Poor Johnny Marr. In a week when he should have been celebrating his triumphant UK tour, the tour where he’s proved his star quality as a frontman, he’s been upstaged by his former co-writer and bandmate Morrissey. Morrissey’s delayed Autobiography was published at a rather inconvenient time for the guitar hero turned all-round rock god.
Camden’s Roundhouse brought out the faithful. Those who have followed from the implosion of The Smiths, through the time spent with Electronic, The The, The Healers, Modest Mouse, and The Cribs. Many moments of genius and joy were to be found in all of those other projects, but in our hearts we wanted more. Now was Marr’s moment to shine, with the punchy and stylish The Messenger album of solo material to showcase.
Kicking off with ‘Upstarts’, Marr played it spiky and angular. With a sound full of attack, Marr made the stage his own. Follow up track, ‘Panic’, had the crowd bellowing every word to the much beloved Smiths song, sounding more like it’s chord sharing forefather Metal Guru (T-Rex) than ever before.
Marr toys with his adoring audience by treating them to some wonderful Smiths covers, such as a vital and cheeky ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’, interspersed with tracks from the solo album.
‘New Town Velocity’, perhaps the finest track on The Messenger sounded masterful, with its mournful chords yet optimistic lyrics. A sign that the emotional range of The Smiths was something well within Johnny Marr’s reach. “Generate! Generate!” was full of post-punk swagger and fun. Then it was an epic, howling ‘How Soon Is Now’ which resonated down into the very pit of my stomach and the man walked away, victorious.
Naturally, the Camden crowd were unfulfilled as they yelled, screamed and shouted for more, the words “Johnny F***ing Marr!” ringing around the pillars of the Victorian Roundhouse.
A wistful ‘Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want’, and a glorious cover version of ‘I Fought The Law’ led the encore. For me, personally, ‘Getting Away With It’, the song he wrote with Neil Tennant and Bernard Sumner was a highlight (it was so good to hear this old friend of a song with the guitars running the show rather than keyboards). Johnny knew his crowd, and paid back their adoration and loyalty with ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’. Every voice joined Johnny’s as we sang to him “To die by your side, the pleasure, the privilege is mine”.
I started by saying “poor Johnny Marr”. Perhaps not. He’s still got it: great hair, awesome guitar technique, the same ear for a great song, the same size jeans as he squeezed into back in 1983 and a legion of loyal fans. Not bad going at all.
Review by Snigdha Nag