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An Evening with Johnny Marr – Islington Assembly Hall, London, 17/10/2023

This year has been a busy one for Manchester legend, Johnny Marr – not only has it seen him embark on a tour of festivals and independent venues across the UK, but it’s seen the release of his second book. Titled Marr’s Guitars, the book takes a completely different format to his 2016 memoir Set the Boy Free – a true work of art, the book offers a photographic presentation of the guitars that have defined Johnny’s distinct sound and style throughout his triumphant career.

To celebrate the release, Johnny was interviewed by The Guardian’s John Harris at Islington’s Assembly Hall. Most interview set ups just see a couple of chairs onstage, but this one was particularly special as to every attendees delight, a small collection of Johnny’s guitars took pride of place onstage – including his Comet Sparkle Fender Johnny Marr Signature Jaguar, Rickenbacker 330 and green sunburst Fender Telecaster.

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Tracing Johnny’s career from his teenage years to his recent work, the book showcases the most significant of Johnny’s superb collection of electric and acoustic guitars. Renowned photographer Pat Graham presents each instrument as a full portrait, supported by micro shots. Multiple shots of Pat’s were displayed on the backdrop throughout the interview, enabling Johnny to offer commentary on the guitars origin, what tracks/albums he used it on and even shows where the guitar was played.

It’s rare to see Johnny without a guitar and the six that joined him on onstage weren’t just there to look pretty, he regularly picked them up as he spoke about them and even treated the crowd to some familiar riffs – from those that helped elevate The Smiths to be one of the most influential and important British bands of all time, to those from his time in Modest Mouse. It wasn’t just riffs that he’d written that Johnny played either – after telling the story of Bernard Sumner borrowing his Les Paul to record ‘Regret’, he stirred excitement by diving into the popular New Order track, and when chatting about his time in The Pretenders, he impressed with a snippet of the iconic ‘Brass in Pocket’. Though a particular highlight of the evening came when Johnny played the title song from the latest James Bond film No Time To Die, which he worked with Hans Zimmer, Billie Eilish and FINNEAS on.

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During the interview, Johnny described most guitar books to resemble a catalogue – and he certainly succeeded in creating an idiosyncratic guitar book that didn’t follow that format. Though Johnny’s personal reflections and insights take great responsibility when it comes to Marr’s Guitars being a fascinating read, Pat Graham’s photos also play a huge part in ensuring that it’s a unique body of work. Johnny chatted in great detail about collaborating with Pat, praising his skill of highlighting the specific details that make each one of his guitars unique.

Before the extensive interview came to an end, the houselights were turned on and the microphone was passed around the crowd, giving fans a rare opportunity to ask Johnny any burning questions that were on their mind – from whether he takes a guitar on holiday (always) to if Hans Zimmer calls the shots when the pair collaborate together, with the latter seeing Johnny take some time to chat about his experience recording soundtracks with Hans – revealing that when they first started working together, the famous composer told him that he was being too respectful and to be himself. Every answer oozed with not just Johnny’s enthusiasm, but his passion for what he does and his eternal gratitude to his family, friends and fans.

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Guitars are the obsession of Johnny’s life – they’ve been a mission and sometimes a lifeline. When comparing the creative process behind his two books, he disclosed that he felt more emotional writing Marr’s Guitars then he did writing Set the Boy Free, due to the emotions that his guitars evoked. You may think that the book was made purely for those who share Johnny’s obsession, but that’s not the case at all and it has something for everyone – from guitar nerds to novices. If you can catch Johnny on one of his talks, we highly recommend that you do. If you can’t, then make sure that you grab a copy of Marr’s Guitars – you won’t regret it.

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Marr’s Guitars is out now via Thames & Hudson. You can order it here.

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God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.