I gotta cast my mind back to my early teens in order to remember probably the most formative gig of my life: Johnny Marr in Wolverhampton on his tour for The Messenger. No, The Messenger isn’t my favourite ever album, or even an album I listen to regularly, but this was Johnny Marr. The same Johnny Marr who brought the world the massive guitar riffs of This Charming Man and How Soon Is Now? The same Johnny Marr I had been looking up to my entire childhood, following the example of reverence my parents had set for me.
My dad always teased me that he got to see The Smiths for free before they had even released their first single, courtesy of a girl who went to the same chippy as them. Whilst this couldn’t measure up (I had paid and, obviously, this was not Marr’s first time at the rodeo) this was the best chance I had to hear my favourite songs played live to me. And although the crowd were happy to get down to tracks like Upstarts and Generate! Generate!, we were all there for the old hits – and Johnny Marr knew it.
I’ll never forget when he finally played There Is A Light That Never Goes Out. That’s what we were really waiting for. The gig as a whole had been a complete success: I had bruises on my legs, I had been elbowed out of the way (and elbowed back in) and my hair stunk of beer that had rained down on me during Bigmouth Strikes Again. But as soon as I heard that familiar opening twang, I knew this would be the very end of the encore and I never wanted it to stop.
Never in my young life did I believe I would be witness to Johnny Marr in the flesh, let alone did I think that I would be standing right there in front of him, in this small venue in my hometown, mere feet away. My teenage enthusiasm had built him into an idol, a God, to be worshipped – this song my prayer. And so I noticed that the rest of the congregation had too hushed in devotion, allowing the lessons of the master to rain down upon us like holy drops. I was crying, my parents were crying, my friend was crying, the incredibly tall man on the front row was sobbing and shouting the lyrics in a zealous trance
The song went on and on, the guitar solo lasted an eternity – but the shortest eternity anyone had ever known. Even now as I am writing this, listening to the song, all I can see is the figure of Johnny Marr, triumphantly standing before us as a man in complete command. Even without Morrissey’s haunting vocals, this song live is the most precious concert memory I possess. Decades after The Smiths’ heyday, their teenage fans now parents, their songs are still bringing them to tears. They’re bringing us to tears.
*Photo property of Native Monster