Aula Magna, Lisbon, Portugal
Friday, 31st May – Sunday, 2nd June 2019
Around 2 years before this event Marillion’s go getting manager Lucy Jordache visited Lisbon to gauge whether it was an appropriate City for one of the band’s bi annual weekend conventions. Presumably she liked what she saw. A beautiful exotic city, full of history, great food, lovely people and a rich heritage. Not to mention the famous or infamous, depending on your will power, Pastel de Nata. A unique Portuguese recipe custard tart, which was to become relevant on the last night of the weekend.
So in the days preceding 31st May, Lisbon was invaded by 1500 or so Marillion fans. Many of them from Portugal but these events attract people from all over the globe. In this case some 32 or so countries were represented. One is tempted to suggest a pre-weekend opening ceremony for future years along the lines of the Olympics, flag carriers et al.
Anyway to the event in question.
Whether Lucy had a hand in the weather for the weekend or not , I do not know, but I would suggest that at 36 degrees centigrade this may have been the hottest opening night than any of the weekends in the band’s history. Luckily the venue chosen for the series of 3 concerts was perfectly air conditioned, which meant it was in fact far cooler for both band and fans that the UK weekend in Leicester a few weeks prior.
The Aula Magna auditorium with a capacity of nearly 1600 is within the campus of Lisbon University. On arrival at the venue eager fans show their paper tickets so they can have one of the treasured weekend bands secured on their wrists. Many of these fans will keep the band on for months, perhaps years, as a medal of honour.
The feeling of bonhomie is immediately apparent as is the need for most of those entering to see what they can spend their money on by way of the substantial and high quality merchandise which has an astonishing queue. As ever the efficient team manning the stand deal with the volume of transactions both speedily and with a smile on their faces. The only queue bigger is that for the bar, which was a significant problem on the first night and a subject much discussed at the time and on subsequent nights. To their credit the Portuguese arm of the Fan club, i.e. the Portuguese web, were magnificent in doing what they could to sort out a solution for subsequent nights.
Night 1 – Friday 31st May 2019
… And so at around 7.15 pm those fans who were not queuing for one reason or another made their way, in most cases for the first time, into a venue which would be home for fans, band and crew for the next 3 nights. The auditorium is an interesting one. A mere 7 rows on the lower level, of what were effectively arm chairs, made for a very pleasant and comfortable viewing experience. Two further raised tiers behind also providing great views for an excited audience.
The opening act for tonight is Steve Rothery’s daughter, Jennifer, with keyboardist and singer Riccardo Romano, who is a member of Ranastrane in addition to being the keyboard player for the Dave Foster Band and Steve Rothery Band. This now quite accomplished duo are well known to regular attendees of Marillion concerts. Their set comprises a selection of material from Jennifer’s Sylf EP and Riccardo’s B612 album. They are justifiably well received and reward the audience by having Steve Rothery join them for the set’s final song, providing the first of many thrilling guitar solos this weekend.
There is now a tangible air of anticipation in the auditorium as Phil Brown, Marillion’s sound engineer makes his customary appearance on stage to request that people do not spoil the experience for others by filming or taking large numbers of photos of the performances. A request, that I am pleased to say, from my vantage point was largely respected.
The lights dim and at precisely 8.30 the band materialise to the opening strains of The King Of Sunset Town. It immediately becomes apparent that the Portuguese fans, in particular, have waited long and patiently for this moment, their excitement is palpable as they leap to their feet in unison to applaud a stunning rendition of the opening track from the first Hogarth era album Seasons End. This is followed by the even more rarely played Bell In The Sea, a popular track from the Seasons End bonus disc.
What follows is pure theatre, the like of which really adds to a Marillion performance. When this song was first performed in 1989 Steve Hogarth wore a pair of white gloves with synthesiser triggers in the fingers. By tapping these against a glass window on stage Hogarth plays the opening section of The Uninvited Guest. This was reintroduced at the 2019 weekends. Tonight the singer adds a variation by coming out into the audience and much to the delight of the lady sitting just in front of the reviewer, tapping the notes on her head and of other heads on his way back to the stage. Humour, drama and excitement are all in the mix for this most popular of songs.
The reviewer must confess to having seen Marillion many times, but it is clear that tonight there is something special about the lead singer’s performance which as the evening wore on was to become all the more remarkable, in terms of energy and delivery. The 4 song section from Seasons End concluded with that album’s title track, providing in my view one of the great vocals in music. This leads nicely onto perhaps one of the greatest starts to a Marillion song or album. After a few moments for band and audience to catch their breath, Hogarth appears in a spot light at the side entrance to the auditorium, resplendent in black velvet, gold braided coat and to the accompaniment of a backing track belts out the opening of Splintering Heart, a song full of emotion which transfers from the singer off stage to the band on stage as Steve Rothery delivers a blistering guitar solo.
This kicks off a sequence of 8 songs from the Holidays In Eden album. There were many highlights in this part of the show but watching Steve Hogarth and bass player Pete Trewavas hug each other in celebration at the end of a most stunning performance of the 3 song sequence of This Town, The Rakes Progress and 100 Nights, is probably a moment that those lucky enough to see it will not forget. A song on the album which can divide people is Dry Land, perhaps because it was originally a song by Steve Hogarth’s previous band How We Live. The vocal rendition tonight is nothing short of sublime and the Holidays In Eden section finishes with the ever popular Cover My Eyes which has the excited audience on it’s feet throughout.
Another short musical interlude follows before Bridge and a sequence of 5 songs from perhaps the band’s most ambitious and widely loved album Brave. Suffice it to say that this section of tonight’s proceedings delivered everything the fans wanted in terms of quality and emotion.
To be honest I think most of those in attendance would have been quite happy if Brave had been the final song of the night, but no one really wanted the evening to end. The choice of songs for the encore was interesting as Gazpacho and Cannibal Surf Babe are perhaps two of the lesser played songs on 1995’s Afraid Of Sunlight album. The evening’s finale was effectively a homage to the many rock stars and entertainers who have died invariably far too young as depicted by the projections on the screen behind the band as Marillion blasted out King. The ending can only be described as a cacophonous crescendo which comes to an abrupt stop which Ian Mosley dictates with a thrash of his cymbals.
It has been a fascinating night. 19 songs from across the first four albums after Steve Hogarth joined the band. What really stood out for this reviewer was Steve Hogarth’s remarkable vocals and energy, the powers of which remain, at the age of 63 undiminished. That combined with a band on top of their game and some remarkably explosive drumming from Ian Mosley all added up to an evening enjoyed equally by fans and the band.
Night 2 – Saturday 1st June 2019
A quick scan of the skin on Ian Mosley’s bass drum provides a clue to how tonight’s entertainment will unfold or at least what songs it might contain. The drum skin has pictures of part album covers. The 4 in focus tonight are Marillion.com, This Strange Engine, Anorakphobia and Marbles. Whereas last night’s mood was celebratory it is apparent that tonight will be perhaps more cerebral. Interior Lulu, at 15 minutes and perhaps one of the band’s more complicated arrangements does not immediately spring to mind as the perfect show opener. Does it work? Yes if the audience sitting in rapt attention, taking in the various movements and shifts in mood of this remarkable song from the band’s 1999 album Marillion.com, is anything to go by.
If last night showcased Steve Hogarth tonight is clearly going to showcase the excellent technical skills of each of these musicians. The fifth song of the night is the stunning opus, Ocean Cloud, from 2004’s Marbles. Ocean Cloud is dedicated to Don Allum who accomplished the remarkable and hitherto unique feat of rowing across the Atlantic Ocean in both directions. Sadly Allum died at the age of 55 from a heart attack, more than likely as a result of the damage done to his body when he had to drink sea water during the last two weeks of the return voyage. The song is a masterpiece in story telling combined with musically driven emotion and leaves both singer and many in the audience drained. The mood is lightened slightly by the opening chords of Fantastic Place, a beautiful masterpiece of a love song encapsulating more by way of emotion in it’s 6 minutes than certainly any song that this reviewer has ever heard. When I Meet God and The Fruit Of The Wild Rose both from Anorakphobia and were another highlight of the evening’s choice of material. The main set finishes with Separated Out before the first encore of the poignant Estonia and This is the 21st Century.
If the emotion of This Town, Rakes Progress, 100 Nights sequence was the highlight of the first night, it was equalled, if not surpassed by what happened by way of the second encore. It started with Pete Trewavas taking centre stage on his own and delivering a superb bass solo. Trewavas, always excellent, generally keeps a low profile but this solo highlighted just how good he is and was greeted enthusiastically by the audience who cheered even louder as the solo segued into the bass notes of This Strange Engine. The title track from the 1997 album was voted by fans a couple of years ago as their most popular song. At around 17 minutes it is largely about Hogarth’s childhood and relationship with his father. This reviewer has seen it performed live on dozens of occasions but never, in my experience has it felt quite like this performance tonight. The slow start followed by the keyboard mid-section and perhaps one of Rothery’s finest guitar solos, ending with Hogarth’s heartfelt emotionally draining vocal are just the constituent parts of this song, but for some reason tonight they were delivered at such an intensity that both band and fans celebrated at the end in a tangible recognition that something special had happened. A point made by Pete Trewavas at the subsequent evening’s Q & A when asked which song he felt encapsulated the spirit of Marillion. On the evidence of tonight few would disagree. It was an exhausted and happy audience who filed out into the hot Lisbon night.
Night 3 – Sunday 2nd June 2019
As has been tradition for the last few years, night 3 of the weekend is album night. This year’s choice of album to be played is Happiness Is The Road.
The evening commences at 7:30 pm prompt with a Q and A with the band, hosted by Lucy Jordache. What follows is a fun 45 minutes. One of the questions submitted is how many Pastel De Nata’s can Ian Mosley eat. Lucy then produces a large box of them and the answer it turns out is quite a few. Subsequently it was revealed he ate 7 before that evening’s show started. During the proceedings Steve Hogarth spoke eloquently about the Hope Flowers School charity for which, through it’s various activities over the weekend, the Portuguese Web have raised over 1500 euros. The Q and A worked and hopefully will be repeated at some time.
Following a short break the band return to the stage for the main event at 8:30 pm. Happiness Is The Road is an interesting album – perhaps not the band’s most accessible, yet it’s treasures are many and these came to life in a live context. It was certainly a serious first half of the set, with at times the whole band concentrating so hard on the musical passages that it reminded the reviewer of watching Pink Floyd live. It was a musically intense experience. The band chose to play just some of the highlights from this double album, including brilliant renditions of The Man From Planet Marzipan, This Train Is My Life, Woke Up, Trap The Spark , State Of Mind, Happiness Is The Road, including full audience sing along, and a stunning Real Tears For Sale.
The main set also included the rarely played Invisible Ink and the emotionally gut wrenching Sky Above The Rain from the Sounds That Can’t Be Made album If a more poignant lyric about relationships has been written, the reviewer is yet to hear it. The main set also included a firm favourite of many, the title track from Somewhere Else.
As good as the previous two nights were, many of those I spoke to after the gig thought this evening was the highlight of the weekend. The encore was a strange one given that a cover of Britney Spears’ Toxic would not spring to mind as one the band would chose to play. The energy from the stage, with that of the celebratory mood of the audience, however, combined to such effect that the band could have played virtually anything and everyone would still have enjoyed it. Hooks In You was followed by the very well received and only Fish era song of the weekend, Slainte Mhath. The evening and the weekend finished with band and audience joining together to sing the One Tonight section of the Leavers from the FEAR album.
All too soon the band say their goodbyes and are gone. The weekend has been a resounding success. Over 3 nights the band has played 53 songs. Fans from literally all over the world have travelled to Lisbon and been treated fantastically by it’s wonderful people.
No small thanks must go to The Web Portugal for all they did to make the event hugely enjoyable and for the money they raised for a very worthy cause.
For this reviewer it has been a privilege to have been there.
Steve Hogarth – Lead Vocals, Keyboards, Guitar, Percussion
Steve Rothery – Guitars
Mark Kelly – Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Pete Trewavas – Bass, Bass Pedals, Guitar, Backing Vocals
Ian Mosley – Drums