Johnny Marr & The Healers / Mellowdrone - Manchester Academy 2 - 2.4.03

That skinny white American bloke on stage is Jonathan Bates aka Mellowdrone. Armed with an electric guitar, drum machine and backing tapes he also records his own vocals and guitar parts to be looped as the songs progress adding textured landscapes. At times it can veer a little to close to pompous pretension and the addition of a drummer half way through tonight's set mainly culled from his "A Demonstration Of Intellectual Property" EP only adds to the high drama that Mellowdrone specialize in.

What can one say about Johnny Marr. Obviously The Smiths loom heavily over everything he does, but he has worked with Billy Bragg, Bryan Ferry, The The, The Pretenders and Kirsty MaColl amongst others since the bands demise in 1987. His most commercial success though has to be with Bernard Sumner and Electronic and always one to give bands a push he has produced albums for Marion and Haven. If you saw the Charlatans or Neil Finn playing live last year in Manchester you'd have marvelled at the sight of Marr jamming with them. The busy lad also guested on the last Pet Shop Boys album in their new guitar based direction.

Now after all the years in the shadow of other performers, Johnny has formed his own band with himself as the frontman. They're a bit of a mini-supergroup. On bass we have Alonza Bevan formerly of Kula Shaker and behind his drum kit Zac "Son of Ringo Starr" Starkey. Simply called Johnny Marr and The Healers one of the bands earliest incarnations was supporting Oasis at the Reebok Stadium in Bolton. Their debut album "Boomslang" was released recently and this short tour is the bands first full headlining tour of the UK. On stage The Healers are joined by an extra guitarist, but you can tell immediately that Johnny is really comfortable being centre stage for once. Vocally scally, self assured cockiness of the Charlatans Tim Burgess he can carry a tune with the best of them and yet they sound like a real band rather than just another guitarist's vanity project. Highlights from the tight set include the trancey "You Got The Magic", the rockin "Bangin On" and the moving ballad "Something To Shout About". Three non-album songs are also performed and while not immediately memorable do have a raw uncompromising appeal. Banter between the band and the crowd is surprisingly infrequent apart from praising England for beating Turkey at Football. The band thank everyone for coming down to see them and one encore, two songs later and the gig is over.

As a singer, guitarist and frontman Johnny Marr can more than hold his own, but lyrically he still has a lot to learn. They're not bad, but a little bit more imagination, wit and panache would benefit his band. Once he improves lyrically the only way is up.

Nicholas Paul Godkin

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