by Margaret Chrystall
TWO solo albums in, Johnny Marr, one of the legendary guitarists of the post-punk era, is apparently afraid of only one thing – resting on his laurels.
In the run up to the release of second solo album Playland, The Smiths former guitarist said: "Just to put your feet up and say ‘I’ve done it’, that’s probably the biggest temptation. But I’m definitely a working musician. I’ve never known any other life."
And since the 23-year-old Marr found himself in 1987 master of one of the most iconic guitar sounds of the late 80s but The Smiths behind him, he’s almost never stopped.
You can reel off the tests he has set himself since, the line-ups he has joined and a second career made as everyone’s dream troubleshooter.
Notable moments have included playing for short spells with Talking Heads and Kirsty MacColl before Johnny joined Matt Johnson’s The The for two albums. Later he formed Electronic – a line-up dubbed an "alternative supergroup"– with Bernard Sumner of New Order and the Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant and that chalked up hit single Getting Away With It and three albums. In 2002, Johnny formed his own band The Healers with ex-Kula Shaker bassist Alonza Bevan and Ringo Starr’s son, drummer Zak Starkey with album Boomslang out in 2003.
Slightly out of leftfield, Marr’s next move in 2007, was to join Washington band Modest Mouse, touring with them and featuring on album We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. And the touring-plus-one-album formula then extended into working with indie rockers The Cribs.
And did we mention the movie soundtrack collaborations on Inception with film composer Hans Zimmer and Spiderman 2?
But then it was time for his own music, first album The Messenger, then last autumn, Playland.
Debut The Messenger earned great reviews – almost every one delighted to find that The Smiths guitar legend continued to move on.
In the run-up to Playland’s release, Marr had been pictured in music magazine the NME tied to a cross made of Fender guitars, a crown, not of thorns, but guitar strings circling his head.
But he’s successfully shrugged off the dangers of being some guitar saint of yesteryear.
He once said: "You can’t compete with a myth. You just have to get over yourself and realise how lucky you are."
And having resisted the temptation to forever revert to the signature guitar sounds of his Smiths years, with Playland he talked about a new kind of writing, "outdoor music" ... "you’re looking outside rather than looking inside too much".
He’s a fierce critic of what he calls "weedy, mopey music".
And talking to the New Statesman in February, the guitarist was wary of the current idea that working-class bands are being squeezed out by rich kids, pointing out that working-class credentials have always been something of a romantic notion and that it’s reverse snobbery to say that not being impoverished means you can’t be authentic because you haven’t "paid your dues".
But he’s angry for young bands who now have to face pay-to-play venues, effectively be self-employed to fund following their music dream, now unlikely to be cushioned while their talents develop by supportive big record labels.
But the 51-year-old said: "When things are more difficult, you need to be more commited, which tends to sort out the artists who are in it because they really love it and need to express themselves from the ones who just fancy being in a band ... But I do believe there will always be young people who want to be in bands and that there’s no substitute for what a band is and can do."
This October, NME’s Godlike Genius award winner is putting his money where his mouth is, taking young Manchester band Man Made featuring his son Nile out as tour support – and getting back out there to express himself 13 more times.
Johnny Marr with support Man Made play the Ironworks, Inverness, on Tuesday, October 13.