Review by Dean Pedley, photos and Sunday review by Rich Ward
The Marillion Weekend experience came into being more than a decade ago with a long weekend in the freezing cold chalet accommodation offered by Pontins. These days things are a lot more civilised with the UK leg (similar events take place in the Netherlands and Canada) finding them taking up residence at Wolverhampton’s Civic Hall every two years. Taking place outside of their regular album/tour schedule the event has historically seen Marillion dusting off complete albums and songs that are no longer part of their usual repertoire and 2015 proved no exception.
Friday – Anoraknophobia
At the start of the century Marillion were finding increasingly innovative ways to engage with their loyal fan-base that culminated in a hugely successful pre-order campaign for 2001’s Anoraknophobia before a note had even been recorded. As they take the stage it is remarkable how little any of them have changed in the intervening years. Ian Mosley remains a trusty pair of hands behind the kit, every Steve Rothery solo is greeted with huge applause, Mark Kelly orchestrates proceedings behind his keyboards, Pete Trewavas bounces along to the opening ‘Between You And Me’ and Steve Hogarth retains both his enigmatic charm and his voice.
Performed in its entirety, Anorak is not altogether successful as there are both superb high points (‘When I Meet God’, ‘This Is The 21st Century’) and more mundane efforts (‘Fruit Of The Wild Rose’). The disjointed and jarring ‘If My Heart Were A Ball It Would Roll Uphill’ does not prove to be a strong set closer although matters are redeemed with a hugely impressive encore of ‘This Strange Engine’ and the intensity of ‘Gaza’. A satisfying enough start to the weekend but there was very much a sense that this was the appetiser before Saturday evening’s main course.
Saturday – Marbles
2004’s Marbles is for many the jewel in the crown of the Hogarth years and tonight’s set marks the first full performance of the expanded fifteen-song edition for a decade. Unlike Anorak there is far more cohesion about Marbles and the songs seamlessly blend together that makes for a simply stunning performance. For the opening drama of ‘The Invisible Man’ Hogarth is only visible on the rear screen, watching proceedings in full mad professor mode until the Civic erupts when he eventually appears on stage. Whilst Marbles contains some of Marillion’s best loved songs (‘Fantastic Place’ and ‘Neverland’) the centrepiece of the set is ‘Ocean Cloud’; the near twenty minute tribute to oarsman Don Allum. Previously performed only a handful of times, tonight it brings the house down and the five minute ovation is richly deserved. Elsewhere the offbeat psychedelic delight of ‘Drilling Holes’ and languid laid-back ‘Angelina’ shows the band at their most diverse before the whole thing reaches the emotionally stirring climax that is ‘Neverland’.
Whilst the night could have ended there and then and no one would have been disappointed, they are summoned back for a three song encore. The rear screen is used to great effect for both ‘Out Of This World’, the moving tribute to speed king Donald Campbell, and an energy-sapping ‘King’ complete with images of Elvis, Hendrix and Robin Williams amongst many others. After a two and a half hour emotional roller-coaster ride the title track from 2012’s Sounds That Can’t Be Made ends the evening on a more soothing note.
Sunday – Charting the Singles
Having started the evening off with ‘Market Square Heroes’, Steve Hogarth was quick to explain that Sunday’s set was like a reverse banquet; with the dessert coming first. What followed was a set of Marillion’s singles played pretty much in chronological order, and with screen projections displaying those wonderful Mark Wilkinson cover designs to great effect. ‘Garden Party’, ‘Kayleigh’ and ‘Heart Of Lothian’ provide a real nostalgia trip and Hogarth paused to “thank Derek Dick for all those killer songs”.
Brave’s ‘The Great Escape’ and ‘Alone Again In The Lap Of Luxury’ along with ’80 Days’ are particular latter highlights proving that Hogarth can write some ‘killer songs’ too. They conclude the set by bringing us right up to date with ‘Power’, but they’ve saved a couple along the way. An encore of ‘Easter’ sees what seems to be the whole of the Civic singing along, and ‘Man Of A Thousand Faces’ finishes the set in style and to rapturous applause while balloons are bounced around the venue. After a slick and perfectly executed set, there’s still time for one final song and as H sits down to his keyboard for ‘Three Minute Boy’ it stops almost as soon as it starts with much hilarity when Hogarth forgets the words. He’s easily forgiven as he reminds us that he’s had to learn over 6 hours of lyrics for the weekend!
I’m sure the celebrations continued well into the night, especially for those that had travelled from far and wide. Having been a trailblazer for the pledge business model, it’s a wonder why more bands with similarly extensive catalogues have yet to follow suit with Marillion’s successful convention weekends.
For those wanting a more diluted offering, Marillion play the Ramblin’ Man Festival in Maidstone on 26th July.
See more of Rich’s photos here