2nd - 4th February 2007
Port Zélande, Ouddorp, The Netherlands
A State Of Happiness
For their fourth convention weekend Marillion had changed their country of choice, moving from the UK to The Netherlands. A smart move, as it seems, as not only was the attendance nearly 25% higher than in previous years, the facilities of Centerparcs Port Zélande were also far superior over either of the two holiday parks in the UK that hosted the previous three convention weekends.
Port Zélande doesn't have a stage big enough to host a Marillion gig, so instead a huge tent was erected in the parking lot, to stage the shows. This gave the band complete control over the stage size (and height!), light show and audio equipment, resulting in the best looking and sounding Marillion gigs in years.
All other activities of the weekend were centred around the so called 'adventure factory' (your typical holiday park bar, video games, bowling and mini golf combination). This is where the afternoon support bands played and the afterparties were held.
Check-in was marked by incredibly long queues, but this was a remarkably good-spirited affair as the queue actually weaved through the bar area, so you could pick up a beer while waiting, and the PA played nothing but Marillion music so there was a great atmosphere right from the get go. And when you finally reached the end of the line the actual check-in was swift and friendly.
The accommodation was heaven when compared to the seedy apartments of the previous conventions in the UK. A well-stocked kitchen provided us everything we needed to cook our own dinner, and at the on-site supermarket all ingredients for a tasty and healthy dinner could be bought at reasonable prices.
After dinner we went into the parking lot to have a look at the concert venue for the next three nights. We entered the humongous tent and looked at the great, large stage. A purpose built tent meant a purpose built stage, with a purpose built light show. This was by far the largest Marillion show I'd seen in nearly a decade. The stage also enabled the band to do things with lighting and special effects which they can't do on regular tours anymore.
The old This Strange Engine backdrop was hanging behind the stage, and the stage was further adorned with several masks that were probably relics from the 1997 tour.
Mr So&So was the support band for the first night and I was pleasantly surprised by their style of prog-lite. A nice band set-up with both a male and a female lead singer, and music somewhat in the vein of early nineties Marillion. Steve Rothery, who produced the band's third album The Overlap back in 1998, joined the band onstage to play a guitarsolo on one of the songs.
Next up was Marillion, officially opening the weekend. As the new album Somewhere Else is going to be out in a few more months, they started their set with the premiere of five new songs. Remembering how the band also premiered an hour's worth of new music at the Convention Weekend in 2003, and remembering how much I enjoyed those songs of Marbles back then, I was quite looking forward to it. First up was The Other Half, which also opens the album.
I wasn't too impressed with what I heard, and the next couple of songs didn't make it any better. When the band played a very annoying attempt at a 2-minute rock song called Most Toys I feared I had a mistake coming to the convention in the first place.
The rest of the songs were better though, but I missed that initial 'click' with the music. Of course, it may sound a lot different on the album, and perhaps the album turns out great. Yet the initial live renditions simply did not work for me.
After two albums in the vein of Afraid of Sunlight, it seems the band has gone back to the atmosphere of Radiation and .Com again - not really my favourite albums.
The people around me were equally undecided on the new material. Nice, but... lacking something.
Next up was the recurring theme of the Convention weekends: an integral performance of an entire album. This year's choice was perhaps an unusual one, This Strange Engine. Admitted by the band as not their best, as it is a bit of an unbalanced mix of terrific tracks and a few not so terrific ones. Then again, if they were to keep up the tradidition of playing one album as a whole, and with Brave, Afraid of Sunlight and Marbles already done, and with the Fish era as well as Seasons End and Holidays in Eden out of the question as it is deemed too dated, this may well have been the best choice.
And, to be fair, the album has dated well. Eight gigs on the This Strange Engine Tour in 1997 had made me grow tired of the album and I have hardly played it since. So it was nice hearing the whole album once again.
Man of a Thousand Faces is a cool live track (and great set-opener). One Fine Day sounded really, really good in this live version.
Then again, 80 Days never was much of a live song, despite it's obvious audience participation bit in the choruses. Hogarth explained how this song was conceived as a thank you to the fans. Yet when there were was a poll amongst those fans about their favourite songs, this one ended up somewhere in the bottom region.
Estonia on the other hand is very high on many fans' lists (it was in the top 10 of that very same poll) and has always been a live treat. The song I was really looking forward to hearing in a live setting was Memory of Water, a little synth/vocal ditty that ended up on the album in a rather unfinished form. In 1998 and 1999 the band had played the song in a spiced up rock version in their set, and I actually expected them to do the same tonight. Not so, the band stuck to the original album version of the song, of just vocals backed with synthesised orchestrations. For this song Pete Trewavas joined Mark Kelly on keyboards to play some of the layered music.
After a fine rendition of An Accidental Man (which works a lot better live than on the album) it was time for that other love/hate song of the album Hope For The Future. The last time the band played this in Holland they were bombarded with bananas, and onstage H recalled a very embarrassing moment of 5 white English blokes playing salsa rhythms to a Brazilian crowd - definitely not a song the band has many fond memories of. As it had been about 9 years since I last heard the song I must say that I quite enjoyed it.
Last but not least the highlight of the album, the 15-minute title track. Again, the band stayed close to the studio version (so no bass-solo, and no snippets from other songs). The song got somewhat extended though, as the guitarsolo of Steve Rothery (before the 'Blue Pain' section) gained such a massive applause, that the band needed almost two full minutes until the venue had quieted down enough for the band to play on.
After the rousing finale of This Strange Engine the band left the stage under massive applause. They would have to work hard to top such a great vibe with their encores. So they decided not to....
Business conscious as the band is these days, the band decided to play two songs that hadn't worked too well earlier in the set again, in order to be able to include them on a future CD or DVD release. So they played Most Toys and The Other Half again, and seeing that these were the songs that touched me the least when the first played it, you can understand my disappointment. A disappointment which only grew when Steve H announced that they had to call it quits early that night to be able to play the other two gigs of the weekend, so they didn't come back for a proper encore.
I feared that this would set the tone for the rest of the weekend, but I need not have worried. It turned out to be the only 'disappointment' of the whole weekend, which from this moment on just got better and better.
Back in the 'Adventure Factory' an after party was thrown in the form of a 'hard-rock disco' organised by Lucy, Colin and Stephanie of The Racket club. Corny as it may sound, it was an utterly fantastic way to celebrate the ending of the first night: bouncing, playing air guitar and screaming along to the tunes of Iron Maiden, Metallica and AC/DC, with about 1000 like-minded people. An utterly brilliant decision of the organisers of the weekend, who were clever enough to realise that Kylie Minoque or DJ Tiesto simply won't work with a Marillion crowd.
The Other Half
The Last Century for Man
Thankyou Whoever You Are
Man of a Thousand Faces
One Fine Day
Memory Of Water
An Accidental Man
Hope For The Future
This Strange Engine
The Other Half
Despite partying until late last night, we were up early on the Saturday morning. The traditional pub quiz was being held in the Adventure Factory from 12 noon onwards. Although we didn't go to the previous convention in 2005, we felt we had to defend our title as pub quiz champions of 2003.
We had a hard time. During the quiz we came to the conclusion our collective post-Radiation knowledge was far too limited to compete, and we were happy to end up somewhere in the lower half of the top 10 - nothing to be ashamed of considering no less than 42 teams participated.
The rest of the afternoon was filled with two splendid gigs by Jason Hart and Steve Thorne. Both artists in the singer/songwriter vein, although both had a different approach onstage. Jason Hart performed sitting behind a piano, together with a bassplayer. He finished his set with a great (and unexpected) rendition of Marillion's Lavender.
Steve Thorne on the other hand had decided to play on his own with acoustic guitar, and all other instruments on a backing tape. Not very much a live feel, but his enigmatic performance made up for the lack of a band. Having quite enjoyed his debut album Emotional Creatures pt 1 I also really enjoyed his short performance at the weekend.
Night time in the tent it was Dutch band A Day's Work to play the warm-up show. Like Mr So&So I didn't know their music, but just like last night I thoroughly enjoyed the performance. A Day's Work are a great, young energetic band who play an accessible style of prog which incorporates poppy influences as well as the occasional grunting and metal.
The Marillion set of Saturday Night was dubbed "Covers & Rarities" and when the band came onstage Steve Hogarth introduced without further ado rarity number one The Release. Only performed live at a handful of occasions this was a great treat to hear.
Not really having any idea what type of covers the band would choose to play, I expected the gig to be somewhat like Steve Hogarth's solo concerts. The first cover of an Elvis Costello song seemed to confirm that expectation (H has covered Costello before in his solo gigs).
One of the highlights of previous conventions had always been the 'Swap The Band' where fans got to replace members of the band and play along with Marillion songs. I was disappointed this event had not been scheduled for this year's convention, but as it turned out, the 'Swap The Band' was incorporated in the Saturday night main set. Albeit only two entrants were deemed 'good enough' to participate.
First of the two was a German guy called Ulf, who sang the lead vocals on Deserve. He did a fine job singing it, but the real surprise was an added harmonica solo, which gave the song a nice bluesy edge.
Next cover was another one I didn't know. A Split Enz song Six Months In A Leaky Boat. This was followed by one of the rarities I had hoped the band would play, Holloway Girl - a song the band should incorporate in their set more often.
Another one of those rarities I Will Walk On Water - not their best song, but nice to hear performed live again.
And then came the real surprise, a song the band never even officially released on CD: You Don't Need Anyone. This is an old song of Steve Hogarth's previous band How We Live, that the band had tried for the Holidays In Eden album, but never recorded. The band had only performed the song in front of an audience on a couple occasions during some Holidays In Eden try-outs (which were not even under the name of Marillion, but under The Low Fat Yoghurts). It is a great party-track and one of the highlights of the evening.
But more highlights were to follow....
Swap The Band part 2 involved a girl singing a fine rendition of Sympathy, which counts as both cover and Marillion rarity, as it is the only cover the band ever recorded in the studio, and the electric studio version has only been performed live on a handful occasions.
Then came the first surprising cover of the evening: Keane's Bedshaped. To hear a band of forty-somethings cover a song by a band of twenty-somethings was quite special. It is a great song anyway, and Marillion's rendition of it was excellent. (Some guitar in Keane's music certainly wouldn't do any harm).
These Chains was another song that was great to hear live again, followed by my favourite of Hogarth-era B-sides The Bell In The Sea. Then came a track Marillion has never even played live before: Built-in Bastard Radar, one of those songs the band had never managed to get 'right', but included on their .Com album anyway. Again, not really a favourite, but special to hear it live nonetheless.
Good Morning, Good Morning was the obvious Beatles cover of the evening ("we simply have to include at least one Beatles song on an evening like this...") and it lulled the audience into some false sense of security so that they would never ever expect what would come next. "This is a Britney Spears song..." introduced Hogarth the next song and I bet at least 90% of the audience did not take this announcement seriously. What followed was indeed a Britney Spears song, Toxic, and it was quite a good rendition too!
What followed was an obvious crowd favourite, yet it didn't do too much for me personally, Jellyfish' The King's Half Undressed, followed by a somewhat more conventional cover in the form of The Move's Blackberry Way.
The main set ended with another never-played-live-before song closed the main set: How Can It Hurt. Again, not their best, but great to hear it live on this occasion. It struck me that half the Marillion songs played tonight were actually from the Holidays In Eden era.
Marillion came back for an encore in the form of a beautiful rendition of Everybody Hurts. Terrific, no other words for that.
They left after only one song and it took a long time for the band to come back. But just when people started fearing they wouldn't come back at all, Mark Kelly came back onstage starting an oh-so-familiar, yet completely unexpected piano-intro: ABBA's Money Money Money.
Steve Hogarth came onstage dressed as some Parisian go-go dancer, black dress, high heels, blond wig and fish-net stockings - the whole kit and caboodle. The band threw a terrific party.
I am still undetermined what shocked me more, Marillion playing ABBA or Steve Hogarth's drag, but there was no denying this was a brilliant choice! Absolutely hilarious!
The band had one more trick up their sleeves when they came back for a final encore. "This is an Austrian song" introduced Steve H the song which was in fact by a Dutch band: Hocus Pocus by Focus.
The crew threw some twenty huge balloons filled with confetti into the audience, and the next ten minutes were spent jumping, dancing, bouncing the balloons and above all yodelling. What a party!
After the gig the Adventure Factory was filled to the max for the after-party in the form a gig by Beatles tribute band The Fabulous Wannabeatles. Although the similarity of this band with the real thing is a little too close for comfort (they refer to each other as John, Paul, Ringo and George) these young guys certainly knew how to throw a party.
The party got an unexpected twist when Steve Hogarth climbed onstage to perform Helter Skelter with them.
Accidents Will Happen (Elvis Costello)
Six Months In A Leaky Boat (Split Enz)
I Will Walk On Water
You Don't Need Anyone
She Goes On (Crowded House)
Sympathy (Rare Bird)
The Bell In The Sea
Built-in Bastard Radar
Good Morning, Good Morning (Beatles)
Toxic (Britney Spears)
The Kings Half-undressed (Jellyfish)
Blackberry Way (The Move)
How Can It Hurt
Everybody Hurts (REM)
Money, Money, Money (ABBA)
Hocus Pocus (Focus)
The third and last day of the convention started with a nice morning off. In the afternoon there was the finale of yesterday's pub quiz in the main tent. The winners of yesterday, The Cakeyboys, were to compete against the band onstage. Whereas last year the same Cakeyboys were really supported by the audience, this year the audience was clearly on the hands of the band, booing the Cakeys constantly. (Very tongue in cheek though).
The scores went up very equally throughout the battle, but in the end the band beat the Cakeys by a small margin.
After the quiz finale the usual Q&A session was held. All weekend people could write their questions to the band on a piece of paper and put it in a box and these were then answered onstage by the band. As it is the fourth year the band does this now, the questions have become more and more funny and at times embarrassing.
One great question was whether the band members' children actually liked their father's music. As Ian Mosley's teenage son was lingering backstage he got hauled to the mike by his father to proclaim a heartfelt "Fuck Yeah!"
A brilliant reply, showing he inherited his father's dry sense of humour. Mosley rewarding his son with a cigarette made the joke complete.
We spent the rest of the afternoon drinking beers out in the sun and enjoying the absolutely fantastic weather (was it really February?).
The afternoon band in the Adventure Factory was The Sad Song Co., and this turned out to be the only disappointing support band of the whole weekend. The 'act' of the leadsinger/keyboardist was a mix between shy and arrogant (think Oasis or Radiohead) and did not go down too well with the audience. The music wasn't overly interesting either and a rendition of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway could not save their gig.
All this lead up to what will go down in the books as possibly THE best Marillion gig ever. My favourites Gazpacho warmed up the audience in the tent and they surprised many people by playing a 22-minute medley of their new album Night. The fact that many people loved it became evident the massive run to their improvised merchandise stand at the back of the venue after their gig.
The Marillion set for Sunday consisted of the band's personal favourites. And while this could end in the usual songs like Easter and Cover My Eyes, the band had actually chosen some of their best songs, which were all great live tracks.
They opened with Splintering Heart, of which the first verse featured just Steve Hogarth onstage, with the music played from a backing track. When the rest of the band came on and Rothery broke into *that* solo ("but not as much as this!") everyone knew this was a night to be remembered.
The first Fish-era track of the weekend was played in the guise of an instrumental Hotel Hobbies, which was inevitably followed by Warm Wet Circles and That Time Of The Night.
An unexpected You're Gone followed showing just how well the band's more modern stuff mixes with the old stuff.
Then came Fantastic Place, Afraid of Sunlight and then yet another surprise: Lords of the Backstage, followed by a great rendition of Blind Curve. Not played live by the band since the Holidays In Eden tour sixteen years ago, this was great to finally hear performed live by the band. Hogarth completely missed the lyrics in the second verse of Blind Curve, but the audience duly corrected him. "Oh, wrong part?" H just shrugged and sang on.
Between You And Me had the same effect as You're Gone earlier in the set, it seamlessly connected the older work with the more recent.
These days the band plays Between You And Me with a little audience participation, and an extended middle eight. I never cared too much for this song, but in this version, with this atmosphere, it was magic.
A terrific Neverland closed the set, complete with confetti raining down from the ceiling, just like during the Marbles tour.
The band came back for an encore of The Great Escape and King - great as ever despite a very odd intro of King where the samples kicked in way too late.
After a short break the band came back for yet another encore in the form of The Invisible Man, complete with Hogarth's 'business man' act. An odd choice as an encore (it works better as an opener) but you didn't hear me complain though - it's my favourite song off Marbles.
A short quarter of an hour later the band left the stage again, only to come back with a majestic The Space, in all its electrical glory, making tonight's gig officially deserve the title "best Marillion setlist ever".
A brilliant way to end a great weekend, but the band felt they had to do one more, and came back for a fourth encore. Not having rehearsed any more music (they had played a good five hours of music already) they decided to play the highlight of the previous evening again: Hocus Pocus. Who cares that H didn't reach the high notes of the yodelling any more, or that the band actually made the same error during one of the breaks as the evening before. It was a fantastic ending for the weekend, and we were jumping and dancing and yodelling our throats hoarse.
And thus ended a great weekend. By far this was the best Marillion convention weekend ever. One good and two fantastic Marillion gigs.
I certainly can't remember the last time a Marillion gig was such a party. I had expected some solid gigs, like all conventions had so far, but nothing had prepared me for such a great party.
Despite the poor choice of encores on the Friday nights the setlists were absolutely terrific. If I have to name one minor gripe it is that they hadn't played Freaks somewhere during the weekend. It is the anthem of the Dutch fanclub and has been played at pretty much every Dutch convention the band has ever done in the past. I had hoped they would include it in one of their sets during the weekend, but alas.
But as I said, that is just a minor gripe, as this weekend will go down in history as the best Marillion weekend ever.The whole even was just absolutely brilliantly organised, the Centerparcs staff were extremely friendly and the gigs were magic. They will have a hard time topping this one. But I'll be sure to be there when they try!
Warm Wet Circles
That Time of the Night
Afraid of Sunlight
Lords of the Backstage
Between You and Me
The Great Escape
The Invisible Man