Johnny Marr - The Smiths and the Art of Gun-slinging
by Richard Carman, IMP

In the twenty odd years since the Smiths momentous and half accidental split, there have been thousands and thousands of pages written about the band, its oeuvre, its influence and its appeal to the lonely dwellers of bedsit land. All of these works, however, have concentrated on the role of front man, lyricist, and icon for a generation Morrissey; surprisingly this is the first book dedicated to Johnny Marr.

And what the author does is to make a convincing case for Marr to be considered an equal in the creative partnership that made "the best British band since The Beatles" what they were; "anyone making the mistake of seeing The Smiths as the product of the literary Morrissey and then artisan Marr, beware" as Carman puts it. He goes on to analyse how Marr's distinctive guitar playing played and also his sense of what the band should be and how it should function were central elements in making The Smiths the light that will never go out, a light that is guiding young bands even today (see The Dawn Parade and The Shills for two examples from close to home).

There's also a lot of biographical details on the history of the band, their short but shiny career and how it came to an end. The other fifty percent of the book deals with Marr's projects since the split, some of which (such as his work with The The) actually lasted longer than his association with Morrissey. A lot of this is interesting and enlightening stuff, such as details of his work with Electronic (who, he says, exorcised The Smiths 'one hundred per cent'), Kirsty MacColl and Billy Bragg, but I did find my attention slipping during the accounts of his sessions with less influential and interesting artists - this information for true fans only I think!

For, despite being of the right generation for it, I have never been a Smiths fan and in fact prided myself on never having bought a Smiths record. The real success of this book is that, despite the constant and annoying comparisons drawn between The Smiths and The Beatles, it made me want to investigate the appeal of this band so long lionised by misfits and loners, and here I am, twenty years too late, wallowing in "Panic" and "Reel Around the Fountain".

And any book that makes the sceptical intrigued enough to investigate its subject matter, has to be classed as a success.

Rosey R*E*P*E*A*T