In an era that can be accurately described as the musical dark ages, where the music industry is slowly being destroyed by the proliferation of saccharin and soulless boy/girl bands, Marillion are digging in, fighting back and creating contemporary music that means something. A music that draws its influences from jazz, rock, dub, country, funk and groove all melded together with the extremely personal and impassioned vocals of Steve Hogarth to create something very special indeed.
Yet, bizarrely, the fashion police of the musical mainstream all too often overlook their music. And as a result, the numerous misconceptions people hold about Marillion have been allowed to ferment, as Steve Hogarth confirms.
"People think we split up years ago. 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."
But with the likes of Radiohead, Toploader, and Paul Oakenfold all apparently taking more than a passing interest in Marillion's inspired compositions, it's only a matter of time before their fortunes take a sharp upward turn. And by sticking your neck out and telling it like it really is, you could be the first to "rediscover" this band...
Now, with their sights set on continuing to produce varied and appealing music they are back with "Anoraknophobia", a contemporary album that is innovative in both terms of its music and manner of creation.
A Quiet e-Revolution As forward looking as their music has been the bands realisation that the Internet is a powerful tool in both reaching their existing fans and reaching out to a new audience. This potential was first discovered back in 1997, when Mark Kelly contacted the band's Internet mailing list to advise fans that they could not financially justify a North American tour. The fans voluntary and immediate response was to rapidly raise over $60,000, which enabled Marillion to make the trip. Not something that happens to your average rock band... Following on from this, the band developed their web site, marillion.com, (which later became the title of their 1999 album) that has become a centre of operations to circulate information on releases and tour dates. The immense success and popularity of the site persuaded the band to think the previously inconceivable- to ask the fans to pay in advance for the new album- thus providing the funds to cover their recording costs. And with an incredible 12,000+ pre-orders, their legion of followers more than played their part in making the concept a reality. 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 had much trouble finding record deals. Paradoxically though, having a fan base as committed as ours provides 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 Brief History of Time It was during the winter of 1978 that the earliest incarnation of the band appeared in Aylesbury, going under the moniker of Silmarillion. But it was with the addition of guitarist Steve Rothery and the shortening of the name in 1980 that the band began to take a more recognisable form. At this point the band were still playing an instrumental set, and a singer was recruited in the shape of the charismatic Fish (aka Derek Dick) who provided an early focal point for the band's expanding fan base.
By the spring of 1982, both Mark Kelly (keyboards) and Pete Trewavas (bass) had been recruited to strengthen the line up. With a constant gig schedule and sheer hard work, their brand of advanced and enlightened rock began to appeal to a large audience, and the major labels started to notice the hoards of fans watching them at such venues as The Marquee in London. Consequently, a contract was signed with EMI at the end of the year, and their debut single "Market Square Heroes" quickly followed. The release of the band's first 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.
A New Vision Marillion folklore has it that when Steve 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 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".
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 made any comparisons laughable. 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 avant-garde and diverse album. "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."
A Nurturing Of The Spirit Within the music that Marillion create is a spirit and emotion that most contemporary bands attempt and fail to create using a formula. Yet for Marillion, this comes as a natural and integral part of the band's music, as Hogarth explains.
"Our music induces a vibe in people, and I don't understand the mechanism of how that happens. Marillion works on two levels. There is the music and the hidden vibe within it. There is the sense there of something you can trip out to that hasn't been cynically dreamt up to entertain you. The other aspect is the spiritual thing that is going on in the audience, which is why we get people saying things like "I've won a few hundred quid on the lottery, and I'd like to order a copy of the album twelve months before it's out, and here's £150". I mean that doesn't happen to other bands, does it? So we have got something going here, and we haven't tried to create it, it's just happening. And for me that is so much more important than just selling records."
Anoraknophobia So they are back. Wearing their hearts on their sleeve, and with the album's 12,000+ pre-orders and a new deal with EMI showing the skeptics that the band are once again on the move. A resurgence has been due for some time, and this mighty collection of contemporary and relevant tracks can only accelerate their renaissance.
"It's an album that can show to some of the doubters what we are capable of producing a record that is relevant to the music scene," explains Steve Rothery. "And that we are not just a bunch of five old dinosaurs living out in Aylesbury, knitting our own socks, and that we still have a lot to say musically. It is without doubt the best grooving and most contemporary record that we have ever made". And now it's your turn. Just remember that whatever your pre-conceptions are about this band, chances are they are wrong. We guarantee that Marillion are not what you think they are. All you have to do is open your mind and listen to the record. Go on. Just listen to the record.
We dare you.