When Johnny Marr announced he would be playing at Hull’s Welly Club on a Wednesday night in July, indie folk young and old couldn’t believe their eyes and began scrambling to get tickets to see such a musical legend in such an intimate setting. To no one’s great surprise, tickets sold out in a matter of hours with many disappointed that they wouldn’t get to see their Mancunian hero in a small club on Beverley Road. But for those lucky few who did manged to bag themselves a ticket, they knew they were in for something special.
Having already seen the former Smiths man twice this month at Mad Cool Festival and Tramlines Festival, I was intrigued to see what a full headline set would bring. We were all expecting some solo singles and of course, some Smiths classics, but what else would Johnny pull out of the hat? As the band were about to take the stage, the room was packed. I was in a sold out Welly Club for the first time in a while and had forgotten just how little space there is in there compared to some of the larger venues Mr Marr can frequent. Arriving onstage to a hero’s welcome, the band raced into ‘The Tracers’ from new album,’ Call The Comet’ before blasting straight into The Smiths’ 1985 single, ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again.’ The sing a longs were loud and proud with gig goers young and old rejoicing in those fantastic words and incredible guitar lines. Not that someone of his musical stature would need any boost in confidence but a clear sign of how comfortable Johnny has become as a solo star was that of the first six songs of the set, five were his own, with 2018 single, ‘Hi Hello’ showing that he certainly hasn’t lost his song writing abilities.
One of the biggest songs of the night was with little surprise, ‘This Charming Man.’ The song that many fans will identify as some of Marr’s best writing was met with such love and it was clear to see that the love was mutual from the stage back to the crowd. As many fans will be fully aware, Johnny has been involved in an awful lot of musical projects throughout his career and he was able to show off more of his collaborative efforts by showcasing two Electronic singles, the band he formed with Bernard Sumner of Joy Division and New Order fame. Having not delved deep into their back catalogue, I was surprised to see just how many people knew these songs and it was a pleasant surprise to see them received so well. Another Smith’s classic ended the main set with ‘How Soon Is Now’ reminding everyone in the room of just how they felt in those lonely times in life that The Smiths managed to capture so beautifully.
Returning for the encore, Johnny declared how, ‘This reminds me of the old days’ before transitioning into the short but amazing, ‘Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want.’ Looking around the room during the song, it was clear just how much these songs mean to people. Grown men with their eyes closed, singing every word showed that despite how their lives might be now compared to previous years, the songs still speak to them in the same way and how that emotional connection is just as strong. Johnny’s son Nile (who had supported the band tonight) then joined the band for the last few songs and with both of them wielding the same Fender Jaguar style guitars they treated the crowd to fellow Manchester band, A Certain Ratio’s ‘Shack Up.’ The night was to end in the same way it had the previous two times I had seen him this month but on this occasion it felt so much more special. ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ is a song that has been written about thousands of times, been sung at weddings, funerals, festivals and all the like and why wouldn’t people want to wrap their lungs around that amazing melody and those fantastic words. On a mid-week trip to Beverley Road, who would have thought that singing a song about death surrounded by hundreds of other like-minded people could feel so good.
Words by Joe Bryant