A big tent over a car park in a Centreparcs in Port Zélande, Ouurdorp, Netherlands
A traffic snafu on the A1 means I miss my 07:00 flight. Next one is 15:15, getting into Schipol at 17:20 local time, which means I miss my coach to Port Zelande, over 100 km away. After some frantic searching, I find two others in a similar situation and we share a taxi. Before I even arrive on site, I’ve spent more than €100 I hadn’t anticipated. This is not a good start to the Marillion Weekend 2015.
A frantic dash to meet my mate with the key to our chalet, a run to the far end of the site to dump my gear and back and I get into the tent with barely minutes to spare before Marillion come out. I’ve missed guitarist Steve Rothery’s solo band, which is disappointing, but I’m starting to calm down.
Friday night’s set is a run through the band’s 2001 album Anoraknophobia in full. Particular highlights are the rarely-played Fruit of the Wild Rose, a song with a rather average first half, but a wonderful extended bluesy playout and the funky Quartz. I find myself hoping the next album might have some of the groove of Anorak. Encores include two long ‘uns, both over seventeen minutes. This Strange Engine, which details how singer Steve Hogarth’s father gave up his life on the sea to work in a colliery in order to be near his family nearly has me going again, and Steve Rothery’s second solo is a masterclass in elegiac playing. Gaza, with its child’s perspective on growing up in that beleaguered region, wrings us dry; the calm of an ordinary day suddenly smashed apart by an explosion, Rothery’s atonal chaos very much from the Adrian Belew school of playing. It’s shocking in its savagery. I’ve heard people ask why Marillion don’t do movie soundtracks, but the music is quite enough by itself without pictures.
On Saturday I’m up early enough to get a swim in, and spend a pleasant hour wallowing in a hot pool with complete strangers, talking over the previous night’s show and laughing at the rumour that Sunday’s as-yet-unnanounced set will include Fish reuniting with the band to do the whole of their Misplaced Childhood album. In the afternoon I’m stewarding a photo shoot with the band for competition winners and a signing session. I meet a woman who came out of a coma after they played her favourite Marillion albums, a man that was going to kill himself but decided not to after a last man’s supper of one last listen to his favourite band; people for whom this stuff really matters in ways that I – who could reasonably be called an uber-fan – have not experienced even remotely, and who are shaking in anticipation of meeting the band.
Saturday’s concert is 2004’s Marbles in full. They’ve pulled out the stops for this one. Screens either side, behind and above the stage – and even on the drum and keyboard risers – play completely new projections for each song, some abstract, some quite literal. The show starts with The Invisible Man, the head of Steve Hogarth appearing fifteen feet high on the back screen to intone the opening section, complete with (deliberate) glitches, and the audience is audibly impressed.
The epic Ocean Cloud takes place in front of a night seascape that changes from placid to angry at the appropriate point, the small Marbles vignettes are accompanied by sepia toned film of the glass balls, conjuring an idyllic 50s/60s childhood. Standing behind the lighting desk, I am able to appreciate the full effect of the production, as well as see the flurry of activity that occurs when one side screen goes down and won’t re-set. However, although it looks amazing, it does distract the attention from the music a little. There’s a technical snafu three quarters through which results in Hogarth aborting Don’t Hurt Yourself (no irony there, no sirree) hurling an insult at keyboard player Mark Kelly and then storming off for a minute, before returning to complete the song and then apologise profusely. It’s an awkward moment, but soon forgotten.
During the main set closer Neverland I found myself starting to tear up (“At times like these, Any fool can see, Your love inside me” – I think of my darling Kate), but noticing it took me out of the moment. I suspect that had I had a couple of looseners (I’m off the booze for six months because of pancreatitis) I would have gone.
On Sunday, I get to be a co-presenter of a quiz between the winners of the pub quiz (held on Satuday) and the band on the main stage. Inspired by Pointless, I get to do a budget Richard Osmond/Statto role. A tie-break on the penultimate round was better drama that we could have hoped for and I manage to get off a funny that gets a laugh from the crowd. It took a lot of us a lot of work, over months, to put together, but people are lovely about it afterwards and we’re very happy with how it’s gone.
The band do a Q&A then Swap the Band – one member comes off and a fan replaces them. As always, the musicianship from the fans is amazing, but when Martin Jakubski comes on to sing Assassing for the first time since 1988, the place goes bananas.
The final set of the weekend is a chronological selection of singles from 1982 through to the present. Again, the crowd goes predictably nuts at the first outing of debut single Market Square Heroes for nigh on twenty years and the energy levels remain high for the next hour. It’s fair to say that the band’s choice of singles has, in general, moved away from the rockier side of their output. The fact that some of the more upbeat singles are out of bounds -having been played on the preceding album nights – means that the selection becomes gentler in the latter part of the show and the energy levels in the crowd reflect this. A final encore with a shredding version of Hocus Pocus by Focus ensures that the show ends on a high. Some stay in the main tent as long as they can, saying goodbyes, bellowing along to the classic rock selections on the PA. Some go to the Adventure Factory to try and get a place to sing with the very entertaining Rockaoke (much AC/DC is covered), but some of us have to be up at 05:00 to get the early coach back to Schipol; I’m not missing two flights this weekend.
With thanks to Alan Jones for the photo.
The entire Centreparcs is taken over by Marillion fans, roughly three thousand of them, representing 52 countries. People have come from Chile, the USA, Canada, Egypt, Venezuela, the United Arab Emirates, Australia, Hong Kong and Russia, but the majority of us are Dutch, German, French or British. Most of us are in our forties, but scanning the audience I see toddlers in ear defenders and people in their seventies, and a good number in their twenties. More men than women, but a much more equal gender split than one might expect. It is probably true that people that work in IT are over-represented.
It made me think..
I get that people don’t get it. That’s fine; I do.
They’re doing it all over again in three weeks in Wolverhampton, and I can’t wait. I only wish I were able to get to the final Marillion Weekend 2015 in Montreal as well.