Published on 16th September 2016
How We Live – Dry Land
Somewhere in an alternate reality there is a milkman in Derbyshire called Mr. Steven Hogarth, working hard to support his family and dreaming ‘what if’ about his musical past – such are the vagaries of life’s paths. Back in 1988 Hogarth was on the verge of giving up being a professional musician to become a milkman to earn a living after his band How We Live failed to take off, when he was told that Marillion were looking for a new singer/lyricist. 28 years later Hogarth continues to be an integral part of Marillion, on the brink of releasing their much anticipated and reportedly very ambitious 18th album F.E.A.R. However, it could conceivably have been a very different story if his previous band’s album had been more successful. Esoteric Recordings have released a remastered version of this curio, which is a fascinating insight into the earlier career and style of one of modern Progressive rock’s most well-known front men.
How We Live were born from the ashes of the ‘new wave’ band The Europeans, who had some limited success between 1981 and 1985. Hogarth and guitarist Colin Woore went on to form How We Live, and set about trying to record sophisticated, creative pop music. This was a far cry from what Marillion were doing at that time, at the height of their fame with Misplaced Childhood – no-one would have predicted that these two band’s destinies would become inexplicably linked.
In a strange twist it may well be that one of the most important songs in the history of ‘post-Fish’ Marillion was probably a song not written or performed by Marillion at all! How We Live’s Games in Germany, about a long lost army friend of Hogarth’s, apparently caught the ear of Marillion and led to them inviting him to meet them. In hindsight if you listen to that song you can hear what probably appealed to them in his alternately soaring and soulful voice along with his touching lyrical realism, but one has to credit Marillion in hearing something in a song that was very different to the previous Marillion canon. It is clear that they were not looking for a Fish ‘sound-a-like’ and were headed in a very different direction, as became increasingly evident in their output.
This album is very much a relic of it’s time with some very ’80s sounding pieces, such as the single All the Time in the World with a throbbing bass line from ‘Taif’ and the inevitable ’80s saxophone from Andrew Milnes. It was not a success, but you can tell they were really trying hard (probably too hard?) to tap into a commercial pop vein. Thankfully, there are some much more skilled and subtle pop rock songs on this album, such as India and In the City. A laid back rhythm over a chiming melody and lovely vocal about city life is offset over a dreamy understated trumpet from John Wyburgh to show that horns could be used deftly in that decade!
The song which may attract most interest is the title track, Dry Land, later re-emerging on the second album of the Marillion ‘h’ era, Holidays in Eden. Therefore, somewhat curiously it is the later ‘cover’ which is better known than this original version, but there are some notable differences, particular the lush use of strings from the Allegri String Quartet and violinist Stuart Gordon. Colin Woore’s guitar melodically carries the song with a tasteful and restrained solo later in the song. Whisper it quietly amongst Marillion fans, but this original lilting version is superior to the later Marillion re-make as, frankly, even with Hogarth such a light song was really not their style.
It is tempting to wonder if some of these songs have connections with later Marillion pieces, such as the atmospheric Lost at Sea being a distant and much simpler seed for Ocean Cloud or Estonia, but it is doubtful and may just indicate Hogarth was always fascinated by the sea as a theme. In truth the Marillion musical links on this album are sparse and probably mostly illusory as it owes far more to the influence of ’80s band such Simple Minds, Crowded House, Japan, The Korgis, early Talk Talk and Tears for Fears, particularly on songs like The Rainbow Room. The less said about final song A Beat in the Heart the better, it is such a painfully poor and clichéd pop song. Indeed, it is a real pity that it immediately follows and clumsily spoils the atmosphere and feeling evoked by the best and most beautiful song on the whole album, Working Town. A song about Doncaster, where Hogarth grew up, touchingly evokes the tragedy of the sad decline of that town as the coal mines closed and local businesses failed. Hogarth’s resonant voice over lovely vocal harmonies and Woore’s simple but evocative guitar conveys the mournful fate of the town – sadly, such a song could still easily be applied to a multitude of depressed post-2008 downturn towns. There do appear to be embryonic themes on this beautiful but simple song which Hogarth developed much more expansively later with Marillion on the autobiographical epic This Strange Engine.
How We Live died as a band after this one album and it’s easy to see why it did not hit the mark as it falls between two stools – not pop enough to be truly pop and not rock enough to appeal to the rock audience. It has its moments, particularly the aforementioned Working Town, but some of the songs have dated badly… to be fair, if those amongst us old enough looked at photos of ourselves in the ’80s most of us might shift a little uncomfortably in our seats!
Nevertheless, for some fans (and let’s face it there are quite a few Marillion fans!) this is an interesting curio of their revered front man in another guise and style, who went on to much more successful and notable times… instead of the less illustrious and lucrative but honourable career of a milkman.
Strange how things work out sometimes… only two pints today, please, Steve.
01. Working Girl (3:59)
02. All the Time in the World (4:47)
03. Dry Land (4:36)
04. Games in Germany (4:31)
05. India (5:04)
06. The Rainbow Room (5:12)
07. Lost at Sea (4:23)
08. In the City (5:33)
09. Working Town (3:45)
10. A Beat in the Heart (4:36)
~ Bonus Tracks:
11. English Summer (B-Side for 12” single) (3:29)
12. All the Time in the World (12” Single Mix) (6:31)
Total Time – 56:26
Steve Hogarth – Lead Vocals & Keyboards
Colin Woore – Guitars & Additional Vocals
Andrew Milnes – Saxophone
Taif (Dave Ball) – Bass Guitar
George Jackson – Drums
Manny Elias – Drums (tracks 1 & 4)
Allegri String Quartet – Strings (track 3)
Stuart Gordon – Violin (track 3)
John Wyburgh – Trumpet (track 8)
Jim Couza – Hammered Dulcimer (track 1)
Francis Fuster – Talking Drum (track 5), Congas (track 8)
Gill Wisdom – Backing Vocals (track 2)
Record Label: Esoteric Recordings
Country of Origin: U.K.
Year of Release: 2016 (originally released 1987)
How We Life – Cherry Red Product Page