April 5-7 2002
Convention Weekend, Pontin's, Brean Sands, UK.
Bart Jan van der Vorst with additional notes by Derk van Mourik
For years they hinted at it, but now they finally got to organising it: An International Marillion Convention.
And to make sure it would go down in the books as a truly unique and memorable event they came up with something that to my knowledge no band has done before. They hired an entire holiday park for a whole weekend and jam-packed it with activities and concerts. Some 1700 fans from all over the world (USA, Mexico, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand - to name just a few countries) travelled to the Pontin's Holiday Park, situated inthe probably utterly unknown Brean Sands (just under the smoke of Bristol) to witness this event.
Some years ago I started a little mailinglist with four friends that I had met through the Marillion mailinglist Freaks. Although this mailinglist doesn't have anything to do with Marillion this was the best excuse for a 'reunion' we had in years, so we decided to travel to the Marillion weekend together and make it a great weekend out. After all, the mailinglist is still called The Freakateers!
Unfortunately one of us couldn't make it to the weekend (what a timing to plan both your PhD and your marriage...) so there were only four of us.
Even though the various European fanclubs (including The Web Holland) organised special trips to the weekend, we decided to travel to the event by our own means - despite the fact that previous international trips had not always been very successful (i.e. the last time we went to a Marillion gig together, we got stranded somewhere along the German Autobahn, with a blown engine...)
Thanks to the fast ferry between Hook of Holland and Harwich our trip to Brean Sands only took some 8 hours. We arrived perfectly on time at 2.30 pm, with Rick Astley's Never Gonna Give You Up blasting from our car stereo - a bit of an inside joke as the Pontin's holiday camp is known for their regular theme-weekends, and this Marillion weekend could be easily mistaken for some eighties' revival, right? Well, we thought so anyway, and with Kayleigh being too obvious a choice, we opted for Rick Astley and A-Ha instead. In any case we received some strange looks from people as we drove by.
The weather was beautiful, and check-in wasn't until 4 pm, so we spent most of the afternoon drinking beers on the sunny pub terrace.
It was a nice afternoon of seeing old friends, meeting new ones and finally getting to see a face behind people that up until then had only been names on your computer screen.
It was nice to see so many different Marillion T-shirts walking around in such a small space, quite unnatural really (even at a Marillion gig the concentration is lower). Also, many others had, just like us, created their own T-shirt for the weekend. My favourite of them all was a great spin on the movie The Great Escape, with the name of Pontins altered to Pontlitz and all members of this group represented by a different Barry. Fantastic!
As most of the people had arrived early for the weekend, there was a huge queue in front of the check-in building. More reason for us to stay with the beers!
When the queue had finally diminished we went to the check-in building, where the queue had split up into six shorter queues. An efficient way of handling large group bookings, which resulted in us (small group? early booking?) being put in the shortest queue of all.
So a few minutes later we were given our welcome package, consisting of a map of the complex, a program guide with on the cover a fantastic spin of the Brave cover (a blurred image of new Marillion mascot Barry, with scribblings over it), a questionnaire with accompanying Marillion pen, coloured wrist-bands to aid security, of course branded with Marillion as well, and to top it off, a pillow-chocolate, also featuring an image of Barry (this is collector's heaven, I tell you!)
The quick check-in gave us a good chance to stroll past the Marillion exhibition that was also held in the same building. A nice collection of Marillion photographs, T-shirts, posters, tourbooks, but also some real rare stuff, from their private collection, like original sketches and drawings of lyrics and album covers, ancient issues of fanclub mags and newsletters (dating from 1982!!), Mark's first keyboard, H's midi-gloves, Pete's grandfather's violin, guitars, drum skins, stage props and the model of This Strange Engine. Mark's keyboard was in a dismal
state of repair: he had remodelled it heavily back in the day, and after it had gone into disuse it had lain in the shed at his parent's house for years. When one day his parents decided to clear out the shed they phoned him and told him that if he didn't come pick up the derelict machine they'd throw it out. Mark rescued the keyboard, dusted it off and actually played a solo with it on a song from a recent Marillion album (I believe it was Under the Sun, on the Radiation album).
The accommodation was a lot better than we had expected. Not as small as you might expect from this type of studios - which more resembled barracks rather than holiday cottages - and remarkably clean and well-kept considering the amount of partying that goes on at an average Pontin's weekend.
We spent a while sitting in front of our studio, sipping a beer, while watching a special Marillion channel on TV. During the weekend this channel played a.o. the rare From Stoke Row To Ipanema video as well as private concert videos among which was a recording of the Vredenburg gig from last year. Especially that one was very nice to see for me, as one can easily descry the back of my balding head right at the front of the stage.
We still had plenty time before the first gig of the weekend, so we decided to have a stroll around the complex and look at the merchandise stand. The merchandise was a bit more popular than expected, I guess, as there was a huge queue in front of the stand, which didn't seem to get any shorter at any time during the weekend.
The band had brought along plenty merchandise expecially for the weekend, including the obligatory limited edition convention weekend T-shirt, with a great image of their mascot Barry wearing thongs (flip-flops) and sunglasses and eating an ice-cream.
Furthermore they had a stick of rock with an image of Barry on it (a shame to eat it really), six different Barry-badges (well, different colours that is) and my personal favourite, a Barry fridge magnet that serves as bottle opener as well.
CDs in the merchandise stand included the new live album Anorak in the UK, the new Making of CDs and albums by the various bands and artists that would perform during the weekend. Artists who, by the way, were all in one way or the other connected to Marillion.
Of those acts the first to perform was Aziz Ibrahim, best known from his work in Steve Hogarth's H-band. He had brought along Dalbir Singh (also of H fame) on Tabla, and together they performed a set of songs from Aziz' solo album, of which the best known was the great Zen and Now, which has also been performed numerous times at H gigs.
I quite liked their performance and I was quite surprised to see Aziz singing in most of the songs as well - I had expected his music to be instrumental. I must say, he has a very pleasant voice to hear, and although his music sounded very Indian, he sings in a very western way, making it an interesting combination of styles.
Dalbir Singh deserves special mention as well, as he received plenty opportunities to demonstrate his skills, playing those tabla so incredibly fast that his hands became all blurry.
For the final track Aziz invited Steve Hogarth on stage to perform a song together. "Let's do one of yours" he said, and under a loud cheer from the audience they played Really Like.
Next up was Robin Boult, known from his work with Fish. What many people don't know, however, is that he played in a band together with Pete Trewavas before Pete joined Marillion.
His music was all instrumental, Robin played guitar while he had backing tracks on tape. It didn't sound bad at all, but instrumental music, especially that of the mellow type, needs a lot of attention and an intimate atmosphere. With that lacking we opted for the pub instead.
An hour later we came back in the concert venue and found it absolutely packed with people. We managed to position ourselves pretty good in front of the PA system (which is where you have the best sound after all). It struck me as to how little we could see now the venue was full of people. The stage was incredibly low, which resulted in the short Steve Hogarth being only marginably visible over the heads of the people in front. And we were four tall blokes, who stood somewhere in the middle of the venue. I was wondering whether anyone further back would be able to see anything at all!
The first Marillion gig of the weekend was probably the major reason for people to come to the weekend, as they were going to play their classic Brave album one more time in its entirety - the first time in eight years! I was the only one of my little group who had seen the show before, back in 1994 I saw them perform in Amsterdam - my second Marillion gig ever - however back then they didn't have enough room for the full show onstage.
Of course, this time around they made sure to do all the theatrics, including some that I don't think were in the original Brave show.
Just like 1994 the ambient album River, by Mike Hunter was played before the gig in order to set the mood for the concert. This is a very mellow, moody album consisting of ambient music interlaced with Marillion samples. For the last few minutes the volume of the music was turned up and the samples of Splintering Heart and No One Can received a loud cheer from the crowd. When the final notes of Hunter's music faded away, the opening samples of Brave started. On the screen above the stage two images from the album were projected and under a massive applause one by one the bandmembers walked onstage and started playing the instrumental intro to Bridge.
Because the songs on Brave require a lot of keyboard work from Steve Hogarth and the stage was so low, H was out of sight for most of the beginning of the show. A pity, really.
It was obvious the band had put most of their reheasal time into Brave (this gig was also to be filmed and recorded for future release on DVD) as the band played very, very tight and not a single word was spoken during the performance.
H came up dressed as a priest during Bridge and Living With The Big Lie, transformed himself into a girl (with pigtails and all) during Mad, while two masked men dragged him offstage at the end of Hard as love. For Hollow Men a candlestick was placed on top of H's keyboard. One of the candles in the candlestick wouldn't burn for some reason, but the lack of burning candles was cleverly compensated by the projection of flaming candles on the screen above the stage.
During Paper Lies H wore his golden jacket (does Bono know he stole that one? :-) while news headlines and clippings flashed on the projection screen.
Oddly enough they finished the set with The Great Escape, while Made Again was played as an encore. This emphasises the fact that Made Again isn't really part of Brave, but more a happy ending/wake-up call thingy.
They played Made Again rather loyal to the original version, rather than the spun-out version they did between 1994 and 1996, once again, most likely because the recordings are to be released on DVD.
The other encores were Cover My Eyes, Between You And Me and as final encore they played The Answering Machine. Why they played these tracks, none of which can really be called highlights of their repertoire, is a complete riddle to me. The only reason I can come up with is that after such a moody, serious piece of music that is Brave, they want to play some happy heavy pounding party music to get it out of their system. In 1994 they played encores like Uninvited Guest, Slàinte Mhath and Hooks in You, pretty much to the same effect.
Most people in the audience seemed to love their choice though, but this can only be expected at a fanclub convention. I mean, if you travel half the world to see the band, you won't bicker about the choice of songs either, right?
Another thing that struck me as a bit odd, was the fact that there had hardly been any interaction with the audience. Once again, I can understand that during Brave itself, but I had expected something like a welcome-message of some kind before or during the encores. But none of that, they did say their hello's and thank you's, yet somehow they gave me the feeling of rushing it a bit. At the time being, of course, I didn't know how all this would change throughout the course of the weekend.
Just like 1994 after the gig the Peter Gabriel track Red Rain was played. I don't exactly know what the connection to Brave is, but there must be one as this can't have been a coincidence. Legend has, that Gabriel played H a demo of this track after they met back in the eighties, so that could be it.
While the music played, the stage was being transformed for yet another gig. Andy Gangadeen, drummer of Massive Attack and the H-band performed with his band The Bays. They play very ambient drum 'n bass music in which especially Gangadeen's drums dominated. Maybe not entirely suitable for the weekend (a bit different from the rest), but it worked really well as a closer, after Brave.
Tiredness, combined with the beer consumption and this type of music, caused me to nearly collapse, so I retired to bed before the end of the gig. Tomorrow's a new day.
In any case this was an excellent start for the weekend
Yesterday's Brave gig did not set the tone for the rest of the weekend. As moody and serious as that gig was, so lighthearted and fun was the rest of the weekend.
The first event on today's program was the Swap The Band! gig. Fans had been able to send in demo tapes of themselves in order to perform alongside Marillion at this special gig. For each song one or more bandmembers would be replaced by a fan who would play along.
Quite an honour for a fan, of course. A pity really that my own musical skills limit themselves to the piano-intro of Heart of Lothian or the first three notes of Lavender, so it is probably a wise decision that I did not try to enter this event and instead sticked to photography and writing this great and unbiased review of the weekend (ahem).
The first person to perform with Marillion was drummer Adrian Holmes, who replaced Ian Mosley for Between You And Me. Even though Between You And Me doesn't contain a very complex rhythm it's funny how the sound of a song can change when you have a different drummer behind the kit. Adrian hits the drums a lot harder than Ian does, yet Ian adds a lot of tiny subtle fills that you never really notice until they aren't there. Nonetheless, Adrian made a very respectable appearance here, in front of at least 1000 people. No mistakes at all (at least none that I heard).
Judging from the supportive cheer he received when he left the stage, a lot of people agreed with me.
Next up was Easter, for which Matt Carwardine-Palmer took care of the keyboards, while Shane Faulkner replaced Rothery on guitar. Matt did a decent job on the keyboards, even though he only played about half the parts that Mark Kelly usually does (something which may have something to do with the fact that certain sounds and samples have to be triggered as well, and you can't expect an outsider to be able to do all that on someone else's keyboard), however, it was Shane who clearly stole the show with his stunningly flawless rendition of the song. He played both the acoustic and the electric parts, including the quick switch between the two guitars and a note-perfect rendition of the solo.
I didn't think it was very fair to have two people play with the band at the same time, as Shane's performance completely outshone Matt's. The audience gave them a massive applause and to much hilarity someone in the audience shouted "Sack Rothery!!"
"Now what's next" said H in his infamous monotonous mumble, "Oh no, I'm being replaced!" (laughter) "Well, that seems to be a bit of a tradition in this band..." (total hilarity).
H was replaced by Suzi Ireland, while one Kai Kelly (indeed, son of...) joined the band to play some extra guitar on the romantic track No One Can. Suzy apologised for being very nervous, but gradually during the performance she seemed to gain more confidence. H had a lot of fun doing the backing vocals with Pete, constantly pulling faces to the crowd and all.
For the next song Ian was being replaced again. Well, if they wanted to follow Marillion tradition then they had to replace a few drummers - they went through five of them before Ian finally sat down behind the kit in 1984. Phil Harrison took over from Ian, and the song they performed was... Sugar Mice!
Yeah, that surprised me a bit too, as more than half the song is played without drums. Well, good for Phil probably as his nerves seemed to be getting the upper hand of him, and he didn't really play his part very confidently. Fortunately for him the crowd was more busy singing along with the lyrics to really notice or, more importantly, care. He received a big applause, just like everyone before him.
Next was another Rothery replacement, Rick Armstrong for the track 80 Days, who did a fine job of it.
However, they saved the proverbial best for last. For Afraid Of Sunlight the band was joined by Klaus Zeller on bass (while Pete stayed around to play the midi-pedals) and Jan Henrik Ohme, of Gazpacho, on vocals. Jan Henrik apologised for having sung along a wee bit too much during the Brave gig the night before and he had lost his voice. He didn't feel confident enough for the choruses, so H stayed around to sing these. They turned it into a sort of duet, so to speak.
Jan Henrik has an excellent voice, and you could see him struggle with some of the higher notes, yet his hoarse voice suited the song so well, that halfway during the song I started hoping he would have the confidence in his voice to sing the chorus as well. Unfortunately he gave the microphone to H for both choruses and whereas for the bridge he only sang the first half (all your spirit rack abuses etc), while H had to sing the second half (don't be surprised etc).
He did however sing the final last high notes of the song -taking his time for them- which gained him a massive applause and a lot of respect. Afraid of Sunlight is, after all, a difficult track to sing, and he could have pulled out with his suffered voice, yet he didn't.
Last of the show was Matt Coffey, from Australia, who alledgedly sold his drumkit in order to fly to England for this weekend. Ian kindly let him borrow his for the song King.
The power with which he drummed baffled both band and audience so much, that after the intro the audience broke into a massive cheer, and H completely forgot to sing.
"Shall we do that again, then?" he asked, and under a loud applause they started over again. Mac is clearly drummer in some heavy metal band, and what a drummer he is! Imagine a hybrid between Mike Portnoy and Neil Peart and you may get an idea. Of course, there is no better Marillion song to play for such a drummer than King - his heavy-metal style fitted the song so well.
After the gig all performers were called onstage once more for one last applause and some photos, after which there was a short Q&A session with the band. Before the event people were given the chance to write down questions and deposit them in a special box, and now the band would pull them out and try to answer them in an honest way. The answering of the questions led to a lot of hilarity, not in the least place with the band themselves. They fooled around and didn't really give many 'real' answers. But mind you, many of the questions weren't really that interesting, or had been asked times before in published interviews (some questions even looked remarkably like some of my own in my interview with the band, yet I hadn't entered any questions in that box, honestly!). There were the obvious questions about record sales, concert attendance, football and those kind of subjects. Some were more interesting questions, about decision-making in the Racket Club - which they didn't answer directly, but we are led to believe there is a lot of fighting going on when recording an album. And some other questions were more in the field of being completely ludicrous, like "Who is the deadliest member of the band, and what kind of cheese does he like?" Right, try to answer that one if you will.
An interesting moment came when they pulled out the following question: "Do you mind playing pre-Hogarth songs if you don't have to?". The poor choice of words in this question made answering a bit too easy, and H played around with, answering more to the phrasing, rather than the question: "do you mind playing pre-Hogarth songs, if you don't have to... did we ever have to? Well, if we don't have to... then... no, then I don't mind!" thus giving the answer most people already knew.
His answer resulted in a heckle which you could call outdated, or almost obligatory, yet delivered with such perfect timing: "GRENDEL!!". Rothery jokingly made a killing gesture, while H gunned it down perfectly: "That track is not pre-Hogarth, it's pre-historic!" - brilliant!.
A new running gag during Marillion gig seems to be to call for "Ian Mosley For President". I don't know where this came from, apparently it started at a gig in London. One of the questions was what Ian would do if he actually were president.
I can't remember what he answered, but he did ask if the person who had started all this was around, as he had to have "a word with this guy"... The outcome of this "word" would not be clear until the next day.
One of the last questions they drew from the box asked what their number 1 song was they had ever written. After a pause Hogarth decided that it had to be This is the 21st century and the others spontaneously proposed to play it, yet Rothery didn't want to. H quieted the boo's with the assurance that they would play it tonight, yet it wasn't until tonight that we would hear the explanation as to why Rothers didn't want to play the track.
The rest of the afternoon there were no concerts planned. The band did a signing session in the other building (where the exhibition was) yet none of us felt the need to join the immense queue which had formed outside the building, so we spent most of the afternoon sitting outside in the sun, drinking beers, chatting to people and we found a new addiction in the air-hockey tables in the games hall.
While sitting outside our barracks, we were also treated to an impromptu Marillion singalong concert by
our Welsh neighbour. He was so stoned out of his mind that he sang terribly off key and completely out
of phase with the music. It was actually so bad that is was funny: at one point he sang to The Great Escape
with the now immortal words "Don't ask me why I'm smoking this, you wouldn't understand". Fantastic!
At 6 o'clock, there was another gig planned. This time Steve Rothery's side-band The Wishing Tree. I had expected an acoustic gig with Rothery on guitar and Hannah Stobart on vocals, yet they had brought along a full electric backing band, featuring Enchant drummer Paul Cadrick, a keyboardist and a backing vocalist whose names escaped me (sorry) and Marillion's own Pete Trewavas on bass. They performed a short set, with songs all taken from the album Carnival Of Souls. A great gig, and not just because of Hannah's looks! :-)
The next gig on the program was Francis Dunnery, former singer of It Bites, however, as it turned out, he didn't show up for the soundcheck in the afternoon, and nobody seemed to know whether he had actually arrived at Pontins or not. The band White Buffalo, which was slotted after Fancis Dunnery, got moved forward and they got to play a longer set.
I had seen White Buffalo before - they supported Marillion during the second leg of the Anoraknophobia tour last year - and although they're quite good, the prospect of dinner and some more beers was more appealing to us.
When we came back in the venue, some hour and a half later, the next band Cry No More had already started their act. They were just two blokes, playing folkish tunes, accompanying themselves on guitar and bass. Well, so it seemed. We decided to wait a few songs, and see what it was, and ended up staying the entire gig. Their humerous mixture of folk music and hilarious, often explicit songs and jokes can best be described as THE perfect warm-up for a gig. With fantastic anecdotes and great audience participation and sing-alongs they got us ready for what was to become one of the most special and memorable Marillion gigs ever.
Planned for tonight was the so-called Marillion setlist bingo. Well, actually, it was more a lottery. They had pre-chosen 40 songs from their repertoire, which they had put on a list, all numbered (10 to 49). This list was displayed on the projector screen, while they had put 40 numbered ping-pong balls into a bucket, and for each and every song they would pull out a ball, and play the song on the list that matched the number of the ball. A very original way of choosing your setlist.
The list was displayed on the screen before the gig started, so people could already have a look at what could be in the setlist. Among the many tracks on the screen were also titles like "Spontaneous Cheer" and "Thank You, Goodnight" - the latter of which of course no-one wanted to see pulled out of the bucket.
There were very few pre-Hogarth songs on the list. Not that there have to such tracks in a Marillion setlist, but in my opinion, for an event like this long neglected songs like Script or White Russian wouldn't have been out place. And of course the chance these would be chosen, would be only one in forty! The only pre-Hogarth songs present were Garden Party, Warm Wet Circles and Sugar Mice (already played that afternoon!), so no party tracks like Freaks, Incommunicado, Market Square Heroes - all still played less than five years ago - and (fortunately?) no Kayleigh.
Of the songs that were on the list, their last album Anoraknophobia was featured with all its songs, while most tracks of Marillion.com, Afraid Of Sunlight and Seasons End were there. Holidays in Eden and Radiation seemed to have provided the least songs, not likely to cause much grief among the fans. Any songs off Brave were wisely discarded, as that album was played just the night before.
The band opened with a pre-chosen track, which to my knowledge they had not played live since 1996: King Of Sunset Town. After this great track, and under a loud cheer, Cry No More frontman Roy Hill came onstage in order to do the lottery, and he would do so between each and every song. This does not really benefit the natural flow and vibe of the gig, but it sure is entertaining, and I couldn't think of a better person to do this than Roy.
The first song to be pulled out of the bucket was Quartz, followed by Separated Out, which featured images of the movie Freaks. When Roy Hill pulled the next ping-pong ball out of the bucket and the song When I Meet God came up, people (including me) started wondering whether this was going to be a whole night of Anoraknophobia. Of course these are all great tracks, but a bit more variation would have been nice.
When I Meet God was played far from flawlessly, displaying the main disadvantage of a gig such as this one: there is no way the band could have rehearsed all 40 songs in advance, so some will be better played than others. There were some problems with H's guitar, which was entirely inaudible, while Rothery's guitarwork suffered noticebly from the lack of rehearsal. In my memory of last year this track, and especially his guitarwork sounded so much better. And then some samples, that were way too loud in the mix completely destroyed this beautiful song halfway through.
The next ball that got pulled out of the bucket was that of Spontaneous Cheer, to which the audience duly responded - the roof nearly went off!
Next up was The Uninvited Guest, which caused some startled looks from several members of the band, especially Mark Kelly. "I'm sorry" he explained, "We can't play it. I have left the sounds and samples for this one at home..."
This resulted in cheers, laughter and boo's from the band and while Roy tried to joke over it and pull out another ball, the rest of the band had something like "fuck it, we'll just play it anyway". Roy, however, wouldn't stop talking, and when Ian's drum intro didn't do the trick, H just started singing and amiably kicked him off stage
And the song sounded... excellent. Well, far better at least than the previous one. Even though Mark had to use piano sounds, rather than the tinkles and bells, and the fact that H couldn't use his cricket bat during the choruses, it didn't seem to bother anyone. And as for that very important sample right at the end of the song: the audience took care of that last cuckoo.
The next ball pulled out of the bucket called for Band Introductions, which was done with the usual hilarity.
Next one to be pulled out of the bucket was... Interior Lulu. Very special as this track is rarely played live (I had never heard them play it). They had also played this song at a try-out gig, earlier this week, however, I still had the feeling it wasn't played very tightly or well-rehearsed. Of course, this can also be due to the fragmented nature of the song (it's basically a string of themes glued together).
Nonetheless it was great to finally hear this song live, with Mark Kelly in a starring role during the keyboardsolo in the middle, and Ian hitting off the frustration of being replaced by a drum computer for the first half of the song.
"Oh people, doesn't it just get better and better?" asked Roy Hill when the song had finished. Somehow he gave me the feeling that he didn't have a clue what he was talking about, and his lame jokes were getting a bit annoying too. After all, he had been telling the same sexist jokes for over nearly three hours now. I still think he did a great job in pulling the balls out of the bucket and announcing the songs, but he just took too long trying to be funny, while most people in the audience preferred just music.
He did however, manage to pull another gem out of the bucket: Warm Wet Circles! Other than Interior Lulu or When I Meet God this song sounded fantastic. Well, of course they have played it a few times more often than the other too, but still.
Naturally it was followed by That Time Of The Night, giving us plenty audience participation - i.e. clapping out of time in the 5/4 Teenage War Brides section and singing, no, shouting the backing vocals WARM-WET-CIRCLES! at the ending. Classic.
Throughout the song a section of the cover image of the single was projected on the screen, giving a very cool result.
Time for another one. Roy let someone in the audience pick a ball, and out came... This Is The 21st Century. "Yeeha!" shouted H, yet Rothery started shaking his head again. He walked up to the microphone and in this very rare occasion we actually heard the man speak... With a boyish guilty look on his face he started explaining how he uses a special device to create the special guitarsound in this song (he is, after all, called the gadget man). However, apparently he had blown the device just days before, so he wouldn't be able to play the song properly. He did, however, agree to play it without the device, though he apologised beforehand if it would sound a bit odd.
For the third time tonight I started wondering whether Marillion hasn't become a bit too dependent on their samples. I mean, there have been gigs (most notoriously during the 1997 This Strange Engine tour) where the show had to be temporarily stopped when Mark had problems loading his samples. I remember seeing U2 back in 1997 where all the new songs were played with backing tapes containing samples and such, and these sounded horrible, whereas the older songs sounded fine. Tonight reminded me of that. the samples in When I Meet God made the song sound rather shite, Uninvited Guest nearly didn't get played because they didn't have the samples (but sounded fine without) while older songs like Warm Wet Circles sounded fine. U2 stopped using these drum-loops, backing tracks and samples during their last tour, and went back to basic. I wonder if Marillion will ever do the same, yet Rothery was right: This Is The 21st Century did sound rather off.
He really tried to make the best of it, constantly flipping switches and playing in a very toned down way - mind you, the whole song was rather toned down. It wasn't the best performance we got, but I'll say it was brave enough of them to play it anyway. The audience was very appreciative and gave the band, and Rothery in particular, a very warm applause.
Time for a break. For the band at least. Nowadays it seems you can't have a Marillion gig anymore without having someone propose to his girlfriend onstage, and why not, it is still a special way of doing so. An American guy who had travelled to the weekend with his girlfriend decided this was a good opportunity to pop the question, so in front of an 1800 headed audience he asked her to marry him. Well, no way she was going to say no to him now, of course.
After this proposal... there was another one! However, when the next one was called on stage it took a while for him to get there. And in the meantime... one of the crew came on stage and proposed to his girlfriend instead, to much hilarity of both the audience and the band, as this was completely unplanned. So instead of two, we got three guys asking their girlfriends to marry them. Congratulations from the band, promises they would play on their weddings (but likely to have some other appointment on that date) and the show could continue.
Another ball was pulled out of the basket, matching the number for This Town. Great cheers from the crowd and you could see the band thinking "What have we begun?".
"You mean... all of it?" asked Hogarth. "But that's loooong".
They did however play the whole trilogy, to great joy of their fans of course.
Before the gig started I had foreseen something like this, that tracks like this one, Interior Lulu, This Is The 21st Century and This Strange Engine - all lasting a good 12 minutes or longer - would be pulled out of the bucket. The band probably realised this could happen as well, and to prevent them from having to play another epic, after they had already played seven tracks longer than eight minutes, they decided to call it a day and left the stage.
Now I finally understand why they don't want to be a prog band anymore!
They did of course come back for encores. No more balls from the bucket, but a few songs they had decided upon themselves. The first was the album version of Splintering Heart. I can't remember when they had last played this version, as the last time this song was featured in a setlist, back in 1998, they played the Moles Club version.
After this it was time for a party, a Garden Party so to speak. Always a good closer and the audience went absolutely berserk - Jumping, shouting, clapping and fully demonstrating we all knew the lyrics by heart. Well, one section of the lyrics that is!
The band decided to come back for one more encore though, as there was one album somewhat neglected throughout the show. No, not This Strange Engine, its successor, the not much loved Radiation.
Although not much loved, the album does contain some gems, and the best of them all (in my honest opinion of course) was Three Minute Boy.
This great beatles inspired track became even more beatlesque when they played the closing section of the classic Hey Jude, leaving the audience to repeat the "la-la-la-lalala"-part for quite a while, hoping for yet another encore. None came, as the next event had already started: an aftershow disco in the other building, where during day the exhibition was held. The la-la-la's however stayed until the rest of the weekend. At night in the bar people started singing it in between each and every song, and continued to sing it right untill before the next gig, the following day!
So that was Marillion gig three in the pocket, and still one more to go! In hindsight I have somewhat mixed feelings about this gig. Of course, it was a truly fantastic way of determining the setlist in an unpredictable way. However, it was obvious the band hadn't taken all the disadvantages into account. I mean, the technical problems, the under-rehearsed status of many of the songs, the overlong interludes with Roy Hill and the fact that half of Anoraknophobia had come out of the bucket, didn't do the gig much good. Some of the surprises though, especially Interior Lulu and Splintering Heart compensated a lot though. And in every possible way it was an enjoyable gig, definitely something special, yet it was far from a great performance.
Off to the disco then. Andy Fox and Ian Gregory from Star Rock Radio in Bristol (107.3) provided the music for this event, with their choices based on requests by fans (determined beforehand though).
Obviously there was quite a bit of Marillion present in the songs played. Both DJ's are Marillion-fans, and I tell you, it was good to hear a DJ with a good knowledge of music. Our music, that is.
As we watched the dancefloor, sipping beers and chatting about tonight's gig we felt the need to join the folks on the dancefloor. The perfect song for this seemed Garden Party... Yeah... well, just how the heck are you supposed to dance on Garden Party?? Especially the first half... We weren't the only people wondering, as the entire crowd on the dancefloor seemed to have transformed into a collection of spastically moving rustic androids.
Furthermore, it seemed we had gotten it all wrong about Marillion after all: Pogo is not of this time anymore... I remember years ago, when the band would play Garden Party, Incommunicado or even Hooks In You during a gig, the entire audience would start pogo'ing causing you to end up at a completely different spot than where you were before the song started (usually farther to the back, I'd say). Anyway, nowadays there is no pogo'ing, in fact, hardly any jumping going on during gigs. Yet here on the dancefloor I had expected some jumping banging and pogo'ing to happen at the last part of Garden Party. Definitely when you consider the alcohol consumption and the high concentration of proportionally well-built blokes on the dancefloor, yet none of it. All people just seemed to move aside before you had a chance to bump into them - even at songs by Metallica or Guns n' Roses!!
It seems that, like the band, the audience is ageing too...
The DJ's made quite a show of it, including flashy lights, lots of smoke and some occassional pyro-technics as well. The choice of songs came mainly from the rock-stable, I can't remember much of them really, apart from tracks like Run Through The Hills by Iron Maiden, and Sad But True by Metallica. And, of course, the inevitable Kayleigh, which was sang along by virtually everybody present.
A rather strange thing came when one of the DJ's announced how the band had specifically asked them not to play any prog that night. Oh please, give us a break here. We're talking about a radio station that actually supports Marillion, as rare as they come... No need for presumptuousness here I would say. Anyway, the DJ decided it wouldn't hurt to remind Marillion of their roots either, so he played a little tune by a band named Pink Floyd: Money.
The disco was supposed to end at 1.00 already, however, as the Marillion gig had run rather late, most of us had only been at the disco for less than 40 minutes. De DJ's decided to continue until the manager of Pontin's would start complain and pull the plug - something which fortunately didn't happen until well after 1.30!
So back to the bar then, for plenty more late-night entertainment. Good music, great people and the traditional British luke-warm beer, while the bar promised not to close until the last person would leave (well, I think they did come back on that...).
Some American fans had brought a mini-polaroid camera along resulting in half the people present walking around tiny polaroid snapshots stuck to their foreheads.
Our Welsh neighbour also made another appearance, this time with a circus act: he managed to sleep while sitting up straight and balancing a full pint of lager on his head - he kept it up for at least 10 minuted before the glass finally fell off!!
Out of respect for the fact that this guy might not completely remember the incident (or does not want to be remembered) I shall not publish the photo we took. (but if you're reading this mate, drop us a line!)
Completely wasted we managed to crawl back to our beds around 4.30 am, well aware of the next day's program *and* the long journey home...
Sunday was to be hang-over day. Marillion would play just a very laid-back acoustic gig before we were all to sod off and go home.
After starting almost an hour late, the band came onstage with Steve and Pete carrying electric guitars! "Not very acoustic, is it?" joked Pete.
Ian was wearing a yellow T-shirt with the slogan "Ian Mosley For President" on it, to much hilarity of course. The back was even funnier, as it read "I'm wearing this for a bet". I still wonder what that is all about though, but it sure is funny.
The band started with an unusual choice, Hollow Man. As it turned out something had gone wrong recording this track on Friday, so it had to be played again in order to ensure a proper release on DVD and CD.
After this song the band donned their acoustic gear for the real start of the gig. However, there seemed some problems with Pete's bass. It hadn't been tuned properly, so while he started tuning it, Steve and H broke into an impromptu version of the rarely played Costa Del Slough. The rest of the band joined in and Steve continued into Under The Sun, causing Pete to start playing along! "Stop it" he cried, as he could obviously not tune his guitar this way.
The rest of the band decided that to their most loyal fans it wouldn't matter if they played out of tune, so they started the next song, Go! anyway. However, after a few bars and some very painful looks of Pete they stopped again to let Pete finish the tuning of his guitar - a good decision, as frankly, it sounded terrible.
Someone in the audience called for House of the Rising Sun, of which Rothery then played a few notes, yet the rest of the band didn't pick it up. A few minutes later Pete had finally finished and they played a still rather unconvincing version of Go! A pity, as this is my favourite song off Marillion.com.
The rest of the gig the band didn't experience too many problems. They made up the setlist on the spot and while I hoped for some of the great tracks they had played at the bass museum a few years ago, like Dry Land, or Cinderella Search (recordings of which can be found on their 2000 Christmas cd), they opted for some saver material instead, like the Sly and Family Stone cover Sympathy, the weird Afraid of Sunrise, the even weirder Cannibal Surf Babe and fan favourite gem A Collection.
You could hear H's voice had suffered from a weekend of so much singing, talking and drinking too, as he was rather hoarse during today's gig - A sharp contrast with the perfectionist splendour of Brave, only 40 hours ago. But no-one cared, not in the last place the band themselves.
Throughout the weekend there had been some special activities for the youngest Marillion fans, or the kids that got dragged along by their parent, one of which was a drawing competition. The winners of this competition were announced by Steve Hogarth in a truly hilarious way. The competition had been divided into 5 age-categories, with each of the categories being judged by one of the bandmembers. Mark Kelly was responsible for ages 0-3, "and you should not draw any conclusions from that" added H.
The category was won by a kid named Stephen Potter, while his sister(?) Jennifer Potter snatched up the prize for the category 4-5. A very obvious joke came from the audience when H announced the next winner "Harry Potter!". Oddly enough it took H a while to get this one...
"For the next category, the winner is Pete Trewavas!! Oh, no, he was the judge!" H continued in his own hilarious mumble. Well, anyway, you get the picture... The names and paintings of all the winners can be found on the Marillion website.
After this it was time for all the thank you's for all the cast and crew that had helped during this weekend. Especially Lucy Jordache (marketing and pr), who had organised this whole weekend got special mention and a huge ovation.
All was done in such a hilarious way, and, probably even more surprising, all was done by H. H, who hardly ever talks during gigs -contrary to his predecessor- apart from some occassional mumbling that half the audience doesn't understand, who has been called eccentric and shy because of this, this same man had been talking and making jokes for over 15 minutes, like a genuine stand-up comedian. Makes me wonder why he hardly ever does more like this during gigs...
The gig continued with a few more acoustic songs: the re-worked reggae version of The Space, a tuned down Map Of The World and the spiced up Gazpacho closed the set. Unfortunately the event had to finish at 2pm sharp, so there was no more time for a final encore.
Nonetheless I don't think we can complain about the quantity of music over the weekend. Four Marillion gigs and yet only two songs in the entire weekend that got played twice.
The band said their last goodbyes, all of them actually coming up to the mike, with Ian closing with the now famous words: "Listen, if I do become president someday, then I didn't have sex with that girl!
And that was it! A fantastic weekend, already over before you even noticed it had begun. A weekend filled with music, drink and laughter - not necessarily in that order. Sure, there were some hick-ups, but none too seriously, apart from maybe those annoying queues all the time, everywhere. But for the rest this was an exceptionally well-organised event - kudos to the band, Lucy and all involved in the organisation.
We said our last goodbyes, checked out and started the long journey home. A journey, which lasted considerably longer than the outward journey. Not only do you drive a lot slower when hung over, we also had a slower boat on the way back. This gave us the advantage of sleeping in a decent bed during the trip though, and rather than arriving in the middle of the night, completely knackered, we hit our homes somewhere midday, slightly less knackered.
Plans are already in the makes for another convention next year, this time probably on mainland Europe. So will we do it all over again then, next year? You can bet ya sweet ass we will! See you all there!!
Friday, April 5th
Living With The Big Lie
Goodbye To All That
iii. The Opium Den
iv. The Slide
v. Standing In The Swing
Hard As Love
The Hollow Man
Alone Again In The Lap Of Luxury
i. Now Wash Your Hands
The Great Escape
i. The Last Of You
ii. Fallin' From The Moon
Between You And Me
Cover My Eyes
The Answering Machine
Saturday, April 6th
"Swap The Band!"
Between You And Me
No One Can
Afraid Of Sunlight
Saturday, April 6th
The King Of Sunset Town
When I Meet God
The Uninvited Guest
Warm Wet Circles
That Time Of The Night
This Is The 21st Century
The Rakes Progress
Three Minute Boy/Hey Jude
Sunday, April 7th
Costa Del Slough
Afraid Of Sunrise
Cannibal Surf Babe
Map Of The World
© Colour photographs by Bart Jan van der Vorst, B&W photographs by Herbert ter Maat.