A Series of ‘Misplaced’ Reviews

One of the nice things about moving house is that sometimes you come across things you’d tucked away in the attic and forgotten all about. When I moved house recently I came across a triple wrapped package which, it turned out, contained a stack of old tour programmes. Inside the Marillion ‘Real to Reel’ programme was a set of reviews I’d cut out of some newspapers and tucked inside the cover, presumably for safe keeping. I assume that I cut them all out of local newspapers, but unfortunately I didn’t label or date them, so really I can only guess. One thing that is quite clear, however, is that they are all reviews of Marillion’s St. David’s Hall gigs from the Fugazi and Misplaced Childhood tours. Another thing that is clear is how difficult it was even then, despite a string of hit singles and Top of the Poops (sic) appearances under their collective belt, for Marillion to fight the misconceptions that have plagued them throughout their now long and creatively fertile career.

And so, for your amusement and reading pleasure (and, perhaps, occasional displeasure), I give you … a set of misplaced reviews:

 

WHAT MUSICAL REVOLUTION?

POP by Nick Horton

Forget 1977. It never happened. There was no musical revolution. The Sex Pistols just didn’t exist.

This, in case you haven’t noticed, is 1984, old-timers Yes and Genesis are at the top of the American charts, long hair is trendy again … Marillion are voted Britain’s top band by the readers of one music paper.

At St. David’s Hall in Cardiff on Friday night Marillion took an ecstatic audience straight from 1975 to the present day. They may call this progressive rock, but it’s got nothing to do with progress.

The fabled hermit returning to Cardiff after spending a decade in a Tibetan cave would have been surprised only by the hall in place of the Capitol as the city’s top venue. Little else has changed.

Marillion’s main asset is their vocalist Fish. He is a likeable, hulking, made-up giant, standing 6ft 5in.

His lyrics are anti-war, anti-hypocrisy, anti-snobbery – obvious but laudable themes, and he thankfully steers well clear of the sword and sorcery nonsense which holds such schoolboy fascination for similar groups.

One of the most entertaining parts of a Marillion show is watching their fans trying to dance. They look like they’re having a fit as they desperately search for a rhythm in numbers which stop and start and jerk and jump before crashing to the inevitable drawn-out end.

Marillion’s songs are bombastic, top-heavy would-be masterpieces. Some – like the current single Punch and Judy – are admirably concise and irritatingly catchy.

But mostly Marillion don’t know where to finish. Their songs just go on and on and on.

And, judging by the crowd’s response on Friday, so will Marillion.

 

FISH HOLDS FULL HOUSE SPELLBOUND

ROCK by Julian Bishop

The past year has seen Marillion broaden their appeal considerably, helped by the more accessible and commercial album Misplaced Childhood.

But even the more mature quality of their current material was inadequate preparation for a masterful live show at St. David’s Hall in Cardiff last night – the first of two sell-out shows.

Accompanied by ecstatic applause, lead singer Fish strode onstage appropriately clad in a magician’s robe, since he held the audience spellbound for a set lasting nearly two hours.

The stage show was initially reminiscent of a solemn ritual ceremony, with the audience chanting on cue while Fish strode the stage purposefully, using words, gestures and spectacular lighting effects to interpret his images.

Fortunately the serious and ritualistic first half hour gave way to a more spontaneous, vigorous hour which kicked off with a string of hits – a perfectly executed and no-frills ‘Kayleigh’, a surprisingly powerful ‘Lavender Blue’ and an outstanding vocal performance on ‘Heart of Lothian’.

Stagecraft

There was a touching and wry moment as Fish dedicated the short Misplaced Childhood to Thin Lizzy vocalist Phil Lynott, who died a week ago. The show, which frequently verged on the realms of a rock opera, wound up with ‘Fugazi’, which threw up several interesting new images and the epic ‘Market Square Heroes’, a triumphant farewell chant.

It is difficult to fault such a potent blend of strong material, excellent stagecraft and sheer enthusiasm, and apart from several meanderings in the musical pattern, the five-piece band were on top form throughout the set.

A mention, too, for support band Beltane Fire, who were well-received for a competent 45 minute set which included a mean double bass and surely a potential hit in ‘Captain Blood’, a meaty chant which would do Big Country proud.

 

SAMENESS IN CONCEPT

By Peter Curtis

Concerts in which acts play conceptual pieces leave me pretty cold.

The band take the stage, a quick “Hello, Cardiff” and it’s straight into an hour-long epic, usually involving any combination of dwarfs, damsels and despair.

Marillion, who are the present market leaders in concept-album production, displayed their latest wares at St. David’s Hall, Cardiff, last night.

Misplaced Childhood is the culmination of a trilogy which began with Script for a Jester’s Tear in 1973 (sic) and was followed in 1984 by Fugazi – a title which means a lot more in Vietnamese than in English.

Basically the trilogy is the collected “thoughts” of “chairman” Fish – real name Derek Dick – the band’s Scots-born lead singer.

The first concept album was his bedsit thoughts, the second hotel thoughts, and Misplaced Childhood home thoughts.

It is not surprising, then, that to many Marillion appear to be a bunch of ageing sixth-form refugees nurtured on a diet of Genesis and Yes and seeking hidden meanings in everything from adolescence to the A-Z of London.

Hence their name was originally Silmarillion, taken from Tolkien’s tales and successfully shortened during an early line-up change in which Fish joined the band.

That said, it would be all too easy to dismiss the band as a throwback to the bygone days of pomp rock, but the concepts keep on selling and it’s a brave man who thumbs his nose at the almighty buck.

In a recent Music Weekly poll Marillion were voted  Best British Band of 1985, Misplaced Childhood best LP, their love song ‘Kayleigh’ was voted No 2 in the best single chart and they were also runners-up in the best live band category and fourth in the world’s best group poll.

Their music is beginning to sound all the same to me. Could it be that the band’s present concept is the most tried and trusted music industry adage – if you have a succesful formula, stick to it?

AND FINALLY …

And, finally, I offer you my own hitherto unpublished review of those same Misplaced Childhood gigs. It was written for Southampton Metal Fanzine (SMF … I know, I know – it was the 80s; we were young), an ill-fated ‘publication’ that would surely, in the words of David Hume, have fallen “still-born from the press” had it ever managed to get that far.  There’s a touch too much adolescent earnestness in the closing lines. Apologies for that. Not really sure what I had in mind but, you know … it was the 80s; I was young. So here goes:

The dramatic intro tape fades, and amid the haze of swirling dry ice, the band take the stage. Fish, as domineering a presence as ever, is wrapped in an illuminous cape.

The beginning of ‘Emerald Lies’ gives way to ‘Script for a Jester’s Tear’, which prompts the usual audience reaction. ‘Incubus’ follows hard on its heels and is particularly striking. It is complemented by an exuberant stage show, the most intricate and complex yet.

Fish speaks for the first time when he introduces the highly emotive ‘Jigsaw’. He wanders the stage with a giant silver jigsaw piece, using it to throw sharp reflections on the audience. This is being recorded for America – and 2,000 Welsh voices join in and give it their all.

You could be forgiven for thinking we were back in ’83 or early ’84 when the band launch into ‘The Web’, ressurected for this tour. It’s as dramatic and theatrical as ever. Just for a moment, one senses disappointment, when, at ‘The Web”s climax, Fish announces that the next song is the last of the evening. What’s going on? Have Marillion sold out? No. That last ‘song’ turns out to be ‘Misplaced Childhood’, dedicated on this occasion to Phil Lynott.

Much to my surprise (I prefer not to know what’s coming at gigs), I find the rendition captivating, emotional and totally successful. Again, the stage show is very impressive, lending sympathetic support to the music. We see shades of every imaginable colour. We see rainbows, clouds, doves, magpies, blue sky and many other altering images on the window frame backdrop. Giant playing cards line the stage floor, including one of the King Jester, with which Fish even mimics lovemaking at one point. Also used to good effect are the reflective plates on Rothery’s guitar, particularly during some of the slower solo parts.

Fish himself delivers a powerful vocal performance, while nipping on and off stage for several costume changes. He finally settles on the drummer boy’s uniform for the set’s climax.

When the band launch, victoriously, into ‘White Feather’, you can feel the floor move. The audience clap, stamp and sing in unison and to order. Marillion have been magnificent.

Of course, they return. First encore is ‘Fugazi’. It’s not, perhaps, as cutting as ‘Forgotten Sons’, but it’s not far behind, and on this occasion it’s poignantly delivered.

Of interest to the cynical is Fish’s vow to “strangle the little Chinese c**t” whose restaurant he had eaten in the previous night and whose food had left him “throwing up like a b*****d”. Ironically, this proclamation is sandwiched between the two ‘songs for peace’!

With the crowd taking up the chant “Fugazi, Fugazi”, the band return for a second time, to ecstatic applause. They offer up ‘Punch and Judy’ – a surprising choice – and conclude, as always, with ‘Market Square Heroes’.

I leave the hall soaked to the skin and exhausted, but very, very happy. But as I walk away and look around, I can’t help wondering. How many of those singing so enthusiastically just minutes before really do believe that “this world is totally fugazi”, and what, collectively, are we going to do about it? And how many of those who pledged allegiance to Fish, “your anti-christ”, during that last, rousing rendition of ‘Market Square Heroes’, did so without giving any thought to the meaning of his words?

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2 Comments

  1. Very brave to dig out your old album reviews! I just hope no-one finds the ones I put on Amazon! And they were far more recent…

    Reply
    • Ha,ha, indeed! However, when I came across this gig review it seemed to me no worse, and perhaps better informed, than the ones above written by the ‘proper’ music journalists! Don’t worry though, the Magnum feature, Carl Sentance interview and Malice, Aerosmith and Stevie Nicks album reviews written for the same edition of SMF are not likely to leave the box that has become their permanent home. Oh, hang on … hasn’t Carl just put a new Persian Risk album out?

      Reply

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