Johnny Marr

53 Degrees, Preston, March 8

Andy Willsher/NME
Photo: Andy Willsher/NME
"How are we doing?” Johnny Marr asks the crowd, a few songs into his set. The response: chants of “go Johnny go go go” from Chuck Berry’s rockabilly hit ‘Johnny B Goode’ erupt in the crowd. What do you expect? The 49-year-old onstage is NME’s Godlike Genius. We’re watching a legend in action, one who’s been invigorated by his debut solo album ‘The Messenger’, a record that merges the sights and sounds of Marr’s pre-Smiths life growing up on an estate in Manchester with musings about modern life and technology.

Tonight, opener ‘The Right Thing Right’ mixes mod textures with a northern soul gallop as Marr picks out riffs that mirror the brass rhythms. The Smiths’ ‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before’ follows, and any questions about his ability as a frontman are answered. Singing Morrissey’s original lines is perhaps Marr’s biggest challenge as a solo artist, and his deep voice adds a different kind of gravitas to the lyrics. The fans sing it back line for line, simply enjoying the moment.

Another tentativechat with the crowd is greeted with a shriek so strange Marr responds: “Have you ever seen those goats on YouTube that sound like people?” You can tell he’s having fun, as he starts saying things like “Now I feel like doing this…” and busts into ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’. Twenty-seven years after it appeared on The Smiths’ ‘The Queen Is Dead’, the same smouldering intensity shows through as Marr’s chords remind us how, before he was even 20, he was in a band that would define the future of British guitar music. He explores that achievement in ‘New Town Velocity’ as
he softly sings “Leave school for poetry”, with eyes closed.

The encore cherry-picks Marr’s greatest hits, as a guitar-driven version of Electronic’s ‘Getting Away With It’ leads into the reverberating intro of ‘How Soon Is Now?’, a tune every bit as haunting as it was in 1984. Cries for one more are answered with ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’. Then another chant starts: “There’s only one Johnny Marr!”

Simon Butcher

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