Johnny Marr and The Charlatans at Forest Live, 28/06/24

Cannock Chase Forest shakes to a co-headline set from two of indie’s heaviest hitters

“Thank you and goodnight!” laughs Jonny Marr after his second song of the night. To be fair, he almost could have stopped there and everyone would have still been happy – such is the stopping power of ‘Panic’, and of every other Smiths song, on the Cannock Chase crowd. 

This is particularly lovely place for a day festival, set amid the trees and trails of Staffordshire in a hollowed out clearing just small enough to feel intimate. Gaz Combes opened Friday night – ushering in the long shadows with ‘Moving’ – before Marr takes to the stage. 

For a man who’s been the driving force behind so many bands over the last few decades, Marr could have filled his setlist with hits that most probably wouldn’t have even known were his. It’s half solo and half Smiths tonight though, with tracks like ‘Generate! Generate!’, ‘Hi Hello’ and ‘Easy Money’ sitting comfortably with generation-defining classics like ‘Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want’ and ‘This Charming Man’. 

Marr, as usual, loses himself in his own guitar – riding the hypnotic waves of ‘How Soon Is Now’ across the stage before building out the solos like no one else can. The highlight comes soon after though, when he invites Tim Burgess on stage for a rare cover of Electronic’s ‘Getting Away With It’ – The Haçienda brought right to a sunny forest in the Midlands. 

This, after all, is a co-headline show – and Burgess is back half an hour later with The Charlatans. With the last of the daylight disappearing behind the trees, Burgess is here to party. It’s ‘Then’ into ‘Can’t Get Out Of Bed’ into a set full of singles. ‘North Country Boy’ hitches to ‘Just When You’re Thinking Things Over’ – landing almost as big as set-closer ‘The Only One I Know’. But it’s Marr’s reappearance that feels like the biggest highlight. 

Joining the band for ‘Opportunity’, ‘Weirdo’ and ‘Blackened Blue Eyes’, Marr makes yet another supergroup out of The Charlatans. Here we have the best (?) guitarist of indie rock elevating some of Madchester’s greatest hits – with Marr and Burgess clearly just as in awe of each other as the crowd is with them. “Wow,” says Burgess after watching Marr lift ‘Weirdo’ into something better than it’s ever been, almost dropping his maracas out of respect. This one feels special.

Johnny Marr is playing shows throughout the summer, including Lytham Festival and dates with James, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Suede and New Order. Find tickets here

The Charlatans play Brighton with The Libertines and Cardiff with New Order this summer. Find tickets here

Forest Live continues throughout summer 2024 in woodland venues around the UK. Find tickets – and full line-ups – here