Johnny Marr, Nick Churchill's interview, 2009.

Nick has written The Beatles in Bournemouth and it's still available here.

I'm not sure why it was a surprise when Johnny Marr was co-opted by The Cribs in 2009 because it shouldn’t have been. Never one to let the grass grow too long, Johnny had been plying his trade with Modest Mouse and a host of other passing collaborators – a year or so earlier I’d found him quite by chance hanging out with Peter Buck when the REM guitarist passed him the phone mid-interview.

Gamely playing the willing interviewee ahead of The Cribs’ theatre tour in support of the still-breathtaking album Ignore the Ignorant, Johnny was in a happy, chatty mood, talking up the Jarman brothers’ increasingly valid contribution to contemporary music and playing down his own legacy – athough he still found time to call the record his best in 25 years. Only when I asked about a Smiths reunion did he lose his patience and who can blame him? He later had the good grace to acknowledge he could understand why I’d asked, just that he wished people wouldn’t. Fair enough. Anyway, top bloke Johnny Marr, one of the best.

If we get the heroes we deserve, we must have done something right to end up with Johnny Marr. I find the former Smiths guitarist in expansive, expressive mood as he prepares to go out on the road for the first time as a full-time member of The Cribs, the punky indie noise factory from Wakefield, fronted by twin brothers Ryan (guitar) and Gary (bass) Jarman, with younger brother Ross on drums. “What I like about them is they’re not insecure,” says Johnny, who’ll turn 46 a couple of weeks after The Cribs play Southampton Guildhall on October 7.
The age gap – Ryan and Gary turn 29 ten days before Johnny’s birthday; Ross is nearly 25 – doesn’t concern the members of the band.
“It doesn’t come up. You know, they’re not babies,” says Johnny.
“We all like the same songs, we like the same sneakers and we like the same guitars… they’re pretty ballsy and I like that about them.”
Having founded The Smiths in 1982, Marr forged a fruitful songwriting partnership with singer Morrissey until their acrimonious split in 1987.
Since then he has worked with a host of talented singers and writers including Matt Johnson’s The The, New Order’s Bernard Sumner in Electronic, Chrissie Hynde in The Pretenders, Beck, Black Grape, Billy Bragg, Talking Heads, Pet Shop Boys and Neil Finn of Crowded House.
But as Johnny speaks it’s immediately clear how much he’s genuinely excited about being in The Cribs.
“I liked their lyrics from when I first heard the band. I like the sound of two guitars as well.”
Crucially, the other three Cribs also conform to Johnny’s philosophy on good rock and roll haircuts – the fringe should always head south.
I had to ask – will The Smiths reform?
“Why do you have to ask that question? What do you think would happen if you didn’t ask that question? Nobody’s really that bothered, only journalists,” he bristles.
He’s been answering that question for more then 20 years now. The answer is always the same and, to his credit, Johnny is fairly gracious in dismissing the notion.
“No, it doesn’t annoy me, and it’s a shame there’s a cloud of negativity around that issue.
“But thinking about playing in that situation doesn’t get me excited, unlike playing what I’m playing now, which does.
“I can’t see it happening, because I don’t think it would be anything of value. If it were going to happen, it would have done so by now.”
The Smiths – like The Jam directly before them, and The Stone Roses immediately after – meant the world to a lot of people.
“A lot of this thing that goes on with bands re-forming is to give people another opportunity to relive a past they had, or think they had, or never had, and I’m just not into that,” adds Johnny, his irritation subsiding.
“The Cribs sound inspired, full of life and energy, and that’s what I’m into... I’m not into cabaret.”
For him, the thrill of music making remains the same today as when he first strapped on a guitar after hearing Metal Guru by T-Rex.
“It’s a lot of things, but the chemistry has to be right. I never used to like touring when I started, but I really like it now.
“I like standing in front of people with an amplifier behind me and helping people enjoy themselves.
“You know, nobody’s trying to reinvent their own wheels here, we’re just doing what we do instinctively.”

Nick Churchill

First printed Bournemouth Echo, 3 October 2009

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