Marillion - With Friends From The Orchestra
In October 2017, Marillion played the Royal Albert Hall in London. This was a very special event for both the band and its fans, and I was lucky enough to attend. During the second half of the set, there was a string quartet called In Praise Of Folly, a French horn player (Sam Morris) and a flute player (Emma Halnan). The performance was such a great success that the band decided to do a tour in late 2019 and play a few elegant venues including two nights at the Royal Albert Hall again.
This is not a new Marillion studio album. The band have not released an album of new music since September 2016, so this is what is known in the music industry as a stopgap. It is a way to give us some new music while we wait for them to write and record the next studio album. The band are not as prolific as they used to be, and the next album is hopefully due sometime during the next five years. For this album (a compilation really) they have re-released some old music but with some new orchestral arrangements by Marillion’s producer Michael Hunter. The album contains nine songs and has a running time of seventy-nine minutes.
“Estonia” is from the ‘This Strange Engine’ released in 1997. It was released as a video on September 30th, 2019 (my 41st birthday) when album was announced and available to preorder. It is a very sad song, but I have always loved it and the strings add a new dimension.
“A Collection” is a b-side from the ‘Holidays In Eden’ era. Lyrically it is quite disturbing (a man has lots of pictures of a woman) but is a delicate beautiful song with the strings and acoustic guitar giving it an Americana folk and country vibe. You could imagine this song being played on acoustic guitar and fiddle sitting around the campfire.
“Fantastic Place” is from my favourite Marillion album ‘Marbles’, released in 2004. The synth strings and pads on the original album are replaced by real strings and some lovely little flute interludes.
“Beyond You” from the ‘Afraid Of Sunlight’ album of 1995 (which at the time of writing has just been re-released in a deluxe edition). This is another favourite album of mine and this song is one of the best on that album. Another stunning example of how synth strings and pads are enhanced by the real thing. I love the little piano flourishes and the chorus is magical.
“This Strange Engine” is the title song from the ‘This Strange Engine’ album. It is considered one of the finest Marillion songs and always a live favourite. I find that the strings are a bit more subtle on this song and this makes it one of the best on album.
“The Hollow Man” from the ‘Brave’ album is not an album I play very often, and this is one of my most disliked songs on that album. I prefer this new version as the other version had just piano and voice throughout most of the song. The strings have given a new lease of life that it never had but the guitar solo is still delicate and wonderful.
“The Sky Above The Rain” is from ’Sounds That Can’t Be Made’. This is one of my favourites on the album and another song where the strings do not overpower the other instruments but add an extra layer.
“Seasons End” is the title track from the album of 1989. This is another song where the strings and flute meld effortlessly with the keyboards and guitars. I don’t know how Steve Rothery gets that guitar arpeggio to sound like that every time he plays it, but he is a master of delay, chorus and reverb (among many other effects). The guitar solo and the final three minutes of this song are stunning.
“Ocean Cloud” is the second song from ‘Marbles’ and the last song on the compilation. The band have not played it live very often but it has been played flawlessly the three times I have seen it. This new version is superb but doesn’t add anything too different to an already amazing song as the orchestral parts are far more subtle than on other songs. Listen out for a little Irish bit about half-way through.
The problem with orchestral arrangements mixed in with rock and pop songs is the saying - instant epic, just add strings. I have got used to hearing the songs for so long that it feels unusual to hear them with orchestral elements. That is not to say it ruins the songs, far from it, it just gives it a new and different sound and you can still hear the original keyboard parts. It is a far better album than Metallica’s S&M for example (apart from Enter Sandman, i thought that album was rubbish). Marillion have always been quite an orchestral and classical influenced band in their use of synthesizers and guitars. While this is not an album I will play regularly and will never replace the original versions, it is a collection of very fine arrangements, a very nice addition to the back catalogue and a wonderful souvenir of the upcoming tour.