Tag Archives: Marillion

The 2015 UK Marillion Convention

Steve Hogarth at the 2015 Marillion Convention

This isn’t really a review as such. Because by the end of each of the three nights there’s not much more you can say beyond “Wibble”. A total of seven hours of some of the most emotially moving and life-affirming music in rock, including the albums “Anoraknophobia” and “Marbles” played in full, and a remarkable greatest hits set on the last night.
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Marillion’s big hit single “Kayleigh” was released 30 years ago today. Where has all the time gone?

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Farewell to Childhood?

So, Fish has announced that he will follow his festival appearances celebrating 30 years of “Misplaced Childhood” with a UK tour in December, in which the album will be played in full.

Much as I’m a big fan of Marillion and of Fish, I think I’m going to give this one a miss, unless the support act is a must-see.

Fish has been a great live act in the past couple of years promoting his excellent and moving “Feast of Consequences” album. It’s no secret that nowadays his voice today is not the voice he had a generation ago. His upper register is gone, and older numbers need to be played in a much lower key and be rearranged to avoid the high notes. He’s fine on the more recent material, which is written for his current vocal range, and he can get away with a few reworked older numbers thrown in for old times’ sake.

When he last toured Misplaced Childhood in the 20th anniversary in the mid-noughies, the first half of the show consisting of more recent solo material was the better half. The re-tuned Misplaced became dirge-like in places and actually dragged towards the end.

Hearing both the Steve Rothery Band and Marillion themselves tackle pre-1988 material towards the end of last year was an eye-opener, or rather an ear-opener; Steve Rothery’s emotive and lyrical guitar playing is as central to the music as Fish’s vocals, and more significantly Steve Hogarth, as a technically better singer proved capable to taking the songs and making them his own.

If I was to hear the whole of Misplaced Childhood live, I’d rather hear the current incarnation of Marillion play it. But maybe Fish will prove me completely wrong and the whole thing will be a triumph.

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Anoraknophobia

AnoraknophoboaIt’s only a couple of months until the UK Marillion Conventional in Wolverhampton. As has become the established format for these events, two of the three nights will centre on an album played in full. One will be the near-universally loved “Marbles”. The other will be 2001′s “Anoraknophobia”, an album that still divides opinion more than a decade after its release. As with “Holidays in Eden” at the 2011 event and “Radiation” in 2013, it gives an opportunity to reassess an often overlooked album from their back catalogue.

It’s no “Brave” or “Season’s End”, but Anoraknophobia is still a personal favourite for me. It was the album that bought me back on board and made me a Marillion fan again. I’d been slowly drifting away as a fan for several years. I hadn’t actually seen them live since the Holidays in Eden tour, where I witnessed a rather lacklustre gig at Hammersmith Odeon that seemed to lack the old magic. I’d kept on buying the albums, and loved “Brave”, but a few albums later they were losing their magic for me on record too. “Dotcom”, the album before Anorak was and still is my least favourite Marillion album.

In retrospect Anoraknophobia feels part of a trilogy along with Radiation and Dotcom; those three records represented the period where the band were looking for a new direction and trying to adopt a more contemporary sound. DotCom didn’t work for me; much of the album sounded too much like generic rock/pop which diluted Marillion’s strengths.

Anoraknophobia too was as much a departure from the classic sound with its elements of trip-hop, dub and indie-rock, but somehow the album seemed much more in the spirit of Marillion. Songs like “Separated Out” and “Between You And Me” rocked out. The ambitious “Quartz” merged a dub bass riff with some archetypal Steve Rothery guitar textures. The sprawling album highlight “This is the 21st Century” with it’s hypnotic rhythms and extended dreamy solo is miles away from the neo-prog of their 1980s heyday, but is still one of the finest songs.

The tour was also the first time I’d seen them live in a decade. I’d just moved to Manchester, and saw them on the tour at Manchester Academy. What I experienced seemed a completely different band from the one I’d seen a dozen years earlier; the same self-confident and coherent band that we’re familiar with today.

Anorak isn’t flawless by any means, and was eclipsed by “Marbles” when the band finally found the magic formula, but Anoraknophobia remains a personal favourite, and still seems to represent the moment when the band turned the corner.

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Best Gigs of 2014

Chantel McGregor at the 2014 Cambridge Rock Festival

Unlike almost everyone else, I didn’t get to see Kate Bush’s already legendary shows at Hammersmith in the summer. But I did get to see plenty of other bands, from festivals to free-entry pub gigs, so many in fact that I lost eventually lost count. I do remember nine in thirteen days in December, after which I collapsed in a heap.

These are ten of the best of the year, listed in chronological order save for the gig of the year. Several of them are from festivals, where I’ve highlighted individual sets rather than the festival as a whole.

The Pineapple Thief, HRH Prog, March

The first day of HRH Prog was somewhat patchy, with rather too many rather one-dimensional acts. The Pineapple Thief were the exception, with a magnificently intense set that stood head and shoulders above anyone else on Friday’s bill, including headliners The Flower Kings.

Riverside, O2 Academy, April

Poland’s finest proved they’re every bit as good live as they are on record, the perfect band for anyone still missing Porcupine Tree, but with enough of an identity of their own to sound like any kind of pastiche.

Panic Room, Gloucester Guildhall, April

2014 saw Panic Room back firing on all cylinders again after a somewhat shaky 2013, with the new lineup with then-new guitarist Adam O’Sullivan fully bedded it. They kicked off with an impressive performance at HRH Prog in March, and were on consistently good live form thereafter. It’s hard to single out any one show, but this early one in Gloucester was as good as any.

Magenta, Trinity Live, May

Magenta were only added to the bill of the all-day charity gig very late in the day when Christina’s cancer treatment was progressing well enough to allow her to perform. It’s always remarkable how good Magenta are live considering how infrequently they perform; but this time they completely stole the show. And they deserved it.

Jeff Lorber, Swansea Jazz Festival, June

Most of this years gigs have been prog and metal, so the Swansea Jazz Festival was a change of pace. Among others it featured the veteran trumpeter Dick Pierce, the violin-driven gypsy jazz of Sarah Smith, and the jazz-rock of Protect the Beat. But the highlight of the weekend was Friday night’s set of jazz-fusion from pianist Jeff Lorber. The world of prog contains plenty of virtuoso musicians, but jazz can be on another level.

Mostly Autumn, The Box in Crewe, July

Mostly Autumn have bounced back very strongly after a hit-and-miss 2013, touring to promote the best album they’ve made in years and for the first time playing the new album in full on tour. Despite a fluctuating lineup in the early part of the year due some members’ prior commitments, which saw former flautist Angela Gordon standing in for a couple of gigs, they were back to the sort of live form they displayed in 2011 and 2012. An early highlight was their long-overdue return to Crewe in July.

Mr So and So, Resonance, August

Resonance was a strange festival, with an eclectic mix of bands playing across multiple stages, including a small room tucked away at up at the top of the building. One of the bands in that small room, Mr So and So, were an unexpected highlight, a band who have improved immensely over the past couple of years, with Charlotte Evans coming into her own as a singer.

Chantel McGregor, Cambridge Rock Festival, August

The Cambridge Rock Festival was another highlight of the year, with strong sets from Mostly Autumn, Mr So and So, The Windmill, Cloud Atlas and others. One of the highlights was the guitar-shredding set on Friday from Chantel McGregor, who simply owns the main stage at that festival.

Fish, Reading Sub89, December

Fish had planned to tour the UK in May but was forced to cancel due to Guitarist Robin Boult’s injury. The rescheduled shows in December looked in doubt at one point when the man himself went down with viral laryngitis on the continental leg. But in the end all was fine, and the band were on fire, with a completely new setlist compared to last year, with old favourites like “Big Wedge” and “Incubus” as well as the powerful High Wood suite from his newest album played in full.

It’s hard to narrow things down to just ten, so honourable mentions to Touchstone and IOEarth’s Christmas show in Bilston, The Tangent’s mesmerising performance at Celebr8.3 in Islington, Tarja rocking out the O2 Academy, Steve Rothery at Bush Hall, Opeth’s oldies-heavy set at The Roundhouse, and Alestorm’s booze and piracy in Reading.

It’s even harder to pick the best of the lot, but there can only be one, and this came towards the end of the year.

Marillion, The Forum, December

Even after more than 30 years in the business, Marillion never disappoint live, and their sell-out December Christmas shows were no exception. What was surprising was the number of real oldies they haven’t played for years; “Slàinte Mhath”, “Warm Wet Circles/This Time of the Night” and even “Garden Party” from the Fish era, and several song from “Seasons End” including the magnificent title track. It gave the impression of a band comfortable in their own skins and reconciled with their own past in a way they weren’t a few years back.

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Steve Rothery at Bush Hall

Steve Rothery at Bush Hall

Marillion’s guitarist Steve Rothery and his band came to Bush Hall on a wet Saturday night for a sold-out gig to mark the end of his short UK tour to promote his solo album “The Ghosts of Pripyat”. He bought the five piece band he put together to record the album, including Yatim Halimi of Panic Room on bass and Dave Foster of Mr So and So as a second guitarist.

Support was the Italian four-piece RanestRane, playing to a back-projection of first part of “2001″. They played melodic contemporary neo-prog, with effects-laden guitar and the occasional foray into Hammond-heavy hard rock. It had its moments, and it was all skilfully played, but much of the time it felt a little generic, and by the end you found yourself paying far more attention to Stanley Kubrick’s visuals that the music. The fact that the drummer sang lead which meant they lacked a proper frontman may not have helped here.

Steve Rothery and his band began with his new solo album “The Ghosts of Pripyat” played in full. They recovered from a slight hiccough early on with guitar problems at the end of the opening number “Morpheus” to deliver a very impressive first set. The material, all of it instrumental, comes over strongly live. It’s powerful and emotional stuff, built around Rothery’s lyrical guitar playing, but far more than just an excuse for extended soloing.

Rothery is one of the greatest guitarists of his generation, casting such a shadow over subsequent waves of progressive rock that other guitarists in the scene either end up sounding like him or must try hard not to. He’s equally at home supplying effects-laden atmospherics and textures, or soaring lead lines. His playing is always melodic, with a less-is-more approach that doesn’t waste a note, and the first hour demonstrated all of this.

There were times that resemble Marillion without vocals, but with two guitars the textures were often denser and darker. While it’s obviously Rothery’s show, Dave Foster still made his mark, sometimes playing muscular riffs while Rothery added atmospheric fills, and has a few spotlight moments of his own, his metal-orientated shredding contrasting with Rothety’s own distinctive style.

After the final notes of title track of the album died away, Rothery announced that they’ve be taking a short break, and would be back with some Marillion songs.

This is the point where it might all have gone horribly wrong; on a live album recorded in Rome earlier in the year the second half was something of an anticlimax, largely down to the guest vocalists not doing the material justice. Not so tonight; Steve Rothery drafted in Martin Jakubski from the tribute band Stillmarillion, a singer who knows exactly how to bring the classic early material to life on stage.

It started slowly, with the early B-side “Cinderella Search” and the reflective title track on “Afraid of Sunlight”, the only Hogarth-era song played. But things really caught fire with the dark intensity of “Incubus”, the disturbing song written a generation before ‘revenge porn’ was ever a thing. With “Chelsea Monday”, “Fugazi”, and the encore medley from “Misplaced Childhood” the band took the roof off.

This was material from the Fish era that the present incarnation of Marillion never play nowadays in regular touring sets, and sung with all the high notes intact rather than the rearranged versions Fish has performed in recent years. It was the closest thing to Fish-era Marillion in their mid-80s prime as you’re likely to get in 2014.

With the majestic first half and the strongly crowd-pleasing second half, this was a life-affirming occasion.

This review also appears in Trebuchet Magazine

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Steve Rothery – Live in Rome

Steve Rothery Band Live in RomeSteve Rothery’s distinctive guitar work has always been Marillion’s secret weapon right from the very early days of the band. With a less-is-more approach that doesn’t believe in wasting notes and an evocative tone it’s his playing that’s been the cornerstone of their sound for more than thirty years.

Rothery’s previous side-project was the collaboration with vocalist Hannah Stobart, The Wishing Tree, resulting in two semi-acoustic albums with an ethereal All About Eve vibe about them. The Steve Rothery Band is something altogether different. With fellow-guitarist Dave Foster (Mr So and So) and a rhythm section of bassist Yatim Halimi (Panic Room) and drummer Leon Parr it’s a guitar-led rock instrumental project. The whole thing began life with Rothery’s appearance at a guitar festival in Poland, documented in the earlier “Live in Plovdiv”, which in turn led to a successful Kickstarter project for an album “The Ghosts of Pripyat”, due in September.

“Live in Rome” records the band’s second live appearance, and presents an intriguing snapshot of the work in progress on the album. Instrumental guitar music can bring back memories of those 1980s shred-metal albums released on Mike Varney’s shrapnel records, but this record has little in common with those. Rothery’s playing has always been about melody and textures rather than technical showing off, and the first half of this record is Steve Rothery doing exactly what he does best, backed by an excellent supporting cast.

Many of the instrumental pieces follow a similar form; a slow-burning opening that gradually builds in intensity over ten minutes or more. They’re neither overly rigid compositions nor loose unstructured jams, but manage to hit the sweet spot between the two, and despite being tight there’s a raw intensity to the playing from the whole band. It feels like the gig must have been something very special to have been present at. This is far, far more than just an hour’s worth of guitar solos.

The second disk sees the band joined by vocalists Manuela Milanese and Alessandro Carmassi plus keyboard player Riccardo Romano for a run through some highlights from the Marillion back catalogue, featuring the likes of “Easter”, “Sugar Mice” and even the very early B-side “Cinderella Search”. They’re close to the originals instrumentally, completely with Rothery’s magnificent solos, but with some interestingly different takes on the vocals.

As a taster for the forthcoming studio album and as a recording in its own right this is an excellent record, and it will be very interesting to hear how these live takes of the songs compare with the finished results in the studio.

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Gigs of the Year – 2013 Edition

Panic Room at Sound Control in Manchester

I went to so many gigs in 2013 I ended up losing count; everything from local cover bands in pubs to rock monsters in enormodomes, and everything in between. There have been a few gigs outside my usual comfort zone, such as The Damned and The Orb; I even went to see Iron Maiden at the O2 Arena, a band I last saw in 1982.  I even went to see a Fleetwood Mac tribute band…

Picking a best-of list out of all those gigs is a hard one, but these six stand out as ones to remember for all the right reasons.

Marillion – UK Convention Saturday

Marillion’s fan conventions are always amazing experiences, with a hall full of hardcore fans and three sets with completely different setlists over the three nights. The end result is an electric atmosphere that few regular gigs can approach. All three nights in Wolverhampton were amazing experiences, but for me the best of the three was Saturday, with the dark, intense concept album “Brave” played in its entirety.

Fish – Islington O2 Academy

I got to see Fish four times this year, twice in his spring tour before the band went into the studio to record the album, and twice in the autumn on the tour to promote the album. All were great shows, with the big man on superb form, the London gig in May was a real standout.

Steve Hackett – Hammersmith Apollo

I wasn’t entirely convinced by Steve Hackett’s restatement of his Genesis legacy in the studio; the re-recorded versions seemed to add little to the much-loved favourites. But live it was a completely different experience; a triumphant and uplifting celebration of the magnificent music that deservedly won many standing ovations.  The Guardian completely missed the point.

Panic Room + Morpheus Rising – Manchester Sound Control

Panic Room have had a few ups and downs this year, forced to regroup following the departure of lead guitarist and founder member Paul Davies. Their tour in early summer featured Morpheus Rising’s Pete Harwood standing in guitar doing double duty with both the headliners and his own band. The tour ended with two superb shows in Bilston and Manchester demonstrating the band’s ability to triumph over adversity, with great support from Morpheus Rising, themselves premiering a lot of new material.

Mostly Autumn + Chantel McGregor, Islington O2 Academy

Mostly Autumn have been a bit hit-and-miss as live band during 2013, with fluctuating lineups from gig to gig due to various members’ other commitments. But the stars aligned when they came to London in Ocober. Chantel McGregor’s incendiary opening set gave the whole show the feel of a co-headliner, and Mostly Autumn’s barnstorming set had to be one of the best shows they’ve done in the past two or three years.

Steven Wilson, Royal Albert Hall

Steve Wilson came to London’s most prestigious major venue with his band including Theo Travis, Guthie Govan, Nick Beggs and Zappa alumnus Chad Wakerman, with the combined virtuosity you’d expect from a top-flight jazz ensemble rather than typical rock band. They proceed to delivere a mesmerising set drawn almost entirely from Steve Wilson’s three recent solo work, reinventing 70s Mellotron-drenched progressive rock to make it relevant to the 21st century. There are still people missing Porcupine Tree, but on the strength of shows like this, his new band are very good trade.

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Marillion – Carol of the Bells

Marillion’s Christmas single, available on iTunes, Amazon and all good Internets. Because there are plenty of traditional carols that can be improved by adding a Steve Rothery solo.

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Now Playing – September 2013 edition

Some of the records I’ve been listening to over the past couple of days. 2013 has been a great year for new music, but here I’ve revisited some old and sometimes overlooked classics.

Marillion – This Strange Engine

Their live sets in recent years have often drawn heavily from this album, but it’s the first time I’ve given the whole album a listen for a long time. One thing that struck me was how much it resembles their more recent work, despite being a decade and a half old. When it came out it was a bit a departure for them, with more emphasis on atmospherics and textures, and drew mixed reactions. But in retrospect, a lot of their current sound has its roots in this album.

Touchstone – Discordant Dreams

Touchstone’s first full-length album shows just how far they’ve progressed since they started out. I’d forgotten that Rob Cottingham sang most of the lead vocals back in the early days with Kim singing harmonies – It was only from “Wintercoast” onwards that Kim took over as the band’s main lead singer.

Yes – Drama

The announcement that Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes from pop duo The Buggles were to replace Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman made heads explode when announced all those years ago. But thirty years on this is an album that stands the test of time far better than its unfocussed and directionless precessor “Tormato”. I think it’s fair to say that without “Drama” there would have been no Yes three decades later.

Black Sabbath – Seventh Star

Tony Iommi and former Deep Purple singer Glenn Hughes made this collaboration with a bunch of session players after the ill-fated Ian Gillan-fronted Sabbath fell apart. It was never really intended as a Black Sabbath record, and lacks the doom-laden melodrama associated with the Sabbath name. But taken on its own merits it’s an excellent blues-metal hybrid, with both Iommi and Hughes on top form.

Rush – Roll the Bones

I was never that big a fan of Rush’s “Synthesiser period” and found their late 80s output a little bloodless and sterile. Their first release of the 1990s represented a back-to-basics power trio approach with Alex Lifeson’s guitar in the centre of the mix where it belonged.  All very welcome for me, even if the rather heavier following album “Counterparts” remains my favourite Rush disc of the past two decades.

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