Johnny Marr is the latest in a series of musical icons to perform for BBC Radio 2’s Piano Room sessions. The one-time Smiths guitarist entertained a select audience at the BBC’s Maida Vale studios on Wednesday Feb 7 with a 25-minute set that included a new reworking with the BBC Concert Orchestra of his 2023 single “Somewhere” from most recent album Spirit Power.
Marr described the orchestral reworking as: “A completely different version from the record, and it wouldn’t have happened had we not been doing it in this kind of scenario. It’s an interesting process for me as a musician, I’m still learning, and working with good people is always good for you. It’s nice to mix stuff up and see what everybody else brings to it.”
Watch the performance below. Readers in the UK can watch Marr’s entire set on the BBC iPlayer or listen on BBC Sounds.
The session was hosted by Radio 2 DJ Vernon Kay, who recently told Q of his love for fellow Mancunian legends The Stone Roses. During the set, Marr also talked about the Smiths, a time he described as “special”.
“In the Smiths days we did feel very different,” he said. “And when you’re a young band you should feel like you’re different. You just believe in yourself. Also, at that time our audience really elevated us – there was a whole sort of ‘wave’. It wasn’t just that we had records in the charts; our gigs were very exuberant affairs and there was a good relationship between us and the audience. So they fueled us and we gave it back. That’s a special thing.”
He also revealed that he sought the advice of none other than Sir Paul McCartney following the break-up of The Smiths in 1987.
“I was only 24 years of age, so it was a bit of a big moment,” he said. “And I thought if anyone can impart some wisdom on a band breaking up, it’s this man. So I explained what I’d just been through and he just said to me: ‘That’s bands for you’. Pithy. But I quite liked that, I thought that’s a good way of dealing with it – that’s bands for you. So that was Paul McCartney’s sage-like advice.”
The Maid Vale set included a cover of “The Passenger” by Iggy Pop, a song Marr described as “very dear to me when I was in my teens”.
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He has previously spoken about the influence Raw Power, Iggy Pop’s 1973 album with The Stooges, had on him as a budding guitarist, telling Spin in 2012:
“What first struck me about Raw Power was a beautiful darkness to it. A sophistication almost. It delivered exactly what was on the cover: other-worldly druggy rock’n’roll, sex, violence, but strangely beautiful somehow. From then on, I just climbed into a world with that record.
“I spent an entire winter playing guitar along with the album in my bedroom, in the dark, orange streetlights coming through the windows, when I was sixteen. Its influence came out on the Smiths album The Queen is Dead.”
Marr’s most recent studio LP, 2022’s Fever Dreams Pts 1-4, reached No. 4 in the U.K. charts. Last year’s Spirit Power: The Best of Johnny Marr peaked at No. 7 and in October 2023 he released the highly-acclaimed book Marr’s Guitars.
He is also preparing for a tour of the UK and Ireland that kicks off in Newcastle on April 2 and concludes in Kirkham, Lancashire on July 7, and was recently announced to play this year’s Isle of Wight festival at Seaclose Park in Newport between June 20 and June 23, alongside Suede, the Pretenders, the Prodigy, Pet Shop Boys and Green Day.
He told Kay: “Because we put the best of out just before last year I was reminded of some of the songs from the last few albums that we haven’t done for a while, so we’ll revisit some of those. And then we’ve got the new single that’s just out now called ‘The Answer’, which is a real banger live, which I’m excited about.”