A couple of years ago, Darren Morrissey and Greg Marshall arrived in London from Dublin with two acoustic guitars and a headful of shared dreams. They set about hauling themselves up the hard way from the rough and tumble of street corner busking and open-mic nights to playing at some of the biggest and best venues and recording studios in the city. Now it’s all about to kick off with the release of their second album, We Rise, a hard-hitting, high-kicking, rock & roll band production that reflects this period of profound personal and musical growth.
For Morrissey & Marshall it’s all about the journey, literally so in the video to their anthemic single “Love and be Loved” which finds the pair taking a ride in a black cab through the London night. Their voyage begins in Queen’s Park, where they recorded their first album And So It Began (released in 2014) and its amazing successor We Rise with producer and drummer John Reynolds (Sinead O’Connor, Damien Dempsey). The drive progresses through Camden where the pair played their first London gig; through Trafalgar Square where in 2016 they played their biggest gig, in front of 20,000 people; and past the Abbey Road studios, where they mastered the new album and where the rest of the Morrissey & Marshall band can be seen on the famous zebra crossing as the taxi goes by. The ride ends with the two men being dropped off at their local boozer in Finchley, North London, a location that has loomed large in the shaping and making of their music over the years. “We’d be on our fifth album if it wasn’t for that damn pub,” Morrissey jokes.
Morrissey & Marshall have spent the majority of their time in the capital honing and harnessing a range of classic musical influences to produce a live act and album of timeless pop-rock appeal. While their debut, And so it Began, won them plaudits as the finest pair of harmony singers to have emerged on the circuit for decades, Morrissey & Marshall have now upped their game with a new collection of songs to rival those of the very greatest groups. With its epic production and seamless combination of vocal, instrumental and songwriting prowess.
“My introduction to rock & roll was seeing Oasis as a young lad at the Point Theatre in Dublin in 1997,” Morrissey says. “I remember thinking, to quote John Lennon, ‘That looks like a good job.’
The opening track of We Rise, “Cold November Sunrise” sets the tone with a whipcrack beat and divebombing psychedelic guitar riff augmented by a horn section fanfare. Hearing this, it comes as no surprise to discover that Morrissey & Marshall started out in Dublin as part of a five-man rock & roll band called the Deshonos. “Back in those days I was the lead singer and frontman doing the wild, Jim Morrison thing,” Morrissey says. “And I was the lead guitarist with the pedalboard, wanting to be like John Squire,” Marshall says. Their time subsequently spent together during the early years in London as an acoustic harmony duo was an important step forward. But it was never going to stop the rock-star blood coursing through their musical veins.
“Cold November Sunrise” was an early harbinger of the move back to their rock & roll roots. “The first night we tried it out was in the Barbican supporting Sinead O’Connor,” Morrissey recalls. “It was an amazing night. Our best concert at the time and that song was the turning point. It’s about every topic that was frustrating me –anti-gay attitudes, racial prejudice, war, religion - all crammed into three minutes.”
Morrissey’s anger turns to tenderness when he sings of the heartbreaking effects of drug addiction on “Love and be Loved”, a huge, swaying ballad with a breathtaking backing vocal arrangement redolent of Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky”. “Try filling your veins with love,” Morrissey sings, eloquently encapsulating both the problem and the solution.
“Play On” is another full-on production, with a Happy Mondays-type dance-rock groove written by Marshall, and a lyric that finds Morrissey “contemplating superstardom” as he waits impatiently in the wings. “I’m not egotistical,” the singer explains. “But I got so excited when I heard Greg’s backing track. It’s an absolute banger."
“We don’t want to play safe,” Marshall says, firmly. “You might as well go for it.” And the fact is, the wheels are well and truly in motion.
Marshall’s rolling guitar riff leads the way on “She’s Got Love”, another big song full of life-affirming energy. The guitars and drums leap out from the speakers on the recorded track, but when they play this song live it is the harmony vocals that lift the performance to another dimension. The pair sing together with such close empathy and instinctive timing it is as though they have a telepathic connection, a reminder that there is more to close harmony singing than simply hitting the right notes. “Greg and I have lived it together,” Morrissey says. “Those harmonies are the result of pain and playing together. Half the time we haven’t even worked on them. There’s a chemistry and a bond between us that goes beyond music. We’ve gone through it all together.”
“Hangin’ Around” is the most sonically unusual track with processed guitar sounds in the verse, building up to a chorus of multi-layered harmonic riches that the Beach Boys would be proud to own. “It’s a song about knowing when to leave the pub and go home,” Morrissey says with a wry chuckle. “It’s about rejecting the fear of missing out that leads to you staying for just one more... and so on.”
“Beautiful World” another uptempo, harmony-driven song poses the question “Why don’t we feel good/In such a beautiful world?” The reason according to Morrissey is the fear factor that has infected news and social media outlets. “There is all this negative information put around. But as soon as I go out into one of the beautiful London parks, or wherever, and see the world for what it really is, the fear melts away.”
The album winds down sonically, while reaching a new peak of emotional intensity with “I Need You”, a simple piano ballad which Morrissey describes as “the heaviest song on the album”. An elegy for one of his best friends who died at the age of 25, “I Need You” is written from the viewpoint of his departed friend’s fiancée, whose emotional devastation at the funeral was overwhelming. “When we recorded this, I was actually crying when I was singing that song,” Morrissey says. “In the second verse you can hear the voice is breaking.”
“The Light Breaks” a short, beautiful, acoustic coda rounds off the album with a sense of calm and closure. The band has left the stage. “It’s just Greg and myself, to finish it off,” Morrissey says. “Back to where we started.”
Musically, We Rise is a big step up to the top table of pop. And with international release and touring deals in place across Europe and as far afield as Japan and Australia, the words and sounds of Morrissey & Marshall are spreading rapidly.
Whatever happens next, the band are already owners of two of the biggest names in rock. Morrissey smiles at the reference to their namesakes. “We have never pretended to be anyone other than Darren Morrissey and Greg Marshall. It’s who we really are.”