One of the greatest compliments I ever received was when a mate at university told me, “You look like a young Johnny Marr.” I really wanted to be considered cool and this was music to my ears. I was thrilled at the time. I still am. As someone with a huge love of music who simply can’t play an instrument, unless you count the bongos, if the closest I can get to one of my musical heroes is looking like him, then I’ll take it!
For those who don’t know, Johnny Marr was the guitarist and founder member of The Smiths, a legendary English band. And sadly for a lot of people, that’s where the story stops. But fans know that Marr then went on to be part of several other influential bands across the decades and as such, to a lot of us he’s an absolute legend.
‘Set The Boy Free’ is an absolutely fascinating read. From his early life and humble beginnings in the suburbs of Manchester, Johnny was always fascinated by guitars. And once he got his hands on one it was a relatively short time before he became responsible for some of the most memorable, iconic records ever produced. The Smiths changed lives and continued to change them long after their split.
Marr describes, sometimes in incredible detail, how some of the most amazing Smiths songs were written. And for him, it’s more than just coming up with words and adding some music. He makes the song writing process in The Smiths sound quite magical, giving as much credit to his guitars as to any of his own skills. The relationship between him and Morrissey sounds remarkably harmonious and the way they write some of the greatest pop of anyone’s lifetime is conveyed as being almost mystical. But then tensions set in and Marr makes the difficult decision to leave the band.
As a reader, this is where even more magic starts to happen. You forget how many great bands Johnny Marr has had a hand in. But we’re led through all chapters of his musical journey. And oh, what a journey! Let’s drop a few names to either jog your memories or give you a bit of a surprise – The Pretenders, The The, Electronic, Modest Mouse, The Healers, The Cribs. Marr’s contribution to music has been amazing. And it’s all here in the book.
And yet, Marr talks about his life as if nothing remarkable has happened. There is no ego whatsoever in the book. This is just the tale of a boy who fell in love with guitars and music and then went on to live his life around them. In many ways it’s like reading about some kind of dream and because of this it sends a message to people, young and old, everywhere – if you want something; go and get it! And while I realise that life isn’t that simple, well it’s nice to dream. But that said, Johnny Marr is proof positive that dreams do come true.
What a man and what a life! If you’re into your music this book will be very much for you. Get yourself a copy and enjoy a fantastic read! Even if I wasn’t a fan of The Smiths, Marr or any of the other bands featured, I’d recommend this. A fascinating insight into making music – I’d give ‘Set The Boy Free’…
5 Guitars…because everything musical is rated on the famous guitar scale, right?