Amy Lamé waits for Morrissey in ‘Unhappy Birthday’
- Credit: Archant
Seat always reserved, but never occupied, for the Smiths frontman as production returns to Camden People’s Theatre
In a purely tragicomic sense, few entries into Smiths fandom could mirror Morrissey’s own sardonic sketches more than Amy Lamé’s. Alienated in New Jersey, the American discovered Morrissey in an imported copy of NME and fell hopelessly in love. A week later, news of the Smiths’ split adorned the front pages.
“I was scarred,” laughs Lamé, well known to London radio audiences for her presenting role on the controversially axed Danny Baker Show.
“I lived in a place where you’d hear Springsteen, meet Bon Jovi. Manchester in comparison seemed this glamorous city where everyone was moody and going to nightclubs – it was incredibly exotic.”
While the plains of Grasmere and Humberside became more neighbourly after a move to England in 1992, the 42-year-old’s love for Morrissey never diminished. In fact, last year it swelled fanatically into the creation of Unhappy Birthday – a sell-out show now returning to Camden People’s Theatre after a year on the road.
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“It really is like a birthday party,” Lamé says. “Everyone gets a party bag and we play a big game of pass the parcel to Morrissey songs. As the layers are unwrapped, that sparks off something that happens in the show.”
That something could range from getting “a snog” to getting up on stage to sing a round of Reel Around The Fountain. And that’s just the audience.
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“Some people come along and think they are just going to sit and watch and clap, but everyone makes the show. I’m just running around like the eight-year-old girl at the party who’s eaten all the flying saucers.”
It is certainly a show like no other, based as it is around certain failure. At every performance, Lamé reserves a place among the ring of seats for Morrissey, who has never turned up. This Waiting For Godot-inspired device leads to her party exploding into an exploration of celebrity, sexuality, religion and pop music.
Of course, Morrissey is not the only unwelcome cancellation Lamé has had to deal with in recent times. Last year, the Danny Baker Show, which she co-presented, was cut from BBC Radio London’s schedule, infamously leading to a two-hour on air rant by Baker to legions of loyal fans during the final show.
“It was a complete and total shock,” Lamé admits. “We’d only found out that morning. They wanted to keep it going til Christmas, but everyone knows what Danny’s like. He’s audacious and bombastic and said ‘right, that’s it, I’m taking the mic’.”
While her disappointment with such an abrupt end is clear, Lamé insists she is looking up and not down. With people still stopping her on the street about the show, she is pleased at how many lives have been touched by her time on BBC London.
“We became a family, a special club on that show. You’d have people phoning up every week just to catch up. Danny makes the listeners the centrepiece of the show – every episode I’d listen to him and think ‘this is just a masterclass in radio’. Apart from that last episode I suppose.”
Lamé’s sense of community is evident not just in her time with Baker and the way she involves the audience in Unhappy Birthday. It is a passion that saw her become the mayoress of Camden alongside Cllr Jonathan Simpson in 2010 during his tenure as mayor. As an openly gay woman, Lamé says she was honoured to be given such an “amazing, incredible opportunity” by Simpson, who asked her as a friend.
“I met Jonathan at a nightclub, probably dancing to the Smiths. We made the Roundhouse our chosen charity, which was so worthwhile when you see all the studio equipment they can offer to young people. Our theme was the musical history of the borough so we got to meet so many inspiring people like venue owners and hear their stories.”
Unhappy Birthday in many ways continues this work, tapping into the themes that take our love of certain bands to such extremes.
“Obviously Morrissey’s not to everyone’s taste but it’s more about asking what was the poster on your wall? My friend’s daughter is into One Direction and it’s scary seeing how similar her behaviour is to my younger self.”
“There’s one section where I list 30 things I blame Morrissey for, like being fat, vegetarian, not returning my library books. When he doesn’t turn up, everything comes crashing down. That’s the bigger comment about celebrity culture, coping with this odd distortion of unrequited love.”
How would Lamé cope if Morrissey actually turned up? Admitting that she’d probably have to squeamishly treat him like a lookalike, she reveals they did in fact meet once before in 1994 at a record signing of Vauxhall And I.
“I’d queued up for a while and when I finally walked up to him, I said to him, ‘Can I ask you a question?’ He just said ‘no’ and actually told me to leave the room.
“I read the note he’d signed later and it said, ‘Dear Amy, have a happy life’. The more I think about it, the more I really can’t blame him.”
Amy Lamé’s Unhappy Birthday runs at Camden People’s Theatre from May 14 to June 1.