- 03 Sep 23
There Is A Light
God Bless Johnny Marr because, let's be honest, he nearly single-handedly (with two magic hands) saved the 1980s. Those records he crafted with The Smiths are perfect. The band arrived when they were needed, got the job done, and then split, and they never ruined it by getting back together for a money-raking, Stadia-filling jaunt. Proper order.
Another thing about Mr J Marr is that he's fifty-nine (sixty next month). This is extremely hard to believe given the performance he put on in the Electric Arena Saturday evening. He looks ridiculously good for a start. Orange Jazzmaster balanced just above his knees as every graduate from Ramones University should do, stick thin (There might be something to this 'looking after yourself' messing, etc.), blue shirt, black waistcoat, chain bracelet - he's like a handsome Keith Richards.
2019's 'Armatopia' is all "la, La, las" and sounds great but then he goes into 'Panic' and the crowd howl like wolves over a kill. He pulls out a slide solo, he mentions Kildare, he throws some Townshend shapes. It's incredible. The roar is deafening and the beaming grins on every single face could power the stage if the same power-failing mishap that befell him the last time should happen again.
"Electric Picnic, we have returned to the scene of the crime," says Johnny, perhaps reading an advanced copy of this review, before the electro burble of 'Spirit Power And Soul' from last year's solo career highlight Fever Dreams Pts. 1-4. The band around him are all cheekbones and shades but they're probably only wearing them to hide the look in their eyes that screams, "Christ Almighty, we're in a band with Johnny Fuckin' Marr!"
The crowd are feeling the same way as the chant of, yes, "Johnny Fuckin' Marr" rears up. "Any requests?" says our man. "You weren't expecting that!" We were not. "Parklife?" he responds to one wag before kicking into 'This Charming Man'. The throng sang along to every word and every jangley, golden note from the guitar hero who made guitar heroes cool again. At this point we all knew we were witnessing something very special.
The solo material - 'Easy Money', a very Smithsy 'Somewhere','Hi Hello', although no 'Lightning People', unfortunately - all sounded marvellous, as did Electronic's 'Getting Away With It', introduced as "a disco song from Manchester" and finished with some glistening guitar arpeggios. It was The Smiths material, however, that made this the set of the weekend.
'Big Mouth Strikes Again' sent the place into a frenzy, the Bo-Diddley-in-a-Northern-British-downpour of 'How Soon Is Now' had even cynical hacks turning to each other and mouthing a delighted "for fuck's sake!" as Marr played a solo using the tuning pegs of the guitar and a lot of us sensitive types remembered how those lyrics had been a comfort after yet another night of failing to get our end away.
Like all the best performers, he kept the surest shot for last. Dedicated to all his family in Kildare and all of us in the tent - but not those hanging about outside - 'There Is A Light That Never Goes Out' was enough to restore any faith that might ever have been lost in this thing we call rock and roll. The camera went into the crowd as those who were there the first time and younger folk alike sang every word about ten-ton trucks and double-decker buses. If you had a heart at all it was swelling out of control. When Marr and the band dropped out and let us all carry the song, I had really never heard anything like it. We left the tent with tears in our eyes and warm smiles on our faces. It's impossible not to love that man.