REVIEW: Johnny Marr @ Institute, Sat Mar 16th

Johnny Marr in concert at The Institute - Birmingham

Words by Matthew Osborne / Pics by Katja Ogrin

Poor old Johnny Marr, doomed to always live in the shadow of a much more popular and venerated member of the Smiths.

We would do well to remember that both he and Morrissey were the creative forces behind the Smiths, and bitterly fought law suits will always be there to remind us, lest we forget.

Like Mozza, Marr is still idolised by a certain demographic, and around the Institute before the show begins, I swear I walk past him two or three times; each ‘sighting’ turning out to be just another retro dressing mod with Noel Gallagher’s haircut. As one of the Godfathers of the Madchester scene, Johnny’s following are clearly identifiable at fifty paces.

The real Johnny Marr takes to the stage looking like many of the audience. He does his best to liven up some of the fairly pedestrian tracks from his first solo album with a number of awkward and jagged stage moves plucked from a repertoire which included air kicks, pointing, and showing the audience his guitar.

He reminds me of the boy who Jack Black recruits as his guitarist in School of Rock, and then educates to embody all of the biggest guitar show offs in the history of rock and roll.Johnny Marr in concert at The Institute - Birmingham

Johnny Marr, however, is rock and roll history; and never is that clearer than when, from in amongst a set consisting mainly of the middle of the road tracks plucked from The Messenger, a familiar guitar lick rings out from Marr’s trademark Rickenbacker, and we are treated to ‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before’, ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’, ‘How Soon Is Now’ or anthemic set closer (and best moment of the evening) ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ – all of which, let’s not forget, he is responsible for in varying percentages.

The crowd welcomes these tunes with such enthusiasm that I can’t help but feel sorry for Johnny, destined always to live in the shadow of his former glory but too far gone to ever be able to do anything else (plumbing, dentistry etc).

Johnny Marr in concert at The Institute - Birmingham

And Marr is not a natural front man, mainly because his voice is not powerful enough to be heard clearly above the roar of the guitars. He has historically teamed up with lead singers whose voices are unmistakable  powerful in their uniqueness; whether that be Morrissey, Isaac Brock (Modest Mouse), David Byrne (Talking Heads) or Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders).

After so many successful years providing spectacular guitar two steps to the left of the limelight, it is strange that Marr waited until now to make it on his own. With such a remarkable CV his influence and abilities are unquestionable, but the point of his first unremarkable solo album is.

Whatever the reason, it’s nice that we have an opportunity to celebrate a man who’s lived in the shadow of some notable characters; Marr deserves the adoration that the audience bestow upon him. His band keep the songs tight, allowing him to strut around the stage like he owns the place, and this is what the crowd have come to see.

However, after the hero worshiping hysteria dies down and the buzz of seeing a live rock band dissipates, I wander how many will remember the non-Smiths songs that are played tonight.

Johnny Marr in concert at The Institute - Birmingham

Perhaps for a short while, but ask them again in a couple of years time..?

For more on Johnny Marr, including digital downloads of ‘The Messenger’, visit

For further events at the Institute, visit