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MADE IN MANCHESTER

Since The Smiths dissolved, Johnny Marr has travelled the world, bringing his guitar-superstar chops to a host of bands’ records and finding his voice as a solo songwriter. Third album Call The Comet, though, was forged in his home city. Richard Purden meets Marr to talk about embracing rock music, record shopping with Morrissey and being influenced by HG Wells…

The May Fair Hotel in London’s West End was once famous for highsociety ballroom dances featuring Big Band leader Bert Ambrose. Today, it hosts a very different kind of bandleader; at least that’s how Johnny Marr describes himself after rejecting previous terms such as ‘songwriter’ (too “Jackson Browne”) and ‘guitar slinger for hire’.

Marr admits that no-nonsense self perception has a lot to do with his workingclass background growing up as a secondgeneration Irish kid in 1970s Manchester. It’s more than 40 years since he formed his first band, aged 13. After moving from Ardwick to Wythenshawe, once the largest council estate in Europe, he was able to draw upon a notable pool of musicians, which featured fellow Smith Andy Rourke, Billy Duffy (The Cult) and former Coronation Street actor Kevin Kennedy.

His trademark black tresses are today fashioned into a feathercut, with lighter streaks summoning Keith Richards’ rakish look of the early 70s. Reflecting on a lifetime shaped by vinyl, he remembers his first sighting of the Stones guitarist when looking though the record collection of a friend’s parent. “It was the hexagonal sleeve – I’ve yet to see a more spooky and freaked-out looking band on a greatest hits record [Through The Past, Darkly].”

“My parents loved early rock ‘n’ roll,” he explains of his boyhood introduction to vinyl. “We would visit these musty old record shops to pick up old 45s of Jerry Lee Lewis and The Everly Brothers, it was a kind of early retro. You didn’t need to be an alternative person or collector, because it was a huge cultural pastime; your auntie would have a lot of records, everybody had a record player – in the way people have laptops now.The charts covered easy-listening people in their 40s and 50s who were very straight. It’s not like now, where you have hipster grandmas and grandads. When you went to a friend’s house, you would look through the family’s records. there was often a lot of dross, but there would be the odd thing – that’s how I got into Motown.”

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