Tag Archives: Marillion

2015 in Live Music – Ten of the Best

Touchstone Farewell Gig

It’s harder to rank gigs in any kind of order than it is for records, since you can’t relive a one-off experience. These ten are those which have particularly stuck in the mind, and there is probably a bias towards the end of the year since those are freshest in the memory.

The Marillion Convention

There is nothing else quite like the fan conventions Marillion hold every other year. They see the band perform seven hours of music over three nights including a lot of rarely-played material, all before an audience of fanatical hardcore fans. This year’s was no exception, the highlight of which was the double album “Marbles” played in full on the Saturday night.

The Session at The Swansea Jazz Festival

One cannot live on prog alone, so The Swansea Jazz festival is always a good opportunity to explore something outside of the usual comfort zone. Some sets had far too many bass solos, but this New Orleans-based quintet were the undoubted highlight, with a frontline of sax and trumpet. The first solo from trumpeter Steven Lande was like hearing a really good blues or metal guitarist cutting loose.

Ramblin Man Fair

My first open air festival since High Voltage in London a few years back took place in leafy Maidstone. Saturday saw great sets in the sunshine from Touchstone, Blue Öyster Cult and the legendary Camel, the only disappointment being the lacklustre phoned-in set from Dream Theater. But the musical highlight was much of Sunday, with a bill beginning in the rain with Anna Phoebe, Knifeworld (“Excuse me while I towel down my guitar”), The Pineapple Thief and Riverside, and ending in a mesmerising set from headliners Marillion after the clouds cleared and the moon came out.

King Crimson at Hackney Empire

The unexpected emergence of a new incarnation of King Crimson didn’t disappoint in the slightest, and the seven-piece lineup with three drummers went from intense improvised jazz-metal workouts to fresh interpretations of the stately magnificence of their 70s classics. Some too-cool-for-school mainstream critics just didn’t get it at all, but it was their loss; the set included superb performances of some of the greatest music of the 20th Century, and that’s not something you say lightly.

Steven Wilson at The Royal Albert Hall

In terms of profile, Steven Wilson stands head and shoulders above any other contemporary progressive rock act, able to sell out venues that are otherwise the preserve of the 70s legends of the genre. I made the mistake of booking for just one of the two nights rather than both, for the sets were completely different. So I didn’t get to see the bulk of “Hand. Cannot. Erase.” played live, but did see Porcupine Tree classics and an intense “Raider II”. It was still an amazing experience.

Gazpacho & Iamthemorning at Islington Academy

I got wind of this gig via a fan of Iamthemorning who was wondering aloud if headliners Gazpacho were worth seeing live. Both bands turned out to be mesmerising; the way you could have heard a pin drop during the acoustic support act really says it all, and the headliner’s absolute mastery of atmospherics managed to outdo even Marillion. Progressive rock needs more violins.

Gloryhammer at Islington Academy

One support band of 2015 deserve a mention. Scotland’s heroes were special guests to Finnish power-metallers Stratovarious, and it’s been a while since I’ve seen a support act so completely outclass the headliners. They has better songs, better stagecraft, and a level of fire & passion that the headliners completely lacked.

Public Image Limited at Reading Sub89

The artist formerly known as Johnny Rotten has still got it, and his singing style is totally unique. The other three quarters of PiL are tremendous musicians; a tight rhythm section and always inventive guitarist in Lu Edmonds meant that you spent as much time listening to the bass grooves or the guitar lines as the vocals. It’s a long way from classic rock, but it’s got more in common with the avant-garde end of progressive rock than you might think.

Touchstone & Magenta at Leamington Assembly

The farewell show for Kim Seviour and Rob Cottingham pulled a packed crowd to the magnificent central England venue. Because Kim had suffered a throat infection days before they gig, they added former Mostly Autumn singer Heather Findlay to the band as cover, and the band turned into a kind of heavy metal ABBA. It certainly brought a triumphal close to one chapter in the Touchstone story. And that’s before any mention of special guests Magenta, with a performance strong enough have been in this list in its own right.

Mostly Autumn at Leamington Assembly

Rather than their customary multi-date Christmas tour, Mostly Autumn decided to end 2015 with a single showcase gig in a central venue, what an event it turned out to be. Five hours of music included remarkably varied acoustic set that featured Angela Gordon singing lead at one point, a mesmerising but all-too-short set from violinist Anna Phoebe, what was probably the last full performance of “Dressed in Voices”, a Mostly Floyd set that was far, far better than any sceptics expected, and those traditional Christmas covers. And stunning versions of the rarely-played “The Night Sky” and “The Gap Is Too Wide”.

Those were just some of the many highlights of a great year of live music. Honourable mentions to Panic Room, Karnataka, Chantel McGregor and Luna Rossa, which have featured in this blog a lot, and to New Model Army and Lazuli, both “new” to me in terms of seeing live.

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BBC News asks “Where are all the climate change songs?” They have presumably never heard of Marillion’s “Season’s End”.

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Neo-Prog Three Decades On

Joe Banks writing in The Quietus has a grear piece in Neo-Prog Three Decades On, covering the likes of IQ, Pendragon and Pallas.

He’s spot on when it comes to Twelfth Night. His description of “Fact and Fiction” as the Unnown Pleasures of prog reminds me of how some aspects of their sound reminded me of Joy Division at the time. Perhaps what JD might have sounded with Dave Gilmour style guitar solos?  As for their eventual disolution when they “couldn’t make up their mind whether they wanted to be Pink Floyd or Duran Duran“, is Joe Banks certain he didn’t steal that line from me?

He’s good on Mairllion too, pointing out how they started out wearing the influence of Gabriel-era Genesis on their sleeves, but soon evolved towards evoking Pink Floyd at their most song-orientated. Not quite so sure about present-day Mairllion as “credible-if-a-bit-bland nu-prog, somewhere between Talk Talk and Muse“, though. At least he didn’t compare them to Coldplay….

It’s also good to see the late Tommy Vance mentioned. John Peel’s hagiographers tend to dismiss him for playing the music too uncool for The Peel Show, but the two were actually highly complementary. Certainly Tommy Vance was as much loved by his listeners as Peel was to his.

The whole piece is well worth a read.

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Reading Festival Nostalgia

Reading Festival 1983

It’s Reafing Festival weekend. The streets of the town are full of people in wellies and the supermarkets contain stacks of cheap lager the size of Canary Wharf. It all reminds me of the last Reading Festivals I went to back in the early 1980s, when I was the same age as the people going now. Reading has always been a teenage rite of passage.

It’s a reminder of the fact I’ve been a Marillion fan for 33 years this weekend, after seeing them half-way ip the bill in 1982. They were back the following year as special guests on the Saturday night, opened with Grendel. They blew Black Sabbath and their fibreglass Stonehenge off stage. Little did I imagine their music would still be a big part of my life more than three decades laer.

It’s remarkable how many of the bands from the 1983 bill above are still around. I saw Marillion a few weeks back, headlining the Prog stage at Ramblin Man. Pendragon played the same festival. The Enid were at HRH Prog. Magnum, Pallas, Big Country, The Stranglers and even Man are still on the circuit.

This year’s Reading Festival bill includes Metallica, who have been around for 30 years. Can you imagine 1980s festivals having 1940s crooners and big band jazz on the bill?

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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 of 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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