Review by Paul Quinton
For such a well-known and long established band as Marillion, it’s surprising how much of the individual members’ side and solo projects manage to slip under the radar. Steve Hogarth does a number of solo gigs each year, and bassist Pete Trewavas probably has the highest profile, thanks to his role in Prog ‘super-group’ Transatlantic, but it’s taken guitarist Steve Rothery a long time to offer something under his own name, although he has recorded with American singer Hannah Stobart, under the name The Wishing Tree, but now he’s released his first solo work under his own name, and has put together a pretty good band to tour it with.
Among the members of the Steve Rothery Band is Italian keyboard player Riccardo Romano, and it was his band, RanestRane who have provided support throughout this tour. The band played us selections from their concept album Music Inspired by 2001 – A Space Odyssey, Part One – Monolith, which is probably the proggiest thing I’ve encountered all year. The band can clearly play, and their music is an enjoyable brand of traditional symphonic prog, verging on prog-metal at times, but to be frank, this wasn’t the most entertaining live show I’ve seen this year, at least visually. With drummer Daniele Pomo doubling up on lead vocals, and Romano behind his keyboards, plus guitarist Massimo Pomo barely moving away from his pedal board, it was really only bassist Maurizio Meo showing any effort to liven up the visual side. It must also be said that Daniele Pomo’s vocals were almost all in his native Italian, which probably made it harder for the great majority of the audience to engage, particularly as there were very few stage announcements until the end, when he introduced the band and thanked the audience profusely, luckily in English. RanestRane seem to be a very listenable band, and if the audience were a bit quiet during the set, the band were given a warm and appreciative reception at the end. I hope they can play the UK again soon.
Steve Rothery’s first album under his own name is titled The Ghosts of Pripyat (Pripyat being a town now in the Ukraine, which served as a dormitory town for workers at the ill-fated Chernobyl nuclear power station). It’s an all-instrumental album, and the first half of the set is the Rothery Band playing through the whole album, which I admit made me wonder how much of a challenge it would be to hear live. There was no reason for this apprehension; the album is very accessible, and the band were well up to the task of giving us a highly entertaining performance of it. At one point I glanced at my watch, and was very surprised to see that the band had been on stage for over 45 minutes, as the time really had flown by. The make-up of his band is interesting too; apart from Rothery himself and keyboard player Romano, there’s also guitarist Dave Foster, from the fine UK prog band Mr So & So, along with that band’s former drummer Leon Parr, and on bass the familiar figure of Panic Room’s Yatim Halimi. The band are by no means just back-ups, either, Dave Foster has his fair share of solos during the set, and there’s some very nice twin harmony lead work at times, particularly on the opening track ‘Morpheus’.
The obvious point of comparison for The Ghosts of Pripyat is Camel, although Rothery’s playing is often a lot more forceful than Andy Latimer’s and this band can often be a lot heavier. However there is the same attention to detail in the atmosphere of the songs and how carefully they’re put together. It also seemed that with the presence of such a good player as Dave Foster alongside him, that Rothery clearly felt that he would have to be at the top of his own game, and he played as well in this set as I can remember. He also seemed very relaxed and affable, joking about enjoying being in a band with two guitarists rather than two keyboard players.
With the play through of the album completed, Rothery invited the crowd to replenish their glasses while the band took a break, before the second half of the set, which would comprise Marillion songs, and it was a very pleasant surprise when these turned to be mostly older, Fish-era songs. Not only that, but the band also chose to highlight a couple of old B-sides, including opening with a superb ‘Cinderella Search’. For this section, vocal duties were performed by Silmarillion singer Martin Jakubski, who really did a fine job, not just on the Fish songs, but also on the two songs in the set from the early days of Steve Hogarth’s time in the band. If ‘Easter’ was an obvious choice to be in the set, ‘Afraid of Sunlight’ perhaps wasn’t, and everyone on stage really excelled themselves on this; a real highlight of the whole show. It was also noticeable how well the older songs went down with what was a pretty hardcore Marillion crowd, which makes it all the more of a shame that the modern day band mostly seems unwilling to revisit their early history.
After a storming ‘Fugazi’ ended the main set, there was a two song encore, a segue of ‘Lavender’ and ‘’Heart of Lothian’ (no ‘Kayleigh’, perhaps surprisingly), bringing to an end a fine set, combining new music with some cracking versions of the older songs. I’ll go on record as saying that Rothery is arguably the best guitarist to come out of the UK prog renaissance of the early 1980s, and he more than lived up to that title in this particular show and it was a real pleasure to see him at work in such a comparatively intimate setting.