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Call the Comet: Marr talks Macca

By the time of their split in 1987, The Smiths had produced such an exquisite canon of work — a coruscating catalogue of 74 songs laid down in five short years — that the NME named them the most influential band of all time, ahead of even The Beatles. 

And while the Marmitey Morrissey was the lyrical maestro, the Smiths’ legacy hangs on the extraordinary melodies produced by Marr, at once both haunting and jubilant but always memorable. 

His indelible place in rock folklore as assured as the records that inspired him (basically All The Young Dudes, Sparks and lots of T. Rex), Marr’s gone on to lend his guitar chops to everyone from Bryan Ferry to Talking Heads and the Pretenders to Pet Shop Boys, and even harmonica cameos on records by Girls Aloud and Everything But The Girl (though, The Dame he declined, curiously). 

Specifying on the only requirements needed for him to work with an artist, Marr told the Huffington Post in 2016, “I’ve been consistent, always wanting to make music with all kinds of different people. My music decisions have always made sense to me. Also, sometimes it’s good fun to get up the noses of the indie militia.”

While Marr’s scattergun approach reads like the most erratic CV as festival line-up in history — his willingness to take on projects he believes in should be commended. It’s this same openness that has allowed him to maintain relevance for 40-years and not become a relic of the past.

Now a solo artist who’s just released his third studio album, Call The Comet, the Mancunian musician sat down with David Prior of his local newspaper, Altrincham Today, for a chat about another “good long eight-or-nine-hour”collaboration — i.e. the time he tried to bury The Smiths’ split by jamming good with Linda and Macca.

AT: What do you remember about your session with Paul McCartney?

JM: Playing with Paul McCartney was, as anyone might imagine, an amazing thing. But it started off in the most incredible way because I was in my kitchen in Marlborough Road as the news broke on the radio that The Smiths had split up officially, which as you can imagine was a lot for me to process and I felt ‘uh-oh’, the shit’s really going to hit the fan now. And maybe 15 minutes later, the phone goes and it’s Paul McCartney’s manager asking if I’d be interested in going down to play with him. 

So as getaways go, it was a pretty good one, because for 15 minutes I was standing there thinking I was probably going to have to go back to working in the Co-op in the Civic Centre… and by the way I was OK with that because I’d made the decision with that in mind. I’m not an idiot, when I decided to get out of the band, I looked at all the options and a big option was that my working life was going to go down or backwards, certainly I didn’t expect to stay where I was. And that’s the honest truth.

But I was prepared to jump into the void, which I know sounds very dramatic, but it was a dramatic thing I was facing. So I had that sense of worry and complete panic and then 15 minutes later I get a phone call from Paul McCartney. I can honestly say I was not expecting that to happen. I thought I was going to have to sell my house. So right from the off that was an amazing story. A few days later I found my self sat in a rehearsal room and Paul and Linda walk in and we started rehearsing in the way I’d been rehearsing with every other band I’d been in from being a kid.

Standing around, smoking cigs, drinking coffee, talking, doing a few songs, but it just so happens that I was doing I Saw Her Standing There and Things We Said Today and a lot of the old rock and roll songs that The Beatles did, with this incredible musician playing an amazing bass guitar singing these incredible songs. 

Linda was so great to me. I was in a very precarious position at the time and I wasn’t standing there feeling cocky by any means, I was feeling very very much like a young kid from South Manchester. And then things just started to roll for me. 

But I was more nervous about meeting Dennis Tueart than I was Paul McCartney!

Edited by Steve Pafford

Call The Comet was released on New Voodoo Records on June 15

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