REVIEW: Johnny Marr – Limelight 1, Belfast
In the bustling Limelight 1 venue the crowds are slowly filtering in ready to kick of the weekend in style by watching Johnny Marr play.
Having been a massive fan of The Smiths all my life (I grew up with sisters who educated me well) I was excited to see the man behind their iconic guitar sound and even hoped for a cheeky song from the Manchester legends vast catalogue too.
First up though are support band Man Made. Hailing from Manchester and featuring Nile Marr, Johnny’s son on vocals and guitar, the three piece are getting some good exposure on this tour and it appears well deserved. With a jangling guitar sound and relaxed vocals the band are easy on the ear and eases the crowd into their weekend gently with songs such as ‘Tv Killed my Brain‘ and ‘Nobody’s Dreaming’.
And after Man Made comes the big event we’ve been waiting for, Mr Johnny Marr. Best known for being guitarist in The Smiths, Marr has also played with many other artists and his career is wide and varied. In recent years he teamed up with US indie band Modest Mouse and most recently and closer to home, The Cribs.
Denim clad with a flower through his beltloop on his jeans, Marr enters the stage to a wave of applause and cheers from the mostly male, dare I say middle aged crowd, some with Mozza quiffs, excited to see a hero of their youth. Straight away the band kick into ‘Speak Out Reach Out’ from ‘Playland‘ Marrs 2014 album, and it has quite a punky edge to it. Next up the band break into ‘Panic‘ by The Smiths and the room erupts with a roar and every voice is singing along to every word.
This is swiftly followed up by ‘Easy Money’, a catchy number with a great hook and chorus. On ‘25 Hours‘ Marr’s vocal are reminiscent of the late great Joe Strummer of The Clash and mid song he encounters technical difficulties when his guitar cuts out, he simply nods to the offstage and swaps his instrument like the pro he is and carries on with the solo, note perfect. It’s impressive. He follows up with ‘Candidate’ which slows the set down a bit and shows a softer side, then the punchy ‘Back in the Box‘ lifts us right up again with its throbbing bassline and driving guitars.
With the crowd in the swing of it now Marr plays the opening bars to ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again‘ from The Smiths album ‘The Queen is Dead’ (my favourite album). Once again the Limelight is full of singing as we spit out every word of this well loved song. Marr has the audience in the palm of his hand. Next on the setlist is ‘Upstarts‘ from 2013s ‘Messenger‘ album. This song weirdly has a flavour of the B52s about it and is summery and gets us dancing. In short, it works.
Marr follows this up with a new track ‘Spiral Cities‘ and with its melodic guitar and insistent drumbeat it gets a good reception from the crowd who are waiting to see what comes next such is he vast repetoire. Marr introduces his next song as a ‘Disco song from Manchester’ and with the build up of synth and the drumbeat leads us into ‘Getting Away with It‘ by Electronic, his collaboration with Bernard Sumner of Joy Division/New Order fame and the crowd welcome it with open arms and dancing feet. Swiftly followed up with ‘The Headmaster Ritual’ from The Smiths ‘Meat is Murder’ album, Marrs guitar skills shine out like a beacon as he drives the song with his shimmering guitar.
Next up is ‘Generate!Generate!’ which prompts a few members of the crowd to break into a chant about Manchester. On ‘Word Starts Attack’ we hear the guitar sound which he brought to Modest Mouses album ‘We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank‘, though to me the vocal doesn’t fit the music. This is followed up with arguably one of The Smiths best known songs, ‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out’. Although so dark lyrically the music makes this song a beautiful lovesong and the crowd sing out with all their hearts. I even shed a wee tear such is the amazement of seeing the man behind the Smiths guitar sound playing a Smiths song right in front of me.
Marr leaves the stage after thanking us profusely but when the crowd starts up a chant of ‘Johnny Johnny Johnny F*ckin Marr’ he reappears with his 3 piece band to play an encore to the rowdy Friday night crowd. Straight back in and back to business they launch into ‘You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby’, another Smiths song. Johnny Marr has definitely earned it though, he can play the crowd so well, knowing exactly what we want to hear and smiling to himself with the satisfaction. This is followed by ‘New TownVelocity’, a slow paced wistful song which he dedicates to ‘anyone still in school, who went to school or feels like they are still at school’. Its a cracking song and his mellow voice takes centre stage on this.
Marr welcomes to the stage Nile Marr, his son, from support band Man Made, to help him out on the next song which is, surprisingly, a cover of ‘Crash’ by The Primitives. It’s impossible not to dance to this song and so that’s exactly what we do. After this we don’t know whats coming next and so when the opening tremelo sound of ‘How Soon is Now’ begins the crowd is overcome.
Cheering and clapping, everyone is singing along and enjoying the magic of watching the master at work making his guitar sing. And with that our time with Johnny Marr is finished. He wishes all a great Friday, a great weekend and a great week and promises he will see us next year. I hope he keeps his promise as he is a must see for any fan of The Smiths, and while I was unfamiliar with his own material I am now inspired to check out his solo albums as his guitar style is inimitable and theres no doubt he is a phenomenal songwriter. Johnny Marr I salute you, you are a legend. Sarah McCrossan, GiggingNI.com