Marillion coming to Portsmouth Guildhall | Reworking their past with Friends From The Orchestra

Marillion are at Portsmouth Guildhall on November 7, 2019
Marillion are at Portsmouth Guildhall on November 7, 2019
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In a parallel universe there’s a village in Cheshire which has enjoyed the dedicated service of Steve the milky. But that hypothetical village’s loss has been rock music’s gain as Steve Hogarth took the offer to join Marillion instead of his original plan to quit the business and take an altogether more quiet life.  

But that hypothetical village’s loss has been rock music’s gain as Steve Hogarth took the offer to join Marillion instead of his original plan to quit the business and take an altogether more quiet life.

And this year he marks 30 years since he took over from Fish as the band’s frontman. It is also the band’s 40th anniversary.

Steve recalls how he had become disillusioned with the music business – he had already been in two acts signed to major labels by this point.

‘I was about to knock it all on the head, I had had enough. I felt I’d had enough with the music, I’m going to sell the house, move up north, live in a nice village in Cheshire or somewhere, watch my kids grow up, and be a milkman, so I’d get up early and be finished by lunchtime and I could forget about music and everything.’

There were a couple of things though, that swayed him.

And I was in my publishers office one day down on Parson’s Green, and it was a really nice office, full of really nice people, with a nice pub opposite and I always used to enjoy going there. 

‘So I said: “Can anyone think of anything for me to do?” What I meant was photocopier maintenance or buying the Tippex, or whatever I could come in handy for, but they got the wrong end of the stick. 

‘They thought I was looking for a gig and they said: “Well, you know Fish has left Marillion…”’

Marillion were hugely successful at the time, coming off a number of hit singles like Kayleigh, Lavender and Incommunicado, and platinum and gold-selling albums.

A tape was sent off to the band, at which point Steve claims, he forgot about it.

However another offer was about to arrive that would tempt Steve to stay with music.

‘The phone rang and Matt Johnson of The The wanted to know if I'd be up for playing piano on his Mind Bomb tour, he had Johnny Marr from The Smiths with him, he had all sorts of interesting musicians lined up for that.

‘I’d played piano on one of Matt’s albums, so I though that might actually do me the world of good – I can be at the back out of the way, and just enjoy playing music without any of that being in the front, in the middle of the pressure. 

‘So I told Matt I'd love to do that. And then the phone rang again and it was Marillion’s management trying to persuade me to meet them. It took them a few weeks to sway me to meet them because I was already looking forward to doing the tour with The The.

‘It was it wasn't like I used to lie like at night dreaming of being the singer of Marillion, really quite the opposite, I used to lie awake and dreaming of not being a singer. 

‘But  I went to meet them and we just had a chemistry when we met, musically. We wrote a song within an hour.

‘They said we’ve heard enough, when can you start, and I was like: “Errr, you know…” I had to be lured in, it took a while.’

Since Steve joined the band’s line-up has remained constant.

‘I think it’s because we’ve never been that successful,’ he says.

‘Seriously, if we’d had a string of top three hit singles, then I think we'd have been thrown into that pressure cooker that people get thrown into when they have pop stardom. 

‘We never had pop stardom, really, there was that one one big moment with Kayleigh, before my time. 

‘After that the band existed really as a creative unit rather than a massively commercial unit. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve done alright, we’re here to tell the tale. But we didn't have colossal success where we ended up being pressurised and stressed out, because that’s normally what splits bands up.’

Earlier this month, they released their latest album, With Friends From The Orchestra. 

In December 2017, Marillion played a sold-out show at The Royal Albert Hall – the fastest selling concert of the band’s career.

The show featured the In Praise of Folly String Quartet plus Sam Morris on French horn and Emma Halnan on flute.

Knowing a good thing when they heard it, they took the musicians into the studio and reworked nine songs from the band’s back catalogue. 

This autumn, they head out together on a full UK tour.

‘When we did the show a couple years ago at the Royal Albert Hall and we thought it'd be really nice to add some orchestral elements to the band. 

‘So we had the quartet, we had a flautist who was young musician of the Year in 2010, she’s amazing, and a French horn player, 

‘So those six proper musicians joined us and it was magical, but it was short-lived, and we really hoped to do it again.

‘We also thought it would be cool to make a studio record and revisit the catalogue and record them properly.

‘We dug back into our catalogue and went beyond what we did at the Albert Hall, and come the November tour, we’re going to go beyond that as well, and dig into songs that were neither recorded or performed live before.’

The band has released a video of the album’s lead track, a haunting new version of Estonia, which originally appeared on 1997’s This Strange Engine.

Written about the 1994 disaster where the cruise ferry Estonia sank in the Baltic Sea, killing 852, it came about after a chance meeting.

‘By pure coincidence I ended up sitting next to the sole UK survivor of the Estonia tragedy on a plane, a couple of years later. I got talking to him and asked him what he was doing and he said he's been making a documentary about this.

‘I said that’s interesting: “Why did you choose that subject?” And he said: “I was on it.”

‘Over the course of the flight, a couple of hours, he gave me a moment-by-moment account of what happened that night. It reduced me completely to tears, it was quite dreadful.

‘We swapped numbers and he came back to me. He was doing a charity gig in Henley on Thames, to raise money for bereaved families in Estonia.

'And I wrote that song for that show, and it kind of grew from there, and we were really happy with the song, so it ended up on the following album.’

Despite having their fans utilise the internet to raise $60,000 so they could tour the US after being dropped by EMI, being the first band to have its own website, and inadvertently inventing crowdfunding for the 2001 album Anoraknophobia, they have long suffered an image problem beyond their dedicated fanbase.

They were once dubbed: ‘Probably the most misunderstood band in the world.’ Does that still hold?

As Steve notes: ‘There's probably people out there who think we're a Scottish heavy metal band, which sounds a bit like Genesis, which has never been true because the band was never Scottish. Fish was, but everybody else was from England.

‘The band was very influenced by those early Genesis albums back when they were kids on those first two or three albums, but we've made 14 now and the the influences have come from everywhere and all over the place.

‘My standard answer now when I'm in the hairdresser’s and they ask me what Marillion sounds like, I just say: “Well look, Pink Floyd and Radiohead had a baby that was in touch with his feminine side, and we’re it.” That’s as near as I’ve got to putting it into words.’

The band’s last regular studio album was 2016’s FEAR – their first top five album since 1987’s Clutching at Straws – and they have started work on the follow-up.

‘It’s ticking along, we were in the studio earlier today, jamming along, which is how we write.

‘It all gets recorded and listened to and, we try and dig out the happy accidents and they become the starting point for the songs. 

‘If we hear something that sounds like nothing we've ever done, but is interesting, we will move that on a stage if we can with a view to constantly reinventing ourselves.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​’

Marillion

Portsmouth Guildhall

Thursday, November 7

portsmouthguildhall.org.uk