clutching at straws

REVIEW: Marillion – Barrowlands, Glasgow, Scotland. 4 December 1989. (FRC-005)

By request of J.

Scan_20160615MARILLION – Barrowlands, Glasgow, Scotland. 4 December 1989. (FRC-005 – 2002 Racket Records)

Marillion have always been an innovative band, not just musically, but also the ways they interact with their fans.  In 1992, they started offering mail-order exclusive live albums to the diehards.  The first one, Live in at the Borderline sold out quickly.  Live in Caracas took a few years to sell out; I have an original copy of that one.  The third, Live in Glasgow, also sold out quickly.  Today I own a remastered and reissued version, Barrowlands, Glasgow, Scotland, released in 2002 as part of Marillion’s Front Row Club.

The Front Row Club was a subscription service.  Sign up for a year, and Marillion would mail you a live album every two months.  Some were single discs, like Barrowlands, and some were doubles.  They were sourced from all parts of Marillion’s history.  Subscribers could choose to opt out of releases they didn’t want, for example I didn’t need a second copy of Caracas.  There were 43 Front Row Club releases in total, and I have them all (excepting the optional Caracas).  (For a review of FRC-006:  River, click here.)

In 1989, Marillion were showing off the new guy, Steve “H” Hogarth on vocals, guitars and keyboards.  If they were to get a cold reception, Scotland would have been the place.  After all, former singer Fish was a proud Scot, and replacing a singer is always dicey.  Fortunately for Marillion, fans embraced Steve H very much, and the Barrowlands show is evidence of that.

Opening with the brand new classic, “King of Sunset Town”, it sounds like Marillion had them in the palms of their hands from the first notes.  This releases was recorded from the desk onto cassette tape, and it sounds remarkably good considering!  “Sunset Town” has the instrumental adventures that fans expect, but with a passionate vocal very unlike Fish.  Singing along, the fans were already familiar with the new material.  The drums sound amazing in the Barrowlands, and Steve Rothery’s solo had the fans screaming.

There are only eight tracks from Barrowlands — apparently, somebody forgot to flip the tape as the band played.  Instead, two songs from a show in Bradford were added to the end.

“Slàinte Mhath” (or “Slange” as it is spelled phonetically on the back cover) is a beloved fan favourite. It was one of the songs that H felt more comfortable singing.  The crowd grew quiet.  This was an important song to get right.  No worries there.  “And you listen, with a tear in your eye, to their hopes and betrayals, and your only reply is slàinte mhath.”  (Cheers, good health.)  The line is greeted with a few excited screams.  While he was nothing like Fish, H managed to raise the hair on my arms.

“Good evening Glasgow!  It’s very nice to meet you.  We waited a long time for this!”  It must have been a tremendous relief for H to be accepted in Glasgow.  Two new singles follow “Slàinte”: “Uninvited Guest” and the ballad “Easter”. These are songs that remained in the setlist for tour after tour, and they do not vary much from other live takes. It is interesting to listen to these fresh versions, new to the band as they were to the crowd. “Easter” is youthful and beautiful.

Hogarth seemed drawn towards the Clutching at Straws material. “Warm Wet Circles”/”That Time of the Night” were performed for a few tours after, and Steve did them very well.  It’s a 10 minute slab of progressive rock with labyrinthine lyrics as only Fish could write.  Hogarth nailed it.

“On promenades where drunks propose to lonely arcade mannequins,
Where ceremonies pause at the jeweller’s shop display,
Feigning casual silence in strained romantic interludes,
‘Til they commit themselves to the muted journey home.”

I mean come ON!

And that’s it for old songs.  More were played that night, but the tape didn’t get them.  Too bad, because they included “Market Square Heroes”, “Incommunicado”, “Kayleigh” and lots more.  Barrowlands goes on with “Holloway Girl”, which boils with a dark intensity.  Marillion and Mark Kelly are very good at using keyboards for texture, and this is a good example.  Also dark and powerful is “Seasons End”, introduced by the Christmas carol “Oh Come Emmanuel”.  This early warning about global warming is a reminder that this is not some new theory.  We’ve known about global warming for decades.  Marillion turned that into a pretty epic quality track.

That’s it for the Barrowlands tracks.  “Berlin” and “The Space” are added to make it an even 10.  There’s a shift in sound quality as it gets a little clearer, but it’s not obtrusive.  “The Space” is a very apt way to end a CD.

Rating something like this…it’s almost “What’s the point?”  There are 43 of these bloody Front Row Club albums.  You can’t get them anymore.  You have to look at this as a good but incomplete set of some of the earliest live Marillion with Hogarth.  When we’re talking about a band with probably 100 live albums or more, it all becomes a little hard to see the forest for the trees!

3.5/5 stars?

Scan_20160615 (2)

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#413: Just for the record, Meat’s gonna put it down (Guest shot)

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#413: Just for the record, Meat’s gonna put it down

By special request of Aaron at the KMA, yesterday I ranked all the Marillion studio albums in order of preference (see #412: Just for the record, I’m gonna put it down).  It’s not an easy thing to do, because any band with two distinct phases (and lead singers) is going to have lovers and haters of both, as well as fans who can accept both equally.

During Sausagefest weekend 2015, I discussed my already-completed list with Uncle Meat, who also wanted to take part.  He has his own feelings about Marillion’s discography.  In fact he only listed six albums.  Meat is very much a “Phase One” fan, a follower of Fish who had a hard time accepting the changes that occurred after Seasons End.  It’s important to note that Seasons End was mostly written (musically) with Fish.  After that album, the band had to come up with new material for the new singer, and that is when they started to write very differently from before.  It’s not Steve Hogarth’s fault, in Meat’s eyes, just the way the band wrote for and with him.

Here are Uncle Meat’s top Marillion albums, without commentary.  He’s going top down:

MISPLACED1. Misplaced Childhood (1985)

CLUTCHING2. Clutching at Straws (1987)

FUGAZI3. Fugazi (1984)

SCRIPT4. Script For A Jester’s Tear (1983)

SEASONS5. Seasons End (1989)

6. Vigil In A Wilderness of Mirrors – Fish (1990)

How’s that for a “Big Wedge”? More Marillion tomorrow!

#412: Just for the record, I’m gonna put it down

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#412: Just for the record, I’m gonna put it down

By special request of Aaron at the KMA.

Marillion have 16 studio albums: Four with original poet and singer Fish, and 12 (going on 13) with Steve “H” Hogarth. (I’m not counting the album of acoustic versions called  Less Is More.) Like any band who have had more than one beloved singer, it is very difficult to try to arrange their albums in any sort of rated order. How can you compare an album like Brave to Fugazi? They are nothing alike. They share similar DNA, and the ambition to play intelligent rock music, but to say one is better than the other? I wouldn’t want to do that.

But I must. This was a request. I have to oblige.

Starting from the bottom, here are Marillion’s studio albums from weak to strong.

SOMEWHERE ELSE16. Somewhere Else (2007). Following an album like Marbles (2004) is damn near impossible. Somewhere Else has never completely clicked with me and it remains foggy in my memory.  Incidentally, the vinyl version has three live bonus tracks and a slightly shuffled song order, as well as a warm sound that benefits the listening experience.

 

HAPPINESS ESSENCEHAPPINESS HARD SHOULDER15. Happiness is the Road (2008). Consisting of a massive eight sides of vinyl (!), Happiness is the Road is broken into two albums: Essence, and The Hard Shoulder. While both discs contain memorable songs such as “This Train is My Life”, the set is too sprawling and slow to be enjoyed frequently.  (The vinyl version contains bonus live tracks from the album Happiness is Cologne.)

 

DOT COM14. marillion.com (1999). I love that the band were digging into trip-hop and writing catchy poppy songs, but as a whole the album doesn’t rank higher than…

 

HOLIDAYS13. Holidays in Eden (1991). Some like it, some consider it too commercial. I fall into the second category.

 

THIS STRANGE12. This Strange Engine (1997). I still like this mostly acoustic album (I own three copies), but it’s a departure. Iron Tom Sharpe calls this “the one that sounds like Hootie and the Blowfish”. It retains progressive moments but also stretches out into celtic folky sounds and tropical celebrations.

 

ANORAKNOPHOBIA11. Anoraknophobia (2001). A decent album, a bit long winded but a progression over 1999’s marillion.com

 

SOUNDS10. Sounds That Can’t Be Made (2012). I think Marillion really grabbed this album by the balls. It’s fearless.

 

AFRAID9. Afraid of Sunlight (1996). This middle grouping of albums on the list are really so close it’s meaningless. It’s splitting hairs to put them in a meaningful order. Afraid of Sunlight scores high due to the excellent title track.

 

BRAVE8. Brave (1994). This is where Marillion-with-Hogarth really came into their own. It is still one of the most ambitious Marillion albums and an emotional roller coaster of a concept record.  There’s also a heavy 10 minute jam released as a B-side called “Marouette Jam” that necessitates buying of the remastered 2 CD edition.

 

SEASONS7. Seasons End (1989). The most difficult album of a career is gonna be the first album with the new singer. By retaining their classic sound with a few new twists and a new charismatic frontman, Marillion successfully rode through the transition.

 

RADIAT10N6. Radiation (1998). I love this noisy reject of an album. It’s brilliant.

 

SCRIPT5. Script For a Jester’s Tear (1983). Fish finally makes his first appearance on this list with the very first Marillion album. Genius poetry but complicated tunes make this one a jagged-edged favourite.

 

MARBLES4. Marbles (2004). Marillion’s first double CD studio album, never wearing out its welcome. Like Brave, but grilled to perfection and with all the accouterments.

 

FUGAZI3. Fugazi (1984). Fugazi is not an easy album to get into, with a pugnaciously opaque second side. The first side is pure genius.

 

MISPLACED2. Misplaced Childhood (1985). The record company shit their pants when they heard that Marillion were doing a concept album for their third record. The band had written two 20+ minute pieces of music tentatively titled “side one” and “side two”. After honing it live, they unleashed Misplaced Childhood to the stunned masses.

 

CLUTCHING1. Clutching At Straws (1987). It not difficult to put Clutching at Straws as #1. It is one of Marillion’s most beloved, and Fish’s favourite. The dark poetry and sharp songwriting makes it a timeless perennial favourite, never stale, and always revealing new facets to its personality. An utter classic.

 


 

THIEVING BSIDESMarillion have numerous live albums (I lost count but well over 50 or 60) and greatest hits with exclusive material to boot. Ranking those is all but meaningless. Having said that, one essential purchase for a serious Marillion fan is their first double live, The Thieving Magpie (1988). This epic contains a full performance of Misplaced Childhood, as well as non-album cuts like “Freaks”. Another great record to own is B’Sides Themselves (also 1988), containing some of Marillion’s most memorable B-sides.  These include the 18 minute epic “Grendel”, and more concise classics such as “Tux On” and “Market Square Heroes”.

Dig into some Marillion and see what the frak you’ve been missing!

Part 311: Record Store Gallery IV (Shite Photies)

RECORD STORE TALES Part 311: Record Store Gallery IV (Shite Photies)

This is what it’s come to in this crap-fest known as Record Store Tales:  Another batch of semi-embarrassing photos of a much younger and thinner LeBrain.  These are from a party circa 2003 or so.  I can’t remember the names of anybody in these photos except one, which is Jesse Villemaire (last photo), the owner of Thrive tattoo studios in Cambridge.  I can’t remember a single other name!

Long time LeBrain readers will recall that vintage Marillion tour shirt (that I don’t fit into anymore) from Part 126:  The Marillion Shirt.

REVIEW: Marillion – Early Stages (Official Bootleg Box Set 1982-1987) / The Highlights

This review dedicated to the great Uncle Meat.  Part 1 of a 2 part series!

MARILLION – Early Stages (Official Bootleg Box Set 1982-1987) (EMI)

This is the first of two Marillion Official Bootleg box sets.  The second covers the Hogarth years 1990-1994.  Mine came with an autographed print!

I listened to this box again over the course of a week.  I chose the car as the setting.  I’ve spent a lot of time driving to Marillion in the past (lots of great memories) so this setting works for me.  I enjoy loading long box sets onto my car MP3 player.  I did that recently with the 12 CD Deep Purple Bootleg Series box set.  As soon as I was done with that one, I dove into Early Stages.

I also acquired the recent compilation Early Stages: The Highlights.  Why, you ask?  Well, like many “highlights” packages, they usually stick on one exclusive song to get you to buy the same thing twice.  The bait is “Market Square Heroes” Fife Aid 1988, the final song of the final show with Fish.  OK, I’ll bite.MARILLION_0009

I don’t have a lot to say specifically about any of the concerts included in this box set.  There are a lot of songs from periods before they were recorded on albums, and that’s cool.  There are four different drummers on this set*, representing the rarely documented transitional periods in Marillion’s lineup.  The discs are all of great sonic quality considering the years they were recorded.  Fish is a great frontman, usually funny but occasionally serious, and always entertaining.

Here are some observations about some of the set’s highlights.  From The Mayfair, Glasgow, 1982:  “He Knows You Know” is not quite as slick as we’re used to, a little tentative, but no less powerful.  An early version of “She Chameleon” is quite different musically from what it would become, although the lyrics are mostly in place.

When you get to the Marquee show (December of ’82), Fish is especially talkative and sentimental.  The gem here is obviously “Grendel”, a song which never ceases to amaze me.  Fish’s expressive voice has me hook, line and sinker.  You’ll be treated to the complete workout of “Grendel” again in 1983 (Reading).  The 1984 Hammersmith concert has emotional classics like “Jigsaw” and “Cinderella Search”.  The real treat is an early version of the first track for the forthcoming album Misplaced Childhood; a track Fish calls “Side One”.  It’s an early version, the lyrics still not all the way there, and it’s missing the entire “Lavender” section.  But you can hear the shape of things to come.

Hey Uncle Meat! Who’s your favourite lyricist?

The box set closes with a late period show, and a big one:  Wembley, 1987.  A good chunk of Misplaced Childhood (all of Side One) and Clutching at Straws are presented.  There are only a couple oldies:  “Fugazi” and “Incubus”.  This is a slicker, more commercial-sounding band, much more skilled at writing complicated yet catchy music.

Of note:  there are a whopping 15 pages full of liners notes by one Derek W. Dick, aka Fish, and new cover art by Mark Wilkinson!  If that doesn’t sell this set, then nothing will.

5/5 stars

* Mick Pointer, John Martyr, Andy Ward, and Ian Mosely.  Only Jonathan Mover is not heard on this, although he is on the 6 CD Curtain Call box set.

REVIEW: Marillion – Sounds Live (2012)

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MARILLION – Sounds Live (2012 Racket Records/Abbey Road LiveHereNow/EMI)

This is one of those “Instant Live” type discs.  While the discs have art pre-printed on them, they are CDRs.  There is no track list on the case, probably because the setlist wasn’t set in stone!  (I have a Slash “Instant Live” style disc with the setlist printed on the back, which was completely wrong, as the singer had a sore throat and they had to change up the set!)  The label is Racket Records/Abbey Road LiveHereNow, licensed to EMI, but even though Racket has their name on it, you can’t buy it from them.  You can buy it from Abbey Road Live, however.

The show was recorded on 16 September 2012 at the Forum in London, on the Sounds that Can’t Be Made tour.  The sound quality is excellent!

Marillion bravely opened the show with “Gaza”, the powerful, swirling, 17 minute new song from Sounds that Can’t Be Made.  I don’t know how many new fans were in the audience that night, but if there were any, they must have been in utter confusion and shock.  Hogarth delivers the song with all the passion he can muster.

Not letting up for a moment, Marillion follow this monster with another 10 minute epic:  “This Town/100 Nights”.  Incredible.  And once again, H imbues the song with so much emotion it literally leaks out of the speakers.

“This next song is a strange song,” says H, regarding track 3.  “‘Cause everybody claps along at the beginning and by verse one, they think ‘Shit, you can’t clap to this, it’s far too sad and tragic!”  And that is how H introduces the Marbles top ten (#7!) single, “You’re Gone”.  An upbeat pop-prog track with a drum program accompanying Ian Mosely, this was probably a good selection to follow two epics in a row!

My favourite of the new songs follows:  the title track from Sounds that Can’t Be Made, a simply great catchy Marillion track.  My only beef here is that I can hear pre-recorded Hogarth backing vocals.

And then…another 10 minute track?  The incredible “Neverland” from Marbles is up next, a personal favourite, and seemingly a crowd favourite too.  This one defines the word “epic” as far as I’m concerned.  Powerful, too.

From the 2007 Somewhere Else album comes “A Voice From the Past”, not one of my personal favourites (also not one of my favourite albums).  This is followed by “Power” from the new album.  “Power” is one of the better songs from an album I just haven’t wrapped my head around yet.  In live form, the chorus soars.

Disc 2 begins with yet another Marbles classic:  the soft and uplifting “Fantastic Place”, a personal favourite.  Steve Rothery’s solo is sublime.  Another personal favourite follows, the incredible “Real Tears For Sale” from the very dense Happiness is the Road album.  It’s an album I’ve never fully absorbed, but this song is incredibly powerful and at times is even reminiscent of older works like Brave or even Script in parts (listen to the flute-like keys).

Another new song, “The Sky Above the Rain”, is one that is really starting to grow on me.  This is the last of the new songs played at the London gig.  It’s 11 minute long, and it begins lullaby-like before H’s passionate, melodic vocals begin.  There’s a sadness, but also a brightness to the music; truly the blue sky above the rain.

It’s into the classics now!  “The Great Escape” is an undeniable fan favourite, and I never tire of hearing it.  What did surprise me was the resurrection of the lengthy “A Few Words for the Dead” from the underappreciated Radiation album.  I’ve always been fond of Radiation (it was the first Hogarth-era album I heard)  but this track is absolutely a challenge.  Over 10 minutes long, it builds very, very slowly.  As the closing track on a challenging album, it was perfect.  As an encore at a Marillion concert, it’s extremely brave and mind-blowing.  This is one of the best live versions I’ve heard.

The only Fish-era song played is “Sugar Mice”, but it is one that H seems comfortable with.  I will never tire of this classic, even though H lets the audience sing the first half of the song for him!  Rothery’s anthemic solo is the centerpiece of the affair.

The final surprise is that the show closes with the morose “Estonia”, from This Strange Engine.  H dedicates the song to the family of Neil Armstrong.  I’ve never been particularly fond of this dour song, although it has been played in concert many, many times over the last 15 years.  Obviously, many fans “get it” and love it.  I’m not one of them, so for me, Sounds Live ends with a thump rather than a celebration.  I would have preferred something like “Garden Party” or “Easter”, but I’m not complaining.

Speaking of “Easter”:  Conspicuous by its absence is any music at all from Seasons End.  You can’t fit ’em all in, and tour after tour, Marillion have always changed up their setlists.  You will never see the same Marillion concert two tours in a row.

While Marillion have dozens of live albums (especially when you include the 43 Front Row Club releases), this one is a valuable inclusion in the canon as the first physical live release of Sounds that Can’t Be Made songs.   I don’t know how frequently I will return to it, given the amount of live stuff I have, but I did enjoy it.

4/5 stars

Disc 1:

  1. “Gaza”
  2. “This Town/100 Nights”
  3. “You’re Gone”
  4. “Sounds that Can’t Be Made”
  5. “Neverland”
  6. “A Voice From the Past”
  7. “Power”

Disc 2:

  1. “Fantastic Place”
  2. “Real Tears For Sale”
  3. “The Sky Above the Rain”
  4. “The Great Escape”
  5. “A Few Words For the Dead”
  6. “Sugar Mice”
  7. “Estonia”

Part 167: VIDEO – Top Five Discs that Got Us in Shit at the Record Store

RECORD STORE TALES Part 167:

Top Five Discs that Got Us in Shit at the Record Store

featuring Uncle Meat

Part 126: The Marillion Shirt (VIDEO BLOG)

RECORD STORE TALES PART 126:  The Marillion Shirt

Thanks Heather.