Marillion at Royal Albert Hall, London - 13 th October 2017.
I must admit I was very surprised when I got a Facebook message from one of the Web magazine people asking me if I wanted to write this review for the magazine. It was not something I was expecting but I am very grateful for the opportunity. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I have enjoyed writing it.
Marillion announced the Royal Albert Hall gig in autumn last year and tickets went on sale in early December 2016 coincidentally the day after they played the Kentish Town Forum in London. These went very quickly and I was very anxious to be able to get a ticket but very happy when I got one as I was not bothered where I was sitting so long as I was there. Thanks to a dear friend, I could get an even better seat than I thought.
I would like to dedicate this review to all of you who were there and to those who either couldn’t get a ticket or were unable to attend for various reasons such as travel costs, family and work. You were there with us in spirit and as it is recorded with cameras, you will have a chance to buy the Blu-ray or DVD next year.
Normally a Marillion gig in London would mean the now demolished Astoria or the Forum in Kentish Town so to play at the Royal Albert Hall is something very special indeed and it would be rude of me not to give you a bit of information about the venue.
Opened in 1871 and renovated from 1996-2004, it is along with Sydney Opera House, La Scala in Milan and the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow as one of the finest concert halls in the world. The main auditorium has a capacity of around 5000 seats and hosts about 400 shows a year, including classical, rock and pop concerts (such as David Gilmour, Steven Wilson and many others), ballet, opera but also film screenings, sports such as tennis and award ceremonies.
Arriving in London around 16:30 and after checking into my hotel, I went to a couple of pubs near the hall and saw some of the Marillion family before the concert starts at 19:30. I had a great time talking to many lovely people, some of whom I had never met in person before but others who I had a chance to catch up with. If you have ever been to a Marillion weekend you will know what I mean but sadly this is only for 1 evening and not 3 days. Around 30 countries were represented and many people had travelled great distances to be there including from Canada, USA, Cayman Islands, Vietnam and Zimbabwe and even from as far away from London as Australia and New Zealand.
I take my seat in the auditorium and wait. The lights go down and a cheer goes up. As the band walk onto the stage to the recorded tape of ‘Long-Shadowed Sun’ (the first part of ‘El Dorado’), the cheers turn into a standing ovation before they have even played a note. Mark does his epic synth pad and piano intro on ‘The Gold’ and we all know they are going to be playing the whole of the F.E.A.R album in sequence. Many people have said that it is a bit of a gamble to play the entire album in a venue like this but I am very pleased as it is my third favourite Marillion album after Marbles and Afraid of Sunlight. ‘The Gold’ is a 6-minute piece and the entire band play flawlessly on this. Steve Hogarth had been worrying about his voice for the last few days but he had no reason to worry as he sounded amazing this evening.
This leads us onto ‘Demolished Lives’, a 2-minute section. Pete plays some outstanding bass on this, and it throbs and pulses all around the hall. This leads into part 4 or ‘FEAR’. This is one of the heaviest sections of the song and when h sings ‘You can’t see into my head’ I cannot help but sing along with him with as much intensity as I can muster and I am sure many others were doing so too. Part V is ‘The Grandchildren of Apes’, this is a lovely contrast to the section before and guitarist Steve Rothery plays a beautiful arpeggio on this 2-and-a-half-minute piece which closes the song. There is another standing ovation and the band take a short breather while h talks to the crowd.
Living in Fear is next. The band recently released this 7-minute piano driven song as a single and the cover is up on the screen for most of the song. With a concentric band of colours and the 2 guns rotating, the visuals work perfectly with the song. I can hear everyone is singing along with h especially during the ‘We’re not green, we’re just pleasant’ bit.
Now is time for ‘The Leavers’, this is probably my favourite song on the album and at 19 minutes, one of their longest and most cinematic songs. The first part is ‘Wake Up in Music’. Mark does his arpeggiated intro with gusto. It is not played exactly as it is on the album but that adds to the charm. I have always thought the intro sounded a bit like Tangerine Dream. The drums kick in and you know everyone in the hall is rocking out to this amazing 4-minute song section. As h sings the different cities, you can see the names of the cities on the screen at the same time. I feel it is incredibly moving for fans who have travelled from so many different countries. Part II is slower and shorter but no less. ‘Vapour Trails in The Sky’ is next and with Ian’s drum build-up, Steve Rothery does his riff with emotion. It is a beautiful piece but it is ‘One Tonight’ which metaphorically raises the roof of the hall. The whole song is stunning.
The 7 minutes ‘White Paper’. I have always thought of this as a love song and it sounds beautiful in the hall. The final song of the album is ‘The New Kings’. Along with all the songs played from the album, the visuals are incredible and a lot of credit and acknowledgement must go to the projectionists and to Yenz Nyholm who does the lights. Along with the visuals, I would also like the mention the sound engineering genius of Phil Brown who always does an outstanding job on the mixing desk.
There is yet another standing ovation while the short but lovely ‘Tomorrow’s New Country’ plays over the PA. The band and audience then take a break while we all go to the toilet, the bar and have a chat with our friends and family.
Now is time for the second half of the show. There is an all-female string quartet plus a flute player and a French horn player on stage between Mark and Ian and we wonder what song they are going to play. After the 4 girls play a little interlude, we hear a very familiar intro. It is ‘The Space’ the closing song from the Seasons End album. ‘The Space’ is quite an orchestral song and the strings add a bit of glamour.
‘Afraid of Sunlight’, ‘The Great Escape’ and ‘Easter’ are played next and all three songs sound incredible with the strings added but it is the 1999 song ‘Go!’ that stands out. There are red, blue and green lights all around the hall but when h sings ‘wide awake on the edge of the world’, the entire crowd raises their finger lights into the air. This was originally organised for Leicester earlier in the year but the band and management decided that it should be repeated for the cameras. From where I was, I was looking around the hall and felt an incredible feeling of unity seeing everyone with their lights. I watched a few clips of it online and it still gives me goose-bumps.
‘Man of a Thousand Faces’ is played next. This is one of my favourite acoustic songs and Steve Rothery’s 12-string guitar really shines here. It always has a wonderful build-up towards an epic coda whenever it is played live and on this occasion, it is sounding better than ever.
The band leave the stage for a few minutes to take a break. We are all cheering and waiting for them to return but they always do come back. ‘Waiting to Happen’ from 1991’s ‘Holidays in Eden’ and ‘Neverland’ from 2004’s ‘Marbles’ (my favourite Marillion album) are the encore. The band play Neverland a lot over the last 10 years but it is such a great closer and they can obviously play it in their sleep. I still feel the power in the guitar solo.
‘One Tonight’ is reprised but with confetti cannons flying up into the air. From where I am sitting, I spend most of the song reaching up and grabbing pieces of confetti like I am a contestant on The Crystal Maze.
As the song finishes and the last of the confetti as ended up on the floor, we are all clapping and cheering and give them a final standing ovation (possible the tenth of the evening). The band take a bow with the string quartet and flute and French horn players in a long line of eleven people. There are many photos taken both by the audience and on the stage including one with the band on the video screen behind them. I really hope that is used for the Blu-ray is it looks amazing.
The house lights come up. We all go home with a smile on our face and a joy in our heart but feeling sad that it is over and we have to say goodbye to our many friends but always keeping in touch through Facebook etc. It has been a magical night and I feel very privileged to have been there to see it live and I am looking forward to the Blu-ray very much.