Johnny Marr + The Charlatans – Live Review – Scarborough Open Air Theatre

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By Victoria Holdsworth, July 204

As the sun decides whether to come out or not in Scarborough, the stage is lit and ready for one of the best double-headliner events of the summer.

A short opening set from Supergrass frontman Gaz Coombes is a little lacklustre, but he manages to warm the crowd sufficiently as the grey clouds draw in fast.

Taking his usual amble onto the stage with his band, Tim Burgess flashes his cheeky grin and they kick straight into ‘Then’ and ‘Can’t Get Out of Bed’, which instantly lifts the crowd’s spirits and voices. Burgess wanders around the stage, smartphone in hand, filming the crowd’s reactions.

With an impressive 13 studio albums under their belts and 22 top forty singles, The Charlatans have an extensive body of work from which to select the night’s set.

While The Charlatans have a crowd that has matured with them, it was great to see so many younger faces in the venue tonight, who were clearly loving it, and they had all bothered to do their homework, learning every word to every song.

‘So Oh’ from the 2015 album Modern Nature is a little curveball, coupled with some amazing images in the background from the video, showing the band driving around in the sunshine, which seems like a far-off dream as the drizzle decides to fall.

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Tonight we are going pretty old school with the set list, with most bangers coming from the 1995 album The Charlatans. Hits such as ‘Crashin’ In’ and ‘Toothache’ are met with huge roars from the crowd, encouraging Tim to get his dad-dancing groove on. As expected, ‘North Country Boy’ sees the crowd erupt into a deafening sing-along, while Tim Burgess acknowledges every section of his audience, laughing and joking with them along the way.

One of the pernennial standouts, ‘Just When You’re Thinking Things Over’ has stood the test of time, as have most of their musical contributions over the years.

The set flows well, with each song outdoing the last. Dedicating the Wonderland LP classic, ‘You’re So Pretty, We’re So Pretty’ to all the ladies in the crowd at Scarborough, they lead straight into ‘One to Another’ – still their best track in – with its huge soaring riffs and pounding bass from Martin Blunt.

‘Opportunity’ from debut Some Friendly sees Burgess further exude his boyish charms, and not long after the final notes ring out, Burgess addresses the crowd and simply shouts, “Ladies and Gentlemen… please welcome Johnny Fuc*ing Marr,” as the elegantly woozy sounds of ‘Weirdo’ blast out. The man himself comes running onto the stage to rapturous applause, performing alongside Mark Collins. There is such a mutual affinity between the two performers, who beam at every opportunity while encouraging singing along and raising arms.

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The extremely underrated ‘Blackened Blue Eyes’, with its unmistakable piano weaving throughout each bar, is performed impeccably, with no faltering Burgess vocals. True to form, they finish the set in equally rapid fire, treating us to a lesser-heard gem, ‘Come Home Baby’, which shows that Tim Burgess could be singing the phone book at this point, and no one would care, because The Charlatans are masters of their craft.

Ending on a high with ‘The Only One I Know’, with its funky retro vibes, it raises the atmosphere to the max, before saving one of the most popular songs for last, ‘Sproston Green’, signalling the end of the set – a Charlatans tradition.

The Charlatans roll back the days for many people tonight, but it isn’t long between set changes before the formidable Johnny Marr is ready to take Scarborough amid a literal storm.

As the clouds prowl the skies, the man of the hour springs onto the stage, the back screens emblazoned in giant neon lettering spelling out his name.

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“Sharp little riffs”

Think what you like about Morrissey, but The Smiths remain one of the most influential bands of their generation, and while the latter might like to take the credit for everything, it would not have been possible without the exemplary musicianship of Mr Marr.

Kicking things off with the driving funk of ‘Armatopia’ from his 2019 LP of the same name, Marr is clearly full of energy and up for the set.

It’s obvious that there will be a set list packed with Smiths songs tonight, and ‘Panic’ is welcomed by a chorus of voices singing every word back to him, raising a smile. The pace is far more ferocious than the original and, to be honest, the vocals far superior.

‘Generate! Generate!’ is punchy and has some sharp little riffs which hook you and pull you into the avalanche of driving beats, while ‘Spirit Power and Soul’ has a more indie, pop-like vibe showcasing Marr’s surprising vocal talents to perfection.

‘This Charming Man’ sees the Scarborough crowd lose their minds! The sound he produces on his own really fleshes the track out, and the grittier vocals are blunt and more strident than his old bandmate’s, making it sound like a whole new track.

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The mix between old and new really works well, and ‘Somewhere’ is another classic shimmering Britpop-style tune, which is a real anthem. This sounds remarkable live and the clear elation Marr gets from playing something that is completely his own is a joyous sight.

Another couple of Smiths classics, ‘Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want’ slows the tempo down a little, prompting another deafening sing-along, before picking up the pace again with ‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before’ sounding much punkier, with some really nice spiking riffs from Marr.

An absolute belting rendition of “‘Electronic’ blows me away, especially with most of the electro sounds replaced by a full band, completely turning the sound of this track on its head.

Playing to his audience and plucking another gem from his back catalogue of work, ‘How Soon Is Now’ sees Mark Collins from The Charlatans join Marr on stage, adding another layer of guitar genius to an already well-crafted track, adding depth the sound.

Few have noticed just how dark the sky has become, and looking at the crowd, no one cares, as Marr blasts ‘Easy Money’ out with such energy, he is fit to burst, as the disco backbeat takes over everyone there and gets them moving in unison.

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“Special moment”

Taking the time to return a favour to Tim Burgess, he invites the king of the pixies to take the stage once again to perform another Electronic hit, ‘Getting Away With It’ and it was notably sublime, before ending the set on one of my favourite Smiths tunes, ‘There Is a Light That Never Goes Out’, provoking another huge reaction from the crowd, which felt like a very special moment between artist and fans.

The quick stage departure left the crowd baying for more, and before you know it, Marr is back, soaking in the accolade, and the encore is underway with a song that has a special place in Johnny Marr’s heart, from another iconic legend, Iggy Pop, as he smashes through an amazing cover of ‘Passenger’.

To top off the night, Marr ends on Smiths classic, ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’ which only leaves the crowd wanting more.

Visibly overwhelmed by the devotion shown to him this evening, Marr takes all his applause, and I believe he would have stayed on stage for another two hours if the local authorities had let him – no one would have complained.

images: Cuffe & Taylor


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