“Some of the songs have taken on a sort of highly pumped symphonic feel”: Johnny Marr to perform with a 30-piece orchestra at two hometown shows

Johnny Marr has announced two orchestral shows in Manchester
(Image credit: Fender / Dan Massie)

Johnny Marr is to bring his 2023 touring schedule to a close with a pair of hometown dates in Manchester that will find the former Smiths guitarist perform his solo material with an orchestra for the first time ever.

The performances are scheduled for 7-8 December at Factory International’s Aviva Studios, and will celebrate 10 years of Marr as a solo artist, following the 2013 release of his debut studio album, The Messenger. 

Marr has already started working on the material, reworking it for a 30-piece orchestra, that will comprise musicians from the north of England, and will be led by conductor Fiona Brice. This will be Marr as you’ve never heard him before – and it will be fascinating to hear how he recontextualises his own electric guitar for a chamber orchestra.

“It’s been really enjoyable working on the arrangements,” he said. “I’ve been doing a lot of pre-orchestration work, and some of the songs have taken on a sort of highly pumped symphonic feel.”

Marr’s solo career was some time in coming. After the dissolution of The Smiths in 1987, he became a hired gun with a guitar, hooking up with The Pretenders, The The, Modest Mouse, The Cribs, and gracing many a session. 

His latest solo album, Fever Dreams Pts 1-4, was an epic double album, released in February 2022, and the signs are good that there is more new music coming. Marr has reportedly been debuting new material on his solo run through 2023. The press release bringing the news of these two orchestral shows promises new music is “soon to be announced”.

Although Marr has had some experience playing with an orchestra as part of the soundtrack composer Hans Zimmer’s extended family of musicians – Zimmer’s go-to guitar virtuosos are Marr and Guthrie Govan – these Manchester shows will be altogether more personal.

“I’ve had two experiences of playing with an orchestra – Hans Zimmer, obviously, and also with Pet Shop Boys – but to actually sing in front of an orchestra playing my own work, that’s a first,” Marr said. “You can’t help feeling a little bit emotional.”

Tickets for A Night With The Johnny Marr Orchestra go on sale Friday, and are available via Factory International, priced £45 for standard tickets, with progressive affordable pricing of £22.50 and £10 for those on limited incomes.

In other news, you can find Marr on BBC 6 Music as the station’s Artist In Residence, in which he will discuss his inspirations and the songs that shaped his life across eight shows, with one dedicated to his time spent living in the Portland, Oregon. 

He will also share some stories behind his favourite riffs with The Smiths and, tantalisingly, share tips on playing guitar. Those shows air on 18-21 and 25-28 September, 9pm-10pm. 

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.