Marillion moves beyond cult status with Misplaced Childhood and “Kayleigh”

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, MARCH 7, 1986

By Steve Newton

Yessongs. Brain Salad Surgery. Selling England By the Pound. Do those album titles ring a bell? They should if you remember back to 1973. At that time, ‘progressive’ rock was big around the world and its foremost practitioners were British bands such as Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and Genesis. Those groups won devoted followings with their lengthy songs and well mapped-out concept albums that had striking cover art and poetic lyrics printed on the sleeves.

Nowadays, bands that do things that way are few and far between–at least as far as the mass audience is concerned. But there are some that stick to the values of the early seventies and still manage to be heard.

Marillion, which plays the Commodore this Monday (March 10), is one of that rare breed.

People who enjoyed the sound of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis–the way they were before Phil Collins took over and led them into the mainstream–are almost certain to like Marillion. Back home in Britain the group is a huge success. Their third album, Misplaced Childhood, entered the UK charts at number one.

The band also has a reputation as a superb live act, and with the help of the album’s first single “Kayleigh”, Marillion are hoping to crack the North American market as well. If they do, the band may be on its way to making the progressive rock sound of the early ’70s a strong force in the ’80s.

Marillion is made up of lead vocalist Derek Williams (aka Fish), guitarist Steve Rothery, bassist Peter Trewavas, drummer Ian Mosely, and keyboardist Mark Kelly. The Georgia Straight contacted Kelly in Quebec City earlier this week, where the band was opening for Rush.

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That’s a rather strange match-up isn’t it, Marillion and Rush?

Well I’m not sure. We played with Rush about two years ago in New York City, and the audience didn’t like us at all. So when they asked us to do this tour, about four weeks with them, we weren’t really enthusiastic. But in the end we said we’d do it, and the first gig in Buffalo went really well.

What other bands have you opened for over the years, that you’ve really liked?

We opened for Todd Rundgren a few times and that was quite good. But we don’t normally open for bands. We’ve had problems finding bands that we’re actually suited to, you know. One thought was to open for Yes at one point, but that never happened.

Does it bother you when people compare Marillion to Genesis?

[Laughs]. You get pretty straight to the point don’t you? Some people usually do a lead-in to that question. Uh…no, it doesn’t really. In Europe we’ve been compared to Genesis, especially in Germany and France, but I think in a lot of cases it’s just a way for people to describe the music, rather than actually saying “We think you sound just like Genesis therefore you’re not any good.” I think normally they do it as a way of saying “There’s this new band out, and the nearest thing to them is Genesis.” Which I don’t mind at all.

But we don’t really sound that much like Genesis anyway. We do have influences from the ’70s progressive bands, you can hear that, but that’s not necessarily just Genesis. My biggest influence was probably Yes, as a band, when I was just starting to play keyboards at about 15. And so obviously Rick Wakeman figured quite heavy there. And Keith Emerson. It was really those sort of bands–anything from Camel to Gentle Giant.

It says in your Capitol Reocrds bio that Misplaced Childhood is the third in a trilogy of albums. Are they really all connected some way?

The main thing that connects it all is Fish’s lyrical writing style–it tends to be from personal experience. He sort of built up this style from the first album, and it’s flowed through all three albums. The Misplaced Childhood album expands on the title track of the second album, Fugazi, a great deal. And at the end of Misplaced Childhood, Fish actually comes to some sort of solution in his lyrics about what he thinks of the whole thing.

What’s your stage show like?

At the moment, obviously we’re having to work things into the gigs that we’re playing because we’re doing either smaller gigs, or these big gigs opening for Rush. It tends to be pretty much take it as it happens. We haven’t really brought that much over with us in terms of stage show.

Does Fish wear a lot of costumes and makeup?

He doesn’t wear the makeup anymore. He stopped doing that about a year ago, mainly becuase I think he thought that it was expected of him. Besides, he’s got this great big beard now, so there’s no way he can wear makeup.

I hear that Fish sometimes dresses up as a combat soldier, a court jester, and a spider web. Does he design his own costumes?

No. We had a person designing costumes for a while, but the material that she was using to make them–like silk and stuff like that–was getting destroyed. It couldn’t really stand up to life on the road. So now it’s mainly various bits and pieces we’ve picked up from prop places and that sort of thing.

Were you surprised by the success of “Kayleigh”?

Yeah I was actually, ’cause it wasn’t really written as a single. We wrote the album as an album, and “Kayleigh” was just part of the first side, as far as we were concerned. And even right down to the last minute we were having trouble deciding what to put out as a single.

Who is Kayleigh?

Kayleigh was a girlfriend of Fish’s. Nobody really knows who she is–well apart from obviously friends. He stopped seeing her two years ago. But when “Kayleigh” was in the Top 10 in Britain, all the daily newspapers decided they wanted to find out who she was. So they were going around asking people and offering people money and everything [laughs]. But they never did find out in the end.

Why did you record the album in Berlin?

Well the main reason was because Chris Kimsey, who was the new producer we’d just taken on, he wanted to work out of the country…for tax reasons [laughs]. So we had a choice of going to Paris, or Holland, or Zurich, or Berlin. And he said that he’d like to work in Berlin because he’d just been there before, and he liked the studio [Hansa Ton Studios].

I read in Sounds magazine that there were rumours of Fish and guitarist Steve Rothery “rolling around on the studio floor” during recording sessions.

What, you mean having a brawl? No. There were a few harsh words exchanged, but no blows or anything. When you have an argument it goes from that to “Oh they had a fight!” or “Somebody was hit!” We’ve never come to blows as a band anytime. I think if we did that it would be the end, really.

Do you miss being somewhat of a cult band?

We still are, in certain places. I think we’re still a cult band in North America.

But certainly not as much as you were a year ago.

We’ve noted that. The last time we were in Canada was 18 months ago when we recorded one side of the live album, Real to Reel, in Montreal. So it’s been like a year and a half, and coming back people are actually saying “Yeah we heard of you–you do that song “Kayleigh”. Whereas before it was like “Marillion who?”

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To hear the full audio of my 1986 interview with Mark Kelly subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can eavesdrop on over 250 of my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:

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