Clock’s Already Ticking
Counting Down to the 2019 Marillion Weekend

I said at the beginning of the year that I wanted to make tm3am more of a chronicle of what I am actually listening to, as opposed to a series of reviews I feel obligated to write. With that in mind, here’s what I feel like I should be writing about this week: Bruce Hornsby, the Chemical Brothers, Norah Jones, John Paul White and the first Unwed Sailor album in 11 years. These are all new records I have enjoyed, to one degree or another.

But if you want to ask me what I’m listening to? I mean, really, obsessively listening to? That’s easy. It’s Marillion.

There’s a good reason for that, too. In a month’s time, I will be in Montreal with thousands of fellow fans for the 2019 Marillion Weekend. It’s the first such weekend on this side of the Atlantic since 2015, and I went to that one too and had an amazing time. This go-round I am staying in an Airbnb with friends I made last time, and I’m excited to see them again and catch up. I’m excited for the whole thing, though, and I’ve been listening to the band almost non-stop for weeks in preparation.

What is a Marillion Weekend? It’s a gathering of fans for three concerts over three consecutive nights, celebrating this band we all love. This year promises to be special, since we’re also celebrating Steve Hogarth’s 30th anniversary as frontman. (He joined in 1989 after original singer Fish lit out for a solo career.) Hogarth has been an absolute godsend for this band – his extraordinary strong-yet-vulnerable voice remains as supple as ever, he’s become a truly remarkable lyricist, and with him at the helm, the band has explored dozens of styles with no fear.

Part of what makes the Marillion Weekend special is the sense of togetherness, of having found our people. Marillion isn’t for everyone, despite the fact that I think they should be. Their work crosses a lot of genre lines, they aren’t afraid to write songs that stretch more than a quarter of an hour, and they’re a very patient band, content to create an atmosphere and live in it for as long as possible. Hogarth’s voice is, for some reason, divisive – I’ve tried to turn some people on to the band and heard an earful in return about the vocals, which to me are a main selling point.

Long story short, it’s a lonely fandom, and being in a room with thousands of people who love the band as much as I do is euphoric in a way I can’t even describe. You have to be there. So I will be there.

In the meantime, I listen. I know what we’re getting this year – the setlists are generally the same for all of the Weekends held around the world – and it’s nothing less than a victory lap, touching on all eras of Hogarth’s three decades with the band. I’m excited to hear songs I’ve never heard live, but I’m more excited to revel in some older favorites and some newer masterpieces. On Sunday we will get all of Essence, the first half of 2008’s Happiness is the Road double album, and it’s basically a 50-minute song that I am so looking forward to getting lost in.

As if the band just knew I would be in the mood to buy new stuff from them, they’ve just released five new albums and a new Blu-Ray/DVD. Three of those albums and the film document the 2017 Marillion Weekend in Santiago, Chile, the first such weekend in South America. (This was the tradeoff for skipping the Montreal Weekend that year.) And it’s lovely stuff.

The Friday night set seems like a best-of, which I am sure the Chile audience appreciated. It spans 1991’s Holidays in Eden to 2012’s Sounds that Can’t Be Made, including rarely-played gems like “A Collection” and “Faith.” There’s a fantastic run-through of the acoustic version of “Hard as Love,” an astounding “A Few Words for the Dead” and a final encore of the 17-minute “Gaza” that offers further proof of this piece as a modern classic.

On Saturday the band dipped back to the Fish era for a selection of songs from 1987’s Clutching at Straws and 1985’s Misplaced Childhood. These are songs Hogarth rarely sings, and for good reason – they’re not his, and there’s 30 years of material from his tenure to choose from. But the fans love this material, and Hogarth puts his all into it. The band also played all of FEAR, their latest album, but apparently were not happy with the recording, so those songs sit out this collection. That’s fine – I love FEAR, but I have a few different renditions of it now, and they won’t top the Royal Albert Hall recording of it from last year.

On Sunday the band played all of 1999’s Dotcom, an album that does not get enough love. I think it’s an underrated gem, seven lovely songs (including “Go” and “Enlightened” and “Tumble Down the Years,” all favorites) and two epics. The extraordinary “Interior Lulu” remains stunning no matter how many times I hear it, and I love the chilled-out “House” for its unique vibe. A few great encores, including the new anthem “All One Tonight,” round this off and end things on a high note.

I’ve been so immersed in the Chile records that I haven’t yet listened to the other two, but I will soon. They are the next two installments in the band’s series of audio documentaries, chronicling the making of Happiness and of 2007’s Somewhere Else. As a process junkie, these artifacts – which start with the unformed jams that led to the songs, and then build to full demos – are fascinating. At nearly five hours, these two releases will definitely give me enough to listen to before the weekend.

I know I will not be able to explain the experience of being there for you, just as I have not been able to explain what this band’s music has meant to me over the 20 or so years I have been listening to them. It’s a lonely fandom, but it’s an important one to me. In 30 days I will be in another country, in the company of friends, reveling in the fact that this band exists. And I’ll keep on talking about it until I find the words.

Next week, some of those records I listed up top. But just know that in between all of those, I will still be listening to Marillion. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tm3am.

See you in line Tuesday morning.

a column by andre salles