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STEVE HOGARTH on 30 years in Marillion

A Top 5 UK album and a sold out tour see Marillion riding the crest of a wave at the moment.  Mick Burgess called up lead singer Steve Hogarth to find out why.

In a few weeks you embark on your latest UK tour.  Are you looking forward to getting started?

We are looking forward to it.  It`s a theatre tour and something we haven`t done for a while and we`ll be playing at places like The Sage in Gateshead and the Birmingham Symphony Hall and the Cambridge Corn Exchange and they are all really nice venues to play.  It`s a privilege for us to play in places like these.

It must be a satisfying feeling seeing so many of the shows are sold out already?

It would appear that our stock is up at the moment.  We`ve had a really good year and we seem to be finding it easier to sell tickets at the moment. Our latest album was really well received by our fans and got great reviews in the media so it`s looking good for us at the moment.

Why do you think that is?

I don`t know why we find ourselves in this position at this stage in our careers and I think it`s dangerous to try to work it out.  I`ve been in this business for 40 years and I`m none the wiser how it works than the day I first started so I really have no idea why we`re having this surge in popularity. I think you just have to roll with the punches, concentrate on the music and not worry too much about your fortunes.

You`ve always been a band to change your set lists radically from tour to tour.  What do you have lined up for this tour?

You don`t really want to know specific songs as that`ll spoil the surprise but there`ll be a broad sweep of what we feel are the high points for the band, certainly of the time I`ve been with them over the last 30 years or so.

You have almost 20 albums worth of material to choose from.  How do you whittle down the songs that make the final list?

We sit around in a circle in a room and suggest songs to each other and I usually pull up a list of everything we wrote and I shout out songs and there`s a debate of whether we should do it or not.  We`ve been involving videos in our shows lately to run alongside the songs so the experience is visual as well as audio.

In the past you`ve recorded your shows and made them available to purchase soon after as a download.  Are you planning on doing this again for this tour?

We record each show from the soundboard but I don`t know how quickly we`ll get them online but they will become available at some point.

Your latest album F.E.A.R, came out a year and a half ago. It`s your highest charting album at No.4 in almost 30 years.  How did you feel when you heard that?

Record sales have fallen off a cliff due to downloading and streaming so a chart position is always tinged with a feeling of how many sales has it taken to get there.  It`s still nice to see it in the charts though and it`s the same for everyone else too.  Any kind of chart position is a good thing mainly because it tends to wake the media up a bit and the phone starts ringing and everyone wants to talk to you. We just do what we do and we go through periods where people seem relatively disinterested and then other periods where people are really excited.  We haven`t changed but it seems as though the media gets excited by seeing a chart number.

The full version of the title is a little ruder than we`d expect from Marillion.  What`s the meaning behind that?

The title was taken from a song called The New Kings, which is the closing song on the record and it`s really about the selfishness that seems to be prevailing these days and it`s all about money.  There`s a lot of frustration on my part that following the financial crash, the bankers who presided over that seemed to be rewarded for it while the taxpayer was left to pay for it through austerity.  There`s this lament that I sing very quietly in falsetto and I`m singing it as if to say, is this what we`ve become, is the world now just dog eat dog?  That`s where the title comes from.

F.E.A.R was partly funded through PledgeMusic.  How did that campaign go?

I think it worked out well for us.  We had a lot of interest from that and a lot of people pre-ordered the album before we`d made it which was great for us.

The book that comes with the album is a real work of art.  Is it important to you that music is still seen as a physical artform that you can hold rather than an anonymous computer file?

Absolutely.  That could be because I come from a certain generation where artwork was really important.  I think kids now are starting to rediscover the pleasure of taking a slab of vinyl out of a sleeve and plopping a stylus down onto it.  The whole physical process of listening to music is so much more exciting than an MP3 on your laptop.  There`s almost a ceremonial reverence in having a physical product with artwork and lyrics when you listen to music.  I think good music deserves that. I don`t think the demand for physical releases has diminished.  Beautiful things don`t go away.

Your no stranger to Crowd Funding, indeed you are pioneers of that platform with your 2001 album Anoraknophobia where you asked your fans pay in advance for a yet to be recorded album.  Who first came up with that idea? 

It sort of dropped in our lap to some degree but we saw if for what it was.  Certain members of the band, Steve Rothery and Mark Kelly in particular, sat us down and said there was something going on and we needed to get onto it.   Back in 1997 a guy called Jeff Pelletier got it into his head to open a bank account in North Carolina, America and invited people to buy tickets for our American tour that we didn`t know about.  He raised $60,000, gave it us and said we had to come to America. That was incredible and that set us thinking.  We had no idea that people would pay for stuff that didn`t necessarily exist out of sheer faith and commitment to the band.  We knew we had to get onto the internet, which wasn`t really a thing in Europe at that time.  It was a time when everything was changing and we were on that cusp.  We were one of the first if not the first, band to get a website in the UK.  The whole e-mail thing was starting to happen and we realised if we had our fans e-mail addresses that we could talk to them all in 10 seconds. Previously it would have taken months to write to everyone, now we could do it in seconds, for free.  It was mind blowing and meant that we could e-mail our fans and ask them how they`d feel if we did this.  We could find out if they were into it without taking any risk.  I actually wrote the e-mail to our fans asking how they`d feel about buying our next record that we hadn`t made yet.  13,000 wrote back and said yeah.  It was a beautiful moment for us and that has soaked itself into everything we do in the sense that we have a big family out there and there`s a lot of love out there.  It`s probably pervaded its way into the music and the lyrics, that sense of oneness.  When I`m writing the lyrics I`m sending them out to people who are already in the family.  It`s not going out into space, it`s going out to people who already have faith in the band.

Next year you`ve been in Marillion for 30 years.  Did you ever think you`d be in the band for 3 decades when you first accepted their offer to join?

I never imagined I`d be in anything for 30 years and certainly not Rock `n` Roll.  I thought at best I`d get 5 years, have a good time but make no money.  I was in a couple of bands before Marillion too so I never thought I`d get away with it for this long. I`ve got 25 more years out of it than I thought so I`ve either been doing something right or getting lucky. I think life`s like a pinball machine where you bump around and if you are lucky you fall down the right hole, if not you go down the pan.  I sometimes think that the harder you work, the luckier you get and I`ve worked quite hard over the years.

On 2nd April, you`ll be releasing All One Night, which is a DVD of your show at the Royal Albert Hall in October 2017.  That`s the first time you`ve ever played there.  That must be a real career highlight for you?

That was the most incredible evening.  It was something I`d dreamt about for the whole of my life.  It was a special show and was designed from the ground up for that performance and we had additional musicians including a string quartet and we reinterpreted some of the songs to include classical elements.  The first half was the performance of the entire F.E.A.R album and the second part was the classical element and a selection of songs from our past. It was an amazing night and completely sold out.  The atmosphere was off the scale.  It was incredible.

What are your plans for the rest of the year? 

I have a few feelers in the fire on the solo front but it`s early days. On the Marillion front we are just at the point of dipping our toe into the water, getting together and jamming. We record all of our jams to multitrack so every little noise we make is recorded so we don`t lose anything if a happy accident does happen during those jams. We`re are however, a long, long way away from having something to record.

Interview By Mick Burgess

Marillion`s tour of the UK and Ireland starts on 8th April at the Ulster Hall, Belfast and ends on 22nd April at The Barbican in York.

Marillion`s new DVD All One Night is out now

See www.marillion.com for full details

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