It’s become a tradition on the Marillion calendar that the band play a handful of dates just before Christmas across Europe. This year they kicked off the tour to a sold out crowd in Leamington. It has been over three years since the band last played The Assembly, when they held their 2011 convention here and with the band only playing a handful of festival dates in 2014 there was a definite buzz of anticipation in the air. The loyal fans waited patiently outside on the chilly streets in an excited queue that snaked all around the building and were keen to get in out of the cold and into the warmth of The Assembly for an evening of worship at the Church of Marillion.
First up was the support Luke Jackson a young singer/songwriter who was nominated in 2013 in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards for both the Horizon Award for Best Emerging Talent and The Young Folk Category. Playing songs from his new album “Fumes and Faith” the Marillion fans seemed captivated by his stage presence, his mixture of acoustic guitar melodies and distinctive voice. The voice which you would expect to hear from someone far older, warmed the audience up perfectly for what they had come to see.
Marillion took to the stage just before 9 and the crowd erupted, if the band were suffering from first night nerves it didn’t show as front man Steve Hogarth “h” mesmerised the crowd skipping around the stage with a grin from ear to ear. He was wearing a long black frock jacket and a t-shirt with an inverted statue of liberty on the front. The band launched into ‘Gazpacho’ a full on number with a guitar riff that instantly got the fans worked up into a frenzy. After this ‘h’ grabbed his trademark midi cricket bat as the band played ‘The Uninvited Guest’ a Marillion classic, which had the crowd singing along in fine voice before following this up with ‘Power’ taken from their latest offering Sounds That Can’t Be Made.
Hogarth chatted to the crowd throughout the show announcing ‘it was great to be back in front of you’ and the entire band were visibly enjoying themselves as much as the audience. There was plenty of onstage banter between the front row of Pete Trewavas, Steve Rothery & h, while behind them Ian Mosley & Mark Kelly seemed to have everything calmly under control.
The band treated the audience to several tracks from their vast back catalogue by dusting off some songs that don’t get preformed all that often which the crowd welcomed. From ‘Warm Wet Circles’ through to a couple of tracks from the ‘Seasons End’ album and then beyond to ‘Man of a Thousand Faces’ before ending the set with the epic track ‘King’ from Afraid Of Sunlight which came to a end with a volume that always stuns the crowd (think of Spinal Tap turning everything up to 11 + then add some…………….)
Whenever I have seen Marillion ‘h’ always gives an animated performance captivating the audience effortlessly, tonight was no exception. At the point when Rothery launched into the note perfect guitar solo in ‘Easter’ ‘h’ hugged his microphone stand (decorated with his various pieces of percussion which hung from it like a ladies earring), seemingly lost in the moment as too were the audience as if the music could transport you somewhere else. For each year of the last decade, Marillion have released a Christmas track to fan club members which is a cover of a well known Christmas ditty and this year they have compiled all the tracks into one CD with some of the proceeds going to the Teenage Cancer Trust.
It was no surprise that the band returned to the stage to take their first encore in a highly festive mood with ‘h’ in a black waistcoat decorated with Christmas lights. As the band broke into the ‘Christmas Song’ — snow began to fall from above with the first few rows being covered in a light dusting. This was then followed up by John Lennon’s ‘Happy Xmas (War is Over)’ which left everyone feeling a little more Christmassy and slightly damp from the snow.The second encore which closed the show was ‘The Release’ and they finished on a high with ‘Cannibal Surf Babe’ which left the crowd in a state of euphoria. Anyone who share that experience went out into the cold December night feeling a little warmer inside I’m sure.
It is often written that Marillion is one of the best kept secrets in the music industry and this still amazes me. When they put on a performance like they did tonight, they truly connect with their audience in a way in which I have rarely seen other bands achieve. Looking around the room tonight there seemed to be a feeling that everyone had just been part of something very special for the last two hours.
With many of the band members working on solo projects, “h” with his solo shows as well as releasing two volumes of his diaries covering his time with the band. Steve Rothery, who has just launched and toured his album ‘Ghosts of the Pripyat’ and Pete Trewavas’ continued work with both ‘Transatlantic’ & ‘Edison’s Child’ you might think that the band would struggle to find the time to get together. But, with conventions next year in Canada, the Netherlands and the UK as well as writing material for their forthcoming album — 2015 is going to be another busy and entertaining year for Marillion.
Review: Stuart Bilsland
Photographs : Stephanie Colledge