John Harris

Journalist & Author

Johnny Marr: A lot of people are afraid

With the Smiths Johnny Marr blazed a trail for music with a political conscience. Now a successful solo artist, he still thinks its a musicians job to ask awkward questions. But why is he such a lone voice?

When the definitive history of David Camerons time in office appears something which may happen rather sooner than he would like a few paragraphs will surely be devoted to his self-professed love of the Smiths. The prime minister has quoted their song titles in the House of Commons, chosen their 1983 hit This Charming Man on Desert Island Discs, and even made a point of visiting the location of the photograph printed on the sleeve of their album The Queen Is Dead and all with little apparent sense of the awful inappropriateness of it all. Who knows? When he takes the podium at next weeks Tory conference he may try something similar again: it would be nice to hear a reference to I Know Its Over (1986), though one fears the atmosphere will be more suggestive of the 1987 stomper A Rush and a Push and The Land Is Ours.

This was a band, let us not forget, who embodied no, led the left-leaning 1980s counterculture that set itself against everything the Conservative party stood for, then and now. To play any of their songs is to be reminded not just of the chilly, polarised tenor of those times, but the absurdity of anyone with Tory inclinations finding something to latch on to. That point was curtly made in December 2010, when Johnny Marr the bands former guitarist and co-songwriter took to Twitter to demand that the prime minister should shut up. Stop saying that you like the Smiths, no you dont, he declared. I forbid you to like it.

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