Words by Steve Dunbar || Photos by David Pickles
There is a fantastic atmosphere of anticipation in the air of the Bridgewater Hall tonight. It’s my first ever visit to this 1993 building, which is neither concrete nor steel-framed but is mostly formed from solid, reinforced concrete, moulded and cast like a vast sculpture. This gives it the acoustic ideal of enormous density and mass. Well, let’s hope so.
With a set consisting of 13 songs the band entered the stage- the air was electric since this was their first gig in Manchester since before Covid (it’s 726 days since they played live at the start of this tour at Hull!) and they are always guaranteed a good reception by the Manchester crowd. Tonight was no different – Manchester’s finest were shouting in excitement for about a minute – with the band lapping it up before Steve Hogarth says, “Thank You, and goodnight!” After which they launch into “Sounds That Can’t Be Made” from their 2012 album of the same name – an unusual choice to start with, but it went down extremely well, with Hogarth appreciating the audience. Clearly glad to be back where he belongs – on stage and where he is completely at home.
Next up we hear the opening notes of “King” (from their 1995 album “ Afraid of Sunlight” ) radiate amiably over the audience. A perfect track for both album and live set, the song immediately captivates an expectant crowd. Rothery has never been the flashiest of guitarists; he has never needed to be. The magic he weaves comes from the use of tone, colour, and emotion. Hogarth dedicates this song to Whitney Houston, for no specific reason it would seem, as he shrugged his shoulders as he said this. At the conclusion of the song, the crowd offers rapturous applause.
So next up comes the title track itself “Afraid of Sunlight”. A rather splendid song that is a favourite of mine. Drummer Ian Moseley is redundant at the start of this track as a drum machine starts it off, but it’s not a long enough redundancy to afford him a smoke break as he soon comes in on his “proper” drums.
Hogarth then talks about Covid and how it was difficult to obtain insurance to cover the tour should one of the entourage go down with the dreaded virus. The band introduced a “Light savers” appeal where their fans contribute to a fund and if the tour is cancelled then this money is used to cover costs. Part of the remuneration for this offer of cash from the fans was to have your name in the tour program, be entered in a draw for other prizes, and for one fan on each night of the tour – to have their name mentioned by Hogarth. Tonight’s turn was for Frauke Roberts – but Hogarth was struggling to pronounce that name but the fan was in the room and identified themselves anyway!
Then back comes the drum machine as the hit single “You’re Gone” is played with Hogarth still reaching the highs, even at sixty-something! But Marillion are like a fine wine – they just improve with age.
“Easter” has always been a firm fan favourite and Hogarth tells the idea behind it was regarding the troubles in Northern Ireland but as we were in Manchester he also mentioned the bombing of the Arndale Centre in 1996 at Manchester and said that the song always taps “into something else” when they are in Manchester – referring to this tragedy. This song ends in rapturous applause proving the theory of fan favourite!
The following trilogy of songs from their 1991 “Brave” album were most welcome. First – “Bridge” starts with the sound of lapping water- and in the auditorium the sound balance was that good you could be fooled into thinking you were stood at the riverside in person. “Living with the big lie” followed by “Runaway”- with a sympathetic light show including a piece whereby there were red and blue lights rather like the light bar on a police car – possibly a nod toward the story that the “Brave “ album tells about a suicidal female on the Severn bridge and the involvement of the police.
Now the next number was an absolute treat for fans – a new track from the yet-to-be-released album “An Hour Before It’s Dark”. Hogarth briefly explains that the album would normally coincide with the tour but it has been delayed due to a shortage of cardboard but then proceeds to blame his wife who he says has all the cardboard at home due to her Amazon shopping fetish, much to the humorous delight of the fans. “Be Hard On Yourself” is a nine-and-a-half-minute extravaganza of a song – which if this is anything to go by, then we are in for a treat with a new record next year!
Next, “Berlin”, from Hogarth’s first outing with the band, closely followed by “The Release”, which is a rarely played song, with Hogarth himself commenting that it’s not “something you hear every day”. He then proceeds to do his signature sticking of his guitar plectrum to his forehead!
A quick change of jacket for the next song and Hogarth is now wearing a white tasseled “cowboy” type jacket – something which immediately reminded me of Ozzy in 1978 on the Never Say Die tour!
This change was for the “Marbles” album favourite, “Neverland”, in which Hogarth does his own human echo effect with his voice.
They then finish, and without taking a bow, just leave the stage – indicating it wasn’t all done and dusted yet. Just as anticipated, they reappeared to massive cheers when the long introduction to “Splintering Heart” began. And just when you thought it wasn’t going to make an appearance, Hogarth produces his musical cricket bat for this song.
Things then quieted down somewhat for “Made Again” – the final track from the album Brave – this time done acoustically with Pete Twevathas switching his bass to an acoustic guitar and Rothery also pulling out his acoustic. Hogarth chose to sit cross-legged at the front-center stage for this one, much to the crowd’s delight. Again, that was it and they left the stage to thunderous applause.
No one in the crowd moved – were they coming back or not? That was quickly answered when they came back on and immediately launched into “The Leavers”, a song from their last album, F.E.A.R., which is split into five sections and was incidentally also released as a single, albeit edited.
The song finishes and all of a sudden the reality hits – these guys have been on stage for approximately 2 hours and 10 minutes – but it was over in the blink of an eye. As the crowd disperses after a remarkable concert in a magnificent venue, one thing is clear – whatever your beliefs, when Marillion speaks, it’s time to sit up and listen.