welsh corgi's digestive problems to play this complicated intro to "I Ain't Been in No Music School." I had a decent attitude and a half-decent haircut, and I was a game fellow, and so I was in.

They asked me if I knew any singers. This was, I think, 1978, and it was still full-on punk, and I said, "I know this guy I've been going to gigs with named Stephen Morrissey. But he's not really kind of like an aggressive punk guy. He's kind of got this New York Dolls thing that we like."

Everybody in Manchester liked the Dolls and Iggy, the Doors, Roxy Music, Bowie, as well as punk. That was that whole scene. It wasn't really about safety pins and trying to look like Sid Vicious. That really wasn't anything to do with the punk I knew. We liked the Pistols, and we liked Generation X, the Clash and the Banshees -- the music we related to.

So they gave Morrissey a shot, and we did two gigs together. Me and him wrote some songs, and to the credit of the two guys in the Nosebleeds -- Toby Tomanov, the drummer, and Pete Crookes -- we did two gigs and didn't do any old Nosebleeds songs. The only thing we did was keep the name. It was a completely new band.

We did all our new songs, and we did one gig opening for Magazine, which was Howard Devoto of the Buzzcocks' new band, at the Ritz in Manchester. We also did a show for Rabid Records, which was an indie label in England -- because that's what was big at the time, little independent record labels.

We got one review in the New Musical Express by a famous journalist, who is still going, called Paul Morley. He was a huge Manchester journalist, and he reviewed us. I used to have it cut out, because it was my first review in the papers. I used to have it in my wallet, and it said: "Only their name can prevent them from being an enormous band. So Morley spotted it. Morrissey is unquestionably a genius."

It was very quick thing. It lasted six or seven months, circumstances changed, I moved to London and got another opportunity. It was just unfortunate. But things turned out well for Morrissey and pretty much everybody involved in the whole thing.

How did you join Theater of Hate, and what was the catalyst for you and Ian Astbury working together in the Cult?

Theater of Hate was similar to my becoming involved with the Nosebleeds. I was in London, and I knew Boy George; he worked in a clothes shop. I worked in London, and to make money, I was selling clothes in King's Road, which was kind of a trendy, hip area to get clothing in London. It sort of still is. Boy George was knocking around, and he worked in The World's End shop around the corner, Vivienne Westwood's store. I worked about four doors away in more of a rock-and-roll kind of store called Johnson's, which sold clothes to rock bands.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.