Tim Bowness – No-Man/Solo

Tim Bowness

Perhaps best known for his work with No-Man, a longstanding 28-year, six album collaboration with Steven Wilson, Tim Bowness has recently resurrected his solo career, with 2014’s well received Abandoned Dancehall Dreams and an astonishingly speedy follow up Stupid Things That Mean The World.

In fact, Stupid Things That Mean The World is a cracker that’s sure to feature well in ‘Album of the Year’ lists. It’s wistful, reflective, and very moving with Bowness’s voice, as I wrote in my review of the album “bringing every track within touching distance of common hopes and fears, past and present.” It’s a prime example of what words and music can do, working in tandom on an album that comes on like a reacquainted friend. I jumped at the chance, therefore, to speak with Tim about Stupid Things That Mean The World, his lyrical themes, his influences, playing live, and the death of rock. It’s an honour to be able to add his thoughts to the Words and Music Interview Series.

So Tim, what would you like to tell people about the new album?
Always difficult! Obviously, I hope that each album is a progression in some way from the last and that it shows some level of personal development. I think all performers like to feel that their career has a forward momentum and Stupid Things That Mean The World did feel as if it was taking aspects of Abandoned Dancehall Dreams further. Like a lot of my work, a lot of thought went into things like track listing and arrangement, though in some ways I would describe the final product as being a combination of accident and intention. Quite often it’s the accidental beginnings that you don’t control that provide the material you shape into the finished album.

In what sense ‘accidental’? Can you elaborate?
Well, in the sense I think everything is for me. When I write I don’t go in with a particular intention, although I did have an overall intention of perhaps developing ideas in Abandoned Dancehall Dreams further. I wouldn’t necessarily say: “Right, I’m going to sit down now and write a piece that is this, or a piece that is that.” ‘Press Reset’, for example, was something that surprised me as it went along. I certainly didn’t realise what the outcome would be when I started writing. It was similar with ‘Know That You Were Loved’, which was written on guitar in a very different way. In some ways the material is created in quite an instinctive and spontaneous way and then once an outcome emerges you shape it as best you can. So I meant accidental in the sense that there would never be a deliberate intention to write in a particular style or write a particular type of song.

‘Press Reset’ is my favourite track on the album, by the way.
‘Press Reset’ and ‘Know That You Were Loved’ were my two favourites actually because, as I say, they turned out to be nothing like I was expecting and it surprised me where they ended up.

‘Press Reset’ emerged from a computer studio experiment. I just followed it through to its conclusion and then heightened aspects of what the experiment suggested. At the end of the process, I felt I ended up with a song quite unlike any other I’d written and a lyric and lyrical subject I really wasn’t expecting. It’s a subject that’s always quite fascinated me, the idea of people who seemingly have happy family and work lives and then completely escape them, you know, due to various internal pressures and so on. And I realised that it had actually happened in my own family as my step-brother had done exactly the same thing, even though it wasn’t something that had particularly influenced me while I was writing it. It’s a subject, to be fair, that a lot of English people will know via the Reggie Perrin route. And it was quite interesting to me that in a sense it almost became semi-autobiographical, in that it dealt with someone I’d known.

I still feel a novice when it comes to being a musician, as opposed to being a singer, so it’s always a thrill to finish a song. In the case of ‘Know That You were Loved’, it was compositionally quite detailed, so I was pleased with my writing, which was something different for me.

You mentioned forward momentum just now, but your lyrics are, well, I would describe them as wistful and reflective, and they seem to have quite a lot to do with the past. Can you tell us more about some of the lyrical themes?
I think that melancholy and nostalgia are two themes that I’ve always visited in my lyrics. Even when I started writing lyrics in my late teens, and was in my first band, I think the themes were in many ways similar. The actual stories and the style of writing may be completely different but there’s always been this sort of impulse, if you like, to dwell on that halcyon time that is no more. And often it’s difficult to explain away those things because you’re naturally drawn to them. I can only think that there might be something in my history or in my family life that always means that in terms of my interest in literature and film and perhaps in the songs that I write, there’s a strong aspect of almost trying to reclaim innocence or reclaim happiness. Also, I think with lyrics sometimes, that whatever one does, one’s worst fears tend to be articulated in one’s work, almost as a form of exorcism. And perhaps there’s always a fear, certainly as an artist, that your best work is behind you, that your best times are behind you. However much you’re enjoying the creative process, however much it feels vital to you, I think that most musicians, artists, filmmakers have a gnawing sense of doubt. In some ways I think that’s good because it’s what propels people to do better or to change and it certainly provides some creative momentum.

What about the title of the new album Stupid Things That Mean The World?
The new album’s title concerns the small and seemingly trivial things that make us who we are, or help us through our lives. It could be an old toy, art/music, shared intimate language, a belief system, an annual holiday, the image or idea of someone you loved in your youth and so on.

Tim Bowness - Stupid Things That Mean The World album coverSo, yes, it concerns the myriad tiny things that in some ways make up personalities. I was also thinking of something like the significance of the seemingly insignificant Rosebud in Orson Welles’s film Citizen Kane where one incident with a toy in this huge media baron’s childhood seems to have been the key to his personality.

That said, the lyrical content in the individual songs is quite separate. For example, while it completely ties in with the idea of stupid things that mean the world – in this case, the person’s attachment to the idea of a holiday – a song like ‘At The End Of The Holiday’ is also very much a separate story about a person very separate from me. As with ‘Press Reset’, it’s almost a short story set to song.

In terms of influences, and things from your musical past, who are the artists who’ve made an impression on you?
There are far too many to mention! I still actively buy, listen to and enjoy music, so I’ve heard a great deal of music through the years. Probably the first artist is not one people would expect. It was John Barry the film composer. When I was around five or six, my dad used to take me to the cinema to see James Bond films, partly because my mum hated them, and I fell in love with the music. I thought it was incredibly haunting and expansive. Then, probably like a lot of kids even in the mid-70s, the Beatles and their offshoots, like Wings, had some level of importance, as did some of the bands influenced by them like 10cc. So I liked an odd combination of film music, experimental pop music and even some classical music from my parents’ collection. As I got older, and into my teens, that’s when rock, experimental rock, art rock – anything from Bowie to Floyd to Zeppelin to Genesis to Kate Bush – became extremely important.

Peter Hammill OverAnd obviously a couple of people who are on the new album are people whose music I absolutely adored when I was a teenager – Phil Manzanera of Roxy Music is one. Roxy Music were a major influence when I was younger. And Peter Hammill is another, because several of his albums, in particular his confessional album ‘Over’, meant a great deal to me. ‘Over’ was very intense, very raw, and in some ways showed me a completely different way of making music. It was something that wasn’t airbrushed or artificial in any way and dealt with subjects that most pop music didn’t – children leaving parents, the death of a relationship, the death of a friend, and so it was a series of meditations on things being ‘over’. It really resonated with me when I was in my mid-teens and I still think it’s a fantastic album.

Over the last couple of decades I’ve liked music by Mark Eitzel, Flaming Lips, Elbow, Keaton Henson, Bjork, Midlake, Troyka – a new-ish experimental UK Jazz band – and more I can’t remember. In terms of all-time favourites, Joni Mitchell’s Hissing Of Summer Lawns, Nick Drake’s Pink Moon, David Bowie’s Low, Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon would all be in there somewhere.

Your music often seems to be labelled ‘progressive rock’ or maybe ‘art rock’. Are you happy with those tags?
To a degree. I certainly don’t go in to make what’s considered to be art rock or progressive rock but my music has a tangential link to that, partly due to some influence from art rock and progressive rock, and partly due to the musicians I work with. In some ways what I do is more a combination of art rock, art pop, prog, experimental and, of course, singer-songwriter elements as well. There’s quite a strong singer-songwriter influence, perhaps, and, again, when I was growing up people like Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, John Martyn, were huge influences. But I have great respect for musicians who work in progressive rock and art rock territory, and in some ways it’s extremely nice to be held alongside those musicians, even if, musically, I’m not entirely sure whether what I do sits with that.

It would seem quite natural to me to relate to your music one-to-one, listening quietly on my own, though I also like being part of an audience. Do you enjoy playing live? And how do you think your music translates well to the live context?
I think it can translate well. Certainly when No-Man played live on the last two tours there was a real energy and a real sense that the band, as a live unit, developed an identity above and beyond the studio work. It really energised what we did. And I suppose if one were to apply terms to it now, we developed a vocabulary that was part art rock and part almost minimalist classical – we were working with a classical violinist called Steve Bingham who had very much come from a background of listening to Steve Reich, Phillip Glass, Arvo Pӓrt, composers that Steven [Wilson] and I like as well. That, combined with a slightly more aggressive rock attack that No-Man had, worked really well and was incredibly enjoyable to play, and, I felt, almost pointed at a potential new direction for the band.

So, I think that the louder rock aspect works quite well, as does the more experimental, extremely intimate ambient-tinged singer-songwriter work that I do with Peter Chilvers. It’s perhaps the work in between that doesn’t fare quite as well, and what’s interesting is that when you do play live the venue and audience to an extent dictate the success of the material.

It’s an interesting process and I enjoy the two extremes. I enjoy the potential noise and havoc that No-Man at their loudest can inflict, and I certainly enjoy the near silence of some of the ambient singer-songwriter gigs that I’ve done with Peter Chilvers, partly because every word and every single sound can be heard. Usually the venues we choose are appropriate for that.

Generally speaking, I love the musical aspect of playing live because sometimes songs can come alive in a different context, they can develop in different ways, though sometimes the actual act of performing is quite an alien thing. I think for any adult human being to be playing in front of an audience is something that can render most self-conscious.

Tim Bowness

Is there a particular piece of music, or album, or performance to date for which you’d most like to be remembered?
I’ve honestly no idea. That’s always for other people to say. There are pieces of mine that I’m particularly pleased with – from ‘Press Reset’ and ‘Know That You Were Loved’ from the new album to ‘Smiler at 50’ from Abandoned Dancehall Dreams to numerous No-Man songs like ‘Things I Want To Tell You’ or ‘Days In The Trees’ or ‘Things Change’. There are a number of pieces that I’m extremely pleased I was a part of, and, obviously, if people are touched by work I’ve made there’s definite validation for making it that feels really pleasing.

There’s been a lot of talk recently the death of rock or the death of the rock era. Do you think the people who are proclaiming the death of rock are right?
I think it’s changed. I don’t necessarily think that rock or popular music is dead and nor do I think that creatively it’s dead. If people look around there are still some very interesting albums being made and there are still some statements that are quite fresh. I think there is life in it, but maybe the rate of progression, if you like, has slowed down. Not only that but I think that music that perhaps isn’t at the forefront of the mainstream struggles more than it did to be heard. It’s an ironic time in a way. We have the internet, that provides instant access to everything, and we’ve also had the advent , over the last ten years, of 24 hour music TV and 24 hour digital radio. And yet, less genres of music and less bands seem to get covered.

I think it’s interesting, when you look at something like VH1. When VH1 emerged it was an adult music channel, and initially you might find anything from documentaries on King Crimson to interviews on XTC to what might have been the chart of 1999. But probably within about three or four years, this became the constant streaming of the same videos by the same small group of artists. That aspect is disappointing. One episode of The Old Grey Whistle Test or The Tube may have dealt with ten more genres and more varied artists than the 24 hour digital channels will do now. So on some level it’s bizarre that we live in an age of information and yet we’re exposed to considerably less styles of music and therefore considerably fewer possibilities. It does seem as if the algorithm has won out over the art.

That’s certainly the case if you look at local radio. I was brought up in the North West where the major cities, Liverpool and Manchester, were very active in breeding new talent. Each city only had one local radio station at the time – Piccadilly in Manchester and Radio City in Liverpool – and yet the BBC stations and these local stations would always have three to four hours of new music every evening. When I did my original demos in the mid-1980s – and this is inconceivable now – I’d get played on a show by Mark Radcliffe. He’d play the new Kate Bush single, a track from the latest New Order album, then my demo, then someone else’s demo. It was bizarrely open and eclectic. These days, Piccadilly may have four or five radio stations, but it’s Piccadilly Gold recycling the top hits of the 60s, 70s and 80s, and Piccadilly itself has become more of a commercial station. Equally the local BBC station that was around when I was first making music has become more of a talk channel.

It seems bizarre that despite having more stations, fewer things are being covered, and, generally, there has to be a very strong commercial reason for something to be covered. No-Man were managed by the Talk Talk manager, and Talk Talk were a million selling band. But I remember hearing that Talk Talk were considered “too small” to be played on VH1! So a million selling band were considered not important enough, and I think that since the 90s, that level of corporate control has perhaps got stronger. Obviously, if you’re prepared to search via the internet there are many worlds of possibility, so all is not lost in some respects.

I think you’re right, though for music that you could broadly term ‘progressive rock’, there does seem to have been some sort of resurgence of interest in the last 5 years or so?
There probably has been over the last 10 years. I mean certainly with Burning Shed [Tim also runs the online label and specialist music store Burning Shed – Ed.], when we started out progressive rock was obviously one of the genres we dealt with, and definitely since we started in 2001 the interest has got stronger. My personal belief is that there’s more interest now because of what I said – that in some ways things are very diffuse, very ephemeral, perhaps more corporate, and that people are actually searching for more depth. In a way it explains the resurgence of vinyl as well. It’s the vinyl against the download. In some ways the music is everything, but a download as a commercial property has very little to it, is very easy to produce and so on, and perhaps people are going back to vinyl because there is a craft in the album cover, there’s an expense in it being done, a real sense of effort and depth in, or implied by, the format. I think that ties in with progressive rock, in that in an era that seems, perhaps, more superficial, there are people outside the mainstream hunting for something that actually means something to them.


Tim Bowness


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Mark Kelly (Marillion)

Mark Kelly - keyboard player with Marillion

Photo by Joe del Tufo

Despite a lengthy hiatus somewhere between Holidays in Eden (1991) and Marbles (2004), I regard myself as a longstanding Marillion fan. Their music meant a good deal to me as a teenager, and, since rediscovering their back catalogue just prior to the release of the aforementioned Marbles, some of their music has come to mean a great deal to me as an adult. No surprise then, that Marillion feature heavily in Words and Music, which attempts to explore the kind of significance that rock music can have for people.

It was great to see Marillion picking up the ‘Band of the Year’ award at the 2013 Progressive Music Awards – an accolade, which, from whatever source, many fans will argue is long overdue. It was also an absolute pleasure to  speak with keyboard player Mark Kelly recently about demons and wizards, notable gigs, sympathy for the devil and meaningful music. Read on to find out more …

Hi Mark, congratulations on the award, it must be nice to get the recognition?
Yeah, though it’s funny because we’d sort of got used to never winning anything! Even when we were in the charts, when ‘Kayleigh’ was a big hit and we were considered to be a big band, we never used to get invited to any of those award things like the Brits, so we just felt like we were not part of that thing, you know. Marillion picking up their Band of the Year at the Progressive Music Awards 2013Not that it ever bothered us much, but to finally win something was like, “Oh, we’ve actually won”. We were up for four awards and we won the band of the year, which was great because it’s nice to be recognised by your peers. And it was a good night out!

And, of course, it was a Prog Award, the ‘P-word’. It’s a perennial discussion among fans isn’t it, the extent to which Marillion are a prog band?
Well, things have sort of changed over the last few years, the fact that there is the Prog Awards for a start. This is the second year they’ve done it now, and I think Jerry Ewing with his idea of having a prog magazine … I think that was a stroke of genius because, you know, it sells well, there’s a lot of people out there who for years have been listening to progressive music, whether it’s the old stuff or more modern stuff, and there’s been no outlet or recognition of the fact that people do listen to this music. I don’t know what’s happened over the last ten years or so, but gradually … prog’s not such a dirty word anymore. People are happy to come out and say, “I’m a prog fan.”  I mean, even pop musicians or indie musicians or whatever will come out and say, “Oh yeah, I like Genesis” or Pink Floyd or whoever. And there’s no stigma attached to it anymore, which is great.

Yeah, I remember the Manic Street Preachers making public the fact that they were Rush fans.
[Laughs] There you go, yeah! And I think it’s a good thing.

There was a time, wasn’t there, when the band were a bit wary of the prog label?
Well, only because of what it stood for really, which was, you know, dinosaurs and stuck in the past and all the rest of it, but we didn’t see ourselves like that. What’s weird, I suppose, is the association with demons and wizards and fantasy and fiction. I think part of the blame for that has to lie with some of the very early prog bands, the innovators , like King Crimson – their lyrics were quite demons and wizards weren’t they? And then you’ve Yes, whose lyrics you can’t make head or tail of, and, you know, even Genesis had a kind of fantasy slant to their lyrics, so you can see why that association is there. Of course, calling ourselves Marillion … [Laughs].

But because we came along after punk had happened, and, you know, lyrically bands were being much more down to earth and gritty, and singing about real life, that was part of our heritage, if you like. Fish’s lyrics tended to be more like that and less … well, apart from ‘Grendel’ I can’t think of anything else that he ever wrote in that sort of vein really.

So is it a sensible question to ask how you do view what you do as a band?
Well, I’d like people to approach our music with an open mind, obviously. Personally I think we’re definitely in that area – prog, if you like, or progressive music – though there’s a lot of cross-over with pop music for some of our songs and heavy rock for some of the others. I’d just like to think that we’re covering new ground with the stuff that we do and that we’re not just churning out rehashed chord progressions from other songs, and that we’re moving on in what we say, musically and lyrically. But it’s not a good thing to pigeon-hole things, that’s what I’d say.

How about your own route into music, then?  Who was the first artist to make an impression on you?
I started off listening to music when I was about nine or ten, and the stuff I listened to was, I suppose, what you’d expect a pre-teen to listen to in the early ʾ70s – Slade, Sweet, T-Rex and stuff like that. So I was a bit of a music fan but not really into it, you know, and it was only when I heard Yes for the first time, and Rick Wakeman in particular, that I was suddenly hooked on music in a way that I hadn’t been before and decided that I wanted to learn to play the keyboards. So I suppose that was the turning point for me, where I went “I’m really into this”, and then from there I discovered all the other bands that were playing in the same genre like Pink Floyd and Genesis and so on,  so that was what I grew up listening to in the ʾ70s.

Mark Kelly - Marillion keyboard player

Photo by Joe del Tufo

You were self-taught weren’t you? I always think that’s impressive with a keyboard player.
Yes I was, yeah. But like I said, it was just because I heard Rick Wakeman playing and thought, you know, that’s what I want to do … and I’ve never had the same feeling about the guitar or the drums or whatever. I suppose everyone has their own reason for starting playing and for me it was that.

I had a keyboard for my eighteenth birthday, and the inspiration for that was the Script for a Jester’s Tear album and Jon Lord’s playing with Deep Purple but … I didn’t get quite as far as you!
Funnily enough, I was having this conversation when I met Rick Wakeman. I have met Rick before, but I was chatting with him and his son Adam at a Travis gig. Adam was playing keyboards with Travis and Rick was there backstage. And because I’ve never really spoken to him properly I went up to him and I said, “Look, I just wanted to say that you’re the reason I started playing keyboards.” And Adam, his son, said to me, “You’re the reason I started playing keyboards; I didn’t listen to my dad at all!” [Laughs] That was quite cool.

Jon Lord? Yeah, again, for organ playing you couldn’t touch him really. The sort of bands that I started off playing in tended to be on the heavier side, and so you had to do that distorted organ thing to get heard, you know, up against the guitars. So Jon Lord definitely showed the way – how to play keyboards in a hard rock band.

Can you tell us about an album, song or lyric that means a lot to you?
Joni Mitchell - Blue album coverI suppose for lyrics it has to be Joni Mitchell and the album Blue. It’s purely about the lyrics really, and what she’s saying in those songs. The music’s quite simple and nothing gets in the way. They’re great songs.

But as a personal thing, funnily enough, the album Beautiful Freak by Eels. I was just getting together with my current partner, Angie, when it came out. We’ve got three kids together and have been together now for, what is it, about 14 years, so that album for me was quite a personally important album. I’m sure everyone’s got the same story – the album you were listening to when you first got together with your ‘significant other’. So, that’s the one I’d pick out for that reason. Though it’s an interesting album in itself, a bit retro sounding, and it’s got some interesting songs on it.

Beautiful Freak album cover -EelsI don’t know it actually.
Ah ! Well, they’ve done a few albums, but I think, sadly for them, that was probably the high point. It was their first album and I don’t think they managed to do anything that was as good as that.  And it did stand out at the time as being quite different from what else was going on. Yeah, check it out, it’s good.

Do you remember the first gig you went to?
Yes, I do. It was at the Marquee Club in London and it was a band called The Loving Awareness Band. I went to see them because Radio Caroline, the pirate radio station, were promoting the band and an album they’d put out which was very Beatle-esque sounding. They were just playing it to death! I’m not sure what the connection was between the band and the radio station, but it was one of those things where I got into the songs and heard they were playing at the Marquee. I’d never been to the Marquee Club before – I was about fifteen – and I went to see them play and they were great. But what I found out a few years later was that the entire band was The Blockheads. It was basically The Blockheads without Ian Dury, before they got together with him.

What’s the most memorable gig you’ve been to as a fan?
Well, probably, because at the time it had such a big impact on me, Pink Floyd, The Wall, 1980. I was still quite young, hadn’t been to many gigs, and that was a huge spectacle, really. Roger Waters has just been out with it recently. Ian [Mosley], our drummer, went to see it and said it was amazing. It sounds like it was exactly the same show as they put on 30 years ago. At that time it was just head and shoulders above everything else that was going on at gigs. And it really did make a big impression on me.

That links quite nicely with a question I have about the relationship that Marillion have with their fans. That whole ‘alienation’ thing with The Wall
Yeah, Pink Floyd went like that … I don’t know really what was going on with Roger Waters, but I did read that there was some horrible incident at one of their gigs where the fans were all fighting and some people were killed and it made him not want to play gigs anymore. And of course, his whole life story about his father being killed in the war, and growing up with an ‘over-smothering mother’, which seems to be what comes across in the lyrics as the inspiration for that album.

Marillion and fans

Photo by Joe del Tufo

But yeah, our relationship with our fans obviously is totally different to that. Some bands just have that thing where they go, “We don’t want anything to do with our fans.” I’ve spoken to quite a few people about that. Rush, for example – they get up there, they do the gigs, and they don’t really want to have any social interaction or talk to their fans, you know. Pink Floyd are the same. Tony Hadley, from Spandau Ballet, I was talking to him a couple of months ago and he said, “I don’t ever spend time with my fans.” He said, “I was with Fish and he invited loads of fans back to his hotel. I couldn’t believe it! ” [Laughs]

So it’s just, you know, that people are different. I can respect the fact that if you’re a musician or an artist, and you just want to make music, you might not want to deal with everything that goes with it. That’s your choice, but for us … we’ve got great fans, so why wouldn’t you want to get to know some of them? Why wouldn’t you want to hear what they’ve got to say? Why wouldn’t you want to interact with them? And the internet has made it so easy for that to happen. Surprisingly, we don’t get hassled by people. I don’t think we do, anyway. I think we’re at the stage or the size where it’s not such a problem. I can understand if you’re Madonna or Robbie Williams or somebody like that, there’s no way you can just open your doors to people or let people get access to your phone number or your e-mail address or whatever, because there would just be too many. But for us it’s not such an issue.

Mind you, I can’t think of any other group of people in their forties and fifties who are so fanatical and so attached to a band as people are to Marillion.
I know, and I’m very grateful for it. We all are. We all think it’s amazing and we never take it for granted. But on the other hand, it’s really hard to explain. We don’t know the reason. We just write the best music and lyrics that we can and we just go out there and play it as best we can and everything seems to follow on from that, you know. But to be able to say okay, if you’re a band this is what you need to do to have a fan base like Marillion … I wouldn’t know what to tell you. It’s something for which we’re very grateful. We’ve got a cult following, we’re a cult band if you like, and we’ve managed to maintain a level where it’s still working for us and our fans are still there coming to see us play, which is great.

Have you had any particularly strange encounters with fans?
[Laughs] I’m trying to think of something and I can’t think of anything to tell you … um, no … there’s nothing that springs to mind … no. There’s probably something, but right now I can’t think of anything.

What’s the best or most notable gig you’ve played as an artist?
That’s quite tricky, actually. I suppose the stuff that sticks in my head would be when we did South America for the first time and we were playing football stadiums. It wasn’t just us, it was a huge line-up. We were second on the bill to Bon Jovi when they were really huge, and Bob Dylan, and just because of the sheer size of the gigs, they were really memorable. And the audiences were really enthusiastic as well – they tend to be in Latin countries, quite hot blooded! Mexico City, we’ve done some really great gigs there as well. Closer to home, from the early days, I always loved doing the Hammersmith Odeon, as it was then. When Fish was in the band we used to play there quite often, and the early Marquee gigs were great as well. So, you know, throughout our careers really there have been so many really good ones. We’ve played probably a few thousand, so I suppose there’s going to be some in there. Although most of the time we come off stage going, “Aw, that was terrible.” [Laughs]  It’s quite rare for it all to come together, but when it does, when we all feel that we’re on top of it, when we’re all playing well and working well together, and the audience is great, you know, then it’s really special.

Marillion on stage, Montreal 2011

Marillion on stage, Montreal 2011 – Photo by Joe del Tufo

Gabriel or Collins?
Gabriel, definitely. There’s just something more interesting about Gabriel. Collins? I dunno. As a drummer he was great – it’s a bit sad he can’t play anymore – but as a singer he never really moves me, you know. There’s something about the quality of a voice that’s really important to me, even more than the words, actually.

Schenker or Rothery?
Schenker or Rothery? [Laughs] I used to think UFO were … did Schenker even play on that live album, Strangers in the Night?

Yeah, he did
Yeah? Then I’d have to say Schenker! [Much laughter] I do love playing with Steve because he is a really great guitarist. But they’re totally different to be honest, as players, so that’s how I’d put that one.

That was a ruse really. In the back of my mind I remember you saying something once before about Michael Schenker or Strangers in the Night.
Well, funnily enough I listened to that album again recently on Spotify. And that’s why I mentioned it again. Not that I’m listening to it constantly, but it’s one of those albums you come back to now and again and think, “That’s a bloody great album!”

Mark and Steve on stage -not exactly Strangers in the Night Photo by Joe del Tufo

Mark Kelly and Steve Rothery – not exactly Strangers in the Night!
Photo by Joe del Tufo

Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – jaded stereotype or the meaning of life?
Who was it who said, “Well, I could do without the rock ‘n’ roll!” [Laughs] I think it is a bit of a jaded stereotype. It was Ian Dury who said it originally. Or maybe it wasn’t him, but he wrote the song. For some people I suppose it is the meaning of life, but maybe not all three, and maybe not all at once. Next question!

I don’t know if you’ve seen these documentaries that the BBC roll out about progressive rock every now and then, but they trot out a few generalisations, you know, that it’s all about dragons and wizards, and that progressive rock musicians are frustrated jazz musos who should have kept away from rock and roll. What do you say to that?
Well, I think I know what you’re talking about, where they get a few people on to be talking heads going on about it, and, you know … Ian Anderson talking about how he wore a cod piece and all that. And yeah, it’s all a bit too … I dunno … prog rock for people who know absolutely nothing about music! I have to disagree with the “frustrated jazz muso” thing though, because, well, for me certainly, jazz was never anything that interested me. I think it’s probably people that get bored with your standard pop songs, or even your standard rock songs, people that have a low attention span or people who don’t like repetition too much, you know. So you sort of go, that’s fine, we can do these three chords again and again, but why don’t we try some others, you know, or we can do it in 4/4 but it would be good if we switched the time signature half way through. I mean I’m definitely of that side of things rather than being into jazz at all. Steve Hogarth takes the mickey out of me if I mention that we need to put a change in there. He goes, “You get bored with things so quickly, why do I have to change it?” [Laughs] So there’s definitely a bit of that, certainly for me anyway. I just think it’s about making music that interests you really, and, you know, for some people the music can be just about the feel, so they can just play the same thing over and over again, and do stuff that’s very repetitive and, you know, dancey or trancey or druggy or reggae, whatever it might be. Personally I can’t understand why people would want to play, you know, boogie woogie piano, for example … because isn’t it just the same thing over and over again, variations on the same thing? So whilst it’s clever and probably fun to play, it doesn’t really interest me, you know.

I’ve got a question here – rock music: a force for good or the spawn of the devil? That’s more relevant really to the kind of rock music where you sometimes get supernatural or devilish themes. It wasn’t something I was going to ask you at all until I noticed that someone had got to my website via the search term ‘Marillion devil’s music’.
Funnily enough, I saw that question on your sheet, and I entered that search term into Google just before this interview. It took me to a website that had an interview with Richard Stanley, who was the director of our Brave movie. I didn’t know this, but apparently he basically said, “I disown that piece of work because they took what was a short piece of film and turned it into something much longer.” I suppose there is some truth in that, in the sense that he was working with a very small budget – I say “small budget”, it was about £100k – to try to make a movie that covered 70 minutes, which is the Brave album. It was more than the budget could cope with, if you know what I mean. But anyway, I think working with Richard Stanley is probably the closest we’ve ever come to devil’s music [Laughs] – he’s definitely got a bit of the devil in him, cos he’s made some really dark films. He did a movie called Dust Devil – that’s probably why the search took me to that site, actually, the word connection there – which is just horrible. And he did another one called Hardware, which again is horrible. So yeah, quite a dark person and that’s the closest I think we’ve come to the devil … we’ve got nothing to do with devil’s music …

… No! Actually, there was a book in the ʾ80s, called Paint It Black, I think, that was written about rock and roll being the devil’s music, and there’s a whole chapter dedicated to Marillion, because around about the same time – it was when we were on tour in America in about 1986 – there was a case in the UK. They called it ‘The Vicarage Rape’.

Oh yeah, yeah, I remember!
The story was, from memory, some guys broke into a vicarage, tied up the vicar and raped his daughter in front of him and her boyfriend. What happened was that the daughter who was raped said that one of the guys had a tattoo on his hand with the letters ‘MAR’ and a web between his thumb and his index finger. Some bright spark journalist put two and two together, came up with five, and said, “Ah, it’s probably something to do with Marillion.” So, the papers ran a whole story about it. We were contacted by the police and they said, “Look, we don’t think it’s anything to do with Marillion, but if the press contact you and ask you about it please talk to them because the more it gets written about, the more likely it is for somebody to read this who knows who the tattoo belongs to.”

So that was what happened, and obviously because of that story the guy who was writing this ‘devil’s music’ book said it was something to do with Marillion, and they’ve got a song called ‘Assassing’, and all that sort of thing. We got a whole chapter because of that very weak connection to that terrible case, which of course was nothing to do with us or our music. It was just bad journalism, basically, scraping together some stories that they could use. They’ve got this premise and then they try to find evidence to back it up, you know.

Mark Kelly - Marillion

Photo by Joe del Tufo

Is the rock era dead? A lot of people have said that, including Paul Gambaccini quite recently.
Um … and then punk came along and turned everything on its head for a few years. No, seriously, I can remember having discussions when I was a teenager, you know, when I was 14 or 15, with other kids at school, me saying rock music’s sort of at the end, and then what’s happened, you know, is you had all these different changes. I think it’s certainly quite stagnated at the moment. Whether it’s dead or not, who can say? When you look at it, music, especially Western music, looks pretty unpromising in terms of what you can do with it, if you just break it down and look at the number of notes which are available and the instruments that are available. You’d think that you’d soon run out of things to do – and quite a lot of people have run out of things to do but haven’t said that. But actually, the possibilities are almost infinite, so who’s to say what’s round the corner? Rock music could quite possibly end up in the same niche area as, say, jazz is now, or even classical music to a certain extent, where it’s a historic thing rather than an evolving and modern thing. But right now it’s difficult to say how it’s going to go. There’s definitely some merit in saying that rock music is dead.

I guess the whole way people are consuming music is different. That’s a change I think a lot of traditional rock fans have found it difficult to adapt to.
Yeah, although while I’m sceptical about whether or not we’ll be able to make a living from streaming services like Spotify, as a listener, as a punter, I think I listen to more music than I used to, and I listen to more new music as well because it’s very easy to do so, and you go exploring … “Oh, let’s just check out this guy” … and that leads to that album … “Oh, I’ve never heard them before, let’s have a listen to them”, you know. It’s all so easy to do. Of course, the downside to that is that back in the old days when you bought an album and you spent all your money on it, all your pocket money or whatever, then even if you didn’t like it the first listen, you were gonna give it a bloody good go, because that was all you had for the week you know. So stuff that you might have gone, “Nah, don’t like that” on first listen, by listen 10 you’re going, “This is the best thing I’ve ever heard!” So there’s something to be said for that investment in it making you give it a proper try, whereas if it’s all free and freely available the tendency is just to jump from one thing to the next thing and not really delve in deeply to anything.

And I suppose music that’s more in the progressive area does benefit from repeated listens?
You’re going to benefit from listening to any good music more than a few times because there’s got to be hidden depths that’ll reveal themselves to you after you become familiar with the more obvious parts of it. And that’s not going to happen instantly, because anything that appeals to you instantly is going to get old fairly quickly because it’ll be fairly simple, generally.

Of everything you’ve done so far, is there anything you’re particularly proud of – a song, an album, a particular performance?
Marillion - Sounds That Can't Be Made coverAt the risk of being clichéd, I have to say that the most recent album, Sounds That Can’t Be Made, I’m particularly happy with that. And that’s not my standard answer. I don’t usually say that whatever album we’ve just made is the best thing we’ve ever done, because we have made albums and I’ve gone, “I don’t really this album” or, “I don’t really like this song”. [Laughs] And ‘Gaza’, the song … I’m very pleased with how well that’s turned out. If you go back previously, the Brave album, I think, has got something going for it, and while I think it might have lost us quite a lot fans because it was quite “dark and impenetrable”, as it was described by one journalist, the ones who did get it have been more inclined to stay with us. So, yeah, I’m very pleased with what we’ve just done … I say “just”, but I mean the most recent album. It seems like “just” because we’re so slow these days at making albums that if an album’s a year old it’s still quite new. [Laughs]

When I first got into music, albums did seem to be annual, you know, tour … album … tour … album …
Well, for a short period we were making one a year, round about the late ʾ90s. But even back in our early days, it was still two or three years between albums for us. We just tend not to work at a very fast pace. And that might be a good thing, because we’re still here!

I suppose the end justifies the means, as it were?
As long as people like what we do at the end of it. I suppose if it takes two or three years rather than a year, then as long as people are still there after two to three years has elapsed, I don’t think we should complain.

And finally, what next?
Well, probably another Marillion album in the next two or three years! [Laughs] Outside of Marillion I started a little project a few weeks back with a couple of guys, a bass player called Steve Lawson and a drummer called Roy Dodds. You probably haven’t heard of either of them, but Steve is a solo bass player – he plays a six string bass and uses a lot of different loops and effects and stuff like that – and Roy was the drummer in Fairground Attraction years ago and plays quite jazzy, with a really nice feel to his drumming. The three of us have never worked together before. It was a chance meeting and we said let’s do something together. We just jammed for three days, came up with a load of material, and so between the three of us and Mike Hunter, our producer, we’re going to put together an album from it which, because of other things, we haven’t looked at since. It’s instrumental stuff – it’s not pop music, that’s for sure. Some of it’s a bit weird [chuckle] but some of it is very musical as well. So we’ll see what happens with that.

It was quite nice to do something that was quite instant, more improvising rather than constructing songs, which is where most Marillion music starts off anyway, so I felt quite at home doing that. But rather than going, “Ok, we’re gonna turn this into songs”, it’ll sound more like a soundtrack than a bunch of songs.

On the Marillion front we’ve got some gigs coming up in November [2013]. Just a few shows, about eight or nine shows around Europe … one in Manchester and one in Aylesbury, which is sold out. And then next year we’re doing a cruise with Yes – the ‘Cruise to the Edge’ – which will be interesting, with some other bands as well. It’s like a progressive rock cruise around the Caribbean next spring. In between these things we’ll be starting writing the next Marillion album, but I’ve no idea when it’ll be ready. We might be doing some summer shows and we’re probably going to go to South America in May as well for a few weeks. So yeah, it’s just business as usual in a way, getting out there, doing some gigs, and looking towards writing the next Marillion album while everybody is doing other things on the side.

Mark Kelly - Marillion

Photo by Joe del Tufo


For up-to-date information on Marillion gigs and releases, please visit the official Marillion website.

All live shots of Mark Kelly and Marillion courtesy of Joe del Tufo. Please visit Joe’s photography website.

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Phil the Collector’s Year in Prog

Those who listen to Andy Read’s weekly DPRP Progressive Rock and Metal radio show will know “prog connoisseur” Phil as a regular (if occasional) studio guest. You can always rely on Phil for some great musical choices accompanied by entertaining and informative narrative. The ProgLite v ProgHeavy head-to-head with host Andy, towards the end of 2013, was one of the most compelling radio shows I’ve heard in a long time. Readers of Words and Music will know Phil from the Marillion/Prog chapter.

Phil is an avid and informed consumer of prog and rock. He often produces a top ten for friends and musical acquaintances at the end of each year and has kindly agreed to the publication of his 2012 review. So without further ado, I present for your reading pleasure and subsequent aural stimulation, Phil the Collector’s Year in Prog: 2012. (Please note that the choices and comments are entirely Phil’s and do not necessary reflect my own taste or views!)


I only bought 76 new releases this year, the fewest for many years. So, was it a “bad” year for (new) music? Thinking back, I don’t consider it so, although I have found it especially difficult to order a top ten. Hopefully this simply reflects the high standard and consistency of the best releases.

Steven Wilson has yet again dominated my musical year, although this probably has as much to do with the proliferation of his releases as anything. Three of those were live ones and I prefer not to include these – especially when the recordings are not from the year in question.

Anyway, in usual reverse order:

10. RNDM – Acts
The first of two Joseph Arthur inclusions. This is his team-up with Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam and Richard Stuverud. Being touted – inevitably – predominantly from the PJ angle, Joe does the lion’s share of the writing. Other than their first collaboration, on Ament’s “true” solo album, tracks I heard in advance really didn’t inspire me or whet my appetite for the album, so I was delighted to be so pleasantly surprised by the end result. Talk of UK dates in 2013 is welcome. I just wonder what size of venue they’ll be able to carry off. The album seems to have had little publicity (a sample track on the latest Classic Rock magazine covermount CD excepted) and sold nothing, although I’m not actually sure it’s had an official UK release yet.

9. Joseph Arthur – Redemption City
Bookending the year (Acts appeared at the end), this second inclusion from Joe was my first acquisition of the year. I say “acquisition” as opposed to “purchase” as this double album was initially only made available as a free download. A subsequent triple vinyl version would otherwise have been bought, but at the time there was talk of a CD release with extra tracks. This has still yet to materialise, but I certainly hope it does. If not, I shall simply have to buy the vinyl. After all, I can’t possibly not have a physical copy, can I?

Inevitably, given Joe’s eclectic and prolific output, some of the tracks on this set are better than others, but I was impressed by the consistency – and the particularly high quality of quite a few of the pieces.

8. Producers – Made In Basing Street
Despite the calibre of the contributors to this project (Trevor Horn, Steve Lipson, Lol Crème and Ash Soan – hence the moniker) I was dubious about what this would sound like. There were suggestions of prog as well as of pop and there was only one way to find out. And whilst it doesn’t all work, there is more than enough to impress this listener. You will see the term “pop prog” used again under another entry but this cannot be compared to that. The time signatures are more mainstream here while there is sufficient substance to offer depth and reward repeated listening.

7. Sigur Ros – Valtari
Highly unusually for me, three of my top ten this year are from outside the UK, and this is the third. Those who know my tastes well will not be surprised to see these Icelandic stalwarts of my annual lists here again, although might be surprised to hear that I shan’t be seeing them on their forthcoming (belated) tour in support of this album. I have largely given up unreserved standing gigs at larger venues, based on more recent experiences, and Sigur Ros are best experienced in the seated position. Plus there’s my age. [Eh? You’re not that old are you? Ed] Thank goodness Steven Wilson is once again doing a seated theatre in London on his forthcoming tour.

I do not think Valtari is as strong as at least its last couple of predecessors, although it is a return to a more ambient form after the almost upbeat (everything’s relative) content of With A Buzz. It still deserves a place in this list.

6. Steve Thorne – Crimes & Reasons
Thorne’s fourth release and, if his comments are borne out, his penultimate one. This is a real pity, but assuming he maintains this standard on his next set, it’s better to go out on a high. Despite consistently attracting the prognoscenti – somehow – to appear on each of his albums,  he simply hasn’t attracted the attention he deserves. Whilst this album is not, to me, quite as strong as its predecessor, Into The Ether, it is still excellent and contains in Moth To Flame one of my top three tracks of the year. Let’s just hope that the next album finally sees him rewarded by recognition and makes him reconsider his decision to call it a day. We’ve lost far too many great acts in this way as it is.

5. Anthony Phillips & Andrew Skeet – Seventh Heaven
After a few relatively fallow years, this was the first of two albums from Ant in 2012. A double at that, it sees him teaming up with Skeet in orchestrator role. A consistent high standard of composition across both discs (a set which is available at a ridiculously low price), it is just wonderful to hear Ant back in classical mode and with material composed largely outwith the constraints that his more usual library work imposes.

4. Field Music – Plumb
A band which just gets better and better, garnering a Mercury Prize nomination for this album. The Sunderland brothers Brewis still seem to be largely ignored, however, as evinced by the shockingly small audience when I finally got to see them live, in a tent at the Hop Farm festival and the (mid) size of venue on the accompanying tour. Perhaps their quirky style and time signatures means that it will ever be thus, critical acclaim notwithstanding (yet when did that ever really mean anything?). Another outrageously short album with no track troubling the four minute mark, this peculiar brand of “pop-prog” (I’m still not sure I get the prog suggestion) will not suit all, unless you like to do your toe-tapping in 9/8.

3. Shearwater – Animal Joy
Another band I finally got to see live this year (see below), having only picked up on them through the preceding album #5 a couple of years ago, courtesy of the recommendation of a certain Mr Wilson. I still prefer that album, The Golden Archipelago, but this set is notable and commendable for adopting a slightly different style. Whilst more accessible overall, it includes what must be my favourite track of theirs, and of the year, in Insolence, which was simply mesmerising in concert. Perhaps their obscurity over here can be better explained than Field Music’s given that they are from Texas as opposed to Tyne & Wear (I wonder when that comparison has ever been employed before in any context), but they equally certainly deserve wider exposure.

2. Anathema – Weather Systems
Sitting here compiling this round-up a year ago, I would never have expected to be including this band in my top ten – let alone so highly. Yet isn’t that one of the reasons music is so wonderful: its power to surprise? I already had several of their earlier albums, but had never really got into them, at least partly because, as with Opeth, they began as a doom metal band before becoming more proggy. They were highly touted as a live band but each time I saw them  – supporting Porcupine Tree, which they did regularly – I never rated them. My interest was piqued by 2001’s A Fine Day To Exit, mainly because it was very similar in style to PT. But really too similar. The album which preceded this latest one had been highly recommended [Especially by me! Ed] but by then I had lost interest.

Yet to prove that music on the internet does have something going for it, this album was streamed for free immediately prior to release, so out of interest I had a listen. And then another. And then I had to buy it. When I talk about this Liverpudlian band’s similarities to what’s gone before, this comes to the nub of the matter. This is recognisably prog, yet in a modern and non-derivative style. And the band recognises the importance of melody. This is all too rare in prog these days, with a few notable exceptions (Marillion, Wilson and Spock’s Beard in particular). The musicianship here is excellent but never in an obtrusive, showing off manner (hang your heads, Dream Theater et al). The use of female vocals, courtesy of Lee Douglas (more so than on previous releases), adds a dynamic which really enhances the material. I love it when an album or act about which/whom I have low, if any, expectations creeps up on me and takes me unawares. Mind you, that does result in more than a few guilty pleasures existing amidst the collection. Musical snob? Moi?

1. Storm Corrosion  – Storm Corrosion
In contrast to Anathema’s, this is the 2012 album I approached with the most trepidation. Not necessarily with any expectations, as it was so hard to know what to expect. This long-touted/awaited teaming up of Steven Wilson with Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth was preceded by forewarnings (not least from the pair themselves) of what, to use Wilson’s term, would be “weird sh*t” (I’m not being coy by employing the asterisk; I just know that some recipients’ email filters will like this as much as their administrators would enjoy St*rm C*rr*s**n). Now, any Wilson aficionado never knows quite what to expect from him, but to compound this I’ve never been a great fan of Akerfeldt (especially vocally: how could he be allowed to transgress on Supper’s Ready on Hackett’s latest project? Although that’s indicative of Hackett’s poor judgement across much of that album).

So, I was happy to be blown away – almost instantly  – by this album. Trying not to be lulled into a sense of false security by the ten minute opener, Drag Ropes, which was made available prior to release, I was quickly engulfed by the whole album. Sure, it won’t be to everyone’s taste: file under the old chestnut, “Uneasy Listening”, but there is a depth and hidden warmth amidst the apparent chill which if you get, you’ll really get. This is not an album to provoke ambivalence, but it is one that is consigned to the studio: as disappointing as it is, this material could not be recreated live. Even if these two collaborate again I can’t imagine them producing anything quite the same. But then, that’s their nature and all credit to them for it.

OTHER NOTABLE RELEASES (in no particular order)
An especially prolific year for Genesis-related products, it just surprises me that so few were real contenders for the top ten. Are they losing their power (Anthony Phillips excepted)? Or am I becoming more objective and my tastes moving on?

Anthony Phillips – Private Parts & Pieces XI: City of Dreams
An entirely unexpected appearance at the end of the year, this very nearly made the top ten. On first listen I thought it somewhat samey, but as happens with the very best albums, repeated listens proved this view incorrect and the set simply provides a mood which works well and makes for a cohesive whole.

Tony Banks – Six
The follow-up to his first classical work (the soundtrack to The Wicked Lady excepted), Seven, this is most notable for retailing at a fiver and therefore immediately worth a punt. I hope that doesn’t sound as though I’m damning it with faint praise. Yet as with its predecessor, having had high hopes of orchestral instrumental work from possibly my favourite composer, it simply does not live up to its promise. Banks says he learned many lessons from the experience of Seven for this one. Here’s hoping everything comes to fruition on the next release. (Assuming there is one: perhaps gardening will forthwith keep him fully occupied.) At least he no longer has lyric days with which to contend. And hopefully his central heating is in full working order.

Peter Gabriel – Full Stretch
Now, who expected this? Indeed, who knows about it? The story behind this remains entirely vague. This suddenly appeared as a “free” CD with the Spanish “art” magazine, Matador. I employ the quotation marks as this seems to explain its outrageous circa 60 quid price-tag and biannual status. It is a full length album, comprising 4 instrumental pieces. It hints at earlier work throughout in a similar vein to the Birdy soundtrack. Whether this will ever be granted a wider release remains to be seen. It certainly deserves it.

Squackett – A Life Within A Day
The long-awaited collaboration between Steve Hackett and Yes’s Chris Squire, awful moniker aside, this was – almost – as good as was anticipated. On the whole, not as proggy as probably expected, I commend the pair for an overall shorter, more commercial-sounding set of songs. I know others who rate this far more highly than I do but to me it sounds a rather thrown-together album. There are clear leftovers from both individuals’ pasts and while it is by no means bad, the often poor vocals don’t help do the songwriting justice. If an approach akin to the much-maligned GTR project of using a single (better) singer had been adopted this might have been so much stronger.

Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited II – see below.

And outside the Genesis family:

Marillion – Sounds That Can’t Be Made
Interestingly, Steven Wilson’s favourite (prog) album of the year, it is most unusual for an album by them not to be in my top ten – and high at that. The band which for years I declared my second favourite of all time, I now wonder whether they’ve been usurped by Porcupine Tree. Saying that, PT’s output has not been as consistent across its career (notably in early releases) and there is now some question over that band’s future, given Wilson’s apparent preference for his solo career and the fact that that seems to be becoming successful. I comment further on the Marillion album below.

Porcupine Tree – Octane Twisted
Steven Wilson  – Catalogue/Preserve/Amass
Steven Wilson – Get All You Deserve (see below under DVD category)

And talking of Wilson, I must round-up his most notable releases of the year (i.e. excluding B*ss C*mm*n**n). All live and in the case of the first two, recorded prior to 2012, they were never really contenders for the top ten. Yet it any sense of the word they were, to me, highlights of year. Octane Twisted provides a live recording of the entire The Incident album from Chicago in 2010 on disc 1. The second disc mops up the rest of the Chicago set with the bonus of three tracks from the memorable Royal Albert Hall show later the same year. Including these pieces helps makes up for the disappointment caused by the earlier suggestion that the originally promised recording of that show would no longer be forthcoming. It’s just a pity that the bonus DVD which accompanied the first editions of this release only includes the Chicago Incident tracks. Surely, the whole set must have been filmed, so quite why the rest has been omitted is unclear.

C/P/A provides a single disc of much of the 2011 European Wilson solo set – most from the London date which was my second favourite gig of that year. A welcome taster several months ahead of the full set from the second worldwide leg which Get All You Deserve documents.

Big Big Train – English Electric part 1
After being so impressed by the preceding Underfall Yard, I found this first part of what was initially considered as a double album to be a touch disappointing. As with the Marillion album, there are some extremely good moments but its inconsistency meant it failed to make the top ten. Here’s hoping that part 2 will correct this in 2013.

Rush – Clockwork Angels
Highly regarded by most fans (and critics), I consider it a good album; just not great and not as strong as its predecessor, Snakes & Arrows, which I found something of a return to form. This is close and, without being patronising, especially commendable for a band so far into its career.  I’m still looking forward to the accompanying tour but shan’t be bothering with the album’s companion novel. Hmmm…

Nik Kershaw – Ei8ht
Much of Kershaw’s more recent output, now that he’s largely ignored, has been excellent. This set is not quite as good as some of that, at least in consistency, but is still of very high quality. However, he worryingly seems to be teetering on the brink of slipping into that ‘80’s nostalgia circuit. I guess everyone has to earn a buck. Yet unlike many of the others who already have, he continues to produce new, worthwhile, material. And to think that his is one of the two concerts I’ve ever walked out of before the headline act came on (in 1986).

Alan Reed – First In A Field Of One
The singer in Pallas prior to his acrimonious split from them, this is Reed’s debut full-length solo release. I was never a huge fan of his but was interested to hear what he would produce on his own. This impulse purchase proved a worthwhile indulgence. (It’s so much more pleasurable when that happens.) A strong set which provokes high hopes for a doubling of the provision of good music from both him and his former band which is otherwise diluted by them all having to hold down full-time jobs. Not that their styles are that similar. Reed’s is a more stripped-down approach than the band’s symphonic (sometimes overblown) material. It’s really just the voice which carries the comparison. I look forward to what he produces next.

Sweet Billy Pilgrim – Crown and Treaty
A band of which I’ve been aware for a while but never felt compelled to explore. Continued references to prog had never seemed true on the few occasions I encountered them (as happened in the early years of Field Music) but a track from this album on a sampler CD and an attractive price proved too great a temptation. Now it’s time to explore their back catalogue. I considered this for the top ten but it’s a little too quirky/inconsistent in places for it to gain a place.

NOTABLE REISSUES/COMPILATIONS (in no particular order)

Peter Gabriel – So (“25th” Anniversary Edition)
Typical for Gabriel to be late with even a reissue and to miss the anniversary by over a year. But for all its failings, this is a great set. And it’s a relief to know that he will be bringing the accompanying tour (which looked to be confined to the US this year) to Europe next Autumn after his year’s sabbatical. The box set deluxe edition is excellent, and although it has flaws (quite why the b-sides and mixes have been omitted remains unclear)  it is worth it for the DNA disc alone. Even as a massive fan, I never expected this compilation of different stages in the evolution of each of the tracks to command more than a couple of listens. Yet the intelligent and loving way it’s been put together bears repeated plays.

The Bible – Eureka
Following last year’s Walking The Ghost Back Home reissue, this is an even more expanded and impressive 25th anniversary edition of the band’s second album. A rare gig in London on the same weekend as Steven Wilson this March should make for a memorable few days.

Twelfth Night – Live & Let Live (“Definitive Edition”)
The latest in a series where each of the TN albums are being spruced up and having relevant additional tracks appended. In this case turning what was originally a single slab of vinyl of the highlights from the band’s final gigs with singer Geoff Mann at London’s Marquee club (on 4 and 5 November 1983) into a recreation of the entirety of the set across the two nights. Consequently, the sound quality is patchy on some of the added tracks, and in the case of The Collector, the best available version was an audience recording of a show a few nights earlier. This is the only unnecessary inclusion, not least as the piece remains far inferior to the oft-compared epic Sequences, which was on the original release and remains one of my Desert Island Discs. I suppose it was felt it had to be included for completeness and fortunately is at the end of disc one so can easily be skipped. Comprehensive sleevenotes further enhance this lovingly put-together release, as with the rest of this ongoing series which emanates from the band themselves, who, sadly, finally seem to have now called it a day since reforming in 2007 (an occasion I actually enjoyed more than Genesis getting back together the same year).

Elbow – Dead In The Boot
Titled as a counterpoint to their debut, Asleep In The Back, this b-sides compilation has been long-mooted. It is by no means definitive, but has been compiled to offer a specific flow of music – as all good albums should – as opposed to chronologically or whatever. And it really works, although it may still be frustrating for latecomers to the band as the earlier singles are now almost impossible to find – at least without paying through the nose. Some of those singles also included real gems which are not included here. Some, however, have been made available via the reissues of the first three albums over the past few years.


1. No-Man – London, Islington Assembly, 2 September
Whilst a very similar set – though longer – to the previous October’s one-off gig in Leamington Spa (made available on 2012’s Love & Endings CD/DVD set), this was quite simply one of the most moving performances I have experienced for many years. And in the best tradition, it’s impossible to define why.

2. Shearwater – Bristol, Fleece, 25 November
My first opportunity to see them live and they were truly magnificent. I did wonder whether this would pip No-Man to the best of the year but objective hindsight reinforced the earlier show as my highpoint of the year.

3. Peter Gabriel – Hop Farm Festival, Kent, 29 June
Really only included as it was his only UK appearance of the year and the last chance to see the full orchestral show. I’m no fan of festivals and that was reinforced by a disinterested audience expecting the hits. To his credit, Gabriel failed to pander, but it did mean that the quieter moments were spoiled by chatter and there seemed to be very few people there specifically to see him, which I found odd. A couple of plus points were that this was a rare sunny day in a truly terrible summer and that I’d been led to believe that this festival was one of the better organised, friendlier and less corporate on the circuit, and that did seem the case.


Peter Gabriel not bringing his ‘Back To Front’ tour of the So album to Europe? This has been made up for by the announcement of 2013’s gigs.

Field Music not winning the Mercury prize, having been nominated? Such things don’t really bother me.

So it’s probably got to be the Steve Hackett Genesis Revisited II project. I mean, what was the point? For the first time since 1983, I am giving the associated tour a miss. Do I really want to hear an otherwise excellent drummer massacring many of my favourite songs of all time in a cabaret-style? There are a few worthwhile moments on the album such as Steven Wilson’s contribution (biased, me? Actually, I’m not a huge fan of his vocals but his take on Can-Utility works well) and those from Jakko Jakszyk and Steve Rothery, but they are outweighed by the less notable, including some I was looking forward to (Simon Collins’s and Nik Kershaw’s, for instance). I know that Hackett has endeavoured to clarify that the decision to keep the tracks close to the originals – unlike what he did with much of the first volume – but update them sonically was deliberate. But if I want to hear these tracks, am I really going to reach for this set, with frequently poor, sub-tr*b*te band, vocals, rather than the originals?


Steven Wilson – Get All You Deserve
A rare instance of a DVD which, having watched once, I immediately wanted to see again. Although from the second leg of the tour (which I didn’t see as he opted for an unreserved standing London gig) with a slightly different set, it still acts as a wonderful memento of my second favourite gig of 2011. As well as being incredibly well filmed, it is simply the quality of the performance and material which sets this apart. As usual with Wilson, the deluxe set comes with audio discs for further enjoyment without the visuals.

Peter Gabriel – Live in Athens 1987
Part of the So box set, this gig finally gets a DVD release in a beautifully restored and enhanced version.

Marillion – Holidays In Zelande discs 2, 3, 4 & 5: Saturday & Sunday
Final parts of the record of the 2011 convention.           


Shearwater – ‘Insolence’

Steve Thorne – ‘Moth To Flame’

Anthony Phillips – ‘Under The Infinite Sky’ (from Seventh Heaven)


Marillion – Sounds That Can’t Be Made. An otherwise inconsistent album (excellent in parts) is improved by its cover art and another lovingly put-together deluxe package. It further benefits from the employment of a number of artists, rather than the single one as on the preceding Happiness Is The Road album. The disparate styles for different tracks does not impede the overall flow. If anything, they mirror the album’s sonic roller coaster. The album is never bad (other than lyrically in places); just not as consistent as we should expect.

I’m not sure there has been anything especially notable – for me at least. Picking reissue packages, as attractive as many of these have been, does seem somewhat <ahem> regressive. The one day of the Summer’s End festival I attended was notable for the Cryptic Clues (aka Twelfth Night) performance, but this was tinged with sadness at what seems to be basically the end of the band, especially in light of vocalist Andy Sears’ recent – and rather guarded – comments. And the rest of the acts of the bill were largely uninspiring or just plain awful in one way or another. [I guess I must have enjoyed some of them more than you did! Ed]


Steven Wilson solo album and tour

Peter Gabriel European ‘Back to Front’ shows

David Rhodes – Rhodes
Taking his live project with Gabriel colleague Ged Lynch on drums and Robert Plant’s son-in-law Charlie Jones on bass into the studio, this release is being funded using the Marillion model of “pledging”, now an entirely common affair with its own dedicated website for use by artists. It did look for a while as though it wouldn’t reach its target but fortunately did so just prior to its self-imposed deadline. After my initial disappointment with Rhodes’ Bittersweet album, the tasters for this one which those who have pledged have been able to d*wnl**d, augur well.

Marillion Weekend
These biennial events provide three nights of entirely different music. The first of these see the rendition of a complete album from their back catalogue. A trend by so many artists of which I am now thoroughly tired, the way Marillion weld this into these events alongside so much other music excuses this for me. And this time around I understand that a second album is being performed: 1994’s Brave, which remains my second favourite album of all time.


Andy Read’s DPRP Progressive Rock and Metal Radio Show can be heard on Stroud FM 107.9 every Monday between 10pm and midnight.

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