Morrissey versus NME in racism court battle

Former Smiths frontman attempts to sue ex-NME editor for libel.

Morrissey is attempting to sue Conor McNicholas, the NME's former editor and its publisher IPC Media for libel. A hearing was held at the High Court on Monday, which Morrissey did not attend. Today the senior libel judge, Mr Justice Tugendhat, will annouce whether this claim for a trial has been accepted.

The case centres around an interview that Morrissey gave to the NME in November 2007, in which he referred to an "immigration explosion". He was also quoted as saying: "Although I don't have anything against people from other countries, the higher the influx into England the more the British idenitity disappears."

In his written submission to the court, Morrissey said that the 2007 interview had attracted significant attention from the press and that "Question marks over my being a racist have never since receded". The former lead singer of the Smiths has always denied allegations of racism. Another controversial episode in the singer's career happened onstage in Finsbury Park in 1992, when he wrapped himself up in a Union jack, leading to accusations by the NME that he was "flirting with disaster" and racist imagery.

Morrissey first threatened to take legal action against the magazine soon after the interview was published in 2007. His lawyers set a deadline by which the publication had to apologise before legal action would begin, but the NME issued no such apology. Acting for the magazine, Catrin Evans alleged that the three year gap between Morrissey's first complaint and the recent hearing suggests that, "this is not a genuine bid for vindication ... [The claim] simply didn't figure at the forefront of his mind."

If Morrissey's claim is successful, the main evidence for the trial will be a full transcript of the 2007 interview and e-mail correspondence between Morrissey's manager and the NME.

BBC/Chris Christodoulou
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Proms 2016: Violinist Ray Chen was the star of a varied show

The orchestra soaked up his energy in Bruch's first violin concerto to end on a triumphal note. 

Music matters, but so does its execution. This was the lesson of a BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus programme which combined both a premiere of a composition and a young violinist’s first performance at the Proms. 

The concert, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, opened with Tchaikovsky’s symphonic fantasy The Tempest, a lesser-known sibling to his Romeo and Juliet overture. The orchestra got off to a fidgety start, with some delayed entries, but fell into line in time for the frenetic chromatic runs that drive the piece. The end, a muted pizzicato, was suitably dramatic. 

Another nature-inspired piece followed – Anthony Payne’s composition for chorus and orchestra, Of Land, Sea and Sky. Payne drew on his memory of watching of white horses appearing to run across water, as well as other visual illusions. At the world premiere, the piece began promisingly. The chorus rolled back and forth slowly over scurrying strings with an eerie singing of “horses”. But the piece seemed to sink in the middle, and not even the curiosity of spoken word verse was enough to get the sinister mood back. 

No doubt much of the audience were drawn to this programme by the promise of Bruch violin concerto no. 1, but it was Ray Chen’s playing that proved to be most magnetic. The young Taiwanese-Australian soloist steered clear of melodrama in favour of a clean and animated sound. More subtle was his attention to the orchestra. The performance moved from furious cadenza to swelling sound, as if all players shared the same chain of thought. Between movements, someone coughed. I hated them. 

Ray Chen in performance. Photo: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Chen’s playing had many audience members on their feet, and only an encore appeased them. It was his first time at the Proms, but he'll be back. 

The orchestra seemed to retain some of his energy for Vaughan Williams’ Toward the Unknown Region. Composed between 1904 and 1906, this is a setting of lines by the US poet Walt Whitman on death, and the idea of rebirth.

The orchestra and chorus blended beautifully in the delicate, dark opening. By the end, this had transformed into a triumphal arc of sound, in keeping with the joyful optimism of Whitman’s final verse: “We float/In Time and Space.” 

This movement from hesitancy to confident march seemed in many ways to capture the spirit of the concert. The programme had something for everyone. But it was Chen’s commanding performance that defined it.