Johnny... Remember me?

Johnny Marr's Healers | The Scala, London
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The Independent Culture

Let's just get one thing clear. It's not The Healers, it's Johnny Marr's Healers. Got it? Such is the legacy of the over-bearing Morrissey that the ex-Smiths guitarist doesn't just want us to know he's back. This time he's in charge. And he's singing.

Let's just get one thing clear. It's not The Healers, it's Johnny Marr's Healers. Got it? Such is the legacy of the over-bearing Morrissey that the ex-Smiths guitarist doesn't just want us to know he's back. This time he's in charge. And he's singing.

The band boast an assortment of musical celebrities and ciphers. In the latter category, we have ex-Kula Shaker bassist Alonza Bevan, in the former Zak Starkey, son of Ringo and, of course, Marr. Add to this percussionist Liz Bonney and guitarist Adam Gray and some appalling haircuts and you have a pretty frightening-looking band.

With no material yet realeased (an album is expected next year), the place hums with anticipation. A member of the audience offers a fatherly cry of encouragement: "Go on Johnny, my son"; another, clocking the kaleidoscopic backdrop, shouts "Got any E, mate?" "I'll do one if you do," retorts Marr.

It's clear that people fear for his future. Marr may be a guitarist of near-heroic stature but he has struggled to maintain his profile since leaving The Smiths. While the world waited expectantly for a solo album, Marr dithered and dallied before briefly joining his friend Matt Johnson's band The The. His time as one half of the indie-dance outfit Electronic, alongside New Order's Bernard Sumner, never really got off the ground, though (his aversion to touring didn't help).

As far as this latest project is concerned, anyone expecting the wistful whimsy of The Smiths will be disappointed. Judging by tonight's show, Johnny Marr's Healers are a much darker, heavier affair. Like most contemporary bands, they incline towards the Sixties and Seventies back catalogue, while their name - inspired by the 19th-century medium Helena Blavatsky's book The Secret Doctrine - reflects Marr's growing interest in spiritualism. It's difficult to know how to feel about this - when spiritualism and pop music are thrown together you can usually add boring and smug (see Madonna, Kula Shaker etc). But this doesn't seem to be the case with Marr. So far.

But there is a shortage of attitude with this harder direction. The band don't seem to be rocking out so much as treading water. "Voodoo On You" sounds somewhere between Dr John and - sorry, guys - Aerosmith; "The Last Ride" isn't a million miles from Oasis, perhaps not such a crime when you consider that Marr gave Noel Gallagher his first guitar. It's only when Marr cries, "I'm still here, where's the fear?" in "Coming, Ready Or Not" that he looks really galvanised. The problem is, it's not just us he has to convince.

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