Merry Xmas to Our Flock

#800: It’s Beginning to Look Like Marillion Christmas

GETTING MORE TALE #800:
It’s Beginning to Look Like Marillion Christmas

Immediate apologies to probably a large percentage of readers.  There are two kinds of people:  those who like Christmas music, and those who do not.  Those in the “not” category will probably be dropping in droves this December, as I announce the latest review series here at mikeladano.com.

It’s an interesting matter of fact, but Marillion have a total 15 Christmas themed albums.  That’s an incredibly large number!  Most were only available (for free) to fans of the Marillion Web fan club.  Over the last few Christmases, I’ve reviewed a number of them (linked below).  In 2019, I finally acquired the only two I had been missing.  I didn’t get into Marillion early enough to get the first two, but I was on board by the third.  Now, two decades later, I decided to bite the bullet and pay Discogs prices, which were not all that bad ($30 US each).  And now I have them all!

For a short while, Marillion switched from releasing Christmas albums to Christmas DVDs, which I do not collect.  In 2014, CDs resumed for a short additional run.

  • Chile for the Time of Year (2014 – Webfree 17)
  • A Collection of Recycled Gifts (2014 – Compilation with new Christmas material)
  • Christmas Tour 2014 – Live at the Forum (2014 Abbey Road “instant live”)
  • A Monstrously Festive(al) Christmas (2015 – Webfree 18)

Now that I actually have them all, I’d like to get them all reviewed too.  After all, I can really only do that kind of thing once a year — in December.  Starting with Webfree 1, I’m going to work my way down the list.  And if this doesn’t interest you at all, that’s cool.  I get it.  That’s the thing about personal projects.  This is more about me than you, I’m afraid.  But there’s plenty of reason for you to stick around, too.  Many of these Marillion “Christmas” albums have minimal Christmas content.  Chile for the Time of Year? That’s just, flat-out, a double live album.  It was recorded in May!  It boasts some of Marillion’s best known songs (“Kayleigh”, “Easter”, “Cover My Eyes”), and also a number of key later progressive epics (“Gaza”, “Ocean Cloud”, “Neverland”).  If it were not one of their annual Christmas fanclub freebies, it would fit in any other time.

If you’re a diehard, or just remotely curious about Marillion, I’ve done my best to write for both of you.  These CDs are going to expose to you to variety of Marillion songs.  Hits, deep cuts, and stuff you never heard of before.  And you won’t find a series this detailed anywhere else.

As I buckle in for what looks to be a chilly season, I wish you all the very Merriest of Christmases.  It matters not if you celebrate it.  As the world pauses together this season, I hope you have nothing but warmth and happiness in your life.  Perhaps a hot drinky-poo or a pipe by the fire is all you desire.  Might I recommend a Marillion Christmas to nail the vibe just right?

REVIEW: Marillion – Merry Xmas to Our Flock – Christmas 2005

scan_20161204MARILLION Merry Xmas to Our FlockChristmas 2005 (2005 Racket Records WebUK membership CD)

Every year, like the most reliable loyalty program in the world, Marillion reward their fanclub members with a special Christmas release.  Each one has exclusive music on it, some more Christmas-y than others.  The main exclusive on the 2005 Christmas release is a live set by “Los Trios Marillos”:  a stripped down trio version of the band.  Los Trios does acoustic versions, usually for radio sessions, and consists of singer Steve Hogarth, guitarist Steve Rothery, and bassist Pete Trewavas.  These 13 tracks were recorded in Washington DC for XM radio, featuring a wonderful cross-section of Hogarth-era favourites.

That’s not all, of course!  Marillion deliver their traditional Christmas message at the start of the CD, campy and tipsy.  Bonus points if you’re from North America but can still translate everything the band says.  It takes them a few takes to finally get it to their, err, satisfaction.  “We hope you have a really good Christmas, don’t get too drunk, and we’ll see you next year.”  Then, “That’s not written down at all!”  Usually these albums include a brand new studio Christmas track too, and this time it’s the celtic “Erin Marbles”.  It’s a hyperactive Irish jig with mandolin, tin whistle, squeezebox, fiddles and bodhran.  Calling this a Christmas track is a bit of a stretch, as it is basically the song “Marbles” from the same-titled album done up for fun, mixed with a medley of Christmas tunes.  There is no question it’s fun for the fans, but nobody except fans will “get it”, so it’s not really useful for mom’s Christmas mix CD this year.

The Los Trios set commences with the downer “Hollow Man” which is an abrupt change of moods.  The was recorded live with an audience, but they are so quiet during “Hollow Man” you could hear a pin drop, which makes the song that much more haunting.  It is performed solo by Hogarth only accompanied by piano.  “It’s a little early in the morning to be singing,” says Steve.  Fortunately things become upbeat if only for a little while on “Cover My Eyes”, a song that is brilliant acoustically.  If you have heard Marillion’s piano treatment of this single, then you will recognize this arrangement.  It might have been too early to sing that morning, but Steve manages just fine, including the high “pain and heaven” section that challenges every mere mortal.  Rothers and Pete join Hogarth at this point for the B-side “The Bell in the Sea”, which Steve mis-introduces having lost his place in the set list!  It’s live radio, folks.  This is the jazzy bass-oriented acoustic version that the band had been performing since at least 1998, very different from the nautical epic original.  They then return to the song that H was beginning to introduce, “Runaway” from Brave.  It was the song that kickstarted the whole concept of the album.  It is a dark and emotional band and fan favourite, but stripped down to a trio format, it is even more delicate.

The first of four songs from the most-recent Marbles is the dancey hit “You’re Gone”.  Acoustically  it is a different animal, but just as beautiful.  The focus isn’t on the beats but on the melody.  Another song that is completely altered is “Dry Land” from Holidays in Eden.  It is slowed down with a gentle electronic pulse as it rolls softly.  “Fantastic Place” from Marbles flows naturally from there, and Rothery’s solo is absolutely supernatural.  The set really moves at this point, with minimal talking.  “This is the 21st Century” from Anoraknophobia burns quietly but strongly.  On album it percolates with unusual electronic effects, but live it simmers with the hot tone of Steve’s guitar.

“Easter” is a bright light in the set.  This version starts very quiet, slow and understated.  It’s an inventive take, and it slowly builds to the resemble the original, though it ends early.  “Marbles 1” and “Don’t Hurt Yourself” are the last of the new songs presented, and the audience get right into it.  “Don’t Hurt Yourself” has to be one of the best songs Marillion has ever written, and the clapping crowd energizes it.  “Don’t Hurt Yourself” was one of many highlights on Marbles, but here it is head and shoulders the winning track.  A wonderful performance of an exceptional track.

Old favourites end the radio session:  “Answering Machine” (from Radiat10n) and “Man of a Thousand Faces” (from This Strange Engine).  “Answering Machine” should be very familiar, as this acoustic mandolin and guitar arrangement has been recorded many times before.  The handclapping crowd returns to finish “Man of a Thousand Faces” with class.  This song has always been acoustic, so this does not tread far from its roots, though it is shortened for the trio format.

You can’t buy this CD anymore and the chances of stumbling upon one in the shops are nil, however you can still download it by joining the official Marillion webUK fan club.  It is well worth it.  You get three thick, glossy full colour magazines, this year’s Christmas CD, and access to download all the old ones and much more.  Worth thinking about, or adding to this year’s Christmas list.

4/5 stars

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