Seeking inspiration. Excuse me while I switch on the lava lamp. There.
This is a tale of giving colour to somebody who has only ever seen in black and white.
Hello. You don’t know me, and well, there isn’t much to know. Am I a Marillion fan? Hell, no. I wouldn?t stick out my neck that far for anything or anyone, I’d only get labelled, heckled, discouraged. This fan stuff is for geeks, saddos without lives, nerdy types who inhabit chat rooms and conventions as a poor substitute for reality. Trekkies, City supporters, Tolkeinites, computer gamers and band followers, they’re all the same, right?
Me, then. I got into Marillion when a mate of mine (Hugh, if you?re out there, give us a wave) came into school one Monday morning with a triumphant look in his eyes and a cassette tape in his hand. We were – what – sixteen at the time? Anyway, the tape. It was Tommy Vance, the Friday Rock Show on Radio One (which I regularly missed, my mind not being the sharpest in the pack), extolling the virtues of this new band. He played Market Square Heroes (which I quite liked), Three Boats Down From The Candy (which, sorry, was not the most impressive debut) and Forgotten Sons, which blew my already challenged mind. I taped the album when it came out (Bought it? You?re joking, aren’t you? What kind of a rich schoolboy do you think I was?), and the rest is eighteen years of consistently solid listening history interspersed with a couple of concert attendances.
There you have it.
Then, in 1999, I joined the Marillion fan club, The Web. Why? Had I finally got round to it/wanted (belatedly) to be on the cover of Marillion.com/been fed up too often with only hearing about tours after the event/felt an inner sense of yearning that could not be met by conventional means? Who can say. Maybe I just fancied something new. Having made the decision, however, I was determined that the passivity would be resigned to the past! Watch out, Web world, Here I come!
So I lurked.
I hid. I read the news, followed the mailing lists, listened in to the online chat. So much for the great arrival. This went on for a year or so, until, somehow, I managed to get tickets for an exclusive gig at the Bass museum. I remember that, at the time, it was very important for me to keep dialling, redialling, tri-dialling on two land lines and a mobile phone. Try that one, Anneka. All went quiet for a few weeks, and then the day came. I found myself curiously at peace as I drove up from Gloucestershire, listening to Made Again to get me into the “live” mood. I expected heavy traffic but found none, I was sure I would get lost but the museum was signposted from the outskirts of Burton. No petrol problems, no floods, all was serene as I found myself in the Bass Museum car park. The entrance beckoned so I wandered inside and asked the first person I saw whether I could get a drink. Another chap escorted me down alleyways and through a room one corner of which was packed full of keyboards, drum kits and other musical paraphenalia. Steve Hogarth was sitting in the middle of it all, picking out some notes as a couple of guys snapped pictures. I kept walking, passing Mark Kelly in the corridor. Then a door shut behind me and I was in the bar. I ordered a drink and slumped down in a chair, murmuring feeble comments like “hang on, wasn’t that…”
An hour later I was queuing, meeting fans who had attended over a hundred events, who discussed each track on every album like they would talk about old friends. “How many concerts had I attended?” I was asked. “Well, three, or is that two…” I stuttered. Maybe I should have left then, while there was still time, I should have returned to my CD collection and stadium-effect stereo system, listening to it loud with the lights off, a cup of Horlicks and a comfy cushion to ease my back. But then the gate opened and we moved through. As I glanced back, I could make out a drizzle-soaked sign in the dark. “No Exit,” it said. I could only go on.
We went in, we ate and we drank, we listened to music. Sure, occasional mistakes were made, intros were missed and timings misjudged but it all added to the reality of it all, the honesty of it all. Here were a bunch of chaps making music together as amicably and as easily as if it had been in one of their front rooms, or mine. The set list was old, new and borrowed songs and arrangements, a couple of jams and the requisite number of encores ? only this seemed out of place as it reminded me that this was a concert, these were musicians and I was in the audience. It was over all too soon, eighteen songs then the lights went up and it could have been time to leave, but I didn’t want to go. It was as if a curtain had been removed from my eyes as the music played, unpicked and unravelled. My drowse had gone, I was waking.
I was staggered by the simplicity of it all. Here were some people, making music. Here were some others, enjoying the music. The band members were being fed by the applause, grinning and delighting in providing its source. The audience delighted in the music, in the closeness, the reality, the honesty. There was no hidden devices, smoke or mirrors, this was people, interacting and having a ball.
I was sold. I walked into the bar with open eyes, ready for action. I bought a drink and turned to see Mark Kelly, looking much the same as he had looked not five minutes before. Well of course he did, he was Mark Kelly. I thrust a scrap of paper and a pen at him. Pete Trewavas was leaning against a table, chatting. Thrust. I started to ask a question, and then Ian Mosley appeared at the doorway. Sorry Pete – thrust. What was I doing ? interrupting one idol to snatch two seconds of handwriting from another? I apologised, then out came Steve Rothery. Thrust. H. Thrust. As I did so I realised what I was doing. Just a bunch of guys, eh? People interacting, eh? Nah. This was idolatry, pure and simple. I stopped and asked H a question – advice for a budding singer? He answered. I answered. We talked about Christmas carols, and as we did things returned to how they should be. A queue of thrusters appeared around me so I backed away, gracefully, returning to Pete and determined to have a real conversation.
Which I did. After a while I went over to Mark and discussed life, British Home Stores and everything for what could have appeared an unseemly long time, but it wasn’t. It was just a chat with a guy in a bar. I’d love to meet him again, and maybe one day I will.
The towels were on the pumps and the organisers were starting to look shifty so I figured it was time to leave. As I drove home I listened to Made Again for a while, only this time it was different – as I heard the keyboards, I thought, “that’s Mark,” and each guitar solo was played by a hand I had shaken not an hour before. Eventually I turned the music off and left myself to my memories of a remarkable evening.
I’ve missed out a few bits and bobs here and there. There was the trip to the States which clashed with the museum gig, but which was cancelled at the last minute, there was the excellent company of Dave, Max and the many others, there was the speed camera flashing on the way out of Burton-on-Trent, but I have bored you enough. At the Bass Museum I was reminded that music was not about CDs and covers, merchandise and marketing, corporations and egos. Even with a band as renowned and as popular as Marillion it could still be a deeply personal experience for all parties. Maybe it was all put on, but I have heard enough opinions of the band and its following to convince me otherwise. I sensed a feeling of community, something which (it is claimed) is so sadly lacking “in this day and age.” Am I a Marillion fan? Who cares. Will I be back the next time? You bet.