Idiot Joy Showland



Idiot groups with no shape or form
Out of their heads on a quid of blow
The shapeless kecks flapping up a storm (2)
Look at what they are: a pack of worms (3)

Idiot Joy Showland

The nylon leaves are falling
From the twisted shell of your cranium
Your mystic jump suits cannot hide
Your competitive plagiarism

Idiot Joy Showland

Freddie and the Dreamers, come on up (4)
Hey you imitators, come on up
Hey little singer, come on up
Show us your house and
Show us your cock  (5)
The working class has been shafted
So what the fuck you sneering at?
Your prerogative in life it seems
Is living out an ad man's dream

Idiot Joy Showland

California has Disneyland
And Blackpool has a Funland
And Flanders had no man's land
This place idiot show bands (6)

Idiot Joy Showland

And now microcosms come and go
And it's amazing what they show
Your sportsmen's tears are laudanum (7)
Idiot Joy Showland (8)

The locusts are all queuing in
For Idiot Joy Showland
Idiot Joy


1. A swipe at "Madchester." From an interview with NME:

So can we assume 'Idiot Joy Showland' is an attack on bands like The Stone Roses or Happy Mondays?

"Yeah. It's like a routine. It's like a cycle you see every two or three years. I don't think those bands are bad, it's just it seems to get worse. It's like people are happy now to see any f--ker who plays a guitar. It's also about the area, Manchester, the whole thing around the bands and the mentality it produces."

Once you get something like that you get hundreds of other bands trying to be like it, who are pinching off other bands who are pinching off others. You just end up with a really diluted situation, which is really typical of British Industry, where you finally put yourself out of business, 'cos you're not producing anything.

"The whole thing there is just like easy buzz. It's easy buzz ... Aerobatics on stage, dancing, throwing your body about. Which is good, but it's not good. It's stimulus. It's BSB ... It's Sky as music."

Erm, you mean you object to...

"People think it's a clever combination of dance and rock. I don't think it particularly is."

So it is much more than a minor objection to the way the music has gone?

"Yeah, well that's what I'm saying. I think that's a lot of why people resent musicians. There's going to be a big backlash against music, I'm positive of it."

Are you sure it isn't just your age showing?

"Me age? No it's not me age. No, 'cos all these groups pinch tunes off us anyway. They're always in the front line of our bloody gigs."

Are you sure that you're not just jealous?

"MAAHAHAHAHAHA!... HA! It's very good that. Very good. I knew people were going to say that about 'Idiot Joy Showland'. Are you saying to me I can't write an objective observation of a scene I am in the corner of, and can join any time I want? I mean that's ridiculous. I'm trying to observe it."

It just seems strange that you should be motivated to write a song about it, and it is unusually explicit for you.

"Well it's good to do parody. I mean that was a really heavy rock song. I mean we had the clicked skip drums, and we had the old nyaaaaarnyaaarnaaa. ..We had the whole caboodle in there. It's not just the lyrics. I think it's pretty funny, actually."

I still find it odd that you should be so concerned about it all.

"Well you can't help it in Manchester. You get it shoved down your bloody throat. You do. It's nowhere down here. Up there it's 24 hours a day. The TV ... Even the local news programme .. .blaaahraaaarraaaaar raaaaaaar. .."

From A User's Guide to the Fall (via Reformation):

"The song's about attitudes that go beyond Manchester too. Competition, again, a promoter said to me recently. They're just a bunch of fuckin' little girls nowadays. It's true. All they talk about is clothes and chart positions. It started about 1987. I can't figure it out, but it fits in with the sampling stuff. Young bands come into the studio when you're mixing and they'll ask - they're blatant about it - 'Oh, what BPM's that it?' I go, 'What the fuck's it got to do with you! Get out!'"

From an interview in an unnamed Toronto zine (also reproduced at Reformation):

"Was "Idiot Joy Showland" (from '91's Shiftwork) a swipe at the whole Manchester techno explosion?"

MES: "Correct. It's really collapsed now, but it was amazing even when it happened because it was over so quickly. You probably saw it yourself when you were here. It's all t-shirts and rubbish. It shocked me because it was over in the space of a month. Factory closed and boom! I was fed up with it long before. That's why I moved to Scotland. I couldn't go out anymore and have fun and that means a lot to me."

And from an interview with Q:

You really hate these people then?

"No, it's objective," he claims. "Sam (sic), our drummer, was doing all these Madchester beats so I thought, Let's go the whole hog. But the song's about attitudes that go beyond Manchester too. Competition, again, a promoter said to me recently, They're just a bunch of fuckin' little girls nowadays. It's true. All they talk about is clothes and chart positions. It started about 1987, I can't figure it out, but it fits in with the sampling stuff. Young bands come into the studio when you're mixing and they'll ask -- they're blatant about it -- Oh, what bpm's that in? I go, What the fuck's it got to do with you! Get out!"

Smith was at the time very exicted about this song: "'Fucking great song, man," he enthuses. "Best song on the album by a mile. You name me one song that's better than that.'"

According to Hanley in The Big Midweek, "idiot joy showland" refers specifically to the Hacienda.

The Peel version of the song has a harder-edged guitar sound which gives it an added kick.


2. "Kecks" is northern English slang for pants.


3. This would perhaps be a stronger lyric is worms actually ran in packs.


4. Freddie and the Dreamers was a Manchester band that had some hits in the early 60s. Although they were from the same northern city that spawned the Fall, stylistically they were grouped with Merseybeat bands. Although Freddie and Dreamers persisted until 2000, it isn't clear why they are lumped in with the Madchester scene here, which they had little or nothing to do with. 


5. Aubrey points out that "show us your cock" is a well-known music hall heckle; here the singer seems to be addressing the acts from the perspective of a heckler:

"Show us your cock, said to a performer while onstage is another music hall type of catch-phrase/joke. It is mentioned in Gershon Legman's Rationale of the Dirty Joke. He gives an example of a Shakespearean actor performing a set of monologues at a music hall and getting heckled: 

'Sing us a song!'

'But Sirs, I can't sing.'

'Well, show us your cock, then.'


6. Funland is an arcade in Blackpool; "no man's land" was the stretch between trenches in World War I Flanders, in Belgium. MES switches from the expected "showland" to "show bands" here, presumably since the parallel construction is already sufficiently obvious. 


7. There is apparently an English footballer named Paul Gascoigne, inexplicably referred to as "Gazza" by all Brits, and apparently so famous there he needs to be invoked by no other appellation, even while the rest of the world remains entirely oblivious, if not indifferent, to his existence. Dan has suggested that this line refers to a famous weeping episode involving this "Gazza," as Steve69 explains:  "I always assumed this was a reference to 'Gazza' crying at Italia 90. Sort of saying footballer crying at the world cup distracted the country so much it was like a new 'opium of the masses.'"


8. The good folks at Reformation very appropriately declare these lines to be among MES's most obscure.


Comments (34)

  • 1. dannyno | 26/12/2013
I always thought the "sportsman's tears" line was a reference to Paul Gasgoigne: The song was apparently first performed in 1990, after Gasgoigne's crying antics.

There's no Manchester link though, really.
  • 2. dannyno | 13/08/2014
From Steve Hanley's "The Big Midweek", p297:

" 'Idiot Joy Showland', is inspired by... the Hacienda, which has now become world-famous."
  • 3. Martin | 06/10/2015
The expression "The locusts are all queuing in" is slightly peculiar given that the normal particle used with the verb "queue" is up. Perhaps (only perhaps!) the expression "to cue in" was at the back of Mark E Smith's mind when he wrote these lines.
  • 4. Martin | 05/04/2016
It's a minor point, but on a bootleg I have of an alternative version (demo?) of the song Mark E Smith sings "mystic head band" and not "mystic jump suits".
  • 5. O'Seanusy | 11/06/2016
fn 6: song, 1991; world cup, 1990; laudanum tears of Gascoigne lull English: now - 25 years later - still. fast. asleep.
  • 6. bzfgt | 29/06/2016
O'Sinusy, could you maybe expand that remark a bit?
  • 7. dannyno | 25/02/2017
Comment #5, #6: see my comment #1!
  • 8. Aubrey | 14/03/2018
"Show us your cock" is supposed to have been a Music Hall heckle.
  • 9. Csonic | 28/03/2018
Re; why Freddie in the Dreamers ? This band were the archetypal dumb 60's comedy novelty band, and the singer's stage gimmick was to remove his trousers on stage. MES is clearly seeing something similar in the "Madchester" hype.
  • 10. Steve69 | 26/07/2018
FB comment on my blog suggests:

Re: Your sportsmen's tears are laudanum. I always assumed this was a reference to "Gazza" crying at Italia 90. Sort of saying footballer crying at the world cup distracted the country so much it was like a new "opium of the masses"
  • 11. dannyno | 27/07/2018
Comment #10. See my comment #1, from December 2013!
  • 12. bzfgt (link) | 29/07/2018
OK you've got your "Gazza," and thanks, Steve. I am only surprised none of us thought of that before...we must have been asleep at the switch.
Noel G
  • 13. Noel G | 02/08/2018
I always thought the sportsman's tears referred to Mel Machin breaking down when he was sacked as Manchester City's manager in 89-90.
  • 14. Martin | 04/08/2018
re comment 13: Maybe...Machin was sacked on 27 November 1989 and the first performance of the song was on 2 December in the same year. I need to consult my recordings. But is there any contemporary evidence of him breaking down when sacked or, failing that, personal and/or anecdotal evidence?
  • 15. dannyno | 05/08/2018
Martin, comment #14. Surely the first documented performance of the song was actually the following December - 1990?
  • 16. bzfgt (link) | 06/08/2018
For fuck's sake. More of this "Gazza" stuff? It never ends.
  • 17. Martin | 06/08/2018
Re comment 15: yes of course, my error. Makes the Melchim connection much less likely, though
  • 18. dannyno | 07/08/2018
Much less likely, definitely. I don't buy the Melchim connection, despite the Manchester link. And he was, after all, a manager rather than a "sportsman".

Worth noting that George Best had a feature in the Daily Mail of 1 Sept 1990, Why I Feel Afraid for Gascoigne, in which he notes how Gazza is nowhere near as good as he, Best, was (there's quite a lot about how brilliant Best was), and warns Gazza not to have his head turned by frivolous press attention. Seems vaguely relevant to "sportsman's tears are laudanum".
  • 19. bzfgt (link) | 16/08/2018
Only vaguely? Good, let's move on!
Paul Go
  • 20. Paul Go | 20/12/2018
If someone asked, is it about the walkers crisp flavors, he say 'correct' then ad lib about how supermarkets are like shite showlands now, cos he can't find his bloody ready salted.

Seriously, this one of the most straight forward songs he's ever done. Place and people are named with examples. He literally lists places exactly like the place he's talking about, that also match the title. He then names, specifically, the demographic, age, gender, fashion, aspirations, of the people he's talking about, that you see in these places. It's full of recognisable UK traits and cultures.

How can you make this one a mystery? Am I missing something?
  • 21. dannyno | 22/12/2018
It's mainly because bzfgt is allergic to football.
Paul Go
  • 22. Paul Go | 23/12/2018
I hear 'airman's dream' and 'show bound'

I see aggressive scrawny chav lad groups in baggy nylon sports clothes, hanging out at the local parked-up low-grade gypo fair-ground. Nasty atmosphere, childish music, and crude thrill rides for competitive self harmers.

Rare MES turns his up his scorn to 11 for 'working class' subjects like this.

The famous footbawler is the opposite of your average emotionally-repressed suicide-prone macho sports fan, he shed real tears in front of millions, a proper Geordie like, it was excruciating. Probably been easier on us all if he dropped his shorts and showed the world his vagina.
  • 23. Muptonian | 10/05/2019
It's jog suits not jump suits. As in, track suits, like all those bands were wearing.
Paul Go
  • 24. Paul Go | 24/05/2019
I'd go with jog suits, no idea what bands have to do with the fairground.

'California has Disneyland
And Blackpool has a Funland'

It's not complicated,
  • 25. bzfgt (link) | 28/06/2019
Jog suits might be right, it's hard to tell! It makes sense, but then again no one says "jog suits" do they? Do they say that in England?

I think maybe "airman's dream" too, and don't quite hear "is living out." What does "airman's dream" connote though?
Paul Go
  • 26. Paul Go | 30/06/2019
roller coasters etc
  • 27. bzfgt (link) | 03/07/2019
Could you fill that in a little? What do airmen have to do with roller coasters?
Paul Go
  • 28. Paul Go | 04/07/2019
passively flying around through the air
Another interview quote
  • 29. Another interview quote | 14/11/2020
I was a bit surprised about 'Idiot Joy Showland', I didn't think the
subject was important enough to write a song about. [it was about the
Manchester hype, Happy Mondays etc.]

"Nah, it's okay. It's a good little tune."

But you were annoyed about the whole thing?

"No, only comes across as that, it's just parody. [sounds a bit
irritated] You're trying to pin me down on it, but I'm not..."

You did say that you sort of hate what's going on in Manchester, at
the moment.

"Yeah, but only as it affects me, you see. I can't go out for a drink
now in peace, you know. ...
  • 31. bzfgt (link) | 13/02/2021
"Another interview quote"

are you the same guy then, quoting interviews across the comments? I appreciate it! Please, though, at least say where the quotations are coming from...
  • 32. Gazza | 13/10/2021
Locusts are cueing in rather than queuing in, ie TV crews reporting on the phenom above
Mark Oliver
  • 33. Mark Oliver | 02/09/2023
No mensh about 'a quid of blow' it too obvious to say it refers to a small amount of cannabis purchased for one English Pound?
(digression; I saw a typical Northern club comedian on telly in the early 70s who did a routine about hippies and pot- he amusingly referred to cannabis resin as 'Carnaby Street Raisins').
Note no.7 about Mr. 'Gazza' from US outsider's perspective is a wry hoot.
  • 34. dannyno | 14/09/2023
Mark OIiver, comment #33. There are more obvious things than "quid of blow" that have been noted, so I agree with you we may as well do that too. Someone out there won't know what it means.

Add a comment