LIVE REVIEW: Johnny Marr @ Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London

MELTDOWN FESTIVAL returns to London Southbank Centre 1
Image Credit: Niall Lea

Following an amazing kick-off to the Meltdown Festival by Nile Rodgers & CHIC, the “Good Times” rolled on with Johnny Marr with support from the Mystery Jets. At a first glance, the choice of Johnny Marr by the curator of Meltdown, Nile Rodgers is questionable; after all, there is seldom resemblance between The Smiths material and Johnny’s solo material to Nile Rodgers & CHIC. However, on a deeper level, both musically have a perchance for EDM. After all, Marr was a member of Electronic with Bernard Sumner (New Order). Before The Smiths, Marr formed a funk band, Freak Party with Andy Rourke with Simon Wolstencroft on drums. Furthermore, both artists love and admire each other on a personal level to such an extent that Johnny named his son after Nile.

Following a poignant warm up by Mystery Jets (with frontman Blaine Harrison (wearing a “Choose NHS” T-shirt”) whose playout track, “Hospital Radio” celebrated the NHS and the “need to fight for it”; Johnny Marr was introduced by the festival curator, Nile Rodgers. The genuine love Rodgers felt for Marr who he has referred to Johnny as his “brother” positively rubbed off on the Festival Hall as Marr approached the stage. Like Rodgers (minus the shades and dreads), Marr had perfected the art of looking cool on stage whilst holding the guitar.

After impressing with The Queen is Dead inspired opener “The Tracers” taken from Johnny’s 2018 LP, Call the Comet; Marr immediately began playing The Smiths classic “Bigmouth Strikes Again”. What difference does nostalgia make? The answer is a significant amount. Just as Nile Rodgers & CHIC got the audience to stand and not sit down with opener “CHIC Cheer”; the Southbank was galvanised and would not return to their seats for the remainder of the evening. Marr continued to receive the same level of momentum as he played new synth inspired song “Armatopia” as well as “Day in Day Out”, “New Dominoes” and “Hi Hello” tracks off his latest LP before unexpectedly unleashing another The Smiths classic “You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby”.

Whilst Marr continued to plug new material from Call the Comet, he also used his Meltdown performance to celebrate his entire career as a musician by playing “Getting Away with It” and “Get the Message” from when he was in Electronic with Bernard Sumner. The next The Smiths song Marr performed felt extra melancholy as Johnny brought out his son Nile on guitar who was a welcome addition to Marr’s already four-piece band to play “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want”. Whilst Nile is definitely the spitting image of his father, Nile’s androgynous style of bright blond hair and large, bright red diamond earrings was closer to Richard Edwards (Manic Street Preachers) than Johnny’s. Nile also joined the band as Johnny took the Southbank back “to the disco Manchester style” by covering “Shack Up” by A Certain Ratio. Johnny sounded his closest to Nile Rodgers & CHIC as Marr perfected the funk guitar.

Meltdown was pleasantly indulged to a total of seven The Smiths songs. The adroitness of Marr’s jangle pop guitar reached a crescendo as he played “How Soon Is Now?” and whilst he with the band left the stage to call it a night; further excitement was created  as Johnny gave a cheeky wink whilst saying, “goodbye, see you all soon”; making it clear that this was an encore. Marr returned to play three more songs including “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me” and bringing son Nile back on stage to play out with “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out”.

Whilst it is fair to say that the material Marr played before his 2013 solo career received a more emotional reaction, this was not because his solo material has not been well received when released or well-received live; it was Marr’s ability to resurrect the whole band experience of his former musical projects that brought the nostalgia alive as opposed to fans halcyon memories. Marr’s ability to vocally mimic both Morrissey and Bernard Sumner alongside his sophisticated arpeggios that created his signature chiming guitar genius ensured his work from his past projects continued to remain immortal.

Xsnoize Author
Michael Barron 296 Articles
Michael first began writing whilst studying at university; reviewing the latest releases and live gigs. He has since contributed to the Fortean Times as well as other publications. Michael’s musical tastes vary from Indie to psychedelic, folk and dubstep.

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