Preparing for a fresh round of activity with a U.K. tour with orchestra that includes two nights at the Royal Albert Hall, Marillion have everything to be optimistic about. There’s also the ongoing reissues series that next sees 1995 fan favourite ‘Afraid of Sunlight’ getting the expanded treatment. We caught up with front man Steve Hogarth at the Prog Awards in London, for a chat about the set, and their return to the scene of their greatest triumph. Born in nineteen sixty weird; Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Steve, Marillion have just picked up the award for ‘Best Reissue’ for ‘Clutching at Straws’, which was obviously before your time with the band.
I was just very very happy for the boys. You know, everybody’s gone to a lot of work to make these reissues a bit special, and it’s great that that’s been recognised. Shame it wasn’t for ‘Brave’.
Following on in that series, you’ve just announced that you’re currently working on the deluxe reissue of ‘Afraid of Sunlight’.
Well, ‘Afraid of Sunlight’ is another thing because, the masters for ‘Afraid of Sunlight’ were lost. They got put in a skip when the studio where we mixed it – Bar Street in Liverpool – kind of went out of business. So when we came to look at the process of remixing, remastering, the 5.1 and all of that, the source material didn’t exist. Our genius producer Michael Hunter went in the loft in our own recording studio and started digging out all the original DAT tapes that the initial recordings had gone on, and trawling through them to try and find out which takes had been used, and he physically recreated the album from basically shit off the floor. So it’s nothing short of a miracle that he managed to do that.
It’s one of those albums that is now firmly established as a fan-favourite.
Yeah, and rightly so. I think it’s one of the best things we ever did. It’s right up there.
It was released at a difficult for the band, when you were asked to ‘rush’ an album out following the disappointing commercial performance of ‘Brave’.
Yeah, and EMI didn’t really want to make that record for us. They wanted to let us go, and our manager twisted their arm and said; “what if they did it quick and cheap?” And blah blah blah. So they agreed to do it, so I guess the pressure was on to make it quickly, and ironically, it’s one of our better pieces of work.
Though not a concept album, there is a thread running through the album, concerning the breakdown of fame.
Yeah, all of these people were kind of our radar, that had burned out from their own success, so I could kind of relate to that, because I was under a lot of pressure at the time trying to be a rock star, and that taking its own toll on my own relationships and my own marriage, and my own piece of mind. There were a great many coincidences with, you know, walking onto the stage in Munich [in 1994, at Terminal 1 Flughafen] immediately after Kurt Cobain had taken his own life. I was the first person to walk into the centre mic at the same gig which had been Nirvana’s last gig; all of those things imprint on your mind and they make you think. And O.J. with his public meltdown, and Mike Tyson being done for rape… it goes on and on.
For an album that was rushed, there’s so much depth on it, not least with ‘Out of This World’, which was about Donald Campbell and the Bluebird tragedy.
I wrote those words many, many years ago even before I met or joined Marillion. I just had a handful of words about the Bluebird, and they were just my recollections of my mother crying when she saw it on the news, and I was sitting there wondering what she was crying about. She explained to me what was going on, and that strange lobster-shaped craft doing a back-flip in the water and a man losing his live, and it never really left me.
It’s a very haunting song.
Dave Meegan, our produce always maintained that song was haunted. Strange things happened in the studio, and it was beset with technical difficulties at every stage. Overdubs kept going missing off the tapes, and even when he came to mix it, things had gone missing. But we had to keep going trying to find them, and it was all full of clicks, and it would drive him up the pole! It was dragged kicking and screaming into the world against its’ own will. It was a strange, strange track.
The song famously led to the Bluebird, and Donald Campbell’s body finally being recovered in 2001.
This guy Bill Smith happened to hear it, and it set a fire inside him, and he went off to Coniston to try and find the Bluebird and also the big man. He found the Bluebird, and then beyond that, I think six months / a year later, found Donald’s body. And I was then invited by Geena, his daughter to sing at the funeral. And the day before the funeral I was sound checking in Coniston church with some equipment because I was going to sing this thing in front of the great and the good, and we went over to the pub, and it was 9/11, and the twin towers were coming down. A very weird time.
For a myriad of reasons, ‘Afraid of Sunlight’ must rank as very special to you.
It’s full of ghosts, it’s really full of ghosts that record. I mean, ‘Brave’ is full of ghosts; those two albums are laden, and riddled with otherworldly things.
Elsewhere on the album, something which I though was unusual was using almost the same set of lyrics on two songs; ‘Afraid of Sunlight’ and ‘Afraid of Sunrise’.
It was quite simple; that’s a product of the way we create. To this day we create that way. The band jam, ideas stem, and most of it’s rubbish. We jam in the studio for forty minutes / an hour every day while we’re writing, I’m on a microphone, I’m looking at words, and I’m waiting for the band to paint a picture that reminds me of what it feels like those words would fit and then I throw them on. And at that point, those words were ‘Afraid of Sunlight’, and ‘Afraid of Sunrise’. They were both the same lyric at the writing stage, and they were married with two very different feeling things.
So you didn’t feel the need to change them for the two separate songs?
We’d got these two completely different pieces of music with the same lyric on them, and the producer Dave Meegan said; “I really want to use both of these”, and I said; “we can’t; they’re the same words”, and he said; “oh well, you go and write different words then”. So I was sent away to write a different verse for what then became ‘Afraid of Sunrise’, and different verses for what then became ‘Afraid of Sunlight’.
John Helmer, who used to send us lyrics, had sent us the basic idea for ‘Afraid of Sunlight’, and so the song had started out as John’s words, but I think more of John’s words were retained in ‘Afraid of Sunrise’, and then I re-wrote the verses for ‘Afraid of Sunlight’ about bees that I had in my own bonnet, as opposed to his.
Looking forward and Marillion are due to return to the Royal Albert Hall, as part of your U.K. tour this November.
Yeah, it’ll be fantastic to go back to that place without my heart in my mouth and my balls up my arse, which is how I felt the first time! We’re not filming it this time, so that lowers the ante slightly as well. Having done it once, of course, and going back, it’ll be more of a ‘well here we are again’ feeling rather than an ‘oh my god!’ feeling, which I had last time. I can guarantee that I won’t relax too much.
Is there less pressure on you this time, given that you’re not promoting a new studio album?
No, I think the pressure last time was the fact that it was that amazing, amazing place, and that we were filming it. This time hopefully, the pressure will feel a bit lower because a) we’re not filming it, and b) we’ve been here before. So we can relax a little more. It’ll be more like a homecoming than an alien experience which perhaps, last time was.
Like this interview? Like us on FaceBook and follow us on Twitter for regular updates & more of the same.
Marillion's 'Afraid of Sunlight' Deluxe Edition arrives on Friday 1st November 2019. For full details, and to pre-order, click here.
Marillion's With Friends From The Orchestra Live 2019 Dates:
Fri 01 Liverpool Philharmonic
Sun 03 Nottingham Royal Concert Hall
Mon 04 Manchester Bridgewater Hall
Wed 06 Birmingham Symphony Hall
Thur 07 Portsmouth Guildhall
Sat 09 Bath The Forum
Sun 10 Oxford New Theatre
Tue 12 Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
Wed 13 Gateshead The Sage
Fri 15 Southend Cliffs Pavilion
Sat 16 Cardiff St David's Hall
Mon 18 London Royal Albert Hall
Tue 19 London Royal Albert Hall