A couple of years ago I interviewed Johnny Marr.
It was no normal experience but rather about four hours of brilliant pop culture minutiae rattled out from a white tea drinking, northen accented, black mopped music freak. It was a conversation where he matched every riff in his life with the right leather jacket or the coolest socks- he spoke fast and was a machine gun musical encyclopedia.
A few very interesting things popped up in that interview which are relevant today with him supporting the mighty Stone Roses . Once, before Morrissey, he had considered asking Ian Brown to be his singer but didn’t want to impinge on the dawn of the Roses loose bands that involved Squire and Brown and, as he explains, it was not the done thing to steal singers from other guitar players. He had also shared many early eighties bus journeys with early Roses bassist Pete Garner, who excitedly told him one night on the bus home from town after they were working for hip shops at the time (Marr managed X Clothes where you could buy all the Goth, rock n roll black stuff and Pete in Paperchase that sold hip records like New York Dolls to a young Morrissey).
Pete told Johnny he was in this band called the Stone Roses what did he think of the name? Later that evening Johnny rang back and said he didn’t like the name and still chuckles over this memory years later…
Anyway this only underlines the oddly parallel paths the two heroic Manchester bands have been on since the early eighties with their paths intertwining from the south Manchester suburbs, rehearsal rooms and even a shared drummer in Funky Si Wolstencoft, Both bands brilliantly constructed a very British guitar pop which defined separate halves of the eighties and came armed with ionic front men and great guitar players.
Their histories overlap so many times that it’s great to see the currently solo Marr on the bill this afternoon.
So far this past year has been a great ride for the guitar player who has made the short walk up to the centre stage vocal mic and released his first solo album, The Messanger. It’s a short walk that many guitar players make a hash of but Johnny understands what needs to be done and never makes a big play for the front man role- he is more like gang leader and guitar hustler who somehow sings as well and with the studied cool of someone who has seen every great rocking picture and knows the rock and the roll as he rattles his way through a very assured set that is stuffed full of festival pleasing Smiths classics like, Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before, Bigmouth Strikes Again, a very well received How Soon Is Now? as well as
But it’s his own material that really stands out for me- the Smiths stuff is, of course, classic and it needs to be done just to underline who we are dealing with here- that is, someone who can actually match the Roses in terms of classic generational DNA guitar pop song writing and has the hits to prove it.
Johnny naturally still has the guitar skill to easily play out his own crafted melodies on these classic but also surprisingly has a voice that makes the grade. Morrissey is such a distinctive and pure singer that he is a tricky act to follow- you don’t often hear a Smiths cover probably purely for this reason but Johnny Marr sings them in his own style and never loses their thread.
His own songs from his very well received debut album hint at the jangling supremacy of the classic Smiths but also add a post punk quirk and a whiff of funk and a smidgen of New Order style Manc techno to their make up.
New Town Velocity not only has a great title but that deceptively light touch and chiming guitar brilliance that is so much his trademark. The notes cascade like the Mancunian rain and surround the northern cool melody and the songs dreamy melancholic louché cool, the Right Right Thing is amore sprightly affair and Upstarts is strident and strutting.
This short support slot is a perfect intro to the new world of Johnny Marr- a place where he has finally made his own without having to seek down an Ian Brown or a Morrissey to make sense of his creativity or any of a number of people he could asked or has worked with over the decades and the non stop work of the past year has paid off in a very well received set that should push those Smiths to reform rumours back over the horizon for quite some time…