Johnny Marr: 'Grown men were crying on their kids' shoulders'

The Smiths legend, whose appearance with the Killers was a true Glastonbury Moment, talks about his own festival experiences, and how the event was influenced by rave culture

On a sweltering Saturday afternoon, just before his own set and a few before his surprise appearance with the Killers – with whom he performed the Smiths song This Charming Man – a tanned and wiry Johnny Marr spoke with the Guardian about his own festival experiences, and why Glastonbury as we know it wouldn’t exist without the rave movement of the late 80s.

Johnny, it’s so hot this year at Glastonbury.

It’s amazing – it’s very, very hot. It’s a classic thing, British people in the sunshine. They love it but there’s a bit of complaining going on.

How many times have you played here?

This is my fifth time. I played with the Smiths in 1984 first. At that time, festival culture usually involved people well over 30 trying to recreate Woodstock in the cold. [Rough Trade boss] Geoff Travis talked me into doing Glastonbury as a political act. That’s why I was there, it wasn’t to have some big career moment. It was just a few shitty fields, that was it. But I came back in 2008 and played with Modest Mouse, which was very sweet for me because I was bringing the American band I was in to my home country and showing them what Glastonbury was all about. I had a good time. The next time was with the Cribs in 2010 I think, another gloriously hot day. But the best time was when I played with my own band in 2013. I had a couple of what I believe are known as Glastonbury Moments: grown men crying with their kids on their shoulders and some grown men crying on their kids’ shoulders. It was beautiful.

Do you ever go to festivals as a punter?

I had one attempt at it in, I think, 1977, when the New Barbarians were playing Knebworth with Led Zeppelin. I just hitched down, got stoned and pretty much missed it, which was part of my intention anyway. It took me and my mate three or four days to hitch back from Knebworth to Manchester, we had no idea where we were or where we were going. That one time was my only experience of festivals. I vowed then that the only time I’d be involved in another one was if I was playing it.

I would never have foreseen a future time 30, 40 years on, where we have a whole small town of people with cash machines and showers and strange cafes, its own culture, really. But that’s because of rave. What we see would not have existed without what happened in the late 80s and early 90s: people being OK with getting together as a communal experience, united by music, and, back then, drugs. But I think it’s become something different now as we know, it’s a rite of passage and an institution, a communal experience in the truest sense of the word.

Do you think there’s a political element to attending the festival?

Strictly speaking, not really. It’s so vast and the times are so commercial. However, I suspect that most people who come to Glastonbury have a certain kind of ideology. I’d imagine that most people here are on the same side.


Alex Needham

The GuardianTramp

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