Steve Hogarth

REVIEW: Marillion – A Monstrously Festive(al) Christmas (2015)

Glad tidings and joy! It’s the final day of the least popular series in the history of this site. Yes, the daily hits took a nosedive, but we have succeeded in reviewing every single Marillion Christmas CD. You’ll find a directory below. Thanks for reading if you did! Back to our regularly scheduled program next time.

MARILLION A Monstrously Festive(al) Christmas (2015 Racket Records)

The very last Marillion Christmas CD to date is another double live album. It’s actually a summer Festival gig (July 2015) with a shorter set, and two Christmas songs from December 2014 added at the end. Most of these tracks have appeared on other Christmas albums, all but “The Invisible Man”. It’s notable for focusing on long-bombers and only a couple of “hits”.

Not sure what’s up with the cover though, the band dressed as mad scientists, all but Pete Trewavas. It’s a suitable image I suppose, since Marillion are like the mad scientists of rock music.

17 minutes of “Gaza” opens the show, heavy as hell, one of the most intense Marillion songs of their 40 year history. It might be about the Holy land but it’s not what you’d call Christmas-y! Expect a driving ride through war-torn landscapes, with quieter respites strategically placed. Lightening the mood, “You’re Gone” kicks things up. The pop melodies and dance beats get the toes tapping.

“Oh fuck, now Pete’s gone,” says Hogarth between songs.  Fortunately the bassist returns!  “Power” from Sounds That Can’t Be Made follows, one of the better songs from the later years.  The only anomaly on this album is “Sugar Mice”, the sole oldie in the set.  “I prefer their old stuff”, Steve says to chuckles from the audience.  As usual, he absolutely nails the song, a passionate poem to the down and out.  The other Steve (Rothery’s) guitar solo is a song to itself, a beautiful complement to the perfect words.  “Man of a Thousand Faces” from Marillion’s “acoustic period” (This Strange Engine) is different from the other songs, performed with extra expression.  (“Bbbbbabble of Babylon”.)  The crowd loves it and keep singing well after the song ends.

Nothing but long bombers for the rest of the show.  “Neverland” (10:28), “King” (8:05), and “The Invisible Man” (15:13) represent some of the most epic Marillion music ever committed to tape.  Heavy, heavy moods!  Complex, driven songs, each one with mini-compositions within compositions.  “Invisible Man” in particular is like listening to a stream of songs, and live, it breathes.

The added two Christmas songs, from Germany and France respectively, are ones that have appeared on Marillion Christmas CDs before.  Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” is a go-to for this band.  Acoustic guitars, gentle keys and jingle bells are all it takes.  A loungey “Christmas Song” is funny for how Steve messes up the lyrics right from the start.  So it’s not the definitive Marillion version, but it’s genuine.

That’s what makes all these live performances special.  There’s no fixing.  Everything is how it went down.  There’s no point in releasing CDs of so many individual concerts if you’re going to fix them in the mix.  Whether it’s a forgotten word or a missing bassist, it’s all in.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Marillion – Live at the Forum – Christmas Tour 2014

MARILLION – Live at the Forum – Christmas Tour 2014 – 11 December 2014 (Abbey Road “instant live” CD set)

This CD was unusual in that it wasn’t a fanclub-only release.  It was an “instant live” released by Abbey Road, from Marillion’s 2014 Christmas tour — a double live album.  And unlike the official 2014 fanclub release, this one has (some) actual Christmas music on it!

“Gazpacho” is an apt way to start a celebration, which was the goal according to Steve Hogarth.  The lyrics might not be all bright and gleeful (“They say the King is losing his grip again”) but the music certainly is.  One of Steve Rothery’s catchiest riffs is coupled with Hogarth’s unmistakable voice.

“The Uninvited Guest”, an early single about HIV, is second in the setlist and one several looks back at the fondly-remembered early days.  It’s a bit loose and sluggish but the fans always sing along when prompted.  The newer “Power” follows, ominous and powerful, pun intended.  Chalk it among Marillion’s most memorable choruses.

Hits follow in quick succession:  “No One Can” and an extended “Warm Wet Circles”.   The laid back vibe continues as Marillion comfortably play for the dedicated.  They ping-pong back and forth between old and new, as the next two songs “Woke Up” and “Trap the Spark” are from 2008’s double album Happiness is the Road.  That atmospheric record has been a hard one to absorb over the years.  The songs are not immediate.  Fortunately it’s “Easter” next, a song that never fails to get the masses singing along.

“Sounds That Can’t Be Made” from the album of the same title still pleases, thanks in no small part to Hogarth’s passionate vocal.  Things start to feel seasonal, however, on “Seasons End” which sometimes (like this time!) opens with “O Come O Come Emmanuel” as only Hogarth can do it.  The song is as poignant today as folks like Greta Thunberg try to deliver the same message that Marillion had in 1989.

So watch the old world melt away,
A loss regrets could never mend,
You never miss it till it’s gone,
So say, goodbye.

Didn’t Hogarth say this concert was a celebration?  Well, Marillion have always been dark.  It’s been said that their early music with Fish was all about alcohol, and the later music with Hogarth about “death and water”.  There is a nugget of truth for that.

“Man of 1000 Faces”, from their “acoustic period” feels a bit more like a singalong.  If you can master the tricky words, that is!

I’m the man of a thousand ages,
You see my face in the stones of the Parthenon,
You hear my song in the babble of Babylon.
I’m the man of a thousand riches,
Be my guest at the feast of Satyricon,
You spend the money that my logo’s printed on.

But the whole thing coalesces into an absolutely massive mountain of music at the end, perfect for the crowd to chant alone.  It’s made for audience participation.  Then, the progressive rock epic “King” is jokingly dedicated to Harry Styles.  It’s a dubious honour, since the song was inspired by tragic figures such as Elvis and Kurt.

After a brief pause, it’s time for some Christmas music.  It’s “The Christmas Song” but not the same “Christmas Song” from the very first Marillion Christmas CD.  It’s the “real” one.  “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”  Apparently it didn’t go over well in Glasgow or Manchester.  “Fucking Northerners”, says Hogarth.  They bravely tried it again in London where it seemed to be better received.  “Above average!” shouts an audience member.  They top that with John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”.

The show is ended with a bunch of oldies: “Sláinte Mhath”, “The Release”, and from the first album, “Garden Party”!  “The Release” is interesting because it’s a B-side, albeit a very popular one, due to its soaring chorus and everyman lyric.  Hogarth always does well on “Sláinte” though it is quintessentially a Fish song.  As for “Garden Party”, it might be Marillion’s only real party song, quaint as it is.  “I’m rucking, I’m fucking!” but Steve lets the crowd finish for him.  It’s excellent fun on a CD that is often too serious for your house Christmas party.

You can hear just why this band has such a rabid fanbase on just about any of their live albums, but this one is particularly warm and inviting.  Have a listen.

4/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Marillion – Chile for the Time of Year (2014)

MARILLION – Chile for the Time of Year (2014 Racket Records)

The first Marillion Christmas CD release since 2008’s Pudding on the Ritz doubled down!  It was an unusual but special treat:  a full-on double live album.

Recorded May 16 2014 in Santiago Chile, it has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas, except that it was that year’s fanclub gift to the fans.  With that in mind, it could be their Christmas release with the widest appeal.  No carols here for the Grinches and Scrooges to complain about.  Just two CDs of progressive music from the Sounds that Can’t Be Made era.

It was the final date on Marillion’s Latin American tour, and it sounds as if they pulled out all the stops.  “Gaza”, a cinematic 20 minutes of swirling rock, is a hell of a way to open such a show.  Bass runs, samples and guitars coagulate into a mass of music, breathtaking in construction.  That’s a lot to digest, and so an easier pill to swallow follows.  “Easter” (wrong occasion, lads!) is one of Marillion’s best known hits, liquid and energizing.  It and the ballad “Beautiful” each serve to refresh your ears and prepare them for bigger musical challenges ahead.

“This is a song about, and called…’Power'” whispers Steve “H” Hogarth just before another weighty progression.  The dancey “You’re Gone” lightens the mood again, as the band wisely don’t let things stay in one groove for too long.  “You’re Gone” was a charting single for the band, but as far as accessible pop rock goes, I think they have better tunes in the pocket.  Like “No One Can”, or “Cover My Eyes” elsewhere on the album.  These longstanding classics from Holidays In Eden have aged well, though the high notes on “Cover My Eyes” have to be supported by the audience.

“Man of a Thousand Faces” is always an interesting song, coming from Marillion’s acoustic “Hootie” phase (as Tom Morwood calls it).  It’s adds variety to the concert setting, and is certainly as dramatic as Marillion before and since.  But it’s the first song from the Fish era that really stirs the soul.  “Warm Wet Circles/That Time of the Night” is a song Hogarth has always done well.  As the years passed, he became more comfortable with the Fish songs, and that is audible.

Plenty more early songs follow on the second disc, making this live album a really fine sampler.  “Uninvited Guest” and “Hooks In You” from Seasons End were both popular singles in their time, and some diehards love when they resurface in the set.  Others think Marillion has better material these days.  Neither song was on 2012’s Sounds Live, a much more serious and less upbeat listening experience overall.

Once “Hooks in You” has crashed its final chord, the balance of the album is made of epics and old Fish classics.  “Ocean Cloud” and “Neverland” (16 and 10 minutes long respectively) are the epics, both slowly pulsing with vivid life.  The way each twists and turns makes neither a bore.  “Neverland” is the album closer in fact, ending it in dramatic fashion.

Before we get there, Marillion lay down four Fish classics in a row:  The timeless trio of “Kayleigh” – “Lavender” – “Heart of Lothian”, and the poignant ballad “Sugar Mice”.  All singles, all tracks forever linked to Fish.  But Steve is the Marillion singer now, and he’s been singing those songs almost as long as Fish himself.  His versions have their own quirks and personalities, and we live in a world where they can all coexist with Fish’s.

I love when Hogarth says, “We dedicate this song to all the Kayleighs in the audience!  There’s bound to be a couple!”  Indeed, they’d be in their 30s today.

Merry Christmas Marillion and thanks for the CD.  For those who hate Christmas music, this is the one for you!  In fact, as a pure live Marillion album, it’s better than most (and they have a lot)!

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Marillion – Pudding On the Ritz – Christmas 2008

MARILLION – Pudding On the Ritz – Christmas 2008 (Racket Records)

This was the final fan club exclusive Christmas CD that Marillion issued for several seasons.  They switched to DVD for the next few years.  I think an album is more interesting than a DVD, but to each their own!

It’s the annual Christmas message first, an amusing one as usual, with the band goofing around for a bit.  The Christmas song in 2008 was “Little St Nick”, a tour de force progressive rock Christmas tune clocking in at over six minutes.  It appears to be unrelated to the Beach Boys song.  (Listen for the silhouette of “Hey Jude”.)  It could, in fact, be exactly what your progressive rock loving seasonal heart adores!

The next chunk of tracks are jams from the Happiness is the Road recording sessions.  Often these jams would have found their way into songs, but these are the best bits that did not.  “Singapore” has nice laid-back instrumental appeal, but then Pete Trewavas grabs hold of it and it starts sounding like a heavy Brave outtake.  Conclusion: Marillion should consider releasing more instrumentals.  “Jakarta” has some interesting screechy guitar, and vocals.  “Honolulu” goes rock and roll, boppin’ piano included, before heading into more progressive territory and back again.  “In Dorset” is quiet, but with Ian Mosely performing some seriously stupendous percussion stuff.  Fabulous music.  Finally, “In Goa” almost recalls “Black Night” by Deep Purple!

There’s more still.  The final bunch of tracks was assembled by producer Mike Hunter with a Christmas theme in mind.  He decided to arrange the music around the poem “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” by Dylan Thomas.  Thomas’ 1952 recording was a BBC staple.  Steve Hogarth does the reading for Marillion’s version.  For the next 24 minutes you’ll hear the poem over music that occasionally fits, but is often incongruous.  Whether you can get into it or not, It’s 24 minutes of Marillion music arranged in a conceptual framework.  That’s going to appeal to some of you.  Hogarth’s narration is top notch.

The added value of all this unreleased music, much of it seasonal in nature, makes this one of the better Marillion Christmas albums.

4/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Marillion – Baubles – Christmas 2004

MARILLION – Baubles – Christmas 2004 (2004 Racket Records)

And now we have arrived at the worst Marillion “Christmas” album. There had to be one, didn’t there? Unusually for a Christmas CD, this one contains almost zero seasonal content. Which, you know, that’s no so bad in and of itself. Unfortunately, the 2004 Christmas CD is all remixes.

Marbles-era Marillion went a little remix-happy.  They had singles remixes.  They had a fanmade remix album (Remixomatosis) with a bonus CD of also-rans.  They had a 12″ promo single under the band name “Remixomatosis” with even more remixes.    And for the diehards who had a fanclub subscription, the annual holiday album was choked with nine more of these fanmade remixes.

The only Christmas content is the usual “Christmas Message”…which is, due to the unavailability of the band, just a remix of previously recorded Christmas messages.  Amusing?  Yes.  Disappointing?  Indeed.

The liner notes explain that Marillion received over 500 remixes from fans, and Remixomatosis represented the winners as voted for from the band.  Baubles, then, are the best of the rest.  It starts well enough, with the “Ordnance Survey Mix” of the excellent song “Map of the World”.  This one is decent because it doesn’t just mix in more drum loops, but oodles and oodles of string arrangements.  It’s “Map of the World” reimagined for strings, but unfortunately suffocating some of the regal vocal melodies in exchange.

Next is the “Demystified Mix” of “This is the 21st Century”, which begins by reducing everything to basic piano and percussion, and then adds the bass and accoutrements.  The chorus has a strange floaty quality.  Then the “2.5 Hearts in the Groove Mix” of “Fruit of the Wild Rose” is like coming down into the mud.  Very little of the original song remains, drowned by lofty beats and bass.  The funky chorus is good but the rest loses the plot too much.

“Number One” is a cool song for remixing, and this one is interesting.  Fast synth and beats turn it into something new, a pounding dark dance number.  They call it the “Whatever Mix” but it’s better than the name suggests.  It blends seamless into the “No Monsters Remix” of “If My Heart Were A Ball It Would Roll Uphill”, which doesn’t leave much of the original song intact.  I would have called it the “Boring Disco Remix”.  Moving on, “When I Meet God” is still recognizable in form of its “Ontological Mix”, with changes made to the guitar and drums.  It’s a good alternate mix to the original.

The “Latino Freak Mix” of “Separated Out” is surprising.  Taking the heaviest song on the album and making it into a mambo?  OK, I’ll give you points for that.  It’s not my cup ‘o hot chocolate, but to each their own.  The normally wonderful single “Between You and Me” is put into a laid back snooze on the “Martini Mix”, a failed (if jazz) experiment.  Finally the CD gratefully closes on the “Hard Time Mix” of “Quartz.  That aptly describes how it feels listening to this whole CD front to back.

1.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Marillion – Say Cheese! Christmas With Marillion (2003)

MARILLION Say Cheese! Christmas With Marillion (2003 Racket Records)

The 2003 edition of the annual Marillion Christmas CD featured a front cover picturing the guys lounging in their pajamas, lazily smoking pipes.  These discs are usually pretty loose assemblies of song, and it looks like Rothery is already into the wine.

The annual Christmas message is first; this time they just want to wish you a lovely Christmas and a happy, happy New Year.  Onto the music!  “Stop the Cavalry” is considered a Christmas song in the UK, and Marillion’s is hastily assembled with keyboard samples covering most of the instruments.  There are plenty of jingle bells to keep things seasonal-sounding.

“Seasons End” begins with “O Come O Come Emmanuel” as if often does, morphing it into an original seasonal song.  This live version comes from a 2002 Christmas tour, as released on a DVD called Christmas in the Chapel.  It was never released on CD, so this is the only physical CD you can get with any of it.  Expect the usual mindblowing weightiness.  From the same show, they also perform the carol “Gabriel’s Message”, dark and gothic.  “Stille Nacht” (“Silent Night”) is a capella from a German Christmas show, and it is beautiful.  Finally Marillion and the Racket Records folks have their way with “The 12 Days of Christmas”, modifying the words for their own needs.  As usual, the song wears thin fast.

There’s non-seasonal material too, which is often the case.  “I’m the Urban Spaceman” (The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band cover) is a Steve Hogath home demo, dating back to ’96.  This rarity is originally from a Hogarth solo EP, a neat curiosity.

“Neverland” was brand new; the Marbles album was still fresh and this would have been some of the first live material available from it.  It’s a full-on 10 minute epic, performed with professional passion.

These Marillion Christmas albums usually have one seasonal song and then a bunch of rarities.  In 2003 at least they included a few extra seasonal tunes and carols to make it feel like you’re actually listening to a Christmas CD.  These being fan club discs, it’s hard being too critical.  This one was fun, with only “The 12 Days of Christmas” to annoy you.

3.5/5 Christmas stars

REVIEW: Marillion – marillion.christmas (1999)

MARILLION – marillion.christmas (1999 Racket Records)

The second Marillion Christmas CD was sent out the year of marillion.com, a pretty good if misunderstood experimental studio album.  Marillion began to incorporate elements such as dub and loops.  They were also getting the hang of this special fanclub Christmas CD idea.  Where the first was a mixed bag, the second is one of the their best.

Opening with a hauntingly beautiful “Gabriel’s Message”, the mood is set.  Steve Hogarth’s enviable golden pipes are front and center.  Heavier instrumentation begins to ebb and flow halfway through, and a cool carol is ended.  If you think Trans-Siberian Orchestra is cool, you’re going to love this.  It’s better.

Let the rarities commence, with the single edit of “The Answering Machine” from Radiation, unavailable on commercial CD.  Still an enjoyable song, with its cacophony of noise and keyboards lending it a unique progressive flavour.  The next two songs are real treats.  “Interior Lulu” and “Tumble Down the Years” were both recorded for Radiation, but held back for marillion.com because they didn’t quite fit.  For the first time, the Radiation mixes are included here.  (Not for the last time, as Marillion soon issued extensive “making of” albums for their later catalogue.)  If Radiation had included them, it would have been a far more mellow album.  Both tracks are quite different from the final versions.  “Tumble Down the Years” has a more rock and roll vibe.

Up next, a “Technopop Remix” of “Memory of Water”, a runner up for the “Big Beat Mix” that went out for CD singles and bonus tracks.  It’s not as iconic, and never really sounds like Marillion the way the “Big Beat Mix” does, and it’s far too long (10:02).  There are then three acoustic tracks:  “Abraham, Martin and John”, “Runaway” and “Estonia” originally done for a cancelled French EP.  You can find acoustic versions from this period on the album Live From the Walls, but these ones sound properly recorded in a studio.  “Abraham, Martin and John” is so good it will bring tears to your eyes.  An absolute treasure.

Hey remember on the 1998 CD, when Marillion included some instrumental “Karaoke” versions for a contest?  One of the winners is on this CD, the Cradley Primary School’s lovely version of “Beautiful” (the Dave Meegan mix).  They must have had some cool teachers at that primary school!  It’s pretty cool hearing the kids singing those words.

Heaven only knows that we live in a world,
Where what we call beautiful is just something on sale.
People laughing behind their hands,
While the fragile and the sensitive are given no chance.

Finally, the annual Christmas message from the band is placed at the end of the CD instead of the start.  They’re not as goofy (or drunk) on this instalment, as they run through the tracks and wish us all a Happy Christmas.  Thanks, guys!

4/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Marillion & the Web Christmas 1998 – Happy Christmas Everybody!

MARILLION – & the Web Christmas 1998 – Happy Christmas Everybody! (1998 Racket Records)

Marillion have always been a fan-friendly band, offering up special rarities for the most dedicated.  In 1998, fan club members received the very first Marillion Christmas CD.  It’s one of the least satisfying of what turned out to be a long-running proposition, but since it was the first, we’ll let it slide.  At just 30 minutes, Happy Christmas Everybody is also the shortest.  Most of the music consists of “Karaoke mixes” for a contest they were running.  Record your own vocals, send it in, and win!

The first-ever “Christmas Message” track from Marillion explains the origin of the CD, as the guys crack up themselves in the background.  This is mixed into “The Christmas Song”, a festive version of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” by Marillion.  (A standalone song would have been better.)

Exciting at the time, the next tracks are excerpts from the next Marillion album, marillion.com.  Hey, it was 1998, what are you going to do?  Jethro Tull had an album called J-tull.com.  Regardless of the title, this CD had sneak previews of “Interior Lulu” (two snippets) and “Tumble Down the Years” from the next album.  The mixes are not the final ones from the album, which is interesting to fans, but they’re so damn short.  They’re also samples of very mellow sections of songs, which may (or may not) have given false impressions of the new album.

The four Karaoke mixes are all but full length, with one done by Marillion producer Dave Meegan himself.  The instructions are so quaint.  “We’re inviting you all to make tapes!”  Tapes!  Just mail them in!  It’s a little odd to hear landmark pop rockers like “Cover My Eyes” without the massive hook of the lead vocals!  All you get for vocals are some backing tracks on the chorus.  Fabulous drums on that track, by the way Mr. Mosley.  “No One Can” is cool because you can hear the backup instrumentation a lot more without the syrupy singing.  “Beautiful” is the one by Dave Meegan, and as such it’s the most listenable.  He mixed in new elements, making it more like an interesting instrumental arrangement.  The more recent “These Chains” is probably the least appealing of the Karaoke songs due to its minimalist approach.

We’ll cut Marillion some slack.  It was the early days, their first Christmas CD, and the exclusive mixes are appreciated even if the album previews are not.  There aren’t any really usable Christmas songs on this album, a problem they’d fix next time out.

2/5 stars

 

#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 – A Piss-Up in a Brewery / Christmas 2000

MARILLIONChristmas 2000A Piss-Up in a Brewery (2000 fan club CD)
MARILLION A Piss-Up in a Brewery (19 track download version released 2010)

Being a member has its advantages, and when joining the official Marillion fan club entails a free exclusive CD, you can always count on me to be on board.  Marillion’s third, A Piss-Up in a Brewery, was my first.  The original 12 track Racket Records printing (WebFree 03) is a treasure.  It was made available again to members of the Front Row Club subscription service in 2003, as Bass Brewery Museum, Burton, UK – 17th November 2000 (FRC-011).  CD has space limitations, but in 2002 a DVD of the full 19 song show was released.  Then in 2010, the audio (mp3 or FLAC) of all 19 tracks was made available for download.  Anyway you want it, you can get the complete performance as it was.

Marillion were invited to perform intimate gigs at the Bass Brewery and get their own signature beer.  They chose an acoustic format with new material, special covers and a guest.  They were hard at work on their new album Anoraknophia, “which you’ve already bought” said Steve Hogarth, referring to their innovative pre-ordering scheme.  The second gig was recorded for the fan club-only Christmas CD.

A quiet “Go!” begins and gently builds to the throbbing chorus, “Wide awake at the edge of the world.”  The second song also quietly builds from calm beginnings.  “After Me” is one of their most memorable pop melodies, infused with integrity from the start, and stripped bare in the brewery.  Then from their 1994 concept album Brave comes the single “Alone Again in the Lap of Luxury”.*  Intense songs for an intimate show.  “Lap of Luxury” smoulders, and as it burns, Steve Hogarth blasts for all he’s got.

The first big surprise of the evening was the Fish-era B-side “Cinderella Search”, albeit the shortened 7″ version and not the full-on five and a half minutes of brilliance from the 12″ single.  The amusing thing is when a spoiling audience member blurts out the title having attending the night before.  “Oh, there’s always one,” says Hogarth.  The singer had never performed the song before these gigs.  The acoustic setting alleviates any pressure to be like Fish.  It also enables them to seamlessly meld the song onto “The Space”, already popular in acoustic form.

“A Collection” is another B-side with dark subject matter.  It’s about “an uncle” with an interesting hobby, but it’s also an ironically bright tune.  “Beautiful”* and “Afraid of Sunrise”* both date back to 1995’s Afraid of Sunlight, a pair really made for the intimate setting.

New friend Stephanie Sobey-Jones on cello is invited onstage for a sombre “Sympathy”, both a single and a Rare Bird cover.   Cello also features on the new song “Number One”.  It had simple beginnings, explains Hogarth.  “I had some words, and Mark had some chords.”  Interjects Mark Kelly, “Three, actually. I’m not joking!”   The track takes a stab at the artificiality of modern pop music, but was only included on the pre-ordered deluxe edition of Anoraknophobia.  Simple, but extremely intense.  The cello stays for “Dry Land”, a favourite ballad from 1992’s Holidays in Eden (and even earlier).  The voice of Steve (Hogarth) rings true on even the most difficult note, while the guitar of Steve (Rothery) makes for a sweltering solo.

Back to 1987, and the old favourite “Sugar Mice”.*  Of all the old Fish classics, “Sugar Mice” is the one that Hogarth most easily adopts.  The scars that he is nursing at the end of the bar sounds like his own.

Yet still the humour is always there.  As they warm up for the Mexican-sounding “Gazpacho”, Mark Kelly asks “Am I in the wrong band?”

“You have been for years,” deadpans Pete Trewavas.

“Gazpacho” gets you moving as the concert enters its final third.  Away, yon darkness; the music stays largely celebratory from here, though the lyrics maintain some bite.  Elvis Presley, O.J. Simpson and Mike Tyson were mentioned as inspirations for the lively song.  Celtic sounds invade “80 Days”,* an ode to the audience who clap along to every beat.  “80 Days” was always acoustic, and “The Answering Machine”* has existed in a popular acoustic alternate arrangement for years.  The brewery crowd clearly liked both very much.

A slew of covers are encore treats.  Crowded House’s “How Will You Go” (from 1991’s Woodface) is a brilliant song and choice.  There’s one more original (drummer Ian Mosely smokes on “Cannibal Surf Babe”) before they do Carole King’s “Way Over Yonder”* and The Beatles’ “Let It Be”.*  Rothery gets a bluesy guitar showcase on “Way Over Yonger”, though Hogarth has the soul credentials too, as “Let It Be” ably proves.

For a long time, I felt that the original Christmas 2000 release of A Piss-Up in a Brewery to be one of the best Marillion live albums, period.  It’s still magnificent in its full length, though perhaps they should have just made it widely available to everyone in the first place.  Maybe it wouldn’t have been a hit, but if they were on Santa’s good list that year, you never know.

5/5 stars

* Indicates this song was not on the 2000 Christmas release of A Piss-Up in a Brewery, but only the DVD and download versions.