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Marillion - Sounds That Can't Be Made

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Post by FinnFreak on Wed Sep 19, 2012 4:14 am


Getting Into Bad Hobbits

Marillion have just announced a new Cambridge show in September 2012. In this article, originally written for the Cambridge News in 2007, Paul Kirkley explains - okay, defends - his enduring passion for this most critically misunderstood of bands.

Next month is a significant anniversary for me. July 2007 marks 20 years since I first encountered what was to become one of the enduring loves of my life. Together, we have enjoyed the good times, and ridden out the bad. There have been moments of pleasure and joy, as well as tears of frustration and despair. We have been mocked and pilloried, laughed at and scorned. But that has only made our bond stronger. Pull those chairs closer, I have something to confess: My name is Paul and I am a Marillion fan.

Yes, you heard right – Marillion. And before you start – don’t bother. I’ve heard every insult you can throw at me – usually involving a random selection of the words “prog”, “Hobbit”, “dinosaur” and “Genesis” – a thousand times before.

Because Marillion, let us be clear, are not cool. In fact, they couldn’t be less cool if you dressed them in polyester gorilla suits and made them cook chips on the sun. They could de-ice your windscreen with nothing more than a glance. If the Arctic Monkeys are too cool for skool, Marillion are the first in the queue to be milk monitors. I think you take my point.

For the ardent Marillion fan, this can lead to all manner of awkward social faux pas. Whisper the name of my musical paramour in mixed company and I am usually guaranteed the sort of reception Kate Moss must have got when she took her new boyfriend home and said, “Mum, dad, this is Pete.” It’s a bit like being constantly told your wife’s ugly and your kids are thick – only, because it’s about pop music, it’s much more personal than that.

But don’t worry. Like England managers and The Elephant Man, we Marillion fans have thick skins. It’s Us against the world and there’s a part of us – the awkward, stroppy, teenage part – that actually quite likes it that way. (Who else would rejoice, as I do, in a t-shirt bearing the legend ‘Marillion – Uncool as F*@k’?)

Formed in the rock and roll Mecca that is Aylesbury in 1979, Marillion took their name from JRR Tolkien’s impenetrable fantasy doorstop The Silmarillion (not an auspicious start slap bang in the middle of the punk explosion, granted). Led by the imposing figure of Scottish frontman Derek “Fish” Dick, they quickly built up a dedicated following for their brand of epic, somewhat florid prog rock, as showcased on their in-no-way pompously named 1982 debut album, Script For A Jester’s Tear.

There’s no denying Fish had a charismatic intensity – and, let’s face it, there weren’t enough 6’5” former woodcutters called Derek on the cover of Smash Hits – but he was partial to attacks of chronic verbiage such as “A bleeding heart poet in a fragile capsule/ Propping up the crust of the glitter conscience/ Wrapped in the christening shawl of a hangover/ Baptised in the tears from the real” - as if he hadn’t so much swallowed a dictionary as ripped out all the words and chewed them up one by one.

The band continued paddling around in the shallow end of the top 30 until 1985, when the unexpected success of the single Kayleigh pushed the album Misplaced Childhood – a wordy concept affair about… well, you work it out – to the top of the charts, simultaneously consigning the band to eternal airplay damnation on the sort of soft rock FM stations beloved of Clarkson Man, and causing a generation of women to be saddled with a slightly silly name.

More hits and one further album - the really rather good Clutching At Straws - followed until, in 1988, Fish walked out on the band at the height of their powers, rather unimaginatively citing “musical differences”.

At the time, everyone assumed the big fella would swim on to a successful solo career, while his old band sank without trace. What happened instead was not only unexpected but, in rock circles, almost unheard of: While Fish floundered like a stickleback in the Sahara, a revitalised Marillion regrouped around new singer Steve Hogarth, who immediately set about transforming them into a sleeker, sassier, altogether more appealing musical proposition.

Hogarth – formerly of art rockers The Europeans – was as far removed from the prog and Kerrang! fraternities as it was possible to get. An accomplished songwriter and session musician, who had performed with the likes of The The and Julian Cope, he was also possessed of a beautiful, soaring sotto voce delivery that has been described (admittedly by me, while drunk) as sounding like the beat of angels’ wings.

Hogarth also brought another unexpected quality to Marillion: sex appeal. With his unbuttoned shirts and floppy fringe (hey, it was 1989 and Jim Kerr held entire stadiums in his blousy grasp – at least Marillion were up to date for once), his first appearance on Top of the Pops found him shimmying across the stage, performing athletic squat jumps and eyeballing the camera with the braggadocio of a young Iggy Pop.

In the 18 years since that startlingly assured debut, Steve Hogarth and Marillion have made 10 studio albums together (they managed just four with Fish), every one of which contains moments of perfectly sublime genius. Where Marillion Mk 1 were, despite frequent flashes of brilliance, prone to being lumpen and awkward, Mk II are languid and soulful, Hogarth’s voice oozing through the melody lines like black ink; where the lyrics used to be flabby and overwrought, there is now the perfect balance of economy and intensity; whereas their peers might once have been Genesis and Rush, the modern Marillion share more DNA with the likes of Radiohead, Talk Talk and, in their more crepuscular moments, The Blue Nile. These days, their songs are only prog in so far as the end rarely sounds like the beginning – but then you could say the same about Girls Aloud.

Sadly, Marillion would never again hit the commercial heights of Misplaced Childhood – meaning their public image remains frustratingly stuck in in a time-warp sometime around the era of deely boppers and ‘Frankie Says’ t-shirts. Imagine if you owned every Beatles album, and could rhapsodise for England about the genius of Abbey Road and Revolver, but found John Lennon was only ever judged on his work with The Quarrymen. That is the infuriating lot of the Marillion fan.

Don’t imagine for a minute, though, that I discovered this rare musical butterfly after it had already taken flight on delicately patterned wings – truth is, I was right there at the ugly bug caterpillar stage too. I may denounce much of the Fish-era for its prog excesses now, but it’s the sort of pop apostasy that could only come from a former true believer. From the moment in the summer of 1987 when I first heard Bruno Brookes play Incommunicado as part of the top 40 chart rundown (in with a bullet at number seven, fact fans), I absolutely adored Marillion - jesters, widdly keyboards, fragile capsules and all.

To those who knew me back then, this was hardly surprising. I was shockingly uncool as a teenager, and Marillion didn’t exactly help, briefly leading me into a dark netherworld populated by the likes of Pink Floyd, Supertramp and, yes, Genesis. To be fair, I did redeem myself with a simultaneous love of The Cure, The Smiths, New Order and The Wedding Present, but that’s no excuse for owning The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (Genesis’ 1974 opus about Rael, a half-Puerto Rican juvenile delinquent who comes face-to-face with bizarre creatures in a nightmarish netherworld beneath New York City – you had to be there. Or maybe you didn’t).

As I grew up, my tastes changed and I put away childish things (like overlong guitar solos and men dressed as daffodils). But by that time, Marillion had grown with me, and I saw no need to cast them out with my leather ties, white slip-on shoes and all the other relics of an 80s adolescence. You might say I came for the prog, but I stayed for the quality.

Shuffle through the All-time Favourites playlist on my iPod and you’ll find everything from Deathcab for Cutie to Destiny’s Child, My Bloody valentine to Mos Def, Stiff Little Fingers to S Club 7. And, of course, you’ll also find a lot of Marillion. But I’m not so quick to flag them up to casual pod browsers, for fear of them getting the wrong impression.

I could mention that Afraid of Sunlight, Marillion’s classic 1995 meditation on the perils of overreaching ambition and the death of American dream, is one of my top five albums - but I probably won’t, for fear of people thinking the other four are by Rush, Yes and Van Der Graaf Generator. (Put it this way, if the Fashion Police cornered me in the Garden of Gethsemane, I wouldn’t so much deny Marillion as feel pressured to offer a tortured, convoluted explanation about how I also love Rilo Kiley and Lambchop; if my Marillion collection had a - admittedly trying-too-hard, overly defensive - bumper sticker, it would be My Other Favourite Band Is Belle & Sebastian.)

But that doesn’t mean I’m not prepared to stand up and be counted. We Marillion fans are nothing if not loyal. And, in recent years, our unstinting commitment to the cause, combined with the new opportunities afforded by the online revolution, has seen Marillion assuming the unexpected mantle of music industry pioneers. Forget Lily Allen and the Arctic Monkeys – for all the hype about the MySpace generation, their success was built on massive record label support. Marillion are genuine internet revolutionaries.

In 1997, when the band announced their finances wouldn’t stretch to a US tour, an enterprising American fan jumped on the internet message boards and, within a few weeks, had amassed a fighting fund of more than $60,000 (even though everyone who chipped in still had to buy a ticket for the shows at the end of it).

Which got Marillion thinking: If you’ve got the means to communicate directly with the world’s most dedicated fanbase, who you can pretty much guarantee will stay with you hell, high water and even the odd experiment with dub reggae, do you really need a record company at all?

Within months, Marillion had sacked their manager and set themselves up as an independent concern. Buoyed by the success of the US tour, their next wheeze was to persuade the fans to fund their next album in advance, by buying their copy before so much as a note had been recorded. And so it was that I became one of the 12,674 independent bankrollers of 2001’s Anoraknophobia (the title is an unashamed celebration of monomaniacal devotion – it’s not for nothing Marillion communities across the world are known as ‘Freaks’) to the tune of £180,000. I even got my name in the credits on the sleeve - though, with almost 13,000 others to squeeze in, it was admittedly quite small.

After this, we started getting more ambitious: How about, for the next album, we don’t pay for the record (the band’s newfound freedom ensured there was already enough in the kitty for that) but fork out for the entire marketing campaign instead. After all, Steve Hogarth, who hadn’t been around in the days of Kayleigh and Lavender, had requested a top 10 hit for his 45th birthday, and who were we to deny him?

As any long-suffering wife (and maybe the occasional husband) will tell you, obsessions don’t come cheap. My deluxe pre-order edition of Marbles, Marillion’s 13th album, cost £30 – and I still had to wait more than a year to see any return. What’s more, in order to stage a smash and grab on the top 10, we were encouraged to buy the single You’re Gone in all three formats. But what’s money when pride is at stake?

Sunday, April 18, 2004 was a tense day for me. The Freaks had done everything they could do – now it was just a question of waiting. We had friends over, so I was able to distract myself with a long country walk. But all the time there was a knot in my stomach as the time of the Radio One chart show approached.

I remember the 30s were fraught, the 20s queasy and the countdown from 19 to 11 unbearable. But there was still no word of Marillion, meaning we’d either cracked it – or we’d failed to make the top 40 altogether.

I’m ashamed to say that, when You’re Gone was announced as having gone straight in at number seven – the same prophetic chart position that had set all this nonsense in motion for me all those years earlier – I whooped, and did a special little dance. It wasn’t a dignified dance, but it was a happy one. Marillion were a top 10 band once again, and everything was right with the world.

Of course, Top of the Pops tried to spoil it by refusing to invite them on because they were too “cult” (Cult? Just because we get panic attacks over the singles charts and hold regular conventions in Butlins holiday camps, it doesn’t make us weird, you know). But you won’t be surprised to hear I tuned in anyway, just to see their name flash up on the top 10 rundown.

Cos, you see, Marillion may not be the greatest band in the world.

But they’re the greatest band in my world.


John - Wink

Posts : 247
Join date : 2011-08-04
Location : Vaasa, Finland

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Post by FinnFreak on Wed Sep 19, 2012 8:37 am

Marillion - Sounds That Can't Be Made  230493

The Sky Above The Rain

She loves him
But she doesn't want him
She used to burn for him
But now that's changed

She knows he knows
And she says it isn't so
What else can she say?
But when he reaches out
She turns away.

When he talks about it
She says he's cruel
So he apologises
Counts his blessings
What else can he do?

She used to gaze at him reach out with her toes to touch him
She still loves him
But she doesn't want him

And in her eyes, he's so much less
Than the light heart she met
The laughing boy she used to know

He feels ugly now, and the ugliness, creeps around inside him
Until he really is.
The animal paws at him, gnaws at him
The silver-back wins over him

And in his pain, and bitter shame, he resents her.
The one who loves him

They said they'd never lie
They'd learned their lessons from the last times
They said that they could talk
They could always talk
Deceit stirs in them now for reasons good as well as bad

But he wants so much
Not to live another lie
To be free and high again
Trying to see the blue sky above the rain
Trying to see the blue sky above the rain
Remembering the blue sky above the pouring rain
He's trying to see the blue sky above the rain

He's flown there and he's seen it, been up there lighter than air, floating in the miracle
But he can't fly until she wants him
He can't burn until she sparks him
He's dressed in lead from toe to head
Trying to see the blue sky above the rain
Remembering the blue sky above the rain

Maybe they'll talk
Soul to soul head to head heart to heart eye to eye
Rise up to that blue space above the clouds
Where troubles die
And tears dry
Heading West and climbing
In that place the sun never stops shining

The rain's below us.

John - Wink

Posts : 247
Join date : 2011-08-04
Location : Vaasa, Finland

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