Going for a couple of Burtons

Marillion - A Piss Up In A Brewery

Originally written for the Marillion fanzine "The Rest of Both Worlds".

It was quite a laugh turning up in the Bass Museum to see all the staff unwittingly advertising Bristol's finest, the natty Marillion - Making An Exhibition of Themselves polo shirts seemingly standard issue (although I heard the Web people making sure they knew they had to give them back!). Not that I had anything to do with that (smirk). Having missed the Oswestry shows, also having thoroughly enjoyed the resulting double CD (see ROBW 1), I was just dead chuffed to have a ticket, given the usual dial-up lottery that had predictably ensued on the day of release.

I'm not sure if we were supposed to have a pint in the bar before the gig - perhaps they just took pity on us all standing in the drizzle - but as 6.30 came closer we took a rather large detour around the building to queue and ended up fifty yards from where we'd started, in a smallish, flagstoned hall, with a balcony running around two sides, the instruments of mass seduction tightly arranged on a dais-cum-stage. Gazpacho was obviously not on the menu, although you can give me burger and chips over veggie lasagne any day. (I'd like a slightly shorter wait though!)

The band weren't due on for a couple of hours so, after eating, there was time to chat to a few old friends and enjoy listening to Stuart's Top Tips, including David Gray's imaginative debut album, 'I've Only Got One Song But I Could Murder Some Soft Cell'. Just when the Hipster and I were about to cause permanent damage to the CD player (and after I'd pointed out that I didn't need a notepad as I could read his review first), on strolled ver lads...

...looking very relaxed, and launched into Go! - a neat choice that would feature pretty highly in a poll of the top tracks from marillion.com, if not win outright. Immediately you realise there's something very special about these sort of gigs - the audience hardly into treble figures, the laid-back take on the songs, the enforced choice of more laid-back material indeed, the proximity (and visibility) of the audience to the band encouraging an even tighter rapport. The Hogarth Angel (classic convention t-shirt, lass!) was obviously most relaxed and comfortable - I asked him afterwards if it had helped having recently been out live with his h-band mates and he agreed - and everyone was in good humour, Pete and Rothers sharing a few quips after they couldn't quite decide how to get into the outro of either the opener or After Me, a welcome inclusion that I hadn't heard live for a decade.

The first rearranged rearrangement was Lap Of Luxury (interesting but not perhaps surprising that the band call it this and not Alone Again), with its clipped choruses and sublimely Out Of This World digression and then we were in for a shock. I'm sure you all know by now that they played Cinderella Search, with some slight melodic adjustments, which was all very nice but the Skyline Drifters' offer to come and play the end section for you still stands, lads :-) Still, The Space around these stars is something that we know.

One of the highlights of the evening for me came next - A Collection. I'm not sure I've ever heard this live but boy was it spellbinding! In fact it was so effective that I quite enjoyed Beautiful, although it's not a patch on it's album-mate, Afraid of Sunrise, that followed - can't have enough of seven, me. You get to this sort of point in a gig and a moment's reflection gives the evening an aura; this one was a glorious purple. So much so it was totally natural when h introduced Stephanie Sobey-Jones, petite friend and cellist, who added still deeper colour to the next three tracks...

...Sympathy, Number 1 and Dry Land. The first has almost become the band's own and benefitted still further from Stephanie's contribution; the second, a marvellously acerbic commentary on the female stunt vocalist (h's name-check of Mariah Carey certainly not intended as a conferral of exclusive rights), may not make the forthcoming album but certainly made my evening; the third probably the highlight of the night - a performance that just clicked. If they hadn't been before then from this point on I'm sure there wasn't a person in the room not totally transfixed by the almost magical warmth radiating around that building. And what better to continue with than singalonga-Sugar Mice, clapalonga-Gazpacho and yawnalonga-80 Days. Oops, sorry - I always feel really guilty when I slag that off. I do, honest!

Moving all too swiftly on, h announced the last track of the set, a raucously-accompanied Answering Machine, and the band sauntered off, arms waving. Of course they were soon back, playing with I Saw Her Standing There before introducing us to the surprisingly delightful, if typically bland, Crowded House number, How Will You Go. The assembled masses lapped it up, cheering and clapping their hearts out (do I sound like Stuart Hall?) and continued with the latter most of the way through an energetic Cannibal Surf Babe, after which the band again took their leave.

Hoots of approval greeted Rothers' reappearance as he donned his Gretsch for the first and last time of the evening, leading the way into cover number four - Way Over Yonder, from Carole King's famous Tapestry. And then it was over; the house lights came on; the band mingled; a chance conversation the previous week meant that I just had to go to the after show party (what a shame!); someone found me a ticket for the Friday night; the weather and traffic were terrible; the show was even better than the Thursday; we managed to get them to do a third encore (Let It Be, which they'd been furtively soundchecking); the band escaped the nightclub from hell; I was economical with the truth to some Norwegians...

...and somehow, not only is it not all a blur but, having drunk one at the gig, I still have two bottles of Racket Fuel. They'll keep - I'm off to watch the Bristol derby, hopefully accompanied by a few Smiles...

P.S. Did I say I met Max Rael??