Johnny Marr was born in Ardwick in a Victorian dwelling not dissimilar to my own. Blocked in by dye works and engineering works, timber yards and iron foundries, the Ardwick of the Avis Bunnage era was an area of seasoned street fighters such as the Little Forty Gang, whose dapper style was well known when there was nothing nice to rest the eye on. Johnny was also of Irish parents, who would eventually inch their way south of the city center (for north is not the road that anyone ever travels). In 1982, Johnny appears at Kings Road immaculately be-quiffed and almost carried away by his own zest to make meaningful music. He reminds me of Tom Bell in Payroll, an early 1960s film set in Newcastle yet minus one single Geordie accent. Johnny despairs of things as they are and wants to change them, even if, beneath the grit and growl, his favorite group of all-time is Pentangle.
‘We’ve met before, y’know,’ he says, ‘I’m glad you don’t remember.’
Ooh, but I do.
It had been in the foyer of the Ardwick Apollo, where Patti Smith had displayed her radiant stallions gradually lapping into seahorses nervousness. I stood in conversation with Philip Towman (another Wythenshawe musicologist), when Johnny first shoved his face in, and he said, ‘You’ve got a funny voice.’ The comment contained an oblique confession, which said: you don’t talk as shockingly bad as I do. In fact, Johnny later confessed that prior to meeting me he had pronounced the word ‘guitar’ without the t, so Ardwick-mangled the parlance. I couldn’t imagine how this would be possible, or how he could be understood. I am shaken when I hear Johnny play guitar, because he is quite obviously gifted and almost unnaturally multi-talented. Since he shows an exact perspective on all things, I can’t help but wonder: What is he doing here with me? Formulating writing systems and mapping out how best to blend our dual natures – here, against the hiss of the paraffin lamp, and me wrapped in the sanctity of an enormous overcoat acquired in a Denver charity shop for $5. Why has Johnny not already sprayed his mark – elsewhere, with others less scarred and less complicated than I am? It seemed to me that Johnny had enough spark and determination to push his way in amongst Manchester’s headhunters – yet here he was, with someone whose natural bearing discouraged openness. Stranger still, we get on very well. It is a matter of finding yourself in possession of the one vital facet that the other lacks, but needs.