on 27 December 2016
I had a particular interest in the book because I taught Johnny in my first teaching job at St Augustine's in 1977. I was his English teacher and also his football manager and I remember what a good player he was - skilful, athletic and very determined. I also remember some perceptive careers advice I gave Johnny. I told him he could be a success in life if he focused on his English and got rid of his guitar!
Thankfully, we all know what he did with the guitar advice but I was also delighted to see that Johnny did indeed focus on his English in that "Set the Boy Free" doesn't just record a remarkable life but is beautifully written as well. Naturally, I was particularly interested in the early years especially the Wythenshawe section but, in truth, it was a gripping read from the first page to last.
The most powerful impact of the book is not just that it records the amazing story of a world famous rock star but it reveals what a great human being Johnny Marr truly is. Well done Johnny. You made your old English teacher very proud!
on 31 December 2016
I am a writer myself so maybe I'm being over-critical but I found this book extremely boring. While Johnny's private life is at odds from the archetypal rock star lifestyle inasmuch as he has been happily married to the same woman for many years, I was expecting at least some exciting stories, including his well-documented professional relationship with Morrisey. I would equate reading this book with watching paint dry. Johnny seems to live in his own world with his guitars and writing his songs. He should remember that most of the readers , while being music fans, don't have a clue about technical jargon..Sorry Johnny-I was disappointed.
on 8 November 2016
As a massive Smiths fan (my fave band of all time) I was really looking forward to this book. But what a let-down!
As everyone else has said, he's obviously a decent bloke (deeply in love with his wife Angie, deeply in love with guitars, never has a bad word to say about anyone) but I agree with some of the more negative reviews: The Smiths story is over far too quickly (with little insight) and then the second half of the book just becomes a chronology of events, written in a very simple, unexciting style so that most of the chapters go something like this:
"I then got a call from [insert name of alternative act here] who asked me if I would play on some of their songs. I really liked their music and thought it sounded great and asked Angie what she thought and she said it sounded great too and that I should do it. And so I decided to do it. I didn't know what I was going to do but when we played together everything just seemed to click straight away and it sounded great. We ended up making an album together and touring the world which I loved and which was great. We became great mates but when the tour finished I realised that I needed to do something else but I didn't know what. I then got a call from..." etc. etc.
Perhaps that's a little unfair but you get the general idea. It must be an amazing lifestyle but you wouldn't necessarily know it. In one sentence he mentions talking to Elliott Smith and that's that. Tell us what he was like!!
I'm reading Peter Hook's book now which is everything this isn't: full of great anecdotes, bitchy and best of all funny.
It feels wrong to criticise someone who has played such an important part in my life but I can't help feeling very disappointed, especially as in interviews to promote the book he has said things like "I finally realised it was time to put my side of the story across" and "It was time to set the record straight" etc.
Clearly a top bloke (and the chief musician in the greatest band of all time!) but sadly (and surprisingly) that doesn't make for a "great" read.
He's humble, realises how lucky he is and appreciates his fans. And perhaps that's the problem: He's just too nice to write a warts 'n all, down and dirty, rock 'n roll autobiography. After all, you wouldn't catch Motley Crue writing a chapter about running in their memoirs.
(Oh and beware: I got the audiobook - read by Johnny himself in a style you could say is laid-back and cool but which at times seems so unenthusiastic it sounds as if he could be reading his gas bill.)
on 14 November 2016
I love Johnny Marr's guitar playing.
I love the Smiths back catalogue.
I was looking forward to this autobiography since it was announced.
Unfortunately, it's a little tedious and uninteresting.
Johnny lists everything that happened to him in a dull shopping-list type tone.
I knew just about everything he mentions. No new revelations. No interesting facts.
His relationship with Morrissey is hardly discussed in any great detail.
All in all, a wasted opportunity.
Stick to the chords, Johnny.
on 29 November 2016
Johnny Marr will go down in history as one the greatest musicians of all time. Of that there is no doubt. However, he writes one hell of a dull book. In the TV and radio promo’s he has done for this book he come across as a witty, funny and charming man (ouch!), but this book is dish water dull. Most fans will be no doubt looking for some insight into the Smiths and his relationship with Morrissey. He fails to deliver on both counts.
Shame really. His music touched so many lives, but this book is best avoided.
I would give it one star but I loved The Smiths too much to do such a thing.
on 28 November 2016
An incredible privilege to hear the inside story of one of the most important musical and psychocultural events of our time. Yes, as a Smiths obsessive I would love to have the background story to every song and known a lot more about his relationships and perspective on Morrissey, Andy & Mike but I am grateful for what Johnny has shared. Of course it is a must buy. I devoured it in a sitting.
on 4 November 2016
As a huge fan of both Johnny Marr and music autobiographies in general, I was really looking forward to this book as Marr will surely go down as one of the most influential musicians of his generation. In this book he writes at length about not only his time in The Smiths, but also his experiences with The The, Electronic, Kirsty Maccoll, Modest Mouse, The Cribs and his solo work. He has had a mightily impressive career and it ought to add up to being an unmissable book. I can't help feeling that it is slightly underwhelming however.
He comes across as a thoroughly nice person, but the book feels as though it is lightly skipping across deep waters. He chronologically describes his various collaborations, but there is very little emotional depth and it feels as though he is holding something back. His style of writing is also fairly primitive and perhaps an editor should have firmer in giving the book a much-needed polish.
This is still worth a read for fans of his work though, even if it is not quite the book that it should have been.
on 4 January 2017
Really nice guy who doesn't have a bad word to say about anybody. And that's the main problem really. No real hints of controversy. No scores to settle.
A potted history of how The Smiths got together, what clothes he was wearing at the time, their time together then their split. Very little not already in the public domain.
Then a chronological history of all the musicians he's played with, who were all great.
The closest we get to rock n' roll hedonism is him and his band mates ( I forget who, but they were all great) throwing tomatoes at people on Oxford Street. It was really funny. Apparently.
Fairly unremarkable memoir of a remarkable guy. Bit disappointing really.
on 5 November 2016
Yet another in the recent stream of memoirs by Manc musicians: Tim Burgess, Steve Hanley, Si Wolstencroft, Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner and, best of them all, Brix Smith (a Manc for a while). And lest we forget Morrissey’s whingeathon from 2013 - not to mention his ludicrous/atrocious attempt at a novel. So it is a crowded publishing niche and therefore readers are perhaps beginning to tire of some of the same people cropping up in everybody's book. Although this autobiog’ is not quite in the same league as Brix’s - in terms of a good read - it will nevertheless be an essential purchase for Smiths fans and is certain to bring back nostalgic memories of that four-year blitz of brilliance in the mid-eighties.
It’s a classic rags to riches story of the diminutive and unorthodox kid from the rough side of the tracks – Ardwick, then Wythenshawe - who leaves his oppressive Catholic school at 15 with just one thing on his mind [“my head was so full of songs and bands that nothing my teachers or parents said could make me think my future was going to be anything other than music”]. Marr acknowledges all his guitar influences/heroes - notably the Stooges' James Willamson and there are plenty of interesting anecdotes about hooking up with Morrissey and assembling the Smiths. The pages turn quickly but then, all of a sudden, the band has fallen out and grown apart. It is all over for the Smiths far too early. I confess that it was at that point (around page 270) I lost some motivation and thereafter the book couldn’t really hold my interest when it covered the assorted solo projects, collaborations (Electronic, Modest Mouse, Cribs etc) and session work.
Without question Marr has been a brilliant and influential musician – definitely (along with Keith Richards) the greatest rhythm guitarist rock-star the UK has ever produced. He’s never claimed – or tried – to be a Page or a Clapton and he’s all the better for it. His layered blues style emerged from a teenage appetite for Rory Gallagher and then, later, the great Burt Jansch, whom he met and recorded with. As a writer of pop melodies in the eighties Marr was without peer apart from, perhaps, John O’Neill. As regards the Smiths' records, am I alone in thinking that, 30 years on, Marr’s melodies and guitar playing have stood the test of time far better than Morrissey's lyrics, for example on ‘Big Mouth’, ‘Panic’ etc and, in particular, on the magical Peel sessions (especially ‘Handsome Devil’, ‘HSIN’, ‘Reel’, ‘S&TH’ and the last 30 seconds of ‘London’). Genius. Where are the guitarists – and ‘pop’ songs - like that nowadays?
And as for the author himself: he is eminently un-pretentious and likeable - i.e. the exact opposite of Mozzer, which is probably why the partnership worked so well for a few years. And there’s no doubt Marr’s teenage romance - which evolved into a lifelong marriage - has been the glue and the solid base on which his talent has been able to flourish. As he says at the end, he doesn’t know what’s made him more proud – the records, the fame, the awards, his missus, his kids or having a guitar named after him!
In the final analysis Marr’s is a heart-warming story, if not necessarily breathtakingly exciting or as laugh-out-loud hysterical as the Fall books, but his fans should enjoy it.