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06 February 2022

Johnny Marr Talks Playing Smiths Songs, Influences And More

Johnny Marr
Andy Cotterill/BMG
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Johnny Marr has spoken about his ongoing relationship with The Smiths‘ material, a potential acting career and his biggest influences in a new Q&A with The Observer.

When asked whether he feels as if he’s taking ownership of The Smiths’ songs by playing them live Marr reacted: “I’ve been asked about claiming the Smiths songs quite a lot before and I’m not doing that. Because I’m a musician, I’m thinking about joy and about giving people that I like something they love. I feel like their sort of leader, conducting everybody. Of course I’m aware that there’s a lot of different meanings going on for people, and I experience this huge wave of elation, there’s no doubt about it. After just a few seconds, I’m just joining along with everybody else really. It’s no deeper than that. But I don’t think I need to claim anything, because I wrote them.”

The actress Maxine Peake asked Johnny if he’d ever considered acting and, if so, which medium he would prefer, to which he answered: “Do you know what, Maxine? Telly or film, I’m not fussy. I’d like to play a menacing, villainous eastern European gangster or a drug dealer. One or the other, as long as it’s not a fucking musician from Manchester in the 80s. That’s about the depth of my range. Or if Robert Downey Jr decides to retire I’ll just take his gig – got the same haircut.”

And when asked by Lottie Pendlebury of Goat Girl for his biggest influences, Marr responded: “The biggest influence on me would have to be Bert Jansch. When I was about 14, a friend of mine told me he’d got into this folk group called Pentangle. And I immediately thought: ‘Well, OK, I don’t need to know any more about that.’ Anyway, when I was round at his house, he played me Basket Of Light by Pentangle. And I couldn’t believe what I heard, especially from the guitar: it was jazzy, it was bluesy and kind of funky, it went off all over the place. I could see straight away that there are people who are influenced by Bert Jansch that don’t even know it. Anyone who got into Nick Drake – totally into Bert. Anyone who got into Led Zeppelin’s acoustic stuff, Neil Young, Donovan, therefore the Beatles. No Bert Jansch, no Back to the Old House, no Unhappy Birthday, even my electric stuff. So it runs all the way through what I was doing in the Smiths. All roads lead back to Bert Jansch.

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