Remembering the moment Johnny Marr joined Billy Bragg on stage to play The Smiths’ ‘Back to the Old House’
In the wake of a devastating defeat of the left-wing in this week’s general election, it feels appropriate that we go back to another equally dark time when Johnny Marr joined Billy Bragg on stage to perform a cover of The Smiths’ ‘Back To The Old House’.
The event took place at the Manchester Apollo in 1986 and was known as the Red Wedge tour. Fronted by Billy Bragg, whose own 1985 Jobs for Youth tour had been a prototype of sorts for Red Wedge, Paul Weller and The Communards lead singer Jimmy Somerville, got together to put on concert parties and made media appearances all in support of the Labour Party campaign.
Having suffered with the devastating for years and years, Bragg and the rest of his compatriots were determined to stop the continued onslaught on the social welfare of the country.
The group was launched on 21 November 1985, with Bragg, Weller, Strawberry Switchblade and Kirsty MacColl invited to a reception at the Palace of Westminster hosted by Labour MP Robin Cook. The collection of artists took their name from a 1919 poster by Russian constructivist artist El Lissitzky, Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge. Despite this, their links to any communist party were quickly refuted.
The collective organised a number of major tours. The first – the most famous arrived in January and February of 1986 and featured Bragg, Weller’s band The Style Council, The Communards, Junior Giscombe, Lorna Gee and Jerry Dammers. It also picked up guest appearances from Madness, The The, Heaven 17, Bananarama, Prefab Sprout, Elvis Costello, Gary Kemp, Tom Robinson, Sade, The Beat, Lloyd Cole, The Blow Monkeys, Joolz and, of course, The Smiths.
While The Smiths weren’t originally scheduled to perform, on the last night, the whole Smiths band came to the show without instruments but asked to play. Paul Weller offered to let them use his instruments and gear, and they made a surprise appearance.
Johnny Marr, however, took to the stage before that as he joined Bragg on stage in Manchester on January 25th for a very special performance of the Strangeways song. Marr and Bragg’s stripped-back rendition adding an extra vulnerability with Bragg’s vocal, in particular, producing a new level of accessible texture to the track.
Listen below as Johnny Marr Joins Billy Bragg on stage for a very special performance of The Smiths’ ‘Back To The Old House’.