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Johnny Marr & The Healers: Slanging Match.

3 February 2003 | 1:00 am | Mike Gee
Originally Appeared In

Marr Needs Guitars.

Johnny Marr & The Healers play the Brisbane Entertainment Centre on February 8 and 9.

Johnny Marr has an eye for life and for people, yet until now it is his ear for music that has made him a legend at a youthful 39. Co-founder of the Smiths in late 1982 with poet of doom and despair, Morrissey, and the yin to his yang, it is Marr's music that buoyed Morrissey's moroseness and made the band such a striking imbroglio. Of course, it couldn't last - such unions of brilliance repel as much as they attract - and the band had already split by the time its opus Strangeways Here We Come was released in 1987. Morrissey murmured on pursuing a solo career marked by a handful of albums considered god-like in their incandescent genius by his devoted fans and most of the UK music press and rather self-indulgent and yawn inducing by those who thought he - frankly - sucked.

Marr on the other hand... Since 1988 he's played on albums by Bryan Ferry, Talking Heads, Kirsty MacColl (he wrote the insouciant Walking Down Madison), The Pretenders, The The, Oasis and Beck, hooked up with his mate Neil Finn for the latter's supergroup-around-the-world shows in 2001, and most recently co-wrote Concrete Sky for Beth Orton's wonderful Daybreaker disc, and played on fellow Finn-supergrouper Lisa Germano's forthcoming album. He also joined New Order for some of their excellent 2001 reunion gigs. Of course, he was a co-founder of Electronic with New Order's Bernard Sumner. As a guitarist he's been namechecked by the alumni of Brit rock - Radiohead, Blur, Oasis, Suede, and The Stone Roses - and a brace from the other side of the Atlantic as well, particularly Elliot Smith and the equally legendary Pixies.

Now he has his own trio. The Healers, featuring The Who's current drummer and son of Ringo (Starr), Zak Starkey, and Kula Shaker's former bassist and pianist Alonsa Bevan. Their debut album, Boomslang, is absolutely smashing, one of albums of the year already. It's a great rock record at a time when there's a lot of 'New Rock' records but few great ones. In its own way a personal history of rock's past 20 or 30 years

Delightfully, he understates, "Yeah, I wanted to do something with a bit of energy in it. It might have sounded a bit different if I'd finished it when I first intended to but I think it was worth going away from and coming back to because it I let things come out in a natural way with no restrictions whereas earlier I was probably more hell-bent on doing something I hadn't done before. I'm glad it has those obvious bits of me that people can hear immediately.”

"My own influences just came out. A lot of them are like snapshots of things that influenced my playing when I was growing up – everything from the Patti Smith Group and British glam rock to The Smiths, Electronic and The The.”

"The whole album is about state of mind. I'm interested in some slightly skewed states of mind and that's something I strive for in my personal life. I think the function of a pop or rock song is transcendence. I'm interested in the idea that humans always need transcendence whether it be through substances or alcohol or religion or sex or prayer. I think there's definitely a connection there when a song hits you, really hits. Your state of mind just before you heard the opening bars of the music changes quite dramatically. Whatever problems you have with your partner or your boss or bank are forgotten for those four-and-a-half minutes. Music is a powerful medium for that, certainly more direct than sitting through a movie for two hours of whatever. I'm a curious though about this basic human need to distract the mind. It's ultimately very healthy and should be encouraged as long as isn't destructive.”

"I'm not into preaching or going on all night about it but I'm trying to make sure I'm doing something positive with my own life and not get dragged down by all the stuff - the mass media and so on - that's put out and distracts us. So the album's got a fair bit of that running through it. I tried with all the lyrics to ensure that I was writing about was something that if people delve deep enough into it they could generally relate to. I didn't want to write about rock star neurosis." He chuckles. "That'll come on the third album."

Marr has certainly seen enough over the years of human kind at its various extremes, and everything between.

"That's nicely put. I'm fairly philosophical about the journey I've been on so far. Hopefully, it will continue and I can learn some new things. The decision to sing and write the words came as a surprise to me as it was made by the band. I wrote with the intention of having another person sing them, preferably an unknown singer because I felt I'd done as much as I could with distinctive known voices.”