I first saw Marillion back in 1983 at Brimingham Odeon. They were a special band: so different, so refreshing, so youthful! Between then and 1988 they proved to be progressive innovators, with each album just getting better and better. Much of this success was due to the group's unique sound and the powerful presence of a certain Scotsman by the name of Fish. The idea of Marillion without Fish was totally inconceivable. Of course the inevitable happened - he left! However, the remaining four members persevered 'fishless' and delivered their fifth studio album Season's End in 1989 featuring Steve Hogarth, proving conclusively that this was not the case.
Now, having completed an extensive world tour with the band Steve is very optimistic about the future and is looking forward to the band's two forthcoming British dates. We caught up with him in the studio as the band begun pre-production work on their next opus...
"It's been quite incredible! We've been touring all over the world and we've had a lot of fun! I think we've achieved quite a lot in the space of one year. We've done two tours of Europe, one long tour of America, and also played places like Brazil, Canada, and Scandinavia."
What was the reception like in America?
"It was very good. The band are nearly as big in the States as they are here and in Europe, and for that matter in South America. We were actully very surprised at the reception we got in Brazil; it was like being the Beatles down there! What's interesting in North America is that our fans there are so similar to the fans we have in Europe in terms of their attitude towards the band. We don't seem to have a casual audience; we have an audience that absolutely lives and breathes Marillion. I've never ever seen a band that has an audience like ours, let alone been in one before!"
There are less personality problems withing the band aren't there?
"Yes, I think that Steve, Mark, Ian, and Pete have vindicated themselves in so much as they've shown that Marillion wasn't Fish. You can't underrate his importance in the band in the past, but at the same time I think a lot of people thought the band was just about him and the four chaps have proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that wasn't the case. You've only got to compare our album to Fish's album to hear where the Marillion sound came from."
It seems that Steve and Mark have come out of their shells.
"I think that's got to be a good thing because they're such excellent players. If you've got it flaunt it, then it's better to be able to pull to the front the strong elements in the music. That's especially true of Steve Rothery. I really think he is an outstanding guitar player, and he's yet to receive the recognition that he deserves! There is definitely a chemistry between the four chaps that is much stronger than the sum of the parts, and you can't replace that. It's something that is either there or not there! I think that there's not many bands in the world that have it. There's this great strength and energy that happens. You can't just go out into the market and stick the adverts in the Melody Maker and get it. It's something that takes a long time to develop! In a way, my heart goes out to Fish because I think he's in a very lonely position. It's a lot harder to get through life as a solo artist because the onus is always upon you to create everything and you never get the spirit of a band. It's something I've been through myself."
You must be pretty satisfied with the way the Marillion fans have taken to you.
"I'm amazed, thrilled, flattered, and relieved! I was pretty nervous at the outset, but as time went by there was less and less to worry about. The fans seem to have taken to me very well, better than I could have hoped!
Season's End appears to address worldwide problems instead of personal ones. Was that intentional?
"Yes, we were trying to relate the album to NOW. A lot of people have accused us of being political and asked us whether we felt it was right for us. But I don't think the lyrics are political in the sense of being party political."
How important a role do you think music should play in politics? Where do you think you should draw the line?
"I think you should draw the line at being sincere. If somebody believes passionately about something then nobody should condemn them if it emerges in their music. Political messages are so important and if you don't mean them you're committing a serious crime in my opinion!"
What sort of themes do you think you'll be touching on when it comes to writing new material?
"I'm currently working on a song about a nuclear power station. It's something that I feel very strongly about. I once read a letter by a Professor Michael Dutely who wrote to the Independent a couple of years ago and I actually kept it and I carry it around with me. It really hit the nail on the head! He said that 'as a scientist, whenever a society adopts a scientific system, it adopts that system knowing that the system can and always will fail.' When you get on an aeroplane, you get on it knowing that it might crash. Aeroplanes do crash! However, you get on an aeroplane because 'the use of such a system outways the risk of its failure.' It's of a more positive value. On the other hand, what a lot of people don't realise is that the consequences of an outright failure nd meltdown or a nuclear power station are totally horrific! Totally unacceptable. I think that we're all stark raving mad to allow these things to operate. The sooner they're taken to bits the better!"
Are you going to be working with John Helmer again?
"Yes, we've already begun talking to him and spent a bit of time briefing him. But it's still very early days yet! We've just started to write and I've just got little half-ideas about the direction."