Marillion takes the long road to ‘Happiness,’ Part 3

By  Bryan Reesman

Marillion, in the late '80s, was under record-label pressure to come up with a hit single, and 1991's

Marillion, in the late ’80s, was under record-label pressure to come up with a hit single, and 1991’s “Holidays In Eden” album remains, perhaps, the band’s most pop-oriented album. (Neils Van Iperen)
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While Marillion is in full control of its destiny now, the band never got much record company interference in the past.

“We’ve always been in control in a way,” confirmed Mosley. “We’ve always done exactly what we wanted, even in the early days when we were signed to EMI.”

That did not necessarily please the suits back then, who threatened to drop the band if Misplaced Childhood flopped.

“I do remember going in to write after Fugazi, and the record company calling us and saying, ‘How’s it going? How’s the first song going?’” recalled Mosley. “I remember saying, ‘It’s going great. It’s 20 minutes long.’ They were just pulling their hair out.”

There was an exception. Even though the first Steve Hogarth-era album, Seasons End, was well-received upon its 1989 release, the label wanted more.

“We were under immense pressure from the record company and producers to come up with a hit single, and the more we tried to write a hit, the worse it got,” recalled Mosley. “In the end, we tore the paper that we were writing on and started again and just went back to doing whatever we felt.”

Ironically, 1991’s Holidays In Eden remains the band’s most pop-oriented album; it contains some very strong tracks, like “This Town,” the title track, and the U2-ish “Cover My Eyes (Pain And Heaven).” Mosley recalled how many of the songs had a rough-and-ready, Who-like quality that became polished during the making of the album.

“Saying that, I think Chris Neill did a great job actually,” said Mosley. “I still really like ‘No One Can.’ I think that’s a really good song. I know a lot of fans don’t like it because it’s only in 4/4 and it’s only three minutes long, but I just think it’s a really good song.”

When asked how many hard-core prog fans still listen to Marillion, the drummer replied, “I don’t know. I still don’t know what prog is. When I think of prog, I think of dancing dwarves and Stonehenge. I’ve always liked music with movements [like in classical music], rather than sticking to verse-chorus-middle eight. I like it when music, whether it’s a minute long or 20 minutes long, is written in movements. As far as progressive fans, I don’t know. I think maybe we lost quite a few because we tend not to go for the full prog 9/8s and lyrics about fairies, but I might be completely wrong. I always think there’s good music and bad music, whether it’s prog, metal, or whatever.”

A few years ago, vocalist Steve Hogarth told the BBC News, “We’re going to be richer than we’ve ever been once the music industry stops existing.”

“We’re certainly no worse off as individuals,” Hogarth confirmed. “We’re not millionaires, but I would stand by that. We’ve gone from selling in excess of half a million records quite routinely when I joined the band to, on this album, selling just under 50,000. It’s still in the early stages of release, but the figures are an absolute fraction of what they used to be. Yet we’re making the same, if not slightly more, money than we did back then. We’re getting an infinitely bigger cut.”

“We’re no longer giving away 20 percent of our income to a manager,” added the singer. “We’re no longer giving away 20 percent of our live income to an agent. We’ve wised up. So as we’ve used less and less of the music business, we have become wealthier.”

Hogarth believed that without the Internet, the band’s career would have come to a halt, with indie labels not giving them the necessary support, which would have resulted in CD sales slipping and further alienation from their fans.

“Going the way we’ve gone, we’ve been able to allocate our own marketing budgets, so it’s up to us,” stated Hogarth. “We make all those decisions, so if it costs money, we can make a decision about spending it. We know we’re not being lied to. So there’s a great freedom in knowing what you say you’re going to do is going to happen.”

While there is great freedom in the Marillion camp now, it also comes with great responsibility.

“Sometimes you have to make hard decisions,” noted Trewavas. “Now that we’re on our own record company and managers, we’ll have discussions with ourselves and start quoting things that people in record companies used to say to us. One of us will come out with one of those classic things. ‘We’re sounding just like the guys that we used to hate at EMI!’ But you have to be levelheaded, otherwise there’s no point. It wouldn’t do us or our fans any good if we suddenly went out of business because we made some stupid decision. We have to look at the harsh realities of the modern world.”

One reality is that despite all its achievements since the late ’80s, the media usually tends to think of Marillion as an ’80s prog band and recalls its original frontman and wordsmith Fish, who has since launched a steady solo career.

While the current Marillion team is quite pleased with its lineup, evolution and catalog (which is more than double that of what they did with Fish), Rothery, Trewavas, Kelly and Mosley did join their former frontman onstage for one song, “Market Square Heroes,” at the place where the tune was inspired, Aylesbury Market Square, in 2007. It was the first single the group ever released together, and Fish wanted his old mates to join him for that number.

“We just went on and played that one track, but it wasn’t good,” admitted Mosley. “It was quite weird. It was a bit like sleeping with an ex-wife, not that I ever have.”

Kelly said no huge fuss was made about it, nor did it fan the flames of reunion that so many Fish-era fans long for. Trewavas hoped it would kill off reunion rumors, but the news quickly made it to the BBC’s Web site.

While the group retains a good friendship with Fish, its members are happy with their path. While a possible Fish and Marillion tour has been discussed, in terms of them touring separately but together, it has never materialized.

“I don’t think anybody is totally opposed to the idea, but the circumstances would have to be right,” said Kelly. “We would like to feel that it was beneficial to both sides, and that it wasn’t just some sort of moneymaking exercise.”

Stay tuned for Part 3!

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