Jade is the Liverpool Echo's music writer. She writes the music guide in every Friday's Echo and also contributes to the Liverpool Post's music coverage.
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Interview with Johnny Marr, Liverpool Echo
IT was a gig that was to go down in Liverpool’s musical history. Tony Wilson had organised for The Smiths, New Order, The Fall and John Cooper Clark to play at The Royal Court as a show of support for the 49 sacked Labour councillors who were facing an expensive legal battle.
The gig, christened With Love from Manchester, was an instant sell-out and lives on in the city’s musical memory – and in that of former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr.
“That was a great night, and what a landmark venue. That was like a hundred years ago but that night really sticks in my memory.
“Thinking about it, I’ve played a lot of gigs in Liverpool over the years. Lots of my friends live there and I like to visit once in a while.
“I’ve played there with The Cribs and Modest Mouse in the last few years. That Modest Mouse gig was interesting. It was a really cold Sunday night but it felt like both us and the crowd were really enjoying something.
“Playing Liverpool is different from other cities. When you’re from Manchester you’re neighbours and you know a lot of people who are going to be there.
“So many bands came out of there that I like. It’s one of those cities that has a strong heritage and so you feel like you have to be at the top of your game.”
Johnny didn’t get the chance to go to Eric’s, but he was listening to the artists its post punk scene produced.
“I was the next generation so I missed out on all that, but I remember a lot of good records coming out of that scene – the early Big in Japan, Teardrop Explodes and Echo and the Bunnymen songs were great. There was a lot of music that we listened to coming out of Liverpool at that point,” he says.
Johnny will be back in Liverpool to play the 02 Academy next month. It’s part of his tour to promote his debut solo album, The Messenger.
“It’s late in the day to be making my debut album,” he says. “But it feels like early days again, which people might be surprised to hear. That’s one of the advantages of making your first record under your own name after having made so many with other people, it’s all fresh again.”
He’s not wrong about making so many albums with other people – after The Smiths disbanded in 1987 he joined Pretenders and The The, and formed Electronic with New Order’s Bernard Sumner.
Then he turned producer with the likes of early Noughties hopefuls Haven, formed his band Johnny Marr + The Healers, teamed up with Crowded House’s Neil Finn (with whom he played a guest spot at the ECHO arena in 2008), and then become a fully fledged member of American indie stars Modest Mouse and Wakefield’s finest The Cribs. But now he’s decided to go it alone.
“I just reached a point where I didn’t want to be in another band – or someone else’s band – anymore,” he explains.
“The ideas for the record started to haunt me, in a good way. I’m always led by my musical hunches, that then become strong ideas and concepts that sometimes lead to being in someone else’s band, but this time led to my own songs.”
He says he never had the inclination to make a solo album before. The Messenger is a result of working with so many others and drawing different things from each of them.
“It was important for me to come back home to make the record,” he explains. “Yes I could have done it in California and it would have had that laid-back sunny feel. But I wanted a bit of rain in there. I think that music takes on the sound of its environment. This record was about me growing up in Manchester, about charting that progress almost. It’s not about nostalgia – I’m not interested in that – it was about that certain attitude that you only find in the north west of England.
“I wanted the tempo to be up and the songs to be punchy. They came quick and thick and fast. I’d written 27 or 28 songs quite fast. I suppose I had a lot I wanted to say.
“I wanted it to sound as good at 8 o’clock on a Tuesday morning. Anyone can write something that sounds good at 8.30 on a Saturday night when you’re getting ready to go out. But this was about making something that would sound good to someone listening to it on the bus on the way to school or on the radio at 2 o’clock in the afternoon.”
Johnny has realised that with each project he was involved in, he had his found new fans.
“When I played with Modest Mouse there were fans there who had come to see me and other fans who just liked Modest Mouse. I think that some of the Modest Mouse fans started to follow me and vice versa. It was the same with The Cribs.”
The result is that he has fans of all ages, and that’s something he’s keen to develop.
“I’d like to do some all ages shows,” he says. “It’s a shame that people are stopped from going to see music because of their age.
“I remember when I was growing up and all we wanted to do was go and see bands.
“It’s good to be reminded of what music can mean in people’s lives. For me at that age music was everything. It still is. That’s why I can never be blase about what I do.”
Johnny Marr plays the 02 Academy Liverpool on March 20. Tickets £19.50 from www.johnny-marr.com
BILL RYDER-JONES was just 13 when he became one sixth of psychedelic folk-rockers The Coral.
The band quickly attracted feverish attention from fans, critics and fellow musicians alike (Noel Gallagher regularly saluted Bill as one of his favourite guitarists and Graham Coxon is considered both friend and collaborator).
Alan Wills created the Deltasonic record label around them, and they were hailed as the saviours of guitar music.
But Bill left The Coral after their fifth studio album Roots & Echoes, on which his arrangements hinted at a deeper and spectacular compositional talent.
Last year the Wirral musician explored this side of his creative talent in full with the orchestral album If – a grand ‘imaginary soundtrack’ to Italo Calvino’s post modernist novel If On A Winters Night A Traveller.
Now he has completed his new album – A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart – which marries his masterful capacities as arranger and composer with his first firm steps as a singer- songwriter.
It was recorded in his old bedroom in the upstairs of his mum’s house. Two friends from local band By The Sea made up the backing band for the recordings, which were then produced and mixed together with James Ford.
Bill Ryder-Jones, photo by Matt Thomas
“The album is just a collection of things that have happened in my life. It's mainly about childhood I guess,” says Bill.
“The title refers to a feeling a sadness that everyone knows. It's nothing too profound, it just seemed to sum up the feeling of the record.”
He’ll be playing a show next Thursday in Liverpool, showcasing tracks from the new album.
“I’m hoping it’ll work well live, the band have been playing the songs for a good month now and it sounds pretty good,” he says. “I’m more concerned with how well my nerves will hold out having to perform again!
“We’ve got a pretty typical band set up, drums, bass etc. I'm not entirely sure how its going to pan out just yet. We'll have to play a good few shows until we know exactly the best way to go about things. It'll most likely be a mix of me forgetting the words to songs and apologising for the ticket prices.”
These will be Bill’s first solo shows since leaving the band.
“It's quite uncomfortable actually, all I’ve done for the last three years is write and think,” he laughs.
“It feels quite unnatural to be going through this process. I’m reading a fair bit and watching Boardwalk Empire and South Park.”
How will it differ from playing the Coral shows?
“Well these songs are my own, about my life and thoughts,” he says. “Sonically there's probably similarities though.”
What’s next for Bill?
“Next is do more shows and then hopefully make another record,” he says. “I've got a film score on the cards and also I’m hoping to produce records by By The Sea and Bird – though I’ve a feeling they're both going to pick picked up for deals this year so I may well be edged out by real producers on those records!”
Bill Ryder-Jones plays the Camp and Furnace on March 21. A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart is out on April 8. Pre-order it at www.dominorecordco.com /uk/albums