Marillion; not everybody’s cup of tea.

Let’s face it, Marillion isn’t everybody’s cup of tea and when people hear that I’m a fan of Marillion they still ask about Fish. I’m sure some of them do it on purpose and some of them most likely do it because they heard about the band back in the eighties when they had singles in the charts. But everyone’s cup of tea Marillion isn’t.

I came to Marillion late; despite Marillion being a fairly local band to where I lived at the time, fairly local to where I live now in fact and despite the fact that their first concert (as Silmarillion at the time and before Fish joined as vocalist) was in the Civic Centre in my home town of Berkhamsted, I came to Marillion after the release of Misplaced Childhood.

I’d heard the single “Kayleigh” on the wireless and I’d liked it so being an “album” sort of guy, I went down to the local record shop and bought the album. My brother had discovered Marillion earlier than I had; he had the single of “Market Square Heroes” which I thought, after an initial listening, was something that I wasn’t quite, you know, “into”. Maybe I didn’t listen properly; maybe a number of things but at first “Market Square Heroes” didn’t really do it for me. “Kayleigh” however was somewhat more melodic and lured by the melody I listened to the words. I was hooked. I took “Misplaced Childhood” home, gingerly placed it on the trusty Dansette and sat back to listen to the whole album not really sure what I was about to hear. What I did hear was something that I liked, I liked it then and I like it now.

Over the next few months I sought out and bought the previous albums, “Script For A Jester’s Tear”, “Fugazi” and the live offering “Real to Reel”. I say over the next few months, this was in an age before the internet and the likes of Amazon and if your local record shop didn’t have it and you didn’t want to wait for them to order it you had to get on the bus or train and go to another town and look in their record shop. It’s probably unnecessary to say here that this was in a time when there were lots of small independent record shops along with the likes of Woolworths and W H Smith.

So it’s 1986 and I’m a Marillion fan.
1987 and a new album comes out, “Clutching At Straws”.
1988 and Fish leaves Marillion.

Ah well, I have 5 albums of theirs in my collection and they’re all good, with the possible exception of “Real to Reel” you see, I never was fond of “Live” albums, except for Tangerine Dream’s “Ricochet”, that is a splendid album.

Life went on, I heard that Marillion had a new vocalist; I heard that they were releasing a new album. I heard that they had released a new album. I thought that Marillion without Fish just wouldn’t be the same; I liked his lyrics, I even identified with his lyrics. Then one evening in 1990 I think it was I was watching late night TV and a concert programme came on, it was as I recall a weekly affair and this week the featured band was Marillion.

I watched, just a little curious to see, to hear what this new vocalist was like. The set started with “The King Of Sunset Town”, well, I think it did, it’s a long time ago now but that song at least I remember. It starts quietly with music that is recognisably Marillion, it builds and about 1 minute 50 seconds into the song, the band starts properly followed at 2 minutes 30 seconds by the new vocalist, Mr. Hogarth (“h” to the faithful), who was as I recall playing thin air – MIDI gloves as I later discovered, linked electronically to the keyboard rig.
I listened to the music, I breathed a sigh of relief, this was good music.
I bought the new Marillion album “Seasons End” on CD; I’d bought a CD player the previous year, (the first CD I bought? “Red Octopus” by Jefferson Starship. Strange how I can remember that but not the first vinyl album I bought; that’s a toss-up between Tubular Bells and Brain Salad Surgery).

1991 and another Marillion release, “Holidays In Eden”, hmmm, somehow this seemed to me to be lacking in something. It was almost like pop music, or so I thought. Then in 1994 “Brave”. This was it, Marillion of the future. I can’t really describe how this album made me feel; I love it, it made me cry, it still does.

I’ve never been very good at writing about music; I know what I like and believe me that category covers a wide range of genres and styles but when It comes to me explaining exactly what I like about a piece of music I find it difficult. Maybe that’s how it should be; it’s just something that you feel inside. The first time I listened to “Brave” it blew me away, emotionally. I couldn’t quantify it, it just “connected”. Up until this point I’d never seen Marillion live in concert, in the flesh as it were. I saw them twice on the Brave tour.

The years rolled by and brought more albums from Marillion; “Afraid Of Sunlight”, “This Strange Engine”, “Radiation”, “” but by 2001’s Anoraknophobia I think I was falling out of love, the songs weren’t connecting any more. My fault or theirs? I was a member of the Marillion Fan Club, I was stumping-up money in advance to buy the special Fan Club editions of these albums, crowdfunding essentially. I got my name in the CD booklet, actually “booklet” does them a disservice; they were lavish affairs with lots of “artwork” and came in sturdy slip-cases.

I paid for them, received them, looked for my name amongst all the other supporters, played the CD once and left it on the shelf; this happened to “Anoraknophobia”, “Marbles”, “Somewhere Else” and “Happiness Is the Road”. During this period the only highlight, as far as I was concerned, was the outstanding song “Ocean Cloud” from the “Marbles” album. In 2009 they released an acoustic album of re-arranged Hogarth era songs. I didn’t buy it, I just wasn’t interested. 2012 brought the album “Sounds That Can’t Be Made” and again I subscribed to the pre-order scheme and paid over the odds for a lavishly packaged version of the album. It also failed to connect.

A few years later when I was invited to do the same with the latest album, “Fuck Everyone And Run (F E A R)” I very nearly didn’t. I thought about it, but something inside persuaded me that maybe this time, just maybe they’d got back on track. Back on track as far as my musical taste was concerned otherwise I was thinking that maybe they should Forget Everything And Retire.

In 2016 F E A R arrived and I opened the package and looked for my name amongst all the other supporters, there I was, again. Not having time to listen to it the morning it arrived I ripped the album to mp3 files, took it to work on a memory stick and listened to it there. It was another “Seasons End” moment; again I breathed a sigh of relief, they were back.

I say, they were back, for some people they’d never been away, I’d been to Marillion concerts in the interim, not many I grant you but a few, and the fans were always there, always singing along with the songs, the ones I liked and the ones I didn’t like; musical appreciation is, after all, so very subjective.

Some years back Marillion started holding their Marillion Weekends, they’d take-over a small holiday camp and stage three nights, Friday, Saturday and Sunday of, well, Marillion. I never really fancied that, I imagined that the ultra-faithful would be there hooraying and whoop-whooping everything and it would all be a bit over the top. The popularity of these weekends only increased; there have been Marillion Weekends in The UK, The Netherlands, Canada, Portugal, Poland, Chile and probably other places that I’m not aware of.

In 2014, between “Sounds That Can’t Be Made” and “F E A R”, I embarked upon my Polish Odyssey. In 2017 Marillion held their first Marillion Weekend in Poland, in a city I already knew, Łódź. Now, as has been chronicled elsewhere in this blog, I like Łódź, it’s an honest, down-to-earth kind of place and naturally when I saw that one of my favourite bands was playing three nights in one of my favourite cities… well, tickets were booked, concert and airline.

In 2018 Marillion skipped their Weekend in Poland but were back again earlier this year, 2019. Back again in Łódź and again I went. Call me crazy if you will but I wouldn’t really contemplate doing a three nighter in the UK; unless it was within an easy taxi ride of my home town it would be bound to be expensive. The UK Weekend this year was in Leicester, for the price of railway tickets from Chesham to Leicester and back, I can fly to Poland and back, not only that, but I can fly directly to Łódź – so I did.

I flew in to Łódź on the Friday, got a taxi to my hotel, checked-in, dropped my bag and proceed to the restaurant in Łódzki Dom Kultury because I was fairly hungry, and I knew it was going to be a long night. After a nice meal I went walkabout for a bit and then returned to the hotel where I donned a “concert” t-shirt then went to meet with some friends in Chmielowa Dolina, a bar that I had quite taken to. After exchanging greetings with the small group in there who were all going to the concert, we had few beers before going to the concert venue. That evening the playlist was taken exclusively from the four albums: “Seasons End”, “Holidays In Eden”, “Brave” and “Afraid Of Sunlight” and I have to say, apart from the two concerts I attended on the Brave tour where they played Brave through in its entirety, it was the best Marillion gig I’ve been to.

The next evening, I didn’t think the set list was as good; it was good but not as good as the previous evening. Sunday was Album Night; and this year the album was “Happiness Is the Road”. I seriously considered not going to the Sunday gig,
1. Because I hadn’t really connected with that album and
2. Look, I’m 60 years old, all that standing takes its toll…
but in the end I did go and some of the “Happiness…” songs I quite enjoyed. Mr Hogarth had a problem with his guitar at one point and that particular song had to be started again which all added to the appeal of the thing. The encore was an eclectic mix including a cover of a Britney Spears song, “Toxic” apparently. I didn’t know it was a Britney Spears song until I looked-up the set list (honestly) and they finished with a song from “F E A R”.

h on the first night

I’d done it, my second Marillion Weekend, my first “full” Marillion Weekend; when I went to the one in 2017 I’d skipped the middle night, I’d been out walking most of the day and it had been a lovely day for walking. I’d got the tram to a local park and gone exploring and by the time I’d got back to my hotel room, that was where I wanted to stay, the thought of a couple of hours standing just didn’t appeal to me, Marillion or not.

And I hear you saying that I can’t be a true fan if I went all that way and didn’t go to the gig. I beg to differ. I’ve bought the special edition albums, I’ve helped fund the album releases, I held on waiting for the (what I call) “good” albums to appear again and yes, I’ve been critical of the band where I thought they deserved it. But I’m still a fan.

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