Johnny Marr was inducted into the Barrowland Hall of Fame today and seems pretty pleased about it, telling us he’s now up there with the likes of Iggy Pop and “that Oasis guy”. 

But it’s about time, considering the influence the guitarist, songwriter and producer has had over the years. Gracing the stage of this iconic Glasgow venue three times in the mid ‘80s with The Smiths, Marr co-wrote some of the greatest songs of that decade, his guitar arrangements and riffs as memorable as Morrissey’s melodramatics. Well, almost… Of course, The Smiths were just a starting point and he has since worked with a vast number of artists including Talking Heads, The Pretenders, The The, Modest Mouse, The Cribs, Edwyn Collins, Noel Gallagher and Billie Eilish. But away from the collaborations, Marr shines in his own right and the latest tour celebrates ten years fronting his own band, his trusty bandmates by his side all the way, with Iwan Gronow (bass) and James Doviak (guitar/synth) looking rather dapper this evening while drummer Jack Mitchell gets a bit of stick for one thing and another… ah, there’s always one!

Tonight’s support is pretty special too, namely Supergrass’ Gaz Coombes, and we’re gutted to miss most of his set. Roads, eh? Unlike the main act, Coombes doesn’t showcase any of his ‘other’ band’s material, sticking to his solo work including numbers from latest album Turn The Car Around, which exposes a more mellow and intimate side, a million miles away from teen anthem Alright. But we do manage to catch the epic sound of 20/20 from 2015’s Matador, an unsettling but uplifting, gospel-tinged delight. He finishes with the groovy strut of Walk The Walk from 2018’s World’s Strongest Man, evoking a touch of Radiohead meets QOTSA’s Smooth Sailing. 

Glasgow’s favourite “Here we, here we, here we fuckin’ go” chant is repurposed to pay homage to tonight’s “Johnny Fuckin’ Marr” merch, Marr surely feeling wanted as he takes to the stage. But he ensures the audience also feel the same way, delivering a crowd-pleasing set which not only showcases his latest tunes such as synth-heavy opener Sensory Street, but re-energises several Smiths’ classics and reworks a couple of old favourites from Electronic, the band he formed in the late ‘80s with New Order’s Bernard Sumner. He doesn’t waste any time either, setting the tone early with second number Panic, which spreads a wave of anarchic joy around the room, a few jaws dropping in awe as they hear the Smiths classic in the flesh (nope, Rick Astley & Blossoms’ renditions don’t count, as entertaining as they were). 

As the night goes on Marr dips in and out of his albums, reflecting his recent ‘best of’ release Spirit Power, delving back to 2013’s debut The Messenger for the ballsy strut of Generate! Generate! and melancholic jangle of New Town Velocity before bringing us back to the present with latest offering Fever Dreams Pts 1 – 4’s invigorating opener Spirit Power and Soul. He introduces a newer song, Somewhere, and as the sideward sway towards the bar takes hold, he assures us we’ll be fine if we stick it out! 

Of course a Smiths track is never far away, This Charming Man sweeping the audience off their feet and the intimate yearnings of Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want stirring up goosebumps, the crowd a choir on this track which feels more poignant than ever. But the sweet-spot for me is undoubtedly the shameless Big Mouth Strikes Again, a fabulous sing-along ensuing. Electronic’s top ten hit Get The Message gets a reboot and wonderful reaction, and momentum keeps building as the set draws closer to the end, with 2018’s much-loved Hi Hello submerging the crowd in that melodic serenity Marr does so well. Some guy yells “Fuckin’ brilliant Johnny”, but it somehow gets even better as the hypnotic opening quivers of The Smiths classic How Soon Is Now fill the room, that unmistakable angst-laden slide guitar triggering memories of the criminally vulgar shyness which stalked so many of us during our teenager years. They say you can’t improve on perfection, but as an extended interlude embellishes the original, revving up the despair, this is a pretty good attempt, Marr blatantly showing off those nimble moves, just because he can. 

There’s no let up for the final two songs of the set, 2014’s Easy Money receiving a massive reaction from the crowd who clap their wee hands off, before Electronic’s Getting Away With it, the band’s first single, is given the full Marr treatment…and it’s pretty glorious, the disco ball strobes stalking the stage as every phone in the house appears to be floating in front of my eyes.

After another round of Johnny, Johnny (you know the rest) courtesy of the audience’s sweet intones, Marr and gang are back with a cover of Iggy Pop’s Passenger, which he smiles pretty much all the way through, ending the night with two Smiths numbers, You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby and of course the poetic perfection of There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, sung in whole by the audience, Marr chipping in now and again. The sheer joy on the faces of the fans as they sing their hearts out is actually quite moving, completely lost in the moment but at the same time being brought together, the song holding so much meaning, unique to each individual. It’s that light, that connection with music which no one can take away, no matter how old you get. And that’s what gigs like this are really all about.

Marr’s enthusiasm is contagious, and his appreciation clear to see throughout the night. There’s no aloofness, strops or shirt swinging, and although that can be quite entertaining, when you’ve got a guitar to parade around the stage like he does, there’s really no need. What can I say? Johnny, Johnny, Johnny fuckin’ marvellous!

Words: Shirley Mack @musingsbymarie
Pictures: Calum Mackintosh (Johnny Marr)  @ayecandyphotography
Stuart Westwood (Gaz Coombes) @stuart_westwood_photography