As the multitudes of fans who regularly flock to see the band live or buy their records are all too aware, there really is no other band like Marillion. Refusing to compromise their music by bowing to the marketing pressures of focus groups or record labels seeking a chart-busting single, Marillion have delighted in pressing on to create their own unmistakable and authentic music.
"It's the Holy Grail for most musicians, to have complete freedom of expression and to be free of commercial pressures," says vocalist Steve Hogarth. "Not to have the dreaded visit by the A&R man to see how it's going. The whispering in the ear of the producer saying 'make it more like this'. We don't have any of those things to deal with, we are just doing what we like doing."
With the charts packed and corrupted by 'Pop Stars' and boy bands whose only real talent is arguably for dancing, it's hardly surprising that genuine admirers of musical ability are attracted to Marillion. Never a band who have been afraid to add the colourful splashes of jazz, dub, rock or country to augment their already distinctive sound, the band have continue to develop, well aware that the successful combination of their music and vocalist's Steve Hogarth's heartfelt tales will appeal to their following, even if their public profile has diminished.
"People think we split up years ago," confirms Steve Hogarth. "The people who read the music press will have figured it out by now, but your Mr Joe Public down the high street has no idea. People either don't know we exist or they're nuts about us. There's very little grey area. For those who know what we are doing it is a great passion, but everyone else hasn't got the foggiest."
Naturally, this is a situation that hasn't been aided by the policies of radio stations, who tend to shy away from any music that doesn't comply to a strict pop format.
"Well, we don't really expect to be on Radio One and don't even think of that as a possibility. But to be fair to Radio, it does generally take us three minutes to get to the first chorus," he laughs. "So, short of doing the most alarming edits on some of this stuff, it's not exactly tailor-made. Our forte is not the three-minute killer tune, it is this slow burning song that tells a kind of a story whilst the music goes on a trip. It's not perfect for radio. It's a different kind of thing."
A Very PC Idea
With most bands now embracing the benefits of the Internet, Marillion were pioneers in recognising the advantages that could be gained by using it as a tool to reach their existing fans as well as targeting a new audience. Back in 1997, Mark Kelly advised the band's Internet mailing list that financial restraints meant that they were unable to tour North America. Undaunted by this news, the fans rapidly arranged an "Internet whip-round", raising over $60,000 that covered the bands costs and enabled the tour to take place.
Launching their own web site shortly afterwards (marillion.com), the band have established an online source of information for tour dates, release schedules and an ever-popular on-line store that has been a startling success. Given this, the band decided in 2000 to adopt a completely new approach to the way their albums were funded and asked their fans to pay for an album over a year ahead of it's release. Astonishingly, over 12,000 pre-orders were received which covered the recording costs of the album 'Anoraknophobia'. An additional deal was then struck with EMI (who Marillion were signed to during the eighties) to market and distribute the finished product.
"We've never really had much trouble finding record deals," muses Steve Hogarth. "Paradoxically though, having a fan base as committed as ours provided the record company with a disincentive to market the records. They know our fans will be there on release, waiting to buy - even if they have to look under a stone to find it. So as the years have passed we have become less famous as there was little exposure. And that dilemma has led us to the point where we had a moment of clarity and empowered ourselves, and the feeling of helplessness disappeared. And we are still here with the ability to make records and with our self respect intact."
A Quick Recital of Yesterday's Script
Appearing on the local gig scene around 1980,. by the middle of 1982, the band had been further reinforced when Pete Trewavas (bass) and Mark Kelly (keyboards) joined Fish (vocals) and Steve Rothery (guitar).
By developing an invigorating live set and touring incessantly, their unique approach saw them regularly selling out such legendary venues as The Marquee in London. So much so, that major labels were forced to take heed of the expanding following the band were attracting, and a contract was quickly signed with EMI.
The release of the band's debut album, 'Script For A Jester's Tear' in 1983, was a mission statement, with Fish's poetic and complex lyrics being melded to a mesmerising musical backdrop. By the beginning of 1984, drummer Ian Mosley had joined the band, and with the release of their second album, 'Fugazi', later that year, their public profile continued to grow. 'Misplaced Childhood' followed in 1985 (including the hit singles 'Kayleigh' and "Lavender") and promptly hit the coveted Number One slot. But, following the tour to support 1987's 'Clutching At Straws', Fish suddenly and unexpectedly quit the band to pursue a solo career, leaving more cynical rock observers to write off the band. Yet, not for the first time, they had totally miscalculated the self-belief that the band possessed in their own ability, and their determination to strive for new artistic peaks- with or without Fish.
Give Us an H
Marillion folklore has it that when Steve "H" Hogarth arrived for an audition with the band, he was carrying a red bucket full of tapes of demo's and his previous albums with The Europeans and How We Live. The two parties hit it off immediately, with both having a need to make powerful, fresh music and having an insatiable appetite and desire to prove the misanthropists wrong. The result was the compelling and inspired 'Season's End' (1989) as guitarist Steve Rothery recalls.
"Considering some people had written us off after Fish had left, it was a very strong statement that the band still had a lot going for it. And proved that what we found with Steve [Hogarth] was something equally exciting and original as we had with Fish. It is an album that I am extremely proud of, and includes some classic songs".
For Steve Hogarth the experience was both daunting and exciting.
"It was like getting into bed with someone for the first time. Of course it was memorable for the being the first time, and there were some really special moments but there was also a certain amount of awkwardness when we first started writing together."
In contrast to 'Season's End', 1991's 'Holidays In Eden' was a more mainstream affair, containing hook-laden material that broadened the band's appeal. By way of an opposite reaction, 1994's 'Brave' was a conceptual and powerful piece of music, recorded during lengthy sessions in the unusual surroundings of Miles Copeland's French castle. A disturbing, yet engaging, feature film with the same name accompanied the album, with cult movie figure Richard Stanley directing.
By comparison, the following year's 'Afraid Of Sunlight' was a relatively simple collection of songs that were recorded in less than twelve weeks. Yet, the passion and creativity that has continually infested their work was ever present, as Steve Hogarth remembers.
"The Brave tour really took it out of my psyche and personal life, because of the length of the tour, and what I had to put into the performance each night unhinged me a little. This caused a lot of chaos in my life and a lot of that pain went into Afraid Of Sunlight and gave the album a real soul and potency."
With the band leaving EMI following the album's release, they formed their own Intact label and signed it to Castle for three albums. The first of these was 'This Strange Engine' (1997), another bold statement containing a plethora of musical genres and intimate lyrical inputs, as Steve Hogarth recalls.
"The title track was a potted story of my life and very personal. And listening to that track live was one of the happiest times I've ever had on stage. Just sitting there, legs crossed, and enjoying it."
The warm and inventive Radiation followed in 1998 and highlighted the bands ability to produce intricate music that was even further away from their progressive rock roots and with the dub and country influences that became evident on 1999's 'marillion.com', the band had once again pushed at the boundaries to create another diverse album.
And with 2001's 'Anoraknophobia' once again illustrating the contemporary nature of their approach, as well as challenging the conventional wisdom of the music industry, the band's resurgence is continuing. The band are currently writing their next album, which, you can be assured, will once again be both surprising and fresh.
"We are in the fortunate position of being able to keep growing and change the sounds we make", confirms Steve Hogarth. "We are in a situation where we have got away with it repeatedly because our fans stick by us and run with it. And that has given us creative independence and a complete freedom of expression. I have a number of chums who are professional musicians and they envy the hell out of us in this respect."
"We're probably unique in the sense that, the last time we had a top ten album was fourteen years ago and we are still here," adds Mark Kelly. "I can't think of any other band or anybody else that falls into that category. And the reason is that we have got really solid fans that always come back and buy the records, every album that we put out, whether we have a hit or not."
And now it's your turn. Just remember that whatever your pre-conceptions are about this band, chances are they are wrong. Go on. Cross the threshold and be prepare to be enlightened . . .
Thanks to Lucy@marillion.com for submitting the biography.
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