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MARILLION
Forum, Kentish Town, London, 14 December 2011

Steve Hogarth, photo by Andrew Lock

I'm not exaggerating: there are times when it's possible to believe Steve Hogarth is the greatest live frontman around.

At the very least, he must be the greatest still working in the UK today, and while Marillion's music may be predominantly of a slow, sombre, reflective and dreamlike nature, there's nothing laid back about the diminutive Yorkshireman's stage conduct.

He leaps, he shudders, he whirls round and around in fiery balls of energy, he clambers atop speakers and leaps off them in wide arcs his legs look incapable of, he switches from piano to guitar to electronic cricket bat (!!) as if it were the most natural thing in the world, and he almost beheads bassist Pete Trevawas with a flung walking-stick (a by-now stalwart prop used during the epic "Invisible Man") before turning round to natter to the audience in an affable Northern brogue more typical of a barman or gas fitter. Schizophrenic? He's bleeding Quadrophenic….


Then there are his actual vocals. This man doesn't merely sing, he screams, shrieks, wails, cries, moans, yells and emotes (the almost feature-length "This Strange Engine" treating us to samples of all the above), whilst still managing to remain at all times perfectly in tune.

Sure, he's sober, clean and straight these days, but whereas that can have a mellowing effect on some people (Monster Magnet's Dave Wyndorf springing immediately to mind) it seems to have re-invested H with an even greater sense of impassioned lunacy - sometimes incongruous in the setting of such beautiful mood music, but that's precisely why it works.

 He may sound a bit like Mark Hollis, but he's sure as hell more interesting to watch - even if it's obvious that he's fully aware how much everyone, particularly the female contingent (which Marillion never really had much of in Fish's era anyway) loves him, and has similar feelings about himself.

The other band members are also masters of their craft, although Steve Rothery has always been one of rock's more shy, retiring guitar heroes and if anything is even more so in 2011.

Nevertheless, his wonderfully fluid, piercing breaks, most notably on "The Great Escape" "Easter" "Fantastic Place" and "Neverland"- the song which now defines modern-day Marillion and which can never fail to reduce an audience to shivering tatters - are still capable of evoking every emotion from sadness to euphoria in three minutes.

As Townshend is to Daltrey, as Barre is to Anderson, so Rothery is to Hogarth: the perfect dynamic pairing of frontman and axeman both with a 'cry' in their sound and still, after all these years, rage in their insides.

 


Between these five musicians, a unique musical concoction is created, so unclassifiable that words like 'prog' almost seem irrelevant.


Stage right, Pete Trevawas, provides not only the four strings that hold it all together, but the focus of the 'hard rocking' contingent, while up the back, Ian Mosley's drumming is still the percussive powerhouse it always was, except now at far more languid tempos ("Somewhere Else" and the doom-laden "King" in particular), and Mark Kelly, surely the true architect of the band's sound for nearly 30 years, demonstrates, like Rick Wakeman before him, that it's possible to be a widdly keyboard boffin in a progressive rock band and maintain a daft, pranksome sense of humour.

Between these five musicians, a unique musical concoction is created, so unclassifiable that words like 'prog' almost seem irrelevant.

 


Marillion remain that most misunderstood of British bands, capable of turning out the type of epic mood music Radiohead, Muse, Elbow and their ilk earn huge plaudits from (let's face it, all three bands rip the Bucks boys off shamelessly but refuse to acknowledge it) whilst simultaneously seeming doomed to never receive due credit for it in their own country, and it's still bloody annoying.
 


Truly, they are one of the great British rock bands, as good as Floyd, Genesis, The Who or anyone they ever took inspiration from - The Blue Nile being another, if less obvious, name that springs to mind at intervals - the only unfortunate factor being that outside of their immediate and fanatical fan base (many of whom populate this sold out theatre) nobody knows it.

Forever besmirched by a dodgy sword-and-sorcery name, as well as the Fish connection and cheesy 80s ballads like 'Kayleigh', which have as much to do with their sound today as Lerwick has to do with Cowes (even if they do relent and allow the audience one singalong nostalgia moment with 'Sugar Mice') Marillion remain that most misunderstood of British bands, capable of turning out the type of epic mood music Radiohead, Muse, Elbow and their ilk earn huge plaudits from (let's face it, all three bands rip the Bucks boys off shamelessly but refuse to acknowledge it) whilst simultaneously seeming doomed to never receive due credit for it in their own country, and it's still bloody annoying.

I'd like to hope that one day history will prove them right, but for the meantime, they'll have to content themselves with the knowledge that a hundred thousand systems analysts called Clive and their wives all love them. And me.

Yet, lest you find this review unnecessarily biased, I should point out that it's not all perfection onstage tonight - at least two unbelievably bad MOR hit singles, "Cover My Eyes" and "You're Gone", the latter of which has always uncomfortably resembled Go West jamming with the Lighthouse Family, are aired, and while I adore the likes of the aforementioned "Invisible Man" and "…Engine" it would be great to hear something else for once.

But for anyone unsatisfied, there's always the thunderous finale of "Three Minute Boy"- a journey and a half in anyone's book.

Starting with an amateur stab at "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" before admitting "I don't know the rest", Hogarth proceeds to berate the audience for their crap singalong abilities before the band sojourn effortlessly through Lennonesque pop melancholy, dreamy blues rock, haunting gospel - inflected intoning and a Mosley-propelled thrash metal coda, leaving jaws agape on the floor at what their owners have just witnessed.

And thankfully, they leave it there this time - no silly Dean Martin covers or Irish jigs in Santa costumes this year, just one of the most powerful endings to a show you're likely to witness.

Where they go from here in the studio is anyone's guess (although hopefully not further down the road of Eckhart Tolle-inspired psychobabble) but live, Marillion, despite their obvious faults, are more of an unstoppable force than ever. If you miss them in 2012, it really is your loss.


Review by Darius Drewe Shimon

Photo by Andrew Lock


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