Johnny Marr

There have been two occasions when I have been really excited at the news of an upcoming tour by a musical group or artist.

The first was in 1991. I was in a hotel in Christchurch, watching the late news, probably “Nightline”. In the wacky zany bit, they announced that De La Soul were coming to New Zealand and would be playing a concert in Auckland. I was so excited that I started jumping on my bed, and my brother told me to stop acting like a dick and calm down. I saw De La Soul live at the Auckland Town Hall and it was a really fun concert.

The second time I got excited was ten years later. I’d heard that Neil Finn was going to be playing a series of concerts in Auckland with special guests Eddie Vedder, Ed O’Brien and Phil Selway from Radiohead, Lisa Germano and Sebastian Steinberg. This did not excite me. Then I saw an article saying that one more person would be joining Mr Finn, Johnny Marr.

Johnny Marr.

John Martin Maher.


I squealed aloud with delight, and I don’t often squeal. The next day I went out and bought a ticket for the Friday night performance.

I’m a Smiths fan, but as well as the miserabilistic warblings of Morrissey, I equally respect and adore the guitar work of Johnny Marr. I used to put on Smiths records and just listen to the guitar in each track. As The Smiths broke up when I was about 12 years old, and it doesn’t look like a reunion will be likely, this was pretty damn exciting. Hence the squealing.

So I showed up to the St James theatre and took my place to the front right of the stage. The lights dimmed, Neil came on and played a few songs, then his band came on. I looked up, and there, standing less than three meters in front of me, was Johnny Marr. Wow.

Various songs were played. It was all fairly Marr-centric for me. I spent a lot of time watching him playing his red Gibson guitars, and the black and white electric ukulele. I can also note that he wear wearing black trousers, a patterned ’70s-style shirt and a denim jacket. He had a slightly rude-arse hair cut, but that’s not what we came for.

Things got exciting when Johnny Marr did lead vocals on one song. I don’t know what it was – I didn’t recognise it – but it had a good beat and I could dance to it.

I knew from my flatmate’s report (she saw the Monday show), and the review in the Herald that a Smiths song was covered, and indeed “There’s a Light That Never Goes Out” was played, with Neil on vocals. Johnny introduced it by asking, “is anyone depressed?” That was good. It’s such a beautiful song.

Eddie Vedder fronted Betchadupa for a few high-energy covers of some Split Enz songs. Even though my foot was hurting I jumped up and down. I feel rock. I feel no pain. Also, Mr Vedder has nice muscle tone and looks good with eyeliner on.

There were many more songs, and approximately 3953 encores. During one of them Johnny took to the microphone. His hand brushed against his guitar and I heard some echoey, reverby effects had been added. It sparked a feeling of familiarity, surely not…

He said he was going to play a song that he wrote a long time ago, but didn’t play much anymore, only on special occasions. Then he started playing and coming at me from the speaker stack just metres away was the echoey, reverby guitar of “How Soon Is Now.”

Involuntarily my jaw dropped. Do you know how cool this is? It is cool beyond words. It’s a bit like if you were in church and the vicar had just delivered a sermon, then he introduces Jesus to read some stuff from the bible. Like that, but better.

I’m searching for words to describe how incredibly excellent it was, but I think only the experience of being there could do it. Johnny Marr, less than three metres away from me playing “How Soon Is Now”! Neil Finn on vocals, Eddie Vedder noodling away on guitar up the back with Lisa Germano on violin. Then he played a bit on a harmonica in the middle of it and do believe I was lifted to a higher plane of consciousness.

It was a wonderful night, it was a truly wonderful experience. All thoughts of the Backstreet Boys disappeared and I was left with pure sonic ecstasy.

The pleasure and privilege was mine.

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