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Music

"Pep talks football like I talk about music"

Smiths legend Johnny Marr puts down his guitar for a chat with Champions Journal about James Bond, meeting Pep Guardiola and the highs and lows of life as a Manchester City fan

WORDS James Hanley | PORTRAITS Andy Cotterill

Where were you for Sergio Agüero’s unforgettable Premier League title-clincher in 2012? Johnny Marr was with his hero-turned-friend, Manchester City great Dennis Tueart, who plundered more than 100 goals for the club across two spells in the 1970s and early 1980s.

“We all have our player that we worshipped as a kid and mine was Dennis Tueart – and we are friends now, I am very happy to say,” says the guitar great. “It was one of the very few times that I was sat in the stand behind the goal and that was because I was with Dennis. And wow, all of that happened.”

Needing a win to pip rivals Manchester United, City’s hopes of being crowned champions for the first time in 44 years looked to be ebbing away as they trailed 2-1 to Queens Park Rangers in stoppage time. Then came Edin Džeko’s 92nd-minute equaliser – and Kun’s last-gasp intervention, immortalised by Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler’s iconic “Agüerooooo!” roar. 

“Books could be written just about that moment,” says Marr. “Whether you’re a City fan or not, it’s an incredible narrative and there I am alongside my childhood hero. Also, I had my son on one side of me and Billy Duffy from The Cult on the other. One of them was praying and I think my son was crying. I’ve never known Billy Duffy to be religious, but such is football. You literally couldn’t have dreamed it up.”

Winning has become a habit for the blue half of Manchester in the years since Sheikh Mansour’s 2008 takeover. Marr and fellow Mancunian rock star Noel Gallagher even made it onto the pitch for their 2013/14 title celebrations at the City of Manchester Stadium. 

“In my defence, someone from the club pushed me and Noel and my wife out there,” insists Marr. “Honestly, what was going through my mind was, ‘Enjoy this moment and then get off pretty quick – and don’t be that guy in front of the cameras doing the John Terry dance.’ Now I think of it, speaking of John Terry, I should’ve probably put my kit on…”

A regular match-goer, Marr is one of City’s most famous fans. But he could easily have found himself of a red persuasion had his nearest and dearest had their way. “The first game I ever went to was at Old Trafford: United played Chelsea in 1972,” he says. “My family are all Reds and they were trying to brainwash me early in the game. But I didn’t really like it, weirdly. I was getting to football, but I just didn’t take to it.

“Crucially, a few weeks later I went to Maine Road with my best mate to see City-Wolves and I loved everything about it. I liked the ground better, I liked the atmosphere. So I dodged the bullet there and I’ve never regretted it for a minute.”

Conversing with Champions Journal on an autumnal Monday morning from his studio on the outskirts of Manchester (“It’s the top floor of an old factory, it’s great”), Marr reminisces about his formative years on the terraces at Maine Road, City’s home until 2003. “First and foremost, it was right in the middle of the houses in Moss Side,” he says. “It’s that classic 1960s/70s situation where you’ve got terraced houses a few feet away, so you’re in a community. The players used to park their cars right outside the turnstiles and then have to negotiate about 30 niggly lads with autograph books, swipe them away and walk in the front door.

Marr’s friend and idol Dennis Tueart during his City heyday (right)

“The thing with those old grounds is you have that tie to the past – you’re in the environment where you witnessed all these highs and lows. In the case of Maine Road, it was too many years of lows in the end. At the Etihad, it’s a very different scenario. It’s where the modern era for Manchester City is taking place, so it’s where we have memories of Sergio’s goals. It’s about Mario Balotelli, David Silva, Vincent Kompany, Roberto Mancini and on and on and on. It’s mindboggling for a City fan who’s been around for a while.”

Best known as the genius guitarist and songwriting partner of Morrissey in seminal British band The Smiths, the 58-year-old had spells with groups including The Pretenders, The The, Electronic, Modest Mouse, The Cribs and Johnny Marr + the Healers, before striking out on his own with 2013 solo debut The Messenger. Set to support Blondie on their UK arena tour next spring, Marr also played guitar on Billie Eilish’s 2020 chart-topper No Time to Die, the theme song to the smash James Bond film of the same name. 

The track marked a continuation of his work with Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer; the pair have previously collaborated on film soundtracks such as Inception and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. “The two of us went into it with an agenda to put the guitar back on the Bond theme, because it had maybe been a little bit diluted over the past 20 years,” says Marr. “Traditionally, on the classic John Barry themes, the guitar was to the front, so I was keen to bring that back into it. And when you see the movie, the first thing you hear is my guitar.

“To be asked to do the Bond theme is a dream for anyone who grew up in the era I grew up in. And then to have a number one with it, with Billie Eilish, was just the icing on the cake. I’ve never been that bothered about chart positions but you kind of are when you have a number one, conveniently! I’ve been making records for almost 40 years now and then I get a number one, so that was great. And I thought it was a good film. I enjoyed working on it.”

“On the James Bond Movie, the first thing you hear is my guitar”


The singer-songwriter’s new EP, Fever Dreams Pt 2, has just dropped, with his forthcoming double album Fever Dreams Pts 1-4 to follow in February. “I had the title before lockdown and it just looked like the title of a double album in my mind’s eye,” he says. “Once you have an idea that’s good, it’s hard for me to ignore – whether it’s sticking in Modest Mouse for a few years, or joining The Cribs, or doing a movie, or whatever. And I realised I’d never done a double album with any of the bands I’d been in before.”

The onset of the pandemic last year helped dictate what happened next. “The world started to feel like we were in a fever dream and I built that into some of the lyrics. Like all of us, I found myself in a strange science fiction-like world where all kinds of weirdness was going on. It was an interesting space to make a record in.”

Key single Tenement Time, from the second EP, is inspired by his experiences growing up in the Manchester neighbourhood of Ardwick. Marr elaborates on how the city shaped him both as a musician and a man. “My parents migrated from Ireland in the early 1960s and they loved Manchester, so I was brought up with an appreciation of it that some of my mates who came from English families almost took for granted,” he says. “That gave me a certain kind of civic pride. I always regarded myself as Mancunian-Irish, so it was particularly working class and a big part of working-class culture was music and football. The classic cliché was that young boys of my generation wanted to be either a footballer or a musician, and one of those happened for me.”

The mainstream emergence of Buzzcocks from the Manchester scene in the mid-1970s was a pivotal moment for Marr, who was 13 when the legendary punk band put out their first release, Spiral Scratch, in 1977. “You can’t underestimate how important Buzzcocks were to my generation of musicians, because they were on Top of the Pops every week and you saw, right then, that it could be done,” he says. “And then, of course, [Manchester indie label] Factory Records started in ’78, so there was an alternative, stubborn, defiantly anti-capitalist, anti-London sort of attitude. That fed into my belief, when I formed The Smiths, that I didn’t have to jump on a train and move to London. I knew I could do it from my city.” 

Marr’s relationship with football took a different course when his burgeoning career in music went stratospheric in the early 1980s. While he still looked out for their results, the band’s intensive recording, touring and promotional duties prevented him from seeing his beloved City week in, week out. “Let’s put it this way: nowadays my band is my band, so I get the schedule and if I want to go to a game, that’s what we’re doing, fellas. But when The Smiths happened, my life completely changed in every way. For a start, a lot of it was spent in London. I was 19 and I just put 100% of my heart and soul into it. 

“Boys of my generation wanted to be a footballer or a musician, and one of those happened for me”

“But I stopped relating to football for a few good reasons in the early 1980s. There were things going on in football culture that I didn’t really like – and I’m not just talking about the perms and the moustaches. There was a low-level moronic element and, frankly, I thought it was a bit behind the times.”

Ironically, Marr fell back in love with the beautiful game around the nadir of City’s modern history. While United were on their way to a Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League treble in 1998/99, City were languishing in English football’s third tier, but were still pulling in nearly 30,000 fans for every home game which, the guitar virtuoso believes, puts their neighbours’ current travails into perspective.

“When it was abject and we were at our lowest, I went to loads of games, season after season, throughout all the different managers and terrible times we had,” says Marr. “With the way a lot of my red mates are acting, I remind them that, culturally, there are huge differences between Manchester City and United. In the ’90s, quite rightly, they were all very happy to celebrate those differences. But now... well, try filling the place when you’re absolutely shit for 25 years.” 

Despite retaining a fondness for the City of yesteryear, Marr is not one to let his judgement be clouded by nostalgia. “If anyone implies that it’s not better now, I think they need to take their cloth cap off and get back to Coronation Street,” he jokes. Yet for all their success, the Champions League has remained tantalisingly out of reach for Pep Guardiola’s brilliant side, with the club’s only continental trophy still the 1969/70 European Cup Winners’ Cup. Marr was unable to attend the Cityzens’ 1-0 loss to Chelsea in the Porto final back in May (“I was working, as always”) but he describes watching the loss unfold on TV as “torture”. 

“I saw it coming to be honest,” he says. “I’m not a fatalist, but there was just something about Chelsea at that time and we happened to see just how good Tuchel was. And they were very impressive, what can I say? I don’t want to implicate Pep in any wrongdoings, such is my respect for the man.”

Indeed, Marr has been lucky enough to share the manager’s company on more than one occasion. “We did a thing for charity where we interviewed each other and spent a really nice day together. I’d met him once before but we hadn’t had the chance to have a decent conversation. He is what you think he is and more. He talks about football like I talk about music: with no filter. He’s happy to tell you all he knows and talk about his philosophy. And he’s pretty funny – we had a laugh. He was great. I hope he stays forever.”

As for that elusive first Champions League crown, Marr believes that much can be explained away as plain old misfortune. In particular, he points to Raheem Sterling’s VAR-disallowed last-minute winner against Tottenham Hotspur in the 2018/19 quarter-finals. “I rarely bring luck into it or blame referees, but I think we were just really, really unlucky when we got knocked out by Spurs a couple of years ago. That was very frustrating.”

After a moment’s pause he continues. “OK, I’ll go back on what I said earlier: I do have to say that Pep has got it wrong in some way on occasion. But 99.9% of the time, he gets it very right. I just wish that the 0.1% was against Southampton for a change and not in the Champions League.”

The conversation turns to the future. With Marr’s team having breezed through their Champions League group with ease (aside from a bit of Leo Messi magic in Paris), can this finally be City’s year? Marr has mixed feelings on the subject. “We’ve been a bit bruised now that a bit of form has gone against us. But you know what? I think we’re great, so we’ve got as good a chance as anybody.” 

Where were you for Sergio Agüero’s unforgettable Premier League title-clincher in 2012? Johnny Marr was with his hero-turned-friend, Manchester City great Dennis Tueart, who plundered more than 100 goals for the club across two spells in the 1970s and early 1980s.

“We all have our player that we worshipped as a kid and mine was Dennis Tueart – and we are friends now, I am very happy to say,” says the guitar great. “It was one of the very few times that I was sat in the stand behind the goal and that was because I was with Dennis. And wow, all of that happened.”

Needing a win to pip rivals Manchester United, City’s hopes of being crowned champions for the first time in 44 years looked to be ebbing away as they trailed 2-1 to Queens Park Rangers in stoppage time. Then came Edin Džeko’s 92nd-minute equaliser – and Kun’s last-gasp intervention, immortalised by Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler’s iconic “Agüerooooo!” roar. 

“Books could be written just about that moment,” says Marr. “Whether you’re a City fan or not, it’s an incredible narrative and there I am alongside my childhood hero. Also, I had my son on one side of me and Billy Duffy from The Cult on the other. One of them was praying and I think my son was crying. I’ve never known Billy Duffy to be religious, but such is football. You literally couldn’t have dreamed it up.”

Winning has become a habit for the blue half of Manchester in the years since Sheikh Mansour’s 2008 takeover. Marr and fellow Mancunian rock star Noel Gallagher even made it onto the pitch for their 2013/14 title celebrations at the City of Manchester Stadium. 

“In my defence, someone from the club pushed me and Noel and my wife out there,” insists Marr. “Honestly, what was going through my mind was, ‘Enjoy this moment and then get off pretty quick – and don’t be that guy in front of the cameras doing the John Terry dance.’ Now I think of it, speaking of John Terry, I should’ve probably put my kit on…”

A regular match-goer, Marr is one of City’s most famous fans. But he could easily have found himself of a red persuasion had his nearest and dearest had their way. “The first game I ever went to was at Old Trafford: United played Chelsea in 1972,” he says. “My family are all Reds and they were trying to brainwash me early in the game. But I didn’t really like it, weirdly. I was getting to football, but I just didn’t take to it.

“Crucially, a few weeks later I went to Maine Road with my best mate to see City-Wolves and I loved everything about it. I liked the ground better, I liked the atmosphere. So I dodged the bullet there and I’ve never regretted it for a minute.”

Conversing with Champions Journal on an autumnal Monday morning from his studio on the outskirts of Manchester (“It’s the top floor of an old factory, it’s great”), Marr reminisces about his formative years on the terraces at Maine Road, City’s home until 2003. “First and foremost, it was right in the middle of the houses in Moss Side,” he says. “It’s that classic 1960s/70s situation where you’ve got terraced houses a few feet away, so you’re in a community. The players used to park their cars right outside the turnstiles and then have to negotiate about 30 niggly lads with autograph books, swipe them away and walk in the front door.

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Marr’s friend and idol Dennis Tueart during his City heyday (right)

“The thing with those old grounds is you have that tie to the past – you’re in the environment where you witnessed all these highs and lows. In the case of Maine Road, it was too many years of lows in the end. At the Etihad, it’s a very different scenario. It’s where the modern era for Manchester City is taking place, so it’s where we have memories of Sergio’s goals. It’s about Mario Balotelli, David Silva, Vincent Kompany, Roberto Mancini and on and on and on. It’s mindboggling for a City fan who’s been around for a while.”

Best known as the genius guitarist and songwriting partner of Morrissey in seminal British band The Smiths, the 58-year-old had spells with groups including The Pretenders, The The, Electronic, Modest Mouse, The Cribs and Johnny Marr + the Healers, before striking out on his own with 2013 solo debut The Messenger. Set to support Blondie on their UK arena tour next spring, Marr also played guitar on Billie Eilish’s 2020 chart-topper No Time to Die, the theme song to the smash James Bond film of the same name. 

The track marked a continuation of his work with Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer; the pair have previously collaborated on film soundtracks such as Inception and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. “The two of us went into it with an agenda to put the guitar back on the Bond theme, because it had maybe been a little bit diluted over the past 20 years,” says Marr. “Traditionally, on the classic John Barry themes, the guitar was to the front, so I was keen to bring that back into it. And when you see the movie, the first thing you hear is my guitar.

“To be asked to do the Bond theme is a dream for anyone who grew up in the era I grew up in. And then to have a number one with it, with Billie Eilish, was just the icing on the cake. I’ve never been that bothered about chart positions but you kind of are when you have a number one, conveniently! I’ve been making records for almost 40 years now and then I get a number one, so that was great. And I thought it was a good film. I enjoyed working on it.”

“On the James Bond Movie, the first thing you hear is my guitar”


The singer-songwriter’s new EP, Fever Dreams Pt 2, has just dropped, with his forthcoming double album Fever Dreams Pts 1-4 to follow in February. “I had the title before lockdown and it just looked like the title of a double album in my mind’s eye,” he says. “Once you have an idea that’s good, it’s hard for me to ignore – whether it’s sticking in Modest Mouse for a few years, or joining The Cribs, or doing a movie, or whatever. And I realised I’d never done a double album with any of the bands I’d been in before.”

The onset of the pandemic last year helped dictate what happened next. “The world started to feel like we were in a fever dream and I built that into some of the lyrics. Like all of us, I found myself in a strange science fiction-like world where all kinds of weirdness was going on. It was an interesting space to make a record in.”

Key single Tenement Time, from the second EP, is inspired by his experiences growing up in the Manchester neighbourhood of Ardwick. Marr elaborates on how the city shaped him both as a musician and a man. “My parents migrated from Ireland in the early 1960s and they loved Manchester, so I was brought up with an appreciation of it that some of my mates who came from English families almost took for granted,” he says. “That gave me a certain kind of civic pride. I always regarded myself as Mancunian-Irish, so it was particularly working class and a big part of working-class culture was music and football. The classic cliché was that young boys of my generation wanted to be either a footballer or a musician, and one of those happened for me.”

The mainstream emergence of Buzzcocks from the Manchester scene in the mid-1970s was a pivotal moment for Marr, who was 13 when the legendary punk band put out their first release, Spiral Scratch, in 1977. “You can’t underestimate how important Buzzcocks were to my generation of musicians, because they were on Top of the Pops every week and you saw, right then, that it could be done,” he says. “And then, of course, [Manchester indie label] Factory Records started in ’78, so there was an alternative, stubborn, defiantly anti-capitalist, anti-London sort of attitude. That fed into my belief, when I formed The Smiths, that I didn’t have to jump on a train and move to London. I knew I could do it from my city.” 

Marr’s relationship with football took a different course when his burgeoning career in music went stratospheric in the early 1980s. While he still looked out for their results, the band’s intensive recording, touring and promotional duties prevented him from seeing his beloved City week in, week out. “Let’s put it this way: nowadays my band is my band, so I get the schedule and if I want to go to a game, that’s what we’re doing, fellas. But when The Smiths happened, my life completely changed in every way. For a start, a lot of it was spent in London. I was 19 and I just put 100% of my heart and soul into it. 

“Boys of my generation wanted to be a footballer or a musician, and one of those happened for me”

“But I stopped relating to football for a few good reasons in the early 1980s. There were things going on in football culture that I didn’t really like – and I’m not just talking about the perms and the moustaches. There was a low-level moronic element and, frankly, I thought it was a bit behind the times.”

Ironically, Marr fell back in love with the beautiful game around the nadir of City’s modern history. While United were on their way to a Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League treble in 1998/99, City were languishing in English football’s third tier, but were still pulling in nearly 30,000 fans for every home game which, the guitar virtuoso believes, puts their neighbours’ current travails into perspective.

“When it was abject and we were at our lowest, I went to loads of games, season after season, throughout all the different managers and terrible times we had,” says Marr. “With the way a lot of my red mates are acting, I remind them that, culturally, there are huge differences between Manchester City and United. In the ’90s, quite rightly, they were all very happy to celebrate those differences. But now... well, try filling the place when you’re absolutely shit for 25 years.” 

Despite retaining a fondness for the City of yesteryear, Marr is not one to let his judgement be clouded by nostalgia. “If anyone implies that it’s not better now, I think they need to take their cloth cap off and get back to Coronation Street,” he jokes. Yet for all their success, the Champions League has remained tantalisingly out of reach for Pep Guardiola’s brilliant side, with the club’s only continental trophy still the 1969/70 European Cup Winners’ Cup. Marr was unable to attend the Cityzens’ 1-0 loss to Chelsea in the Porto final back in May (“I was working, as always”) but he describes watching the loss unfold on TV as “torture”. 

“I saw it coming to be honest,” he says. “I’m not a fatalist, but there was just something about Chelsea at that time and we happened to see just how good Tuchel was. And they were very impressive, what can I say? I don’t want to implicate Pep in any wrongdoings, such is my respect for the man.”

Indeed, Marr has been lucky enough to share the manager’s company on more than one occasion. “We did a thing for charity where we interviewed each other and spent a really nice day together. I’d met him once before but we hadn’t had the chance to have a decent conversation. He is what you think he is and more. He talks about football like I talk about music: with no filter. He’s happy to tell you all he knows and talk about his philosophy. And he’s pretty funny – we had a laugh. He was great. I hope he stays forever.”

As for that elusive first Champions League crown, Marr believes that much can be explained away as plain old misfortune. In particular, he points to Raheem Sterling’s VAR-disallowed last-minute winner against Tottenham Hotspur in the 2018/19 quarter-finals. “I rarely bring luck into it or blame referees, but I think we were just really, really unlucky when we got knocked out by Spurs a couple of years ago. That was very frustrating.”

After a moment’s pause he continues. “OK, I’ll go back on what I said earlier: I do have to say that Pep has got it wrong in some way on occasion. But 99.9% of the time, he gets it very right. I just wish that the 0.1% was against Southampton for a change and not in the Champions League.”

The conversation turns to the future. With Marr’s team having breezed through their Champions League group with ease (aside from a bit of Leo Messi magic in Paris), can this finally be City’s year? Marr has mixed feelings on the subject. “We’ve been a bit bruised now that a bit of form has gone against us. But you know what? I think we’re great, so we’ve got as good a chance as anybody.” 

Where were you for Sergio Agüero’s unforgettable Premier League title-clincher in 2012? Johnny Marr was with his hero-turned-friend, Manchester City great Dennis Tueart, who plundered more than 100 goals for the club across two spells in the 1970s and early 1980s.

“We all have our player that we worshipped as a kid and mine was Dennis Tueart – and we are friends now, I am very happy to say,” says the guitar great. “It was one of the very few times that I was sat in the stand behind the goal and that was because I was with Dennis. And wow, all of that happened.”

Needing a win to pip rivals Manchester United, City’s hopes of being crowned champions for the first time in 44 years looked to be ebbing away as they trailed 2-1 to Queens Park Rangers in stoppage time. Then came Edin Džeko’s 92nd-minute equaliser – and Kun’s last-gasp intervention, immortalised by Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler’s iconic “Agüerooooo!” roar. 

“Books could be written just about that moment,” says Marr. “Whether you’re a City fan or not, it’s an incredible narrative and there I am alongside my childhood hero. Also, I had my son on one side of me and Billy Duffy from The Cult on the other. One of them was praying and I think my son was crying. I’ve never known Billy Duffy to be religious, but such is football. You literally couldn’t have dreamed it up.”

Winning has become a habit for the blue half of Manchester in the years since Sheikh Mansour’s 2008 takeover. Marr and fellow Mancunian rock star Noel Gallagher even made it onto the pitch for their 2013/14 title celebrations at the City of Manchester Stadium. 

“In my defence, someone from the club pushed me and Noel and my wife out there,” insists Marr. “Honestly, what was going through my mind was, ‘Enjoy this moment and then get off pretty quick – and don’t be that guy in front of the cameras doing the John Terry dance.’ Now I think of it, speaking of John Terry, I should’ve probably put my kit on…”

A regular match-goer, Marr is one of City’s most famous fans. But he could easily have found himself of a red persuasion had his nearest and dearest had their way. “The first game I ever went to was at Old Trafford: United played Chelsea in 1972,” he says. “My family are all Reds and they were trying to brainwash me early in the game. But I didn’t really like it, weirdly. I was getting to football, but I just didn’t take to it.

“Crucially, a few weeks later I went to Maine Road with my best mate to see City-Wolves and I loved everything about it. I liked the ground better, I liked the atmosphere. So I dodged the bullet there and I’ve never regretted it for a minute.”

Conversing with Champions Journal on an autumnal Monday morning from his studio on the outskirts of Manchester (“It’s the top floor of an old factory, it’s great”), Marr reminisces about his formative years on the terraces at Maine Road, City’s home until 2003. “First and foremost, it was right in the middle of the houses in Moss Side,” he says. “It’s that classic 1960s/70s situation where you’ve got terraced houses a few feet away, so you’re in a community. The players used to park their cars right outside the turnstiles and then have to negotiate about 30 niggly lads with autograph books, swipe them away and walk in the front door.

Marr’s friend and idol Dennis Tueart during his City heyday (right)

“The thing with those old grounds is you have that tie to the past – you’re in the environment where you witnessed all these highs and lows. In the case of Maine Road, it was too many years of lows in the end. At the Etihad, it’s a very different scenario. It’s where the modern era for Manchester City is taking place, so it’s where we have memories of Sergio’s goals. It’s about Mario Balotelli, David Silva, Vincent Kompany, Roberto Mancini and on and on and on. It’s mindboggling for a City fan who’s been around for a while.”

Best known as the genius guitarist and songwriting partner of Morrissey in seminal British band The Smiths, the 58-year-old had spells with groups including The Pretenders, The The, Electronic, Modest Mouse, The Cribs and Johnny Marr + the Healers, before striking out on his own with 2013 solo debut The Messenger. Set to support Blondie on their UK arena tour next spring, Marr also played guitar on Billie Eilish’s 2020 chart-topper No Time to Die, the theme song to the smash James Bond film of the same name. 

The track marked a continuation of his work with Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer; the pair have previously collaborated on film soundtracks such as Inception and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. “The two of us went into it with an agenda to put the guitar back on the Bond theme, because it had maybe been a little bit diluted over the past 20 years,” says Marr. “Traditionally, on the classic John Barry themes, the guitar was to the front, so I was keen to bring that back into it. And when you see the movie, the first thing you hear is my guitar.

“To be asked to do the Bond theme is a dream for anyone who grew up in the era I grew up in. And then to have a number one with it, with Billie Eilish, was just the icing on the cake. I’ve never been that bothered about chart positions but you kind of are when you have a number one, conveniently! I’ve been making records for almost 40 years now and then I get a number one, so that was great. And I thought it was a good film. I enjoyed working on it.”

“On the James Bond Movie, the first thing you hear is my guitar”


The singer-songwriter’s new EP, Fever Dreams Pt 2, has just dropped, with his forthcoming double album Fever Dreams Pts 1-4 to follow in February. “I had the title before lockdown and it just looked like the title of a double album in my mind’s eye,” he says. “Once you have an idea that’s good, it’s hard for me to ignore – whether it’s sticking in Modest Mouse for a few years, or joining The Cribs, or doing a movie, or whatever. And I realised I’d never done a double album with any of the bands I’d been in before.”

The onset of the pandemic last year helped dictate what happened next. “The world started to feel like we were in a fever dream and I built that into some of the lyrics. Like all of us, I found myself in a strange science fiction-like world where all kinds of weirdness was going on. It was an interesting space to make a record in.”

Key single Tenement Time, from the second EP, is inspired by his experiences growing up in the Manchester neighbourhood of Ardwick. Marr elaborates on how the city shaped him both as a musician and a man. “My parents migrated from Ireland in the early 1960s and they loved Manchester, so I was brought up with an appreciation of it that some of my mates who came from English families almost took for granted,” he says. “That gave me a certain kind of civic pride. I always regarded myself as Mancunian-Irish, so it was particularly working class and a big part of working-class culture was music and football. The classic cliché was that young boys of my generation wanted to be either a footballer or a musician, and one of those happened for me.”

The mainstream emergence of Buzzcocks from the Manchester scene in the mid-1970s was a pivotal moment for Marr, who was 13 when the legendary punk band put out their first release, Spiral Scratch, in 1977. “You can’t underestimate how important Buzzcocks were to my generation of musicians, because they were on Top of the Pops every week and you saw, right then, that it could be done,” he says. “And then, of course, [Manchester indie label] Factory Records started in ’78, so there was an alternative, stubborn, defiantly anti-capitalist, anti-London sort of attitude. That fed into my belief, when I formed The Smiths, that I didn’t have to jump on a train and move to London. I knew I could do it from my city.” 

Marr’s relationship with football took a different course when his burgeoning career in music went stratospheric in the early 1980s. While he still looked out for their results, the band’s intensive recording, touring and promotional duties prevented him from seeing his beloved City week in, week out. “Let’s put it this way: nowadays my band is my band, so I get the schedule and if I want to go to a game, that’s what we’re doing, fellas. But when The Smiths happened, my life completely changed in every way. For a start, a lot of it was spent in London. I was 19 and I just put 100% of my heart and soul into it. 

“Boys of my generation wanted to be a footballer or a musician, and one of those happened for me”

“But I stopped relating to football for a few good reasons in the early 1980s. There were things going on in football culture that I didn’t really like – and I’m not just talking about the perms and the moustaches. There was a low-level moronic element and, frankly, I thought it was a bit behind the times.”

Ironically, Marr fell back in love with the beautiful game around the nadir of City’s modern history. While United were on their way to a Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League treble in 1998/99, City were languishing in English football’s third tier, but were still pulling in nearly 30,000 fans for every home game which, the guitar virtuoso believes, puts their neighbours’ current travails into perspective.

“When it was abject and we were at our lowest, I went to loads of games, season after season, throughout all the different managers and terrible times we had,” says Marr. “With the way a lot of my red mates are acting, I remind them that, culturally, there are huge differences between Manchester City and United. In the ’90s, quite rightly, they were all very happy to celebrate those differences. But now... well, try filling the place when you’re absolutely shit for 25 years.” 

Despite retaining a fondness for the City of yesteryear, Marr is not one to let his judgement be clouded by nostalgia. “If anyone implies that it’s not better now, I think they need to take their cloth cap off and get back to Coronation Street,” he jokes. Yet for all their success, the Champions League has remained tantalisingly out of reach for Pep Guardiola’s brilliant side, with the club’s only continental trophy still the 1969/70 European Cup Winners’ Cup. Marr was unable to attend the Cityzens’ 1-0 loss to Chelsea in the Porto final back in May (“I was working, as always”) but he describes watching the loss unfold on TV as “torture”. 

“I saw it coming to be honest,” he says. “I’m not a fatalist, but there was just something about Chelsea at that time and we happened to see just how good Tuchel was. And they were very impressive, what can I say? I don’t want to implicate Pep in any wrongdoings, such is my respect for the man.”

Indeed, Marr has been lucky enough to share the manager’s company on more than one occasion. “We did a thing for charity where we interviewed each other and spent a really nice day together. I’d met him once before but we hadn’t had the chance to have a decent conversation. He is what you think he is and more. He talks about football like I talk about music: with no filter. He’s happy to tell you all he knows and talk about his philosophy. And he’s pretty funny – we had a laugh. He was great. I hope he stays forever.”

As for that elusive first Champions League crown, Marr believes that much can be explained away as plain old misfortune. In particular, he points to Raheem Sterling’s VAR-disallowed last-minute winner against Tottenham Hotspur in the 2018/19 quarter-finals. “I rarely bring luck into it or blame referees, but I think we were just really, really unlucky when we got knocked out by Spurs a couple of years ago. That was very frustrating.”

After a moment’s pause he continues. “OK, I’ll go back on what I said earlier: I do have to say that Pep has got it wrong in some way on occasion. But 99.9% of the time, he gets it very right. I just wish that the 0.1% was against Southampton for a change and not in the Champions League.”

The conversation turns to the future. With Marr’s team having breezed through their Champions League group with ease (aside from a bit of Leo Messi magic in Paris), can this finally be City’s year? Marr has mixed feelings on the subject. “We’ve been a bit bruised now that a bit of form has gone against us. But you know what? I think we’re great, so we’ve got as good a chance as anybody.” 

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