Review: Johnny Marr performs a magical, reimagined set for first rock show at Aviva Studios

"God willing this place will be here for generations and generations"

By Natalie Rees | 8 December 2023

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Credit: Riaz Gomez

When it comes to homegrown talent, it doesn’t get much more iconic than the legend that is Johnny Marr. One of Manchester’s most-talented sons, so often those who followed in his footsteps have cited the masterful guitarist as inspiration. Marr even gifted an impressionable, pre-Oasis Noel Gallagher his 1960 Gibson Les Paul.

Whilst he is, of course, best known for being responsible for his era-defining tunes with The Smiths – This Charming Man, How Soon Is Now, Hand In Glove, the list is lengthy and illustrious – the iconic guitarist has enjoyed a glistening solo career since he and one Steven Patrick Morrissey went their separate ways. He has been a member of The The, Modest Mouse, Electronic, The Pretenders and The Cribs.

Credit: Riaz Gomez

So it seems fitting for him to be the first to play a gig on stage at Manchester’s brand-new creative venue Factory International. Joining classical musicians from across Manchester, Marr will give a very special performance of some of his incredible discography with a full orchestra for two-nights only (opening night being last night).

Taking place in the Warehouse space at Factory International’s Aviva Studios, the high ceilings and grandeur of the building match up to the magic of what’s to come.

Credit: Riaz Gomez

“As a Manchester boy, to be invited to be the first rock show here is really super. God willing this place will be here for generations and generations, hundreds of years,” he told an enraptured hometown crowd before launching into 2019’s Armatopia.

Marr’s artistry (alongside his son Nile who joined him on stage) is magical enough, but the addition of the classical instrument instrumentation made Smiths anthems like Panic and How Soon Is Now even more enchanting. 

Solo upbeat favourites Easy Money and Hi Hello precede a slower, relatively understated Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want, which encouraged a sing-a-long from the crowd and felt like a film score rather than a rock song.

As the Manchester crowd departed into the night, an image of Marr’s Smiths bandmate Andy Rourke, who died in May this year, appeared on the backdrop, an emotional tribute to a fallen brother.

The performance felt more like an experience to be a part of, rather than a gig. A show that will echo through years.