Picking up an award at the 2019 Progressive Music Awards for ‘Best Reissue’, Marillion’s ‘Clutching at Straws’ remains a masterwork of the genre. Released in 1987, the set was their final album with Fish, and for some – including guitarist Steve Rothery – it ranks among their finest works. We sat down with Steve at the bash in London to discuss the set, and hear how he “left the band for 24 hours” during its recording. Just for the record; Eamon O’Neill
Hi Steve, how has your evening at the Prog Awards been?
Great, yeah! It’s always a nice occasion this, to catch up with friends and people in the industry, and other bands, and yeah, it’s been great to win an award!
You’re ‘clutching’ the Best Reissue award for what is probably one of the highlights of your early career; ‘Clutching At Straws’.
I think so. I think it’s probably my favourite album from the Fish years. I think we’ve created a great version of it, and the way the Ultimate Version turned out, all the hard work, and Avril [Mackintosh]’s remixes, I think are outstanding; the box set; the whole package, really. You try and make it as good as you can make it really, because this will be how the album is remembered for a long time.
Speaking of hard work, the album was famously created amid a lot of friction.
It was a very difficult album. I left the band for 24 hours during the recording of it. There was a big argument between Fish and myself, and yeah, that was it; I was out of the band as far as I was concerned. It kind of blew over, but yeah, it was a difficult album.
Was that over a creative aspect?
It’s ancient history, but it was difference of opinion fuelled by maybe too much partying.
The album, for a lot of people, is the defining one of the Fish era, more so than even the preceding ‘Misplaced Childhood’.
I would say so. I think we’d kind of reached a plateau artistically, and although it wasn’t an easy to make album; I just played it last weekend with my solo band, and it’s a great album to play; there are so many highlights from it.
From a guitar player’s point of view, it starts off beautifully, with the whammy bar action of ‘Hotel Hobbies’.
Yeah, it’s great fun to play. There’s a lot of passion, and a lot of energy. There’s a bit of whammy bar action on there; a bit of dive bombing. But I mean it was the eighties; what can you say?
On the other side of things, there’s the subtle and sombre ‘Going Under’, which mainly features only you and Fish.
Yeah, pretty much, with a few little keyboard noises and some midi-guitar on there actually. It’s the track that I had a midi guitar and an Akai sound processor on, so a lot of the stuff that you hear that you think is keyboards, it was actually played on midi guitar.
So it was an experimental album for you?
Yeah, pretty much. I’d just got my twelve-string acoustic, so you hear that on the choruses of ‘Warm Wet Circles’, so it was different textures, and it was quite adventurous in some ways.
There’s also what many consider to be your defining guitar solo, on ‘Sugar Mice’.
Yes. Well, that was actually part of the argument! As I say it’s ancient history, but I didn’t like the engineer that [producer] Chris Kimsey had chosen to work with for the second stage of the album, and I sort of said as much, and then he criticized my guitar playing on the record and then I went out and played the ‘Sugar Mice’ solo.
Does a solo like that stick out in your mind for those reasons, or is it just another piece in your catalogue?
It’s fantastic to play live; there is a lot of passion, a lot of melody in it, but you know, we’ve made so many records now, and I’ve had so many opportunities to kind of do that, that it’s hard to pick out, sort of favourites. But, it’s a lovely song.
Is it nice to have a solo band that afford you the opportunity to go out and perform older material that you’d find difficult to fit into a Marillion set?
Yeah, it’s a celebration. It’s like forty years of Marillion this year for me, so to be able to encapsulate all that. [*Looks over at Steve Hogarth being interviewed separately nearby*] I’d better keep my voice down, but we even played ‘Grendel’ recently! It was probably actually the best version of Grendel that’s ever been played… at least by me!
So you finally caved in and performed ‘Grendel’!
Yeah, but I did quite a drastic edit. There’s a section in ‘Grendel’ that I really don’t like - the first pick up section after the heavy intro chords - and I chopped that out. It’s still twelve minutes long, so nobody’s going to feel short changed. It’s on YouTube actually, if anybody’s curious, but yeah, it was a lot of fun to play.
More recently, and Marillion have had a fantastic resurgence in the last few years.
It is really. I mean, ‘Sounds That Can’t Be Made’  started the trend, and then ‘F.E.A.R’  even more so, and then the Royal Albert Hall DVD and Blu Ray [‘All One Tonight’ 2018] has done incredibly well.
It must feel extremely validating, after all this time.
Yes, it’s good. It’s like a real resurgence in the band’s fortunes.
Looking forward, and what can fans expect from the band’s return to the Royal Albert Hall coming in November?
Well, a different set, obviously, but if you’ve watched the Royal Albert Hall DVD you’ll get an idea of the sort of chemistry we have with the string players. But yeah, some great versions, some great arrangements, and some very powerful, epic Marillion tracks.
Will the focus be off the ‘F.E.A.R’ album this time around?
Yeah, you can be more sort of diverse, I suppose, in terms of choosing your set, and just choose songs that work so well with the string quartet and wind players. Yeah, it’s going to be something very special.
Is it difficult choosing the set list for a show like that?
Well, we sort of usually agree, and 85% of the time we will all agree on the tracks that we would like to do. The rest is just a bun fight, I suppose!
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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