Monday 18th November 2019
The Royal Albert Hall, London
"They started with 'Gaza', ended with 'This Strange Engine' and were fantastic for over two and a half hours. Monday night is going to be special." Praise indeed from our WRC spy at Marillion's Cliffs Pavilion, Southend, gig the previous Friday, and tonight the band played the penultimate night of their thirteen-date 'With Friends from the Orchestra' UK tour at The Royal Albert Hall, completing their tour the following night at the very same iconic London venue. With an extended line up of musicians joining Steve Rothery - electric/acoustic guitars, Pete Trewavas – bass guitar, backing vocals, Mark Kelly – keyboards, samples and effects, backing vocals, programming and Ian Mosley – drums, percussion, they played songs spanning their 14 album-career with Steve Hogarth, lead vocals, lyrics, keyboards, guitars, percussion - who we recently had the pleasure of interviewing - this year celebrating 30 years since joining Marillion. The band had also recently released an album entitled 'With Friends from the Orchestra' to accompany this tour, including the In Praise of Folly String Quartet plus Sam Morris on French horn and Emma Halnan on flute.
The aforementioned orchestral sextet duly walked on to the RAH stage to the ending strains of David Bowie's 'Heroes', before the band entered stage right and indeed powered into 'Gaza'. Although we could hear Hogarth, he was not immediately visible as he went for the more individualistic 'enter from a random arena door' approach to our immediate right. What an entrance though, as he not only grabbed his guitar on stage, but also the sold out auditorium's attention, as they joyously clapped along to this epic from their 2012 album 'Sounds That Can't Be Made', although, conversely, Rothery's exceptional guitar solo demonstrated what great sounds can be made - this opener fully deserving the standing ovation it received. "Sit down!" Hogarth joked. "It's going to be a long night!" he teased, before dedicating another from 'Sounds That Can't Be Made', to the the sixth member of the band, Michael Hunter, excluding their excellent 'friends' of course, who, as H also pointed out, were "brickin' it" when they previously joined them at another sold out RAH two years ago,hailed by the fans and critics alike as one of the best concerts in Marillion's history, which resulted in the 'All One Night' DVD released in April last year.
If the aptly named 'Power' truly epitomised Hogarth's stage presence, then 'Beyond You', taken from 1995's 'Afraid Of Sunlight' duly emphasised Trewavas' outstanding bass guitar credentials. Roars of approval welcomed the opening bars of the title track of 1989's 'Seasons End', the very first album to feature Hogarth, the frontman duly celebrating his pearl anniversary by getting behind a keyboard, complemented by the big man doing what he does best with another effortless solo, while the audience deliriously clapped along, morphing into yet another standing ovation. A bit of banter with the crowd, saw the MC for the evening, Hogarth, tell one friendly heckler to "shut up - I'm talking", before Steve thanked the sextet (violins, viola, cello, flute, french horn), whom not only added depth to the overall sound but also made a couple of sections really different and special. A particular case in point, was the wonderful intro to 'Estonia' from 1987's 'The Strange Engine', which also saw Rothery playing his double-neck guitar. And talking of delight, Hogarth introduced 'A Collection' from 1991's 'Holidays In Eden' as a "strange song" - "never wrote the words", before he took his jacket off, sat on the front of the stage and proceeded to vocally nail it. Amazing.
The man of a thousand jackets reappeared with a 'Greed Is Good' motif on his back for all four sections of 'We Are The New Kings' from 2016's 'Fear'. With Hogarth behind the keys again, it was time for me to 'Fuck Everyone And Run' as I went for a comfort break, before returning for the awesome 'Russia's Locked Doors', 'A Scary Sky' and 'Why Is Nothing Ever True?' A rousing reception saw H cup his hand to his ear, before he introduced his four compadres, in fact, make that three compadres, as he jokingly overlooked Big Steve. Be afraid, be very afraid. Cue crowd favourite 'Man Of A Thousand Faces', with Rothery on acoustic guitar, the Marillion faithful needing no encouragement to clap along on another gem from 'This Strange Engine' with its stirring chorus plus an outstanding keys solo from Kelly. Set closer 'The Space', from 'Season's End', saw one more costume change by H plus a divine string intro from their 'friends'. Another powerful vocal from Hogarth, saw him lean back on his keyboard and literally take in what was happening at this iconic venue this evening. Cue another standing ovation.
The band returned to perform encore 'Separated Out' from 2001's 'Anoraknophobia', which was additionally notable not only for the sextet upping their enjoyment by having a little 'Kashmir' (yes, that 'Kashmir') breakout moment, but also saw the smiling Rothery throwing a few moves around the stage, thanks in no small part to the audience participation and Mosley's brilliant drumming. After ignoring Hogarth's request for everybody to "just go home", Rothery was at last given his introduction by Hogarth to possibly the loudest recognition of the night. They were now rightly milkin' it as Barry Humphreys lookalike H, with a cricket bat around his neck (seriously), asked "Is anyone coming back tomorrow?", which got an expected roar. "This is our last song" got the expected jeers. "Nasty!" H responded before they launched into the title track, as expected, from 'This Strange Engine', a Prog Rock microcosm of everything that had gone before it during the set, including the atmospheric big screen, which understandably saw everyone standing up and clapping
We're sure a lot of old timers still hanker for some of the older material - and let's face it, there is some great stuff there - but to as much as even think it out loud would feel inappropriate and disrespectful, as it would be to utter the F-word. You know; the one that ends in 'ish'. And some context.. F-bloke recorded four albums during eight years with the band ... Hogarth has spent 30 years contributing to and performing 14 albums. Whilst there is an argument that there are perhaps two Marillions, the one you can still see doesn't really need the other... its got everything it needs - the same great musicians, a rich back catalogue, and in Hogarth the blessed combination of a great (and under-rated, to be honest) singer and front-man.
It was also good to see a young demographic represented tonight, but one thing that struck us was just how intense a lot of the audience were... not in a bad or aggressive way just... uber-dedicated and totally into the performance. Almost like a Rush thing where the band are so uncool that their fans compensate by being all the more ardent. It also seemed that people had travelled from far and wide for this... we heard German, Spanish, Italian, Eastern European and American accents. Perhaps some of these guys are resident; perhaps the iconic nature of the venue attracted a few people, but given the behaviour, involvement and response of the 5,272 crowd, we tend to think that the attraction was a great band that has a very real bond with its very dedicated support.
AJ and Mark C.