Johnny Freckin' Marr!

Posted on Saturday 17th October 2015 13:00 by FreckFest

Kilmarnock-born author David Ross has kindly penned this terrific review of Johnny Marr's electrifying show at the Grand Hall. 


Johnny Marr: Review
At the Grand Hall Kilmarnock.
15th October 2015

There was a moment near the end of last night's gig. The briefest flicker. If you'd blinked you would have missed it. At the end of the penultimate song - a frenetic cover of The Primitives golden pop moment 'Crash' - Johnny Marr pulled his son Nile, who had joined his dad on stage, close to him and put his arm around him. That complex mixture of pride and envy for any father who sees their child develop, hoping they become happier and more successful. It was moving and endearing.

Nile Marr has the biggest of footsteps to follow but his band Man Made, are shaping up to be real contenders in their own right (Don't believe me? Go and check out their excellent new single 'Bring Some', and then we'll talk further...). Their enthusiasm and joy at being on stage in Scotland was no doubt reinforced by their signing to Cobalt Records a few weeks ago during this mini-tour. A debut LP is scheduled for January and on the evidence of the songs played in their 35 minute support slot, it will definitely be one to watch out for.

So Johnny Marr is rightly proud. Of his son, of his new songs, of his peerless back catalogue and of looking ten years younger than me, despite being a year older. He takes the stage, now the frontman of a four-piece. He's whippet-lean and looks as cool as Pacino in Scarface. The Fender Jaguar he plays on every song but one looks like a vital and intrinsic part of him. I've seen Johnny Marr in other circumstances without the guitar - interviews, record signings etc - and he doesn't look complete; like someone missing a limb. As Johnny Guitar though, there are few performers on stage nowadays as alive. Like Cagney whenever someone pointed a movie camera lens in his direction.

The band opens with Playland and then heads straight into Panic. Two songs with the same DNA but separated by a generation. A father and its son. The almost capacity crowd respond predictably to the older, better known songs during the evening and Johnny is relaxed and comfortable with that. But the songs from the two recent solo LPs are not those of a man coasting on his substantial reputation. Both 'The Messenger' and more specifically 'Playland' indicate a man back at the top of his game after interesting 'loan' periods with Modest Mouse and The Cribs. The songs sounded crisp and sharp as you'd expect, and its often easy to forget how vital Johnny Marr is, when he makes what he does look and sound so effortlessly easy. He seems happy, and that boundless energy and obvious enjoyment at being on stage, of being in the moment, was infectious.


I took my 18 year old daughter along and informed her, with absolute certainty, that she was in the presence of greatness - Johnny's greatness that is, in case you were in any doubt. Johnny Marr's influence on modern music can't be underestimated. From John Squire, to Bernard Butler, Graham Coxon and Jamie Cook. All owe a substantial debt. A recent criticism of Morrissey's new novel was that he desperately needed an editor. Listening to these songs again only reinforces the stature and significance of the one that he once had.

The highlights for this long-time fan were New Town Velocity, Bigmouth Strikes Again and Getting Away With It, which I had doubted I'd ever hear live. It coincided with dappled disco ball lighting coruscating into every corner of the vaulted Grand Hall. Beautiful and timeless.

Johnny Marr has always struck me as someone who prefers a stage where audience faces and reactions are discernible. To be in perfect sync with an audience is perhaps only possible in more compact venues. The Grand Hall is one of those venues. In a wider touring sense it's off the beaten track but I suspect that only heightens the connections for an artist like Johnny Marr. Hopefully it won't be long before he returns to the scene of the original Ballroom Blitz.

David F. Ross
16th October 2015

(David F. Ross's novel 'The Last Days of Disco' is out now on Orenda Books)

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