Johnny Marr gives first university lecture
Smiths man attacks British music industry for not being innovative enough
Nov 5, 2008
Johnny Marr officially became a university lecturer yesterday (November 4), as he spoke to more than 1000 people at the University of Salford in Manchester.
Standing behind a lectern, Marr spoke about the importance of "outsiders" in the music business, as well as his own songwriting partnership with Morrissey.
Marr took the opportunity to launch an attack on the British music industry, saying that artists who follow it too closely end up "castrating" themselves.
"The British music industry never, ever created anything," he said. "It never innovated anything. It's brought plenty of innovators to life, but everything of worth has come from outsiders.
"People out of necessity, rejection or frustration, with talent and vision, built their own ark and sailed it alongside the music industry."
The guitarist went on to praise the likes of Jay-Z, Bob Marley, Kurt Cobain and Sex Pistols for succeeding as outsiders, saying: "In The Smiths, I wrote music for the other three because they were my best friends, not industry people, and that's important. Jay-Z made his first album to impress his friends. But rule one - make sure you've got friends with good taste."
Marr also spoke about his songwriting partnership with Morrissey, revealing that the first songs the duo wrote together were 'Suffer Little Children' and 'The Hand That Rocks The Cradle'. "We had a telepathic connection," Marr suggested.
As a Visiting Professor to the University of Salford's School of Media, Music and Performance, Marr is now set to lead a series of music workshops on the composition and performance of popular music.
Johnny Marr turns lecturer
Last time Johnny Marr took to the stage at Salford University it was 1986. The Smiths were at the height of their powers and 5,000 people crammed into the venue for the triumphant homecoming gig. Such was the weight of the crowd that night that the Maxwell Hall nearly collapsed and lecture rooms below still bear the scars of the structural repairs.
But it was an all together more dignified affair on Tuesday night when the guitarist returned as a visiting professor at the school of media, music and performance.
This time 1,000 academics, students and fans turned up to hear Professor Marr lecture for more than an hour on the role of mavericks and outsiders in the music industry and with it take a welcome sideswipe at targets including X-Factor and its creator Simon Cowell.
He told aspiring music stars they were marooned in an era of “stultifying uniformity and conformity” and must not rely on a benevolent Svengali “insider” to pluck them from obscurity.
“The British music industry never ever created anything ever. It has never innovated. It has done plenty of good things … but nothing has ever been created of value by the British or American music industries - it has always come from outside,” said Prof Marr now of The Cribs and Modest Mouse.
He said innovation could be found on the internet, among people playing in their bedrooms, in front of their friends at small venues. “They don’t do it on X Factor” he said.
Citing the genius of outsiders often written off as "cranks" by the mainstream among them Les Paul, Bob Marley, Malcolm McLaren, Andrew Oldham, Brian Epstein and of course Tony Wilson, he said too many people considered the music industry to be “a place". He said: “In this place is a world that is entirely made up of shagpile carpet and soft lights and people driving round in silent, posh, big cars and a lot of money that goes straight in your pocket. What I am describing is Simon Cowell’s house and I’m not sure that really exists. They think it is this mystical place where you are happy but that is only in bad magazines and on television. That is a world that lasts for 12 weeks and stops on Christmas Eve.”
Marr also spoke about his relationship with Morrissey. “People have this idea that (it) was fraught but it only became fraught when it stopped. For five years you would have been hard pushed to find two people who were as telepathically tight,” he said.
Britain's pop music innovators have been "outsiders" who shunned the music industry, according to former Smiths legend Johnny Marr.
By Alastair Jamieson
The guitarist said mavericks were responsible for the greatest advances in the country's music scene.
He was speaking to an unusual audience of excited students and fans as he became Visiting Professor of Music at Salford University, lecturing on the topic "Always from the outside: mavericks, innovators and building your own ark".
Standing behind a lectern, he told the audience packed into the university's Maxwell Hall – once the scene of a triumphant Smiths gig – that the great innovators of pop music were all "outsiders".
He said: "I am not a cynic. I am not really down on the British music industry. However, it has never created anything in its history. It never invented anything, although it has done plenty of good things, like good records, but nothing has ever been created of value by the British or American music industries."
Instead, he said, the great advances had been driven by those who initially found themselves rejected. "People out of necessity, rejection or frustration, with talent and vision built their own ark and sailed it alongside the music industry," he said.
Marr's collaboration with Morrissey was the driving force behind the Smiths' success. Marr provided the music to frame Morrissey's lyricism, exploring what the guitarist calls the "poetic nature of melancholic isolation", achieving critical success as well as notoriety.
His recruitment by Salford University for a five-year series of lectures and masterclasses is regarded as a coup to match nearby Manchester University's achievement in securing Martin Amis as a visiting professor.