Marillion was a show not quite like anything I’ve ever seen before. We all know their infamous mainstream hit Kayleigh, after which they continued to release albums under the same banner of neo-progressive rock. Through the decades, they have driven under continuous overhangs of scrutiny from the commercial-adoring, ‘bad taste’ police. But, with over 15 million records sold worldwide and one of the most loyal fanbases around you can find, who’s really laughing?
Marillion – Hammersmith Apollo – 30 September 2022
Words: Monty Sewell
Photography: Robert Sutton
Before this particular night, I’d never been to a Marillion gig, let alone given myself the time to really delve into their extensive discography. But with the name ‘Marillion’ being recognisable in one way or another to pretty much everyone I spoke to, it was a no-brainer let’s go. Part of the fascination of these long-running bands is that you get to bear witness to a real journey through their countless albums and singles released. The whole ‘which direction will they go in now?’ question, when put to answer, is not a good conversation.
So, on a Friday night at the Hammersmith Apollo, I glaze up the foyer stairs and into the auditorium, ready to soak up whatever Marillion had to offer. Their latest album, An Hour Before It’s Dark, released earlier this year, is less of a track-by-track listing and more of a section-by-section score. The other nineteen Marillion studio albums are plentiful in musical diversity, and with orchestra-accompanied shows at The Albert Hall amongst many other wide-ranging performances, who knew what we would get tonight?
The auditorium lights go down, and the simmer of anticipated applause rises. The set-up features the usual Steve Hogarth on lead vocals, Steve Rothery on guitar, Pete Trewavas on bass, Mark Kelly on keyboard and Ian Mosley on drums. Renowned percussionist Luis Jardim joins them on this tour.
Hogarth arrives onstage, and the band plunge right into An Hour Before It’s Dark with Be Hard on Yourself part (I) the Tear in the Big Picture, part (II) Lust for Luxury and part (III) You Can Learn. It’s a musical cruise as well as a show. The instrumentalists play without break nor hindrance, fluctuating between intensity and steady cognisance. As they then play Reprogram the Gene part (I) Invincible’ part (II) Trouble-Free Life, and part (III) A Cure for Us?, it becomes clear this will be a complete play-through of their latest album.
Usually a five-piece, the addition of Jardim brings added depth, creating more of an orchestral feel which works within Marillion superbly. At the quarter mark, Hogarth pauses to thank the audience, “We want to thank you for allowing us to play our full new album and for giving us so much love for it!”. In a world where newer material is usually met with discord, Marillion is met with nothing but love. This is the kind of audience energy we need more of.
Only a Kiss, Murder Machines, and The Crow And The Nightingale are the title stand-alone’s that ease with untampered symmetry into the set. Rothery spends much of his time standing at the helm, the king of solo execution. All five parts of Sierra Leone are introduced to us through Hogarth’s quick-witted audience repertoire detailing the Tower of London story inspiration. Care (I) Maintenance Drugs, Care (II) An Hour Before It’s Dark, Care (III) Every Cell and Care (IV) Angels On Earth are masterfully laid out, with the final number receiving thunderous applause.
By this point, I – like many others around me – have blissfully sunk into my seat, just enjoying each moment with a relaxed exuberance.
With An Hour Before It’s Dark played out to completion, Marillion gifts us with a few gems taken from a handful of their previous albums. The Great Escape, taken from their 1994 studio release, is a particular highlight.
The impassioned encore is a cinematic fiasco with all four parts of The New Kings from the unforgettably named 2016 F.E.A.R (Fuck Everyone And Run) record. Marillion offers themselves entirely and, in return, get yet another standing ovation (I think it was at least the fourth one of the night??).
All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable night. I think the thing that struck me most was the joyful rowdiness of the crowd. It’s not untrue to say most of Marillion’s compositions verge on the classical side of music to which you don’t expect an audience to be hollering and cheering as they did tonight.
“It’s like being at the rugby!” one lady exclaimed excitedly as we all hustled out of the venue. She wasn’t wrong. An entire album play through, the same year it was released, from a band with hits from the ’80s, and the audience is just begging for more, cheering on Hogarth with the supportive tenderness of a close friend at the pub.
Marillion wasn’t like any show I’d seen before. And not one, I think, I’m likely to have the pleasure of seeing again.