Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

A light that hasn't gone out: Smiths legend Marr shines on debut solo gig

Johnny Marr
Johnny Marr

On entering the adjoining bar before Johnny Marr's first solo gig in Belfast, the likes of Reverend and the Makers and The Jam were blaring out to the pleasure of sundry middle-aged mock-mods.

They represented a generation of people who'd obviously confused the workmanlike plod of Paul Weller with the guitarist-of-a-generation shenanigans of Mr Marr – on account of them having slightly similar haircuts.

But then as punters ventured into the shiny new Limelight 2 venue, the crowd and the music broadened to reflect a renaissance guitarist/songwriter/producer and former Smith who was just at home playing with the Pet Shop Boys, Pretenders or Cribs.

So then, the Keith Richards and Phil Spector of the indie generation has finally got round to making his first proper post-Smiths solo album – and it's only taken him 26 odd years.

Waiting an extra 10 minutes wasn't going to hurt anybody, but after he'd promised a prompt 8.30 start some of the more excitable comb-overs in the crowd were starting to impatiently unpeel.

They didn't: the snazzy theme to the '70s TV series The Persuaders rumbled into life and Johnny Marr sauntered onto the stage – the most dapper, assured and full-haired male approaching 50 in the room, if not the city of Belfast.

The 'will he, won't he' agony was quickly kicked into touch with an early blistering take on Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before, a latter-period Smiths classic.

Marr, windmilled, pouted and sashayed like he was on a photo shoot for What Achingly-hip and Seminal Guitarist magazine and the crowd reacted politely to the songs that hadn't featured in any of the early Now! compilations.

"I'm up for a good time and that isn't just showbiz speak," Marr averred before lunging into the Smiths' London.

Up close and personal, it was a blistering, aural equivalent of an invigorating chemical peel, but still the crowd seemed to be mostly rooted in the tractor beam of Marr's aura.

Electronic songs and Smiths songs sat alongside most of the admittedly variable new album. But when he played Bigmouth Strikes Again to a cheer that might have been heard in Windsor Park last night, and then followed it with stunning new track New Town Velocity, the lines and the years started to blur in movement.

"You all look very serious," said Marr before the double-encore of How Soon Is Now and finally, gloriously, There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, which at last provoked an adoringly polite audience to switch off their camera phones and attempt the very difficult nostalgic pogo-shuffle.

And if a double decker bus – or indeed the vast Marr Touring coach – had crashed into us at that stage, we'd all have died pretty happy.

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