Johnny Marr for the Ironworks in October
The early 1980s weren’t the best of times to be an aspiring guitar player. Twenty years earlier, the head of Decca records, Dick Rowe, had made the biggest A&R gaff in pop history with the legendary clanger, “Guitar groups are on their way out, Mr Epstein”. But in 1982, Rowe’s apocalyptic prophecy suddenly sounded frighteningly real. After the initial roar and storm of punk, British pop music had succumbed to a synthesizer-driven pursuit of new waves and new romanticisms. In an age of Vienna’s, Tainted Love’s and Too Shy’s, the pure sound of six-stringed, melodic pop – be it as amorous as The Beatles, as lascivious as The Stones or as giddy as T.Rex – was fast becoming a lost cause with few willing to fight its corner.
That all changed with Johnny Marr. In the early summer of 1982 when Marr, just 18 years-old, formed The Smiths after seeking out the reclusive and elusive Stretford poet, Morrissey. Musically, the sound of The Smiths was a guitar noise nostalgically familiar yet equally dumbfounding in its pristine newness. The tunes were giant, euphoric and instantaneous but woven together with such nimble flair it appeared as if the guitar was playing Marr instead of the other way round. Lost for words, early critics of the day undersold him with the words “jingle” and “jangle” when, had they tried, they might better have described the sound of Johnny Marr as that of Van Gogh’s Starry Night in angry animation.
Throughout The Smiths’ five year lifespan between the summers of 1982 and 1987, Marr continually challenged not only pop conventions but his skills as a player and a composer. As a composer, Marr’s greatest Smiths triumphs were those which weakened the knees with melancholic splendour – ‘Half A Person’, ‘Oscillate Wildly’, ‘Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me’ and their most celebrated cri de couer, ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’. As a player, the biggest feathers in Marr’s Smiths cap were those which smacked the gob with their sonic ingenuity – the shuddering ‘How Soon Is Now?’, the devil’s jig of ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’ and not least the wah-wah hurricane of ‘The Queen Is Dead’. Paired with Morrissey’s generation-defining words of love and hate, wit and wisdom, sorrow and greater sorrow still, Marr was to become half of the most influential British songwriting partnership since… you know who.
By the time The Smiths disbanded in 1987, they’d made four classic albums, none entering the charts lower than number two: 1984′s The Smiths, 1985′s ‘Meat Is Murder’ (UK number one), 1986′s ‘The Queen Is Dead’ (a longstanding perennial of classic album polls, voted the greatest album of the millennium by Melody Maker) and 1987′s ‘Strangeways, Here We Come’ (Marr’s personal favourite Smiths album).
Marr has spent every year since The Smiths as a fully-fledged member of at least one band. No fair-weather session man, he has always prided himself on being part of the essential weaponry to whichever gang initiates him into their midst: The Pretenders (1987-89), The The (1988-93), Electronic, Modest Mouse (2005-08) and The Cribs have all experienced his Midas Touch. The The and Modest Mouse in particular reaching new heights of success once Marr came on board.
Of course the time finally came for Marr to make his own music under his own name and his well-received debut album ‘The Messenger’ arrived in early 2013 peaking at Number 10 in the UK album charts. Less than two years later, his second album Playland was released and was again well received by critics. This time reaching Number 9.
Johnny Marr plays the Ironworks on Tuesday 13th October.
Tickets available from Ironworks website from Friday 17th July at 9am