Before I start this review I feel I should point out that I am a little biased when it comes to Marillion. Coming as they do from my hometown of Aylesbury I have followed the band for over 40 years. I first saw Marillion back in 1981 when they played support to Spirit at my local Civic Centre. All I will say is that since that day even through all the uncertainty when original vocalist Fish was replaced in 1989 by Steve Hogarth (h) I have been totally hooked. Don’t let this put you off as everything I state within is totally true and can be backed up by a very large and faithful fan base.
So how did the events recorded for this release come about. Many bands have tried to mix their music with classical tones over the years… some more successfully than others. It all started back in 2017 when a Brussels based string quartet “In Praise Of Folly” were approached by the band to accompany them for a number of songs at their 2017 UK convention at De Montfort Hall in Leicester. This was so well received that the band decided to work with them again on a CD of re imagined Marillion songs. Recorded at Marillion’s studio The Racket Club and Peter Gabriel‘s Real World Studios the results were released in 2019 as Marillion With Friends From The Orchestra. With the “In Praise Of Folly” quartet of Margaret Hermant (Violin), Maia Frankowski (Violin), Nicole Miller (Viola) and Annemie Osbourne (Cello) being augmented by the addition of Sam Morris on French Horn and Emma Halnan on Flute the album was so successful that it was decided that they would tour the 11 piece line-up during 2019. What followed was a 13 date tour culminating with two nights at the Royal Albert Hall.
What we have here is the performance from the St. David’s Hall, Cardiff which took place on 16 November just before the two RAH shows. Mainly sourced from the Marillion With Friends From The Orchestra release it amazingly contains three tracks over 15 minutes. Bookended by two mighty pillars of Marillion history. Opener and one of only three tracks not to appear on MWFFTO ‘Gaza’ with it’s controversial comments on the Palestinian territory and it’s troubles sums up the 21st century band taking the listener through every emotion and tempo during it’s seventeen plus minutes. Steve H has never been one to avoid difficult subjects within his lyrics. This track was a last minute addition to Sounds That Can’t Be Made but well deserves its place both on that album and opening many of their live shows. Likewise closer ‘This Strange Engine’ which is a mere 15 minutes tells the tale of h’s early years in South Yorkshire and his fathers absence while serving in the merchant navy.
The tracks that fall between these two mighty pillars are no less impressive. ‘Beyond You’ & ‘Seasons End’ find them at their most reflective and provide a great antidote to the openers explosive entrance. These also highlight the subtleties of the strings throughout these new arrangements. Following another of h’s never tiring introductions ‘Estonia’ tells the tale of the only UK survivor from that fateful day in 1994 when the ship sank. Introduced by strings and Steve Rothery’s haunting guitar the rest of the musicians join the swell as we travel through the tragic events. Steve H takes to his piano to introduce ‘The Hollow Man’ from Brave to enthusiastic crowd response asking them not to get too excited. The second of the songs not included on MWFFTO and the only track from latest album F.E.A.R (F**k Everyone And Run). Another epic at over 16 minutes telling the tale of the Russian oligarchs and the sadness at the way the world has become. “Why Is Nothing Ever True?” exactly. This is a song that goes through so many moods but always surprises me when it is all over so quickly. Cue rapturous applause. Following that you definitely need a pause for reflection and this comes in the shape of “The Sky Above The Rain” proving Marillion can do love songs too and oh! what a guitar solo. In total contrast ‘Separated Out’ becomes ‘Zeperated Out’ as the Anoraknophobia track gets a Led Zeppelin makeover led by “In Praise Of Folly” with their burst of ‘Kashmir’. Time for a return to a popular theme… water for ‘Ocean Cloud’ the tale of long distance rower Don Allum. Steve Hogarth is back at the piano and this soundscape shows the strengths of the entire band with Mark Kelly draping his keyboard over the whole thing while Ian Mosley drives the rhythm fully supported by Pete Trewavas on bass and Steve “we are not worthy” Rothery not only playing some of the best soloing of his career but also showing his prowess as a rhythm guitarist. All the way through the band’s skills are backed up by the orchestral enhancement supplied by the additional six artistes, never more obvious as ‘Ocean Cloud’ reaches its crescendo. At the end of another epic the crowd gives a well deserved standing ovation which finally fades as ‘Fantastic Place’ slides in and the crowd are forced into quiet by it’s gentle intro. One of the fan favorites ‘Fantastic Place’ is a classic and is one of the crowning moments in any Marillion show. At this point the band leave the stage but not for long as they have one more ace up there sleeves… the final pillar ‘This Strange Engine’. With Mr h’s wielding his cricket bat (don’t ask!) this chronicle shows off his vocal prowess better than any other and is his chance to prove that he is just as capable a storyteller as anyone who came before. And that is it… far too soon in my opinion.
… Unless of course you opt for the visual experience in which case you get additional treasures depending on your format of choice. Available on CD, Vinyl (including transparent violet), DVD or Blu-ray this is an aural delight which is only enhanced by the wonderful lighting and visual imagery of the show. As well as the added footage the 2 disc Blu-ray also includes the Marillion With Friends From The Orchestra studio album in dts 5.1 master hd and Stereo pcm. This will hopefully help to fill the void while we all wait for the follow up to F.E.A.R. Marillion’s last highly acclaimed studio album. As any follower of the band will know progress can be slow and it is very much a matter of “it will be ready when it’s ready”.
Reviewed By Peter Brockwell
- Released Through EarMusic on 28 May 2021
- Marillion Official Website
- Marillion on Facebook
- Marillion on Instagram
- Beyond You
- Seasons End
- The Hollow Man
- The New Kings
- The Sky Above The Rain
- Zeperated Out
- Ocean Cloud
- Fantastic Place
- This Strange Engine
Video Bonus Content:
- Man Of 1000 Faces (Live In Paris)
- Estonia (Promo)
- You’re Gone (Live In Kensington)*
- Power (Live In Kensington)*
- A Collection (Live In Kensington)*
- Making Friends (Documentary)*
* Blu-Ray Only