Marillion to Play Carolina Theatre in Durham
By: Jon Epstein
Marillion is the most incredible band you have probably never heard of. Despite selling many albums over the course of the past three and a half decades, and having loyal fans on every continent except Antarctica (and I’m not positive that there aren’t) they have never really caught on in the United States. There are all sorts of possible reasons for that, but the general consensus among their fans is that they are simply too complex for the average American ear used to generic pop music with a good beat that you can dance to, and lyrics insipid enough not to require thought on the part of the listener. A sharp critique to be sure, but it’s probably not too far from the truth.
Given their status as “the band that saved prog-rock,” Marillion tends to write complex songs, often presented as musical suites, with topical lyrics which are as deep as they are wide. Not surprisingly this has resulted in a number of “concept” albums, two of which, Misplaced Childhood (1985) and Brave (1994) are often listed in “The top concept albums of all time” by people who enjoy making lists of this sort of thing. The bands albums, as well as its members, have made the top year-endear end polls in every progressive rock magazine an impressive number of times, most recently on the merits of their most recent studio album F.E.A.R. (F**k Everyone And Run), their second number one album since 1985’s Misplaced Childhood which contained the bands best known song “Kayleigh.”
Despite the decidedly anti-Walmart friendly title, F.E.A.R. debuted at the number one position in the U.K. charts upon its release in 2016. No one was more surprised by that than Marillion themselves. Although they are no strangers to the European charts, the band stopped being concerned about such things many years ago, and have survived despite all odds by being among the first, and most certainly the most innovative, independent rock band on the planet. As is generally the case, this innovation was born of necessity.
Following a decade of high visibility, millions of records sold and several world tours, propelled for better or worse by the celebrity of original vocalist Fish, the mid-1990s saw Marillion with a new lead vocalist, and without a record company, despite continuing to sell a respectable number of records due to the bands ever growing, and intensely loyal fan base. As fate would have it, then bands fans had an affinity for online community building way ahead of the curve, primarily through the web group Freaks and had taken to the internet long before the rest of the world had caught on. This community, which had grown to several thousand members by the mid 1990s, drew the attention of the band and specifically keyboardist Mark Kelly who had taken a deep interest in the possibilities an online fan community could provide and had taken it upon himself to make himself open and available in the Freaks online chats. It was through those chats that Marillion and their fans invented what is now called “crowd funding” by being the first band to tour the United States, and then record an album, using funds collected from their fan base in advance.
Nowhere is the bands commitment to their fans, or for that matter the dedication of their fans to the band, more obvious than through their annual conventions simply called “Marillion Weekends.” The Weekends, which are held in several countries every year including The U.K., The Netherlands, and less frequently in Canada and Poland, are three day long conventions during which the band performs three completely different concerts each evening, and spend the rest of the weekend mingling with fans, and generally making it clear that they are where they are specifically because of the enthusiastic support of their followers. This enthusiasm most recently resulted in the bands first appearance at London’s Royal Albert Hall which by all accounts sold out within 10 minutes of tickets being offered for sale.
Marillion will make their first-ever North Carolina appearance on Feb. 12 at the Carolina Theater in Durham. To experience Marillion live is nothing short of an experience not to be missed. This author has witnessed grown men bursting into tears, overwhelmed by the spectacle and intensity of this bands live performance. While it is cliché to claim a rock concert can be a life-changing experience, in the case of Marillion, it is often true. This is the one concert event of the year which should not be missed. Tickets for this all-ages show are still available through the band’s website, www.marillion.com/tour and the usual ticket outlets.