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Johnny Marr from today's Guardian

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  • Stevo
    Gold Smith Johnny Marr Will Hodgkinson Friday June 4, 2004 The Guardian Marr: there are things that can be done with an acoustic guitar and a voice that I
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 4, 2004
      Gold Smith

      Johnny Marr

      Will Hodgkinson
      Friday June 4, 2004
      The Guardian

      Marr: 'there are things that can be done with an acoustic guitar and
      a voice that I find more interesting than standing on stage with four
      geezers in leather jackets'
      Pete Millson

      The most innovative guitarist of his generation is going back to his
      roots. "I seem to be in transition a lot of the time, but the one
      constant that has stayed through my life has been the notion of
      saying what you need to say with an acoustic guitar," states Johnny
      Marr. "There are things that can be done with an acoustic guitar and
      a voice that I find more interesting and more expressive than
      standing on stage with four geezers in leather jackets. There is
      nobility in it."
      If ever there were someone whose first language is articulated
      through his instrument, it is Marr. As a child he would spend
      Saturdays staring at the guitars and amplifiers in Manchester's
      department stores while his mother did her weekly shopping, and any
      guitarist on television, from a member of Cilla Black's studio band
      to Marc Bolan, was an object of fascination.

      By the time he came into prominence with the Smiths he had developed
      a style that was richly lyrical and intricate without ever being
      bombastic. "When I first discovered pop music, listening to it was an
      experience that bordered on the mystical," says Marr, who is quietly
      spoken and hesitant, but endlessly enthusiastic about what he does.

      "There's a sad song by Del Shannon called The Answer to Everything
      that my parents used to play, and it struck a chord in me because it
      sounded so familiar. That song was the inspiration for [the Smiths']
      Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want. I tried to capture the
      essence of that tune; its spookiness and sense of yearning."

      Over an afternoon of coffee-drinking at his Manchester home, Marr
      goes some way to explaining what it is that drives him. The legacy of
      the Smiths is growing as the years pass - last year NME recently
      voted them the most influential band of all time, and Morrissey has
      returned after years in the wilderness of the Los Angeles sunshine -
      but Marr looks unlikely to revisit his old band, or the orchestral,
      multi-layered music he created with them.

      "I've had enough of smoke and mirrors, both literally and
      figuratively. So I've been listening to Melanie, Donovan, Davy
      Graham, Joni Mitchell's first album... I don't want to hear music
      that uses a large vocabulary to say nothing. My attitude now is: why
      use a lot of words when fuck off will do?"

      Marr's role model has, for years, been Bert Jansch, the former
      guitarist of the British folk-rock group Pentangle. Marr was first
      aware of Jansch, who has since become a friend, after seeing
      Pentangle play a concert that was broadcast on television when he was

      "The band were all hunched over their acoustic guitars, wearing old
      plimsolls and odd socks, looking like the performance was
      interrupting a drinking session that started two days earlier and was
      only just gathering momentum. This was the era of Deep Purple and Led
      Zeppelin, and I got the impression that Pentangle regarded those
      bands as utter lightweights musically, physically, philosophically
      and lyrically."

      Marr mentions obscure psychedelic folk bands from San Francisco he
      has been listening to recently - Sunburnt Hand of Man and the Six
      Organs of Admittance are two of the more colourful names that come to
      mind - while applauding two folk legends that are a million miles
      away from the urbane sophistication of the Smiths.

      Clive Palmer was a founder member of pastoral folk hippies the
      Incredible String Band who went on to make solo records that sound
      like they are best listened to with a bout of the plague. Incredibly,
      he left the Incredible String Band because he felt they were getting
      too commercial. John Martyn is the troublesome, troubled, alcoholic
      singer-songwriter of intensity and depth. "Clive Palmer is so purist
      that he makes regular folk singers sound like Will Young," says
      Marr. "John Martyn made an album called Stormbringer that is intense,
      heavy, beautiful, relevant - and that's all from one guy with six

      Folk music is often accused of being gauche, or fey. Can such terms
      be applied to the music of John Martyn? "Stormbringer is heavier -
      genuinely heavier - than all the heavy rock bands. There's a certain
      posturing in rock music that has become outdated, and there's only so
      much testosterone I can take in one lifetime. It's been done to death
      and there's not much strength in it any more."

      Two of Marr's heroes, however, were chiefly responsible for creating
      that pose in the first place. The first is Andrew Loog Oldham, the
      teenage svengali and recent subject of Home Entertainment who managed
      the Rolling Stones and fashioned their image; and the second is Keith
      Richards, whose louche, ragged style has become the template for
      generations of rock guitarists.

      "Andrew Oldham inspired me because he wore hyperactivity like a badge
      of honour, and because he considers it impolite to be boring. I like
      Keith Richards more for his ethic than his playing. He's the captain
      of the ship when it comes to being in a rock'n'roll band; he'll steer
      the band through anything, and go down with them if he has to. And he
      always looked good."

      Whatever makes Marr such a soulful guitarist is an elusive thing.
      From the Smiths to stints in the Pet Shop Boys and Electronic through
      to his current band the Healers, he has intermittently rejected any
      guitar style he has pioneered to make way for a new one, and he
      claims that he never plays a known song on the guitar, least of all
      one he has written.

      "When you play music you catch whatever is in the air, and every now
      and then you catch something that gives you a sense of ecstasy and
      transcendence," he says. "My first lightning bolt came from Marc
      Bolan. I bought Jeepster by T-Rex purely because it was in the
      bargain singles box and it had a picture of Marc and Mickey Finn on
      the label, so I figured I was getting more for my 25p. When I played
      that record I heard magic. That magic is what I'm endlessly trying
      for. That's what keeps me breathing."
      Np Ray Charles Definitive Leave my Woman Alone
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