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Johnny Marr

+ {Johnny Marr + The Healers}

Although JOHNNY MARR’s post-SMITHS directions have not exactly been as astute and critically productive since his musical partnership with MORRISSEY dissolved a quarter of a century ago, the accolades for the legendary guitarist has never wavered or faltered. While one can truly say his all-too brief 5-year tenure with the aforementioned SMITHS was inspirational to many including The STONE ROSES and OASIS, modest Johnny’s lack of solo material has been conspicuous by its absence. Until that is, the early 00s and his time as main man (singer, songwriter and guitarist) with The Healers, alongside KULA SHAKER’s bass man Alonza Bevan and chip-off-the-old-block Zak Starkey (son of RINGO STARR).
Born John Martin Maher, 31st October 1963, Ardwick in Manchester, MARR’s meteoric rise to fame with The SMITHS period has been well documented, albeit as much soaked in controversy as anything their followers achieved. From indie icon to stalwart session man with immediate effect, the talented MARR played for some of country’s best-known acts at the time: KIRSTY MacCOLL, BILLY BRAGG, BRYAN FERRY, THE THE and even America’s new wave exports TALKING HEADS, although it was a foil to NEW ORDER’s moonlighting Bernard Sumner in turn-of-the-decade duo ELECTRONIC, that the guitarist would re-kindle some fame and glory. For the whole of the 90s they were indeed “Getting Away With It” (the initial single collaboration with the PET SHOP BOYS’ Neil Tennant), while three albums leaked out at intermittent intervals: `Electronic’ (1991), `Raise The Pressure’ (1996) and `Twisted Tenderness’ (1999).
Subsequently teaming up with The Healers (at first a bigger band than the trio it turned out to be), Johnny finally found a record label to deliver the combo’s debut 45, `The Last Ride’. Fast forward to early 2003 and JOHNNY MARR + THE HEALERS ill-fated attempt to jump on the all-but-forgotten Britpop scene by way of BOOMSLANG {*6}. The record had some moments of Britpop skin-grafts, and Johnny (about to turn 40) proved he could sing, but “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before” railed through each echoing vibe. The aforementioned debut single opened the grooves, while there was merit in tracks such as The STONE ROSES-esque `Caught Up’ and the single `Bangin’ On’.
Un-chart-worthy although receiving an American release, the Healers went into subsequent remission, as Johnny found their was resuscitation through tenures with Washington, USA’s finest indie act, MODEST MOUSE and Yorkshire’s own The CRIBS; he was the fourth member of the latter between 2008-2011 and featured on their `Ignore The Ignorant’ set in ’09.
Almost out of the blue, Manchester’s own JOHNNY MARR proved he could match old mucker Moz as a bona fide solo artist – although he still had a long way to go despite the relative success of Top 10 “comeback” set, THE MESSENGER (2013) {*6}. A record overflowing with catchy Brit-pop tunes for a new generation (maybe?), Johnny’s vocal chords had certainly taken an instructional agent or two, while there was no getting away from his stylish guitar playing. Of the dozen JM-penned songs, steadfast fans would lay praises on `The Right Thing Right’, the anthemic `Upstarts’, `European Me’ and the title track.
Augmented again by producer Doviak (keyboards), Iwan Gronow (bass) and Jack Mitchell (drums), JOHNNY MARR rushed out solo set number two, PLAYLAND (2014) {*7}. Fusing the values of Britpop and resurrecting his rock’n’roll-meets-alt-rock sensibilities, the Top 10 set carried a mighty weight on his shoulders while others around him (the splitting of the OASIS brothers come to mind) were finding it difficult to cut their cloth accordingly. Relying on classicist-type pop-versus-rock tracks (pick of the bunch: `Easy Money’, `Candidate’, `24 Hours’ and `The Trap’), Johnny could hold his head high among the young stars gnawing at his ankles.
To secure his status as “indie-rock god” to the pre-Britpop acolytes from the 80s, the singer/guitarist (and his Playland players) duly provided a double-album worth of songs in ADRENALIN BABY: JOHNNY MARR LIVE (2015) {*7}. Peppered with a handful (or “hatful”) of honourable SMITHS delights (`The Headmaster Ritual’, `Bigmouth Strikes Again’, `There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ and `How Soon Is Now?’), plus a cover of `I Fought The Law’ and an ELECTRONIC cut (`Getting Away With It’), his older audience could’ve been forgiven if they’d put his latest stuff in their memory bank for afters.
On the back of publishing his autobiography, Set The Boy Free, a solo-billed Johnny (but with Healers’ Gronow and Mitchell) dropped another Doviak-produced Top 10 solo set, CALL THE COMET (2018) {*7}. The perennial trend-setting Britpop progenitor projected a humanist and environmentalist motif in his sanguine dreams and wishes of a better planet; minus the political hyperbole that dogged the world post-Trump. Not getting too sentimental or schmaltzy, super-hero MARR man – one either loved or loathed him – was flying high, and cannily cosmic in tracks such as `Rise’, `The Tracers’, `Hi Hello’ (the single) and the glistening `Bug’.
© MC Strong/MCS May2012-Jun2018

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