They understand the message but never do anything about it"
Ross Halewood talks to Pete Trewavas
But, over the past couple of years, Marillion have fought tooth and nail to rescue their career from drowning, tapping into the power of the Internet long before Lily Allen and Arctic Monkeys. From organising fan conventions to selling their records through their website before they were recorded, Marillion’s DIY approach at raising their profile was rewarded in 2004 when their devoted following belatedly returned them to the Top 10 singles chart for the first time since 1987.
With a regained enthusiasm that would put your average teenage sensation to shame and the band’s profile at its highest in years, it would have been rather inappropriate to badger Marillion’s bassist Pete Trewavas into telling old road stories. Whilst not on the scale of, say, Take That, Marillion’s Lazarus act has proved there’s more than enough life in the old prog yet.
The new album, ‘Somewhere Else’, has been out for a few weeks now and it’s already gone Top 30. You must be happy with the reaction it has received so far.
“I am, and what’s nice about this album is that all the work and effort we put into the campaign for our last studio album, ‘Marbles’, has paid off. We’re getting more exposure now in magazines, which is usually quite hard because we’re not exactly a brand new band.”
A lot of which, I daresay, has come about on the back of ‘You’re Gone’ going Top 10.
“The success of ‘You’re Gone’ certainly broke down a lot of barriers for us. The Sun even ran a story about it.”
‘Somewhere Else’ is the first Marillion album I have listened to from start to finish in years. Similarly, are you finding that the renewed interest is pulling back a lot of old fans that might have lost touch with Marillion?
“Sure, but there’s also a lot of younger people on board, too, particularly since this is the age of computers, MySpace and what have you. We’re in quite a favourable position at the moment but we always want to do better.”
Did the Internet save Marillion?
“Yes, the net made it viable for us to carry on.
“Our record label was not doing us any favours so we went with a couple of indie labels. However, because we were a well-known band, they didn’t view it as necessary to market our record and our popularity suffered.
“We were such an unhip band that it was considered acceptable for the media to take a dig at but nobody was standing up and speaking out for us. Since Radio 1 and even Radio 2 don’t want to touch us with a bargepole, as we don’t fit their demographics, the Internet allowed us to be in direct contact with our fans.”
Does selling the albums in advance of them actually being recorded pile on immense pressure to come up with the goods?
“You would think so, wouldn’t you? And I thought that when we started asking fans if they would pre-order our albums. But the fans like the fact that they’re involved and it allows us to work without having to think of record companies advising us what they think we should be playing. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves anyway because we’re always trying to better what we’ve done in the past. If you put our albums side by side, there’s a constant change in what we do. Each album seems to be the antidote to the one before it.”
Focussing on the content of ‘Somewhere Else’, a lot of it to me sounds sombre and reflective, as if best listened to in solitude.
“I think a lot of our stuff is introvert and there’s a kind of closeness to the subjects in the way we put our music across. So, maybe you’re right in that it has a late night, isolated feel. But I think ‘Somewhere Else’ has a more energetic, live sound than ‘Marbles’, particularly on ‘The Other Half’ and ‘See It Like A Baby’.”
I feel there’s a certain articulated anger in some of the lyrics.
“One of the new songs, ‘A Voice From The Past’, is about how people go on about the visionaries, such as Ghandi, Martin Luther King and John Lennon. They understand the message but never do anything about it.”
You are actively involved with the ‘Make Poverty History’ campaign, which, sadly, has gone on the backburner as a news story. Since Live 8, those ubiquitous wristbands have gradually disappeared and I fear it will be remembered as little more than a fad.
“I had a feeling it would happen that way but really hoped that this generation could make a difference.”
“Poverty isn’t front page news anymore. Everyone has seen it too many times and I’m as guilty as everyone else. It’s so easy to become blasé and say ‘what can we do about it?’ and ‘even if we tried to help, the aid doesn’t go to those who need it’. But, at the end of the day, you have to be concerned because they are our fellow human beings.
“The papers would rather talk about who has gone into the ‘Big Brother’ house than important issues. It’s good to remind them that all this stuff is going on and has not gone away.
“We’ve got a small voice and, whilst I don’t think it’s right that we should preach, it’s good when people understand what we’re talking about, read up on it and make their own minds up.”
So back to the music, and it doesn’t take long for the sold out Metropolitan University crowd to make their minds up over the set. There is something refreshing about being amongst a crowd of music lovers (and not, for once, haircuts!) who aren’t shouting out for the hits, but rather new songs like ‘The Last Century Of Man’. Indeed, their audience follow Marillion’s forward thinking approach down to the t-shirts, which are mostly from the 2004 ‘Marbles’ tour as opposed to 1984.
This isn’t Saturday night party music and there’s no mass singalongs, just a thousand pairs of ultra-attentive ears; anyone who dares to speak is promptly shushed by those around them.
Conversely, some fans are a little too hardcore for their own good, in particular one girl who says she has attended 103 Marillion gigs. When she asked asked my brother how many he had attended, he replied that it was his first and was given a look of disgust! Bloody casuals.
Still, it’s good to know that Marillion’s and their fans’ collective voice is once again audible in the world of rock.
A note from the ed……
The note below is from the band’s website – an interesting insight into the finances tucked behind the live experience…..
A Note from the Band : No Manchester for Marillion...
Reluctantly, we are not playing Manchester on the Somewhere Else Tour. Our old friend, The Academy, is closed for refurbishment. All the other suitable venues in Manchester have a policy of charging a 25% merchandise commission. Basically this means that if we sell one of OUR tee shirts or CDs (already bought and paid-for by us) to you, (OUR fans) we must pay the VENUE one quarter of the money YOU part with! You might think this is outrageous. You might even wonder how it can be LEGAL and so do we.. Unfortunately, it's rapidly becoming the norm at venues throughout the UK and Europe and we have decided to take a stand against this practice which is really no more than plain extortion.
All venues (quite reasonably) charge artists no-small-amount to hire the place, to provide security for the show, and to cover venue staff and running costs. The venue then takes a ton of YOUR money across the bar on the night and despite the fact that we, the artists, are responsible for the bar being full of thirsty customers, SOME venue owners somehow feel they have an additional right to ask for a hefty slice of artist's tour merchandise!
So we're going to Liverpool instead (it's Liverpool's turn anyway), but we'd love to do both.
We charge £12-15 for our t-shirts and refuse to put the prices up just to cover the merchandise fees which is what has been suggested to us in the past. Why should we make the fans pay? Of course we could put a higher price on the concert tickets but we don’t want to do that either. Why should we be forced to do that? Selling merchandise on tour can often make the difference between an overall loss and an overall profit so we don't want to be forced to give it all away. We've asked for 25% of the bar takings in return but, oddly enough, the venues won't go for that!
Some venues want to charge 20% for t-shirts, 15% for CD’s and a massive 30% for programmes - we don’t understand or accept this concept either.
With us it is a question of the revenue and also of principles. So we're boycotting the gigs who want a merchandise percentage, and we're getting together with other band managers and forums to spearhead a campaign against this practice.