Marillion takes the long road to ‘Happiness,’ Part 4

By  Bryan Reesman

Identity confusion

Marillion’s Web site (www.marillion.com) emphatically states that the band is not who you think they are.

That seems like an accurate explanatory statement given its media perception. After all, the quintet began life as a neo-progressive band in the early ’80s, morphed into a more atmospheric group by the end of the decade, delved into a wider array of rock sounds by the late ’90s and has since continued mining diverse musical territory.

“I guess being around for so many years we’ve got a lot of baggage and a lot of misconceptions about the band, and the last thing that these people do, who have an opinion about Marillion or who think they know what Marillion are, is listen to the music,” asserted Kelly. “It was our way of saying to people, ‘Have a listen to the music first before you say what you think we do or have a listen before you make your mind up.’”

“They nearly always think we’re heavy metal — because of the way we were marketed in Kerrang! in the early ’80s — or some kind of Scottish folk band,” stressed Trewavas. “I don’t know what people think we are, but we’re not. Everyone who likes Radiohead, Coldplay and Pink Floyd would like what we do. And yet no one knows about us. Whenever people do find out about us, it’s like, ‘Wow! I’ve just heard you guys, and what I’ve been hearing is amazing. I’ve got to get all your records!’ We get e-mails like that. People say, ‘How come I didn’t know about you guys before? You guys are awesome!’ I don’t know, but it’s very frustrating.”

“I think what tends to get missed is that we’re a soul band,” believed Hogarth. “Everyone hammers us into the progressive-rock box that they feel that we belong in, but there’s very little soul in progressive-rock music. And there’s very little else but soul in what I do personally. If [you think] we’re a progressive-rock band, you’ve missed an awful lot of what we do. I guess that’s partly it. I’d say were spiritual at least. We have more in common with Marvin Gaye than we have with Jon Anderson or Phil Collins. We’re spiritual. Nobody looks at What’s Going On as a progressive-rock album, but it was. It was a very progressive piece of work from start to finish. This obsession always with the color of your skin or the length of your songs, and therefore what box you should go in, I find really frustrating as an artist. I refuse to work within those genre walls. I think that’s why we’re misunderstood.”

But Marillion’s devout disciples completely understand them, and that in turn has inspired them.

“I think because we’ve gone the way we’ve gone that the fan base has become closer to us and has become more like a family, and it has affected the art,” asserted Hogarth. “I can’t really explain it, but [we’re] warmer spiritually. When I open my mouth at the beginning of ‘Happiness Is The Road,’ and I say that ‘people here [are] full of love and comfortable in themselves,’ I’m talking about the people in front of me [at our shows].”

Frank Zappa once joked that an artist needed to write hit singles to sucker people in to listening to the weird stuff on their album. “That’s absolutely true,” concurred Hogarth, adding with a laugh: “Unfortunately he didn’t write enough hit singles, and neither did we!”

Not that Marillion fans seem to care. They’re going along for the ride.

“We’re impossible to pin down,” declared Rothery. “I think there are all these different elements within the band, and it varies from song to song, never mind from album to album. I think that’s one of the things that keeps it interesting — people don’t know quite what they’re going to get from a new Marillion album, but they know it’s something that they’re going to enjoy.”

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