One in a Marillion
Alan Townsend braves an interview
Earlier this Summer Roland's Alan Townsend managed to corner the members of Marillion to talk about their wide range of Roland gear in their latest instrumental line-up. The band had reached final rehearsals in London prior to their massive European Summer tour.
You either love them or you hate them. There's no third option. Perhaps most of this is due to the imposing personality of Scottish singer the mighty Fish. Our photographer saw them at Castle Donnington last year and was amazed to see the entire 80,000 audience singing along to the quite complex lyrics; Fish no longer has to sing the word 'Kayleigh' at all — the audience does it for him.
Marillion were in a film studio off the North Circular Road making the final preparations for their six country European tour. The equipment was together, the music needed one more run-through and the stage show needed some final discussion — things like, would the thunder and lightning effects planned for Milton Keynes be effective at the daylight festivals in Europe? During the lunch break I asked the band about their equipment.
Steve Rothery is the lightly bearded guitar player and founder member of the band. He uses only Boss effects pedals; SD-1 Super Overdrive, DS-1 Distortion and OC-2 Octaver. They can't be seen at his feet, however, because he has them mounted in a 19" rack where they can be used in line with his rack mounted devices; SDE-3000 Digital Delay, SRV-2000 Digital Reverb and Boss CE-300 Digital Chorus. The different combinations are preset and switched with an SCC-700 computer controlled pedal board. His TU-12 Tuner is also inline.
The sound is sent either to a Marshall stack or to two Roland JC-120s. Steve used to use Marshall all the time until the second album when a roadie recommended the JC-120. He now uses it for everything except "for the odd power chord thing".
The last album was all JC-120. "It sounds really good, particularly with Strats. The JC can give a heavy sound with distortion pedals but I can immediately switch to playing clean, finger-picking things. It sounds good for both."
There are three main guitar sounds. Chorus, (from the amp) and echo from the SDE-3000 with a Strat. For lead sounds he uses a DS-1 into the SDE and then into the JC-120, sometimes with chorus. He uses a Boss Super Overdrive for power chords.
Steve is also a guitar synthesist of long standing, playing one of the old blue GR-300s with a strat type G-505 guitar. He used it on 'Assassing' and extensively on the 'Misplaced Childhood' album.
"On 'Assassing' I tuned the oscillator down an octave with a trumpety sound. 'Duet' was on with a bit of modulation and the attack time set at a quarter. It's nice because I can still play it like a guitar. I've thought of trying a Synthaxe but I think it's getting away from what the guitar's all about".
He showed us a new sound that he had found by using the GR-300, DS-1 and OC-2 at the same time. It will be used on the new album as a heavy bass/lead riff with repeat echo, the echo making it particularly effective as it gives the impression that twice as many notes are being played.
Bass player Peter Trewavas also uses Boss effects and TU-12 tuner. His BCB-6 carrying case contains a PSM-5 Power Supply, DM-2 Delay Machine, CE-2 Chorus and BF-2 Flanger. "I've been using them a long time. They're really good. I've been thinking of changing to the Micro-Rack range but I think that these are more convenient for stage use."
Even Ian Mosley, the drummer, is a potential Roland user. He is experimenting at augmenting his acoustic drum kit with a TR-727 Latin Percussion Rhythm Unit and an Octapad MIDI Percussion Unit.
Marillion were planning a break in the European tour to play the Milton Keynes Bowl on June 28th, supported by Gary Moore, Magnum and Mama's Boys with special guests Jethro Tull which gives some measure of their stature. The 35,000 tickets were quickly sold. The next step was to fly back to Germany for the Cologne Festival.
Then on Sunday 3rd August members of Marillion plus friends were to play a special edited performance of the current set for Roland, taking place in a theatre adjoining Olympia 2, the venue for the British Music Fair and including 'Kayleigh' and 'Lavender", both hit singles from the 'Misplaced Childhood' album. By the time you read this, of course, the free concert will have taken place and there will be a full report in the next 'NewsLink'.
An essential role in the sound of Marillion is performed by the Jupiter-8 of keyboard player Mark Kelly. Its sound provides the rich sustained chords in many of their numbers. It will be interesting to see if Mark's new MKS-80 Super Jupiter synthesizer replaces the JP-8 in this respect.
Some other replacing, however, has just happened. An MKS-20 Digital Piano module goes on tour instead of the electric grand. "The advantages are obvious. Derek (keyboard man) used to have to stop the soundcheck for an hour to have it tuned and that meant taking the other instruments off the top as well. Feedback was also pretty horrendous. We used to have to take all the bottom out of the sound."
Mark uses it mainly for the Piano-1 and 3 sounds but he uses the Vibes and Harpsichord as well. He used to use a sampled harpsichord in 'Script for a Jester's Tear', but not any more.
So why did he choose the rackmounted Piano Module instead of its equivalent keyboard, the RD-1000 Digital Piano? "Using the MKB-1000 Mother Keyboard lets me play the piano, my Super Jupiter and other MIDI instruments as well."
A Juno synthesizer plays another important part. "I usually MIDI it to the DX7 to get some really nice combinations. Analogue type string sounds from the Juno mixed with the harder sounding DX. I also sometimes use two similar sounds and put them in stereo".
Fish returned from the canteen at this point and he and Mark began hurling good natured abuse at each other, much of it based on their respective Scottish and Irish ancestry.
I needed to ask Fish about his songwriting but the big fella seemed anxious to start work again. There's something about him that makes you not want to argue!
Roland Newslink - Autumn 1986
Interview by Alan Townsend
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