Johnny Marr is a national treasure. Say what you like about a certain former The Smiths frontman, but negativity directed at the pioneering guitarist won’t be tolerated around here. If you needed any further reason to adore Mr Marr, then devour this footage of him explaining how to play ‘Cemetry Gates’.
The Mancunian played a crucial role in steering alternative music in the direction it finds itself in today. Marr isn’t a ferocious punk-style guitarist, and he doesn’t borrow from the rhythm and blues, instead, he carved out a new technique that was incomparable with anyone who came before him.
His flowery sound was the perfect foil for Morrissey’s solemn lyrics and provided the most delectable juxtaposition in music. While both their talents are extraordinary, Marr’s mystical touch is what elevated The Smiths to becoming the band of a generation.
‘Cemetry Gates’ is a glistening example of why Marr is someone who needs to be cherished. The song is somehow uplifting, even though its narrative follows Morrissey wandering through a cemetery on a ‘dreaded sunny day’, glaring at gravestones and speculating about the potential lives they lived.
Producer Stephen Street declared the track as “all the best elements of The Smiths. And what a wonderful vocal and lyric. It’s a nice bit of blessed relief. It’s delicate, but it’s still got power.”
Even though The Smiths were on their fourth album, Marr still didn’t believe he was yet to write a song deserving of the plaudits they were receiving. He challenged himself to create something which showed they were right to be labelled the saviours of British music, and the result was ‘Cemetry Gates’.
“When we signed with Rough Trade we were being hailed as the great new songwriters,” he told Guitar Magazine in 1997. “And I was on the train coming back thinking, ‘Right, if you’re so great – first thing in the morning, sit down and write a great song.'”
Marr still plays an array of songs by The Smiths in his solo sets, but ‘Cemetry Gates’ is one that he has left alone. That was, however, until an Instagram Live in 2020 during the first lockdown when Marr performed an impromptu acoustic version in his garden.
Regardless of the track gathering mountains of dust after being left on the shelf for over 30 years, Marr effortlessly slips into ‘Cemetry Gates’ after a fan requested to hear it, and he executes a faultless rendition.
If there’s a more joyous way to spend 70 seconds than watching Johnny Marr perform a stripped-back version of ‘Cemetry Gates’, then don’t hesitate to get in touch. Watch the video below, and enjoy The Smiths guilt-free in 2021.