First Listen – The Smiths, ‘The Pablo Cuckoo Tape’

UPDATE: The demo was taken down but another one has surfaced. See below

Who is the mysterious Pablo Cuckoo? Well, he’s indirectly responsible for the appearance online of a 39-minute demo tape recorded by The Smiths in the first half of 1983. It’s been in YouTube user hipsterdisco’s hands since 1997 but attempts to release it met legal obstacles. So here we are.

Apparently recorded on a cassette player placed on the floor of Crazy Face jeans warehouse – owned by original Smiths manager Joe Moss – it’s obviously scratchy, and designed as a demo for producer and ex-Teardrop Explodes guitarist Troy Tate to get his teeth into before working on The Smiths’ debut album.

Tate would eventually be replaced by John Porter before The Smiths had honed their signature sound, but this tape serves as an intriguing, alternative snapshot of how the band and their initial clutch of songs were shaping up around the time of debut single ‘Hand In Glove’ and their first Peel session.

It’s the little differences that make it fascinating. ‘Hand In Glove’ has the same old swagger – but no harmonica – while ‘Handsome Devil’’s rockabilly assault is already intact. But ‘You’ve Got Everything Now’ is nothing like as jittery as the version that appeared on ‘The Smiths’ early in 1984, Johnny Marr’s guitar bold and brash, not jangly.

Elsewhere, Morrissey yelps and screeches throughout ‘Accept Yourself’ – that was soon ironed out, for better or worse, on the ‘Hatful Of Hollow’ take – and Marr’s guitar oscillates rather than chimes on ‘Reel Around The Fountain’, a kind of precursor to his work on ‘How Soon Is Now’.

Without a producer and a nice Rough Trade budget, most of the tracks are slightly slower than the versions we’re familiar with, save ‘Miserable Lie’ – which seems to break into a Cossack dance on ‘The Smiths’ but here has a raspy, nasty punk velocity.

You might think we’ve heard all The Smiths we’ll ever need, but ‘The Pablo Cuckoo Tape’ offers a fresh angle, however slight the shift in sound. If you haven’t yet, check it out here.