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Johnny Marr in Dreamland as he comes home to Kildare

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Johnny Marr has told the Brendan O’Connor Show on RTÉ Radio 1 that it is “a big deal” that he will play Athy’s Dreamland Ballroom next month – the venue where his parents John and Frances first met.

Speaking on Sunday’s programme, The Smiths legend said the concert is “already feeling like it’s going to be mental” as he comes home to where it all began.

“Me and my sister and my brother grew up hearing about the Dreamland from being little kids, you know, in Athy,” he enthused.

Marr said the offer to play the venue in his parents’ hometown came to him last year.

“I just got a message maybe, whatever, six/seven months ago from a promoter saying, ‘Look, do you fancy it?’ I was like, ‘What?!’ So straight away obviously I agreed to it,” he recounted.

“I’ve not actually seen the inside of it. I’ve seen photographs of it, but I’ve never been in it. But yeah, it’s a big deal for me. Just playing anywhere in Athy is a big deal, but playing in the Dreamland’s kind of a trip really.”

“So would your parents have told you about the showbands and that growing up?” asked the host. “You know the showbands brought rock and roll to Ireland essentially in ballrooms like that all over the country?”

“Oh yeah!” Marr replied. “I mean, Johnny McEvoy and Big Tom and the Mainliners – of course, yeah! And Joe Dolan and the Drifters. Yeah, oh yeah, I know all about that!”

“Are you drawn back more to Ireland and to Athy and to your roots and stuff?” O’Connor continued. “Is that something that happens as you get older?”

Johnny Marr said he has “always” regarded himself as Mancunian-Irish

“Oh, you know, that’s a big question,” said Marr. “I mean, I’ve a connection to my roots just because it was so all around me when I was a kid, so it just comes as second nature. My parents loved Manchester, I’ve got to say that.

“I grew up in a very large extended Irish family. I would be in Athy quite a bit when I was little, and then a lot of my aunties and uncles, they moved back to Kildare in the Eighties. So it was a really big part of my childhood, and I always say my mum and dad get more Irish every day. But without being over-the-top about it.

“Funny enough, I was with Noel Gallagher at the weekend and both of us got asked about what we’ve got in common and the first thing we said was that we come from Irish families. We didn’t say, ‘We’re from Manchester, we play the guitar, we have good haircuts and good jackets’. The first thing we said was, ‘We’ve got Irish families’. So it’s in you, you know, even if you grow up in Manchester.”

“I’ve never really thought about it being a getting older thing, whether it’s to do with nostalgia,” Marr continued. “I think it’s maybe the identity of Britain feels more, as I get older, feels more alienating to me really. If you want to get serious about it, it’s not a matter of me getting nostalgic, it’s a matter of me feeling a little more… getting more and more alienated with the idea of the other identity.”

Marr said he has “always” regarded himself as Mancunian-Irish.

“I think really from when I started being in bands and from when The Smiths formed, I thought Mancunian-Irish was a thing. I mean, I wrote about it in my book that came out in 2016 (the memoir Set the Boy Free) because, as I say, my parents and my relatives, they were very grateful for the opportunities and the fun they had in Manchester.

“So in a way, why say Mancunian-Irish? I realised I had more of an appreciation of Manchester than a lot of my mates who were from English families have got. Because my parents, they absolutely loved coming from Kildare, but they were young when they moved over and they loved the scene over here, so I had the best of both worlds really.”

O’Connor concluded the interview by asking: “Categorically, The Smiths are not an English band? The Smiths are an Irish band, are they?”

“Oh yeah,” Marr answered. “The Smiths are Mancunian-Irish, but The Smiths aren’t an English band, let’s put it that way.”

“I’m very careful to be respectful of this situation because I was born in Manchester, but I just can’t bring myself to say anything other than Mancunian-Irish – and it is a breed,” he added. “And maybe if it wasn’t invented, I had to invent it. And if I have invented it, I’m really proud of it.”

“And you know what? It’s a much nicer way of putting it than Plastic Paddy as well, isn’t it?” said O’Connor.

“Oh!” groaned Marr. “My dad’d never forgive me!”

Johnny Marr plays the Sea Sessions festival in Bundoran, Co Donegal on Sunday 23 June, Live at the Castle in Limerick on Monday 24 June, the Dreamland Ballroom in Athy, Co Kildare on Tuesday 25 June and takes part in a public interview at the National Concert Hall in Dublin on Wednesday 26 June.

The Brendan O’Connor Show, RTÉ Radio 1, Saturdays and Sundays, 11am

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