Seasons End

#934: What Now?

RECORD STORE TALES #934:  What Now?

I sound like a broken record at the end of every summer.  It’s tough to keep the spirits up at this time of year.  It’s likely I’ve taken my last swim of 2021.  Next time we get to the lake, the sun will be down by the time we arrive.  And then will come the day it is covered with snow, and empty for the winter slumber.

Music helps – music always, always helps.  So does writing.  But it is an annual challenge.

When I was a kid, the end of August would signal the start of the “sad times”.  The back-to-school ads.   Reminders that I was going to have to spend another year with a bunch of bullies again.  Then the colder weather started to roll in.  Our family would take two weeks of vacation in August but back then, they were two cold, rainy weeks. (Not like today.)  You had to start dressing in long pants and sweat shirts.

Shopping for notebooks and new school clothes.  Realizing that a few weeks of warm freedom were about to be replaced by 10 months of misery.  I hated Labour Day weekend.  Back to the “hell hole” as my sister would say.  These feelings stick with me today.  I can’t flip the calendar from August to September without them.

Even though I’m not in school anymore, the heavy heart returns.  I now know that I have Seasonal Affective Disorder and it’s something I need to fight every fall.

Last year was a success!  I avoided the seasonal depression.  I spent my summer making lots of videos, to take me back there in my mind when I needed it.  I also had the show, the LeBrain Train, to look forward to every weekend.  This year is different.  The videos and photos don’t have the same impact two years in a row, and since May the LeBrain Train has become more of a burden than a joy.  I need something new to keep my spirits up this winter, and I don’t yet know what that is.  It is true that we have a long September ahead, warm but shorter days.  I hope this mitigating factor helps.  I think what I really need is some new creative spark to keep me looking forward.  Last year it was the LeBrain Train but the burnout factor has ensured that I need something fresh that I can look forward to from September to May.

What used to cheer me up at this time of year?

As a kid I used to be excited for a new season of the Pepsi Power Hour which hasn’t existed in 30 years.  I don’t watch a lot of TV these days, but fortunately Marvel has constant content forthcoming on Disney+.  We have a new Iron Maiden album to look forward to, but the idea of new music from my favourite bands doesn’t have the same excitement factor as when I was 15 years old.  Yes I’m happy there is a new Iron Maiden coming, but compared to the sheer expectation of Seventh Son coming out in ’88?  No chills.

It feels like…work?  Like I haven’t finished digesting The Book of Souls and here comes another one.  I can’t remember how half that album goes, and now we have a new one to get to know.  It’s not like in the old days when I felt literally starved of Iron Maiden because I’d played all their albums over and over and over.  Now, there are so many that you don’t necessarily even play them all in a year.

Back then, getting a new Iron Maiden album felt just as amazing as a new Star Wars or Marvel movie today.  Something you have been anticipating for a while.  Music videos were like movie trailers.  We’d watch repeatedly, we’d pause, and we’d slo-mo trying to glimpse details.  Costumes, instruments, stage sets, all of it.

When I was working at the Record Store, I still didn’t know that this seasonal depression thing was real and not just me.  It often came and went in spurts.  I used to call them a “big blue funk”.  2003 was a very “funky” year for me.  I’d been dumped (twice) by my Radio Station Girl, and even with a new Iron Maiden in my back pocket (Dance of Death, and also a new Deep Purple called Bananas) I still felt like I needed to do something to help me get through the winter.  And there was something I used to do to pick myself up back then, especially if I had my heart broke.  Yes, broken hearts are for assholes, but I chose to get new holes.  On September 3, I went to Stigmata in Guelph and got my nose pierced.

It was my third visit to the tattoo studio that year.  After Radio Station Girl dumped me, I got my lip pierced at Stigmata.  A couple months later I got my tragus pierced — that piece of cartilage at the opening of your ear.  A friend of mine named Lois Sarah had just started piercing there and if I remember the details correctly, I was a guinea pig.  It’s fun to go back and read my notes!

Lois asked if I was ready. I said yes, and she asked me to take a deep breath and exhale….

I said, “Wow, I didn’t feel a thing.”

Lois said, “That’s because it’s not through yet.”

I felt the needle go through at least 3 distinct layers of cartilage. Each one hurt more than the last. On the last layer, I said, “FUCK” and both my legs shot out. 

Lois did a great job and it’s the one piercing that I do still have.

But September 3 2003 was just my nose, nothing too painful.  It was Labour Day weekend once more, and I decided to go for it.  Normally I went to get a piercing with a “wingman” but this was my first time going alone.  I distinctly remember wearing my Iron Bitchface T-shirt.  An uber-cool looking guy with a massive afro shot me an approving glance, so I felt good from the get-go.

I was led to the back room, but not before washing up my hands with disinfectant gel. I sat down in the Very Big Chair, as I liked to call it, and Lois prepared the goods. She marked my nostril with a dot and got the position right where I wanted it. Then she applied some iodine to the area, both inside and out. She tested out the position of the receiving tube, and finally asked me to take a deep breath.  As I exhaled, the needle went in no problem. Almost no pain at all. I’ve been pinched harder.  (By your mom.)

The rest of the year still sucked, nose ring or not.  It was the year of working with the Dandy, a manchild that drove me slowly mad as he sucked up to the big-wigs.  Work was miserable and not getting any better.  But at least I was proactive, and did something that I thought would help.  Something that helped in the past.

I’ve been there and done that with piercings, and though I like the look of them, I don’t enjoy the upkeep.  I prefer to spend my money on something more permanent, like a tattoo.  That’s something to consider, but I think I need to look elsewhere for a bright spot this winter.  Maybe I will find my joy in the live show once again, but I can’t count on it.  Truth be told, I haven’t been feeling it as much since May.  I remember telling Deke that I was struggling and he suggested back then that I take a break.  But I didn’t feel like I could take that break until the end of the summer.  And here we are.

So now I search for some new slant on my creative outlet to revitalize me.  Something to look forward to regularly.  I was very lucky during the winter of 2020-2021.  I hope I can pull it off again!

 

REVIEW: Marillion – Fugazi (2 CD remastered edition)

MARILLION – Fugazi (1998 EMI 2 CD edition, album originally released 1984)

Fugazi: Military slang meaning “fucked up situation”, coined during the Vietnam war.

Or: The making of Marillion’s second album.

After rolling through a couple drummers including Jonathan Mover, Marillion finally settled on Ian Mosely, the British veteran who is still in the band today. They settled in to record the “difficult” second album, which was dubbed Fugazi. It is a challenging listen, probably the most challenging of the original four. As such it tends to fall by the wayside today, despite the inclusion of the excellent single “Assassing”.

“I am the assassin, with tongue forged in eloquence. I am the assassin, providing your nemesis.”

It was a pointed statement at the ex-drummer Mick Pointer, from his former friend, lead vocalist Fish.

Lyrically, Fugazi represents the very best of Marillion of any era.  Both “Jigsaw” and the included B-side track “Cinderella Search” contain lyrics of great depth, beauty, emotion, and layers upon layers of interpretation. I like Fish’s use of homonyms, such as “Swam through the nicotine seize”.

Musically, this is a dense album that takes multiple listens to appreciate. Side one of the original album was catchier, with the two singles (“Punch & Judy” being the second) and the lullaby-like “Jigsaw”. Side two was more challenging, with longer heavier songs: “She Chameleon” and “Incubus” are good examples. Incidentally, Fish considered “Incubus” to be his greatest lyrical achievement, once again using homonyms. “I, the mote in your eye.”

The bonus disc contains the stellar B-side “Cinderella Search”, a song that goes through multiple sections before culminating with its powerful ending. “I always use the cue sheets but never the nets, never the nets, nevertheless.” Other B-sides include a remix of “Assassing” and the re-recorded version of “Three Boats Down From The Candy”. (I prefer the original.) This disc is rounded out by four demos of some of the more challenging songs.

The cover art is loaded with brilliance courtesy of Mark Wilkinson.  He put just as much thought into the art as Fish did into the lyrics.  Wilkinson and the band provide enlightening liner notes. You’ll want to make sure you read them. Did Mark Kelly really see a ghost? Find out inside.

5/5 stars

Fugazi is expected to be upgraded to a multidisc deluxe edition including 5.1 mix this summer- 2021.

#861: Fall(ing Down)

GETTING MORE TALE #861: Fall(ing Down)

The air is cooler, the leaves are changing colour, and I am sort of keeping it all together.

Six months ago we all went into lockdown, with the optimism of summer still ahead of us.  We didn’t know what summer would look like, but it had to be better than lockdown, right?  For most of us, it was.  We got outside, basked in some sun, watched the numbers go down, and dared to have some hope.

Now the days are shorter, the sleeves are longer, and the numbers are climbing once again.  As it gets colder, our options for getting out of the house are fewer.  Some people love this season.  They love the leaves, the sweaters, the blankets.  I dislike the cold, the dark, the misery.   Now we have to deal with the uncertainty of the future too.   Thanksgiving?  Halloween?  No guarantees.  Some will participate, some will be unable.

Fortunately, music will be there.  It always has been and always will be.

There are plenty of albums that I consider “autumn albums” even if they are not.

Savatage are a good band for fall and winter.  They might be from Florida but albums like Dead Winter Dead and Handful of Rain have a cold, dark aura.  Early Sabbath fits the mold.  Queensryche’s Rage For OrderRadiation by Marillion.  It’s all very subjective but as much as summer music really activated my memory circuits, the same can happen with winter tunes.  This is something to look forward to.

Yes, there are some things I can look forward to.  When I’m hunkered down indoors staying dry and warm, the VHS Archives will return.  I find this to be a good project to work on in the colder months.  Pulling out old VHS tapes, converting them and putting them on YouTube just seems to work better in the winter.  It’s also a good time for buying and trying new tech.  I’m going to try and teach myself some Photoshop this year, so I can give you better images for this site.  This winter I’ll also have live streaming.  That will continue as long as necessary.  I look forward to it and so do the viewers.

I’ll try to focus on what I can do during the winter, and not what I can’t.  Not the traffic, not the wet, not the mess, not the inconvenience.  I will try.  I never believed in what Yoda said.  “Do.  Or do not.  There is no try.”  I understand the point of it — don’t let failure enter your mind, focus only on completing the task.  I just never bought into it.  I’ve given myself some goals, and I will try.

Maybe I can even use some of that negative stuff that I hate.  Do you want to see videos of driving around in the snow to the music of Max the Axe?  Do you want to see me attempt to live stream outdoors from a snowy porch?  It’s likely that both will happen!

There’s one last brick in this fortress of mental health that I am attempting to build that I have not mentioned.  And that is you.  For almost nine years you’ve been there waiting for the next chapter, review, or video.  You’ve shared your thoughts and ideas, and opened your hearts.  Without the loyal reader (or lately, viewer), I might have given up writing a long time ago and done something else.  I am grateful.  So thank you!

 

REVIEW: Marillion – “Easter” (2020 Version)

MARILLION – “Easter” (2020 video recorded in quarantine)

Count on Marillion to bring the light in the dark.

It has been over 30 years since Steve Hogarth and the Marillios first serenaded us with “Easter”.  As a surprise gift in 2020, they’ve re-recorded the track from isolation.  All five guys with their home setups recorded and filmed their parts for a new video.

“As it’s Easter Weekend, Mark [Kelly] had the cool idea of us virtually-getting-together to record a new version of Easter in our homes. Hopefully it will put a smile on your faces.”

It’s poignant, watching the guys play from their personal spaces, unable to connect in person just like us.  While “Easter” has always contrasted light and shade, this time the contrast is sharper, though that may simply be in the minds of the listeners.

A bare acoustic version with a shortened and re-arranged ending (probably due to necessity), “Easter” soothes.  Even under these circumstances, Marillion pulled together a new recording of an old classic and did it quite well.  (Meanwhile behind closed doors they continue to write for their next studio LP.)  If Marillion can use technology to stay connected and celebrate creativity and ingenuity, then so can we all.

Happy Easter.

5/5 eggs

 

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)

REVIEW: Marillion – Seasons End (2 CD remastered edition)

The first of two Marillion reviews, enjoy! Tomorrow, another!

MARILLION – Seasons End (1989 EMI, 2 CD remastered edition)

Hard to believe that Seasons End is 25 years old now. In the last 25 years, Steve Hogarth has stepped outside the impossibly big shadow cast by Derek W. Dick (“Fish”) as lead singer of Marillion. While some Marillion fans refuse to accept any Hogarth output post-Brave (I’m looking at you, Tom) many have embraced his work and the latest phases of Marillion. Seasons End was the first, tentative step in that journey. Even the great cover art reflects the change. The Jester and other visual clues from the past are there, inside Marillion’s new photographic artwork direction.

Armed with almost a full album’s worth of nearly complete music (see: Clutching at Straws bonus CD), Marillion set out to fill two enormous positions in the band: Lead vocalist, and lyricist, and not necessarily in that order. Due to the monstrous poetic talents of Fish, lyricist John Helmer was tapped to contribute lyrics to the music they had already written with Fish. (Fish took his lyrics and used them on his solo albums Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors and Internal Exile.) Then, ex-The Europeans and How We Live singer and keyboardist Steve “H” Hogarth was brought on board. Hogarth brought with him an infamous red bucket full of his own completed musical ideas. In that bucket were bits of what later became “The Space…” and the hit single “Easter”.

With that much music behind them it almost seems inevitable that Seasons End would be a winner. Indeed, since most of the music was written with Fish still in the band, it careens joyfully from progressive, moody tendencies to the brighter moments that Hogarth contributed. The result is possibly the perfect album to introduce a new singer: Just enough like the old band that people can relate, but not a copy. Hogarth himself was night-and-day different from Fish: He didn’t sing songs about getting drunk in a bar, or songs about Scottish freedom.  He had a quieter style as a frontman, and killer vocal range as a singer.

Seasons End starts off with a long moody intro before kicking in with Steve Rothery’s triumphant guitar melodies and Ian Mosely’s perfect drum rolls. From there it becomes slower, but hopeful: Welcome, “The King of Sunset Town”.

“Easter” is next, a near-perfect ballad for 1989. While it begins quite slow, it gets brighter and more upbeat by the time H sings the, “What would you do with the wire and the gun?” section.  Irresistible song.  Lyrically excellent, musically perfect.  I find a lot of ballads wear out over time.  Not “Easter”.

“The Uninvited Guest”, to me, is filler despite its status as a single. There are better songs on the album, and this one is to me just a straightforward standard rock song. The lyrics are interesting — a look at HIV from the virus’ perspective. The lyrics also have a quiet little Scottish reference — look up “first footing” and how heavy 15 stone is, and tell me if you think it’s a shot at Fish.

“Seasons End”, Marillion’s first song about global warming (but not the last) is both lyrically and musically great. I have always enjoyed when they opened shows with this song, prefaced by “O Come Emanuel”.

Side two of the original LP began with a pair of songs I’m not too keen on, the dark “Holloway Girl” and the sax-laden “Berlin”. Some people love both, but I believe these two songs only build the tension.  It is the next song that steals the second side.   “After Me” is a bright one, a song that coulda woulda shoulda been a single.  Its music goes back to the Fish days, but the vocal melody is 100% Hogarth.

Next, “Hooks In You” is a short firecracker of a rocker and very out of character for Marillion. Its simplicity is such that it was chosen as the first single/video. Personally to me is it the most skip-worthy on the album.  It doesn’t have the longevity that the rest of this album possesses.  Whatever magic similar tracks from the past such as “Incommunicado” have, is missing from “Hooks In You”.

Finally the original album closes with “The Space…”, a longer progressive epic. I quite like “The Space…”, always have, and the band still play it live today. In fact it was recently done on their acoustic album Less Is More. Great song with interesting cryptic lyrics.

As on all Marillion remasters, the bonus disc here is loaded with treasures. “The Bell in the Sea” is a B-side and quite possibly the first song that the H-fronted Marillion have done on the subject of water — someone once said that H’s lyrics were all about “death and water”. This song could be the first of many in the water category. Another great B-side, the poppier “Release” (quite similar to “After Me” in direction) is a total winner. The rest of the disc is rounded out by a 12″ mix of “Uninvited Guest” and six demos. One demo is “Uninvited Guest” which means you have to hear this unremarkable song three times.

Personally while I always enjoy getting bonus material on albums like this, I find the demos to be tedious because they are similar to the album tracks in arrangement, but demo quality in fidelity. So, not really something overly interesting to listen to. If you want more remixes and live B-sides, be sure to check out Singles Box Set 89-95 which has them all and then some!

A remarkable reboot for a band that they had written off. The next challenge was to learn to write with the new singer. But that’s another album….

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Marillion – The Official Bootleg Box Set Vol 2 (2010)

Part 2 of a 2 part series!  Missed Part 1?  Click here for Early Stages: the Official Bootleg Box Set from the Fish era.

MARILLION – The Official Bootleg Box Set Vol 2 (2010 EMI)

Spanning Seasons End through to Brave, Vol 2 of the Official Bootleg Box (Vol 1 is of course the Fish years) effectively captures what some believe to be the best years of Steve Hogarth’s tenure. You will, naturally, get some repeat within the 8 discs inside. You’ll hear “Easter” more than once. You’ll hear “Uninvited Guest” more than once. It is what it is.

Here’s a breakdown of the contents herein:

  • Discs 1 & 2:  Leicester, April 24 1990
  • Disc 3:  BBC Friday Rock Show, Workington, July 13 1991
  • Discs 4 & 5:  Wembley, London, September 5 1992
  • Discs 6 & 7:  Warsaw, June 15 1994
  • Disc 8:  BBC Sessions EP, 1992-1994

Obviously the BBC stuff has a higher fidelity than the other stuff. It’s called a bootleg box set for a reason! But the other discs still sound acceptably good. They are soundboard recordings, not audience recordings. Hogarth’s voice is a bit hoarse in Warsaw 1994, but that’s the reality of a live concert setting.  A reality that I love and embrace.

BOOT BOX 2_0003The highlights are many. “Sugar Mice” is always great, regardless of who sings it. It was also nice hearing “I Will Walk On Water” and “Sympathy” during the Wembley 1992 show; both are from the then-recent Six of One, Half-Dozen of the Other compilation album. Attentive listeners will even hear Marillion strumming away on an embrionic version of “Made Again”, a full two years before it was released! You will get to hear all of Brave performed live in 1994. I liked the moment in the Warsaw show when Hogarth asks security to go easy on the fans, “they are not animals”.

Some people bitched that it’s not a full length CD, but I dug the BBC Sessions EP.  It’s just a four song acoustic EP, but it sounds amazing. Today, Marillion have a ton of acoustic work (Less = More, Unplugged at the Walls, Los Trios Marillios to name some of many), but this is the earliest acoustic set that I think I’ve heard. The only problem is, it’s mastered way louder than the other 7 discs. Kind of jarring when you have them on continuous play and you have to jump for the volume knob!

The box set includes each CD in its own fully illustrated cardboard sleeve, as well as a booklet. The box itself is slim but sturdy.

If you’re a Marillion diehard, you will obviously want to somehow save enough pennies to add this to your collection. Even though I have already somewhere in the neighborhood of…God, I don’t know? Over 50 live albums from the Hogarth years alone? Many of them 2 and 3 disc sets? I’ve lost track of how many I have, and that doesn’t include their download-only instant live albums! But this is still a great package to own, especially because the older live Hogarth albums are getting harder to find. (Don’t know how you’d get a copy of Front Row Club #1 at this point, for example.)

4/5 stars