So here I am once more in the playground of the Underworld in Camden, to see the Italian band Mr Punch, who have made their name as one of the best Fish-era Marillion tribute bands on the circuit and a nicely full Underworld embraced the night with real gusto.
Mr Punch. The Underworld, Camden. 14 May 2022.
Words and Photography: Steve Ritchie
Tribute bands can be a controversial subject. Loved by some, scorned by others, it can be a thin line between ‘tribute’ and ‘cover’. But there was not one single disappointed punter leaving this venue.
My first ever ‘big’ gig was Marillion in February 1984 in Norwich, a mere two weeks before the Fugazi album was released and at a time when the band had long since dropped Grendel from their set. It has now been 14,142 days since Marillion stormed the Reading festival with this 17:40 minute number and the chat at the bar was would they hear this tonight.
The thing with Mr Punch is that they are really very good. The Fish vocal intonation of Marco Vincini has to be and really is spot on. Marcella Arganese covers the Rothery parts with emotion and accuracy. The rhythm section of Guglielmo Mariotti, bass, and Luca Marini, drums, is beautifully tight, leaving Daniele Fuligni to scatter his skilful keyboard parts over the top.
The last Mr Punch show in London, in 2019, saw the band celebrate the Fugazi album by playing it in full for their first set of the evening. Now, post Covid-19, the band were back in London and would travel to The Robin in Bilston for a show the following evening, before returning to the UK for a three-day performance at The Marillion Weekend at The Musician in Leicester at the end of May.
“It’s really nice to be here in 2019,” Marco told MetalTalk. “We couldn’t wait to come back.” The evidence of the 2019 show was a great welcoming reception for Mr Punch and the Marillion fans inundated the band afterwards.
“I’m really happy with the reception we have for what we do,” Marco says. “The people always seem to be very passionate. In the beginning, I did not imagine that Marillion would have such a big fanbase all over Europe. It’s such a strong fanbase. But there are plenty of Genesis tribute bands out there, but not so many Marillion ones.”
Mr Punch released a couple of lockdown performances, including their beautiful version of Sugar Mice. “We decided to do something a little bit different,” Marco says. “We decided to do an acoustic version, but rearranged. Daniela played a wonderful piano. He changed the arpeggios and did some different things on the piano.”
It is 38 years since Fish last performed Grendel. “We have the helmet and we love playing Grendel,” Marcella says. “I was thirteen and went to a Christmas market in Italy,” she says describing her introduction to the band. “I saw a wonderful design that was the cover of Script For A Jesters Tear. I fell in love with that album and with Steve Rothery’s guitar playing. He is my hero.”
The first set starts with Assassing and plenty of excitement from both sides of the stage. He Knows You Know is top drawer, while Cinderella Search, a Misplaced Childhood melody and Sugar Mice provide a nod to all four Fish-era albums.
Closing the first set on the title track of the first Marillion album is a good move as the crowd is loud and in full voice, lapping up the show. A song about losing on swings and roundabouts is “a song that this 15-year-old boy loved,” one punter told me. At a Mr Punch show, you can see many of these, now well into their 50s, men jumping with excitement.
The second set kicked off with Grendel, to the delight of the assembled horde. Vincini covers the “raping the darkness, death by his side” lyric with the prerequisite “raping” anger and “d-d-d-d-death” staccato. “He cares not for the brave,” screams Vincini, before a beautiful Fuligni led keyboard interlude, leaving Mariotti and Marini driving the punched part that leads into Marcella’s spot on solo.
Vincini is back on stage, complete with mask, and prowls the stage as he sings, before dutifully artistically ‘ripping’ Marcella’s throat with his righteous claw.
It’s not Fish, Rothery, Trewavas, or Kelly. It’s not Mick Pointer or John Martyr, Andy Ward or Ian Mosely drumming, but for the crowd tonight, it was the evidence that, at least in their minds, a time machine can exist.
Chelsea Monday is equally epic, Marcella is inspired for the guitar solos, and the crowd are suitable loud and supportive in their response. Forgotten Sons is dedicated to Black Dahlia Murder singer Trevor Strnad, leading to Incubus. Fugazi, with its emotional piano opening, rolled into The Last Straw and we were almost done.
“We are from Italy and we come to your country to play music in your language,” bassist Mariotti declares for the encore. “Are you ready to jump?” We were, and that’s the end of a fantastic evening.
“Deeper Purple are probably better live than Deep Purple ever were,” commented one fan recently of that tribute band. “Controversial, but I was at Knebworth ’85, so I got to see Mk2. Coverdale didn’t sing many Gillan songs and when they reformed in 85 Gillan didn’t sing any Coverdale songs. Luca does the lot, very well. Purple with Blackmore wouldn’t have played You Keep On Moving (Tommy Bolin).”
Tribute bands may not rock your boat, but the crowd in Camden was well rocked, as was the Robin’s, the following evening, and a three day Marillion weekend in Leicester (27-29 May) will be well attended.
As well as the UK, Mr Punch has played Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland, as well as their native Italy, where they are supported by the Italian leg of The Company and The Web, officially linked fan clubs.
If you still want to hear those Fish-era Marillion songs, Mr Punch is probably the best of the viable options.
He Knows You Know
Misplaced Childhood – Melody
Script For A Jester’s Tear
The Last Straw
Market Square Heroes
Nice reivew Steve, and totally accurate. These agining limbs were jumping along to a great night of music.