Sunday, April 10, 2011

Who's Johnny? (she says and tried to look the other way )

Oh dear Johnny Marr, where to start? I started out as someone who liked the Smiths. Who then really liked the Smiths and really, sincerely, loved 'You are the quarry', the 2004 solo record by Morrissey that was actually good. I even wore my Morrissey shirt with pride, bought a poster of him - and Johnny Marr. You know, the hugging one with the flowers? Morrissey God? Sure why not. But that little fella with the shades and the guitar and you only saw him with the shades and the guitar, he was the true genius. You can have ongoing discussions with Smiths fans about this, there's the Moz side and the Marr side and they won't agree. I'm sure there's an Andy and Mike side too, not sure if they're big fans of Morrissey and Marr.

Anyway, Morrissey Smorrissey, 'Boomslang' (2003) by Johnny Marr & the Healers is one of these very underrated records. I had to really look for that one but haven't regretted that. It's mellow, it's rough around the edges sometimes and Johnny sings. As a person who has spent 20 years or more only playing behind other great people with great voices it's a little strange and his voice almost sounds alien like. There is in fact a second solo record on the shelves. It only needs finishing and by now dusting off. He never released that one. Because something else came on his path. And he jumped on that bus.

Marr had discovered the fine Pacific North West and spent some time in Portland when he read an ad for a 'Johnny Marr-esque' guitarist. The band who put that ad in was not a small band, not at all. Modest Mouse was looking for a guitarist for their new album and got more than they asked for. The Johnny Marr-esque guitarist was very much Johnny Marr himself. Recording became becoming a member of the band and in 2007 Modest Mouse released one of the best albums of that year with Marr, 'We were dead before the ship even sank'. The leading single 'Dashboard' wouldn't leave my head whenever I heard it (and the video is brilliant too), and I heard it almost every morning and in 2007 I wanted to see Modest Mouse on tour, in Amsterdam. Due to being in the middle of the process of buying my first house around the time they came over I wasn't able to make it. I was gutted. That would have been my first and only chance ever to see Johnny Marr. That would never happen again. I sincerely mourned. Finding a picture of Johnny with my favourite band, the Cribs, on the Modest Mouse blog did cheer me up a little. My favourite guitarist and my favourite band together, what a combination.

With the Cribs bassist Gary Jarman also living in Portland and the Cribs in late 2007 making vague comments about another band member, Johnny Marr was pretty much the first and only name I had in my mind. Only a few songs, a single. Maybe an EP. It was Johnny and when in February I went to see the Cribs on the NME tour (thank you mortgage) Johnny actually stepped on stage to play 'Panic' with the band. There he was! Johnny Marr! Only a few meters away from me. Oh my god was an understatement on how I felt. He played one or two songs more with the band and the following night he did the same. I saw Johnny Marr! With my favourite band!

I was there when Johnny played his first full gig with the Cribs outside the UK, which he then had only done a few times, in Utrecht at the Beschaving Festival. The festival cleverly used him as an advertisement to get people to this brand new festival. We have Johnny Marr! It was a more certain factor than Pete Doherty who was also on the bill and played a different stage around the same time. Maybe not so clever. The tent was packed. But what the organization maybe hadn't realised that the people would have been there anyway even without the presence of Johnny Marr. Nonetheless, one of the finest performances I've seen, even with a migraine.

Johnny became a full pledged member of the Cribs. Of course there was scepticism. He wasn't going to polish off the rough sides of the Cribs, was he? I was getting used to seeing Johnny Fucking Marr on stage (sad how that novelty wore off so quickly) and started to wish he would just NOT play 'Men's Needs'. I think he might be the reason why I started to dislike the band playing that song live. Everyone gets mental when they do (and it's a great song), but Marr, I have no idea what he's doing, but it's not good. Some pretentious sounds coming from his guitar which are actually irritating. Maybe I shouldn't have paid attention to it in the first place and just jump like the rest of the audience. But whatever he did, and whatever the critics said, I actually believed that he wouldn't treat the Cribs like he treated Modest Mouse. He would not just do one album and see another band and play with them and say 'sorry dudes, I'm with them now'. No, even though he had done that to a fair amount of other bands before Modest Mouse, not with the Cribs. There was something very sincere between them. He was one of them, the older brother. And to be one of the Cribs them being brothers and very close as well, it's an accomplishment.

Johnny recorded the album with the Cribs. What would it sound like? Pretentious jinglejangle? Polished? Mature? 'Ignore the ignorant' was released in 2009 and very much sounding like the Cribs. It didn't sound like their debut album from 2004 but progress is a friend my dear, not the enemy. It was the logic progression to the 2007 'Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever' album. And they toured, and they toured and they released another song in 2010 which shock oh horror (with me being probably the only person in that state) synthesizers. Then they played the London Garage as part of their label's ten year anniversary, their first two albums and first two albums only. It would be an old-skool Cribs gig. Without Johnny. Because Johnny was in LA to support the film 'Inception' to which he worked on the soundtrack. It was an old-skool gig. It was hot, sweaty, mental. Johnny wasn't missed for a single second. God, this show was good. So good. August came and the band announced they'd go on a two year break. Say what?

Johnny kept busy and tweeted fondly on his twitter. One (me) might wish he didn't so much. Johnny, are you really that cool or are you just showing off? Meeting and hugging Johnny Marr is still one the highlights of my gigging career, in person he's a lot more down to earth and just a really nice and warm person, other than you'd think when seeing the God on stage or, well, on twitter. Johnny went to Moscow for whatever reason, the Cribs brothers got together in Wakefield, and started recording. Say what? They also announced a handful UK festival appearances because well, they need to eat too. And so the question surfaced. Will Johnny still be part of the Cribs? He wouldn't pull a Modest Mouse on them right?

"Touring and recording with Ryan, Gary and Ross has been fantastic and Ignore The Ignorant is something I'm really proud of. We ended up doing much more than we originally set out to, and I've made three good friends." So there you have it. He will be putting out two solo records the next year, which is probably the one on the shelves since 2006. Johnny is still Johnny. Doing a million things at once and doing a damn good job at it too. He's a genius guitar player. But staying faithful to a band? I guess he can't and won't. He left the Smiths with a very good reason at the time, it might put him off of steady band life for the rest of his life. Bye bye Johnny and welcome back Johnny Marr. Welcome back old-skool Cribs, didn't they say they'd go back to the old days? Maybe we all win this time but damn you Johnny, I'm glad I've witnessed your brilliance on stage, I'm happy we met, talked and hugged (and I hope you enjoyed the tiny biscuits too), but you did disappoint me by pulling a Modest Mouse!