Britain’s fastest-rising rock band discusses music and visuals
In a relatively short time, Marillion have established themselves as one of the country's top rock bands, and leaders of the new revival of progressive rock music. Their imaginative use of keyboards and guitars together with the powerful voice of their charismatic frontman Fish has given them a musical edge over their contemporaries, and their colourful approach to theatre and visuals promises great things for the future.
With their first album 'Script for a Jester's Tear' selling well and live appearances sold out, two members of the band — vocalist Fish and keyboard player Mark Kelly — took time out to talk to E&MM about the band's career and techniques.
I wouldn't say that we're part of a revival of progressive rock. It's more to do with increased attention from the media, because bands like Twelfth Night and Pallas have been going for much longer than we have. Perhaps we had more drive, foresight and career planning to come through to this stage. I was very aware of the punk revolution, or stagnation if you like when in 1976 all the musical dinosaurs started dying out. Bands like Simple Minds reflected the popular vote for aggression and simplicity by just standing up on stage and playing what they wanted to play, and by that I was very influenced.
I didn't start singing until I was 22 and at that time there were a lot of vocalists about who gave me confidence because I could believe I was better than they were. That evolved through to the stage where I joined Marillion in 1981, having done a lot of pub gigs and things. By that time there was an embarrassment about anybody who could play more than five chords and a complete neglect of the visual side of things, with an individual stance and everybody proclaiming their political views. All the Genesis and Yes fans had gone underground as the single became the prominent form of vinyl appearance, and the bands that were willing to stand up in pubs and say they were still interested in that sort of music were dismissed by the media.
Nowadays it's changing, with the live circuit that was dead a couple of years ago reappearing and all the people who have always liked this sort of music standing up again. In 1977 one or two-syllable lyrics were the 'in' thing, but now there are more people willing to sit down over a glass of wine and think about an album, and that's why we're here. We're fulfilling a demand, and the parallel between music and lyrics has become important again. I can't play an instrument and I'm not a technically-minded person, but Mark, Steve, Pete, Andy and myself have the same musical stance, and when the riffs and lyrics are written they tend to clip together very well. The chemistry is there, and it's not as if the lyrics are thrown on at the last minute; it's all part of the same thing.
I've never had any vocal training or even measured my range. I can go into falsetto quite easily, and I think I've been very lucky to be able to start singing at 22 and make a success of it. I was originally working with a pub band doing covers, and in the same set I would have to sing 10CC's 'Dreadlock Holiday', Eric Clapton's 'I Shot The Sheriff', straight blues, 'All Right Now' by Free and so on, and I never had a chance to settle down into one vocal style. When they started asking me to write lyrics I came up with 'The Web' as a blues song, but it would never work that way and so my influences dictated the fact that I had to leave.
I knew there had to be people somewhere who shared the same influences, and the band now has come together because of that rather than through our being in the sixth form together or whatever.
The theatrical style is now very much part of the act. When you're delivering lyrics which are reasonably complex you have to form another language, a language which comes through mime, eye contact and movement which helps explain the songs, it's a visual dictionary. There was talk about a solo deal with Geffen Records purely on the strength of the visual side, but I wouldn't be here without the band. It's the five of us that make the chemistry, it's not just Fish, it's Marillion.
The theatricals are more acceptable because of the video promo reaction that's taking place. Bands like ABC produce a fantastic album and videos, but on stage they're very disappointing because they're so stark and cold. Our video is a concept one, a theatrical version of 'He Knows You Know' for America; I didn't like the video for 'Market Square Heroes' which was shown on video juke boxes because it was mimed, and there's nothing I loathe more than miming songs!
'Market Square Heroes' was released on October 25th, 1982, and it gained a lot of ground because of the length of the whole thing partly; it came to about twenty-five minutes. It went down the charts before the album came out, but it kept on selling as more and more people got into the band. The band grew by word of mouth, not because of radio airplay and not because of an appeal to fashion. Also, there's not just an influence from bands like Genesis, we listen to most of the seventies bands, to Irish and Scottish folk music (in the jig that's part of 'Forgotten Sons') to Pink Floyd and so on. We're getting a heavier influence from folk music that'll be used on the next album, but then there's going to be a straight rock 'n' roll track about three minutes long on it as well. There are no pre-conceived ideas at all, and we're not influenced by fashions.
We tend to exist very much at tangents, with Mark becoming the musical driving force and myself shaping and creating with the lyrics. Mark and Steve are definitely the ones who work on the imagination side, with Pete being as important on the direction side. Andy we've yet to find out about! Within the band we exist very much on a brotherly level and obviously there are going to be some growing pains; Andy was necessary for the progression of the band.
A lot of things are changing, for instance I won't be using the make-up any more. We're going to rely more on props and visuals, a change of image which was available and quite welcomed. I admire David Bowie and the way he can change image on every album and still remain David Bowie! We've thought very far ahead, and a visual change is, if anything, as important as a musical change. Visuals do tend to restrict music changes though; recently a lot of different styles like pop, rock and jazz have been thrown together and become closer, and that's tended to confuse the visuals.
Having done a tour with Peter Hamill I got very interested in Islamic music; he gave me a tape with some incredible rhythm patterns, and more especially the vocal delivery and the emotion within the vocals. That is probably going to make an appearance on the next album, because it's also got a classic link-up with western folk music although with a totally different delivery. We like to experiment with things like that, mainly because of the press reaction comparing us with Genesis, or the voice of Peter Gabriel. I enjoy experimenting because I like testing my limitations, too; there's something distinctive about the stacatto approach to the syllables in the Scottish voice, such as Ian Anderson's, Peter Hamill's or Rod Stewart's.
I have a little drums, guitars and bass coming through my wedge, Steve has a wedge in front of him and Fish has got two.
There are also side fills so he can move around when he's singing: they're quite loud so he can move towards them if he can't hear. Our timing is quite good on stage I think, because we can all hear what's going on; after you've worked on the album versions though it becomes easier to do things like the stabs on 'The Web' — we just stab and count six!
We all listen to quite varied music, not just the older progressive bands like Genesis. I've always followed Rick Wakeman's work, but I can't see the band using an orchestra in the way he did. We tend to produce orchestral effects just with the keyboards, and most of the time on stage I have to play two keyboards at once to fill out the sounds. The end of 'Forgotten Sons' resolves onto a very classical orchestral major chord though.
The tracks on 'Script for a Jester's Tear' are divided by various radio effects, telephone voices and so on. They're slightly similar to the sort of thing Pink Floyd used to do: a few of the ideas came from Fish, and were intended to link the lyrical ideas in the songs. The telephone conversation between 'He Know You Know' and 'The Web' takes the problems related in the first song and comes out in time with the second song, for instance.
The first album for any band is always just a business card, and you only meet the managing directors of the firm on the third, fourth or fifth album. It takes a while to establish totally original style, delivery and technique, and if you listen to nearly every band's first album you can hear that the link to their immediate influences is very strong. It takes a while for the filters to come into operation; every vocalist will start by singing along with others, and in that he sets his limitations by the limitations of others. It's only through gaining confidence that he will learn his own limitations. Vocals are about sixty-five per cent confidence, not technique!
Our first album is not a concept album, it's an album of concepts. The link is 'isolation', one character or individual reacting to a particular situation. The second album will deal with characters reacting with each other, and the third with other characters reacting to two individuals. The stage act at each stage will revolve around the albums, and all the images you can see on the sleeve of the first album relate to the second album as well. Mark Wilkinson came up with a formula for the cover art and we all threw ideas at him to add into it. We want to embrace all parts of the creation of the records, the videos, the visual images and so on in the future, because they're all equally important in telling the stories we're trying to tell with the music.