11 November 2019

Review: Marillion – B’Ham Symphony Hall, November 6th.

Marillion (with friends from the orchestra) – Birmingham Symphony Hall, 6th November 2019

As they say “Nostalgia Ain’t What It Used To Be” – unless you bolt a string section on !!

With a host of bands playing live with an orchestra of late (Foreigner, Gary Numan, Steve Hackett, Alterbridge, Sons Of Apollo, Hawkwind to name but a few) you can now add Marillion to this growing trend…. Re-tread old material, with a different twist (basically)

Although not a dedicated fan of the band, I do enjoy their music immensely (both eras) and totally and utterly respect the cottage industry they have created around a hardcore of fans around the World (witness the success of Marillion Weekends and Crowd Funding – totally inspirational and somewhat enviable !!) Needless to say, most of the gigs on the current tour are either sold out or not far off and when you think that Marillion were part of the “New Wave Of British Prog” in the early 80s, along with the likes of IQ, Pallas and Pendragon (who also still attract a healthy following too) who says “Prog Is Dead” eh ????

With a new release (available on the evening boys ‘n girls) “Marillion With Friends From The Orchestra”, half the set-list came from said CD, but with a few mini epics to boot. Currently on tour with the “In Praise Of Folly” four piece string section plus a French horn and flute player, I was intrigued to see how this complimented their sound.

Before the band came on, one of the crew came to front of the stage to ask everyone to respect the fact that there may be people who wish to enjoy the night without the glow of mobile phones harbouring the view, needless to say it attracted a healthy applause. Nice one.

With the mini-orchestra taking pride of place at the rear centre of the stage and the drums and keys on risers to the left and right respectively, the stage was (literally) set for an evening of incredible musicianship from all concerned. The anticipation was tangible…..

Shortly after 8.30, the “friends” took their place, followed closely by the band jumping straight into “Gaza” from “Sounds That Can’t Be Made” – what a track to open proceedings and very much complimented by the added musicianship, especially the opening few minutes, dramatic to say the least !! At just under 18 minutes, there was plenty of scope for the band to ply their wares and it was obvious from the onset that this was going to be a memorable evening indeed.

At this point, I would like to comment on the light show, which was absolutely superb and used extremely well to highlight certain key moments (like a guitar solo from Steve Rothery). There was the obligatory screen at the rear which ran a series of appropriate slides and videos to complement the music and we had what could best be described as a series of “light curtains” along the front of the stage which were used to great effect to enhance the clouds of dry ice that drifted across the stage, very effective and dramatic. Top marks to the lighting guys, a remarkable achievement.

Having such a huge back catalogue to choose from, I was keen to see which tracks were chosen to benefit from the added musical input and with one mini epic under their belt, the set continued apace with a nice mix of tracks from “Seasons End”, “Marbles”, “Sounds That Can’t Be Made”, “Brave” and “Afraid Of Sunlight” (recently re-released having had the digitally remixed treatment, so a cheeky plug was mentioned by “H” LOL) plus yet another “mini-epic” – “The New Kings” from “F.E.A.R.” A varied and very interesting set with no hint of a return to the FISH YEARS !!!

I have attended a number of gigs where an orchestra and/or a set of supplementary musicians have been added to the mix and to be honest, sometimes I don’t feel it enhances the sound to any great effect, but not the case here. In fact I would go so far as to say, the added musicians took the music to a whole other level and was such an integral part of the mix, in some respects, I think I would find it quite flat going back to the original recordings !!!

There was good banter between Mr Hogarth and the audience and a fair share of gentle humour throughout (Lemsips and cricket bats were duly honoured). An excellent front-man, he prowls the stage like a primed predator studying its prey and knows when to take a seat at the side or front of the stage when the musical focus is directed elsewhere.
The rest of the band were on top form and proved once again that they are in a league of their own. A polished and memorable evening in many ways and yet more proof that Prog is VERY much alive and relevant, especially in these days of mass-produced computer enhanced disposable tripe that assails our ears on a daily basis.

Marillion, very much as important to the UK Prog scene as oxygen is to breathing, an outstanding evening – they have led the way yet again, truly an inspiration on every level.

Steve Gould (aka Progmeister UK)