Marillion: Interview with Pete Trewavas

We had a lengthy chat with PETE TREWAVAS on the deluxe reissue of the Marillion debut album Script For A Jester’s Tear – and other random gubbins.

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Pete Trewavas at Manchester Ritz 2014

As we get connected I note that it says ‘chillin’ on Pete’s Skype. “I probably did that ages ago, I might even have been on holiday or something,” he laughs, as there’s not that much time for chilling when you’re part of an international rock band.

We also get sidetracked immediately after  I mention I’d seen recently on Lucy’s Friday Questions (manager Lucy Jordache bravely fields fans question every Friday – even those that begin with ‘I know it‘s not Friday but…’) that’s he’s one of the hardest working musicians in rock. He’s having none of it.

“No! That is definitely not the case!  Mike Portnoy is probably the hardest working person I know. He never stops, but  Roine (Stolt – another of Pete’s buddies in Transatlantic) is the same. Every day he’s writing music or playing music. He does occasionally have a holiday, just two weeks here and two weeks there. I’m getting to that stage as well. My wife’s just retired and I was thinking I need to get some of my life back as  I’ve immersed myself in music for the last few years.”

I mention Neal Morse too who seems to knock out prog rock concept albums as a matter of course. “Yeah, him and Mike share bands and he does his solo stuff and all his other church stuff. He scores stuff and he’s written a musical – no ends to a man’s talents. The most impressive thing I’ve found out about him actually is that one of his uncles was in a band called The Hi-Lo’s that was my dad’s favourite vocal harmony group back in the fifties and sixties. So when he was a nipper he used to go along to the recording studios. That’s starting off young.”

We talk about the folk dynasties – “He was a bit of a genius wasn’t he?” Pete says when I mention the Waterson-Carthy folk dynasty. “I think I might know what you’re going to say, but I might not” he says when I veer off with a story about Martin’s ability to remember a song or tune on one hearing, such is the way folk music is passed on. It turns out not btw…

However, “I used to be a bit like that when I was younger,” Pete offers. “I was very quick at picking things up and one of the reasons why I fell into music even from a very early age when my dad was splaying jazz records as a nipper, I kind of understood what was going on. When I was about five or six listening to Duke Ellington he’d sit me down at the piano and I found it very easy to understand what was happening in music so that was a good grounding.”

It seems daft to ask if he’s been busy, but he’s just emerged from the duty of signing five thousand pre-orders. “I might have the gold star actually! Although they found one I hadn’t signed!

Which then evolves into the nature of having to sign stuff and the whole rigmarole around having a manageable signature and more…

 “You can normally do two or three a minute but you get to a stage where your signature gets further and further away from what it was when you started so you need a rest then. We have had complaints in the past – you try signing tow or three thousand things in one go and your signature drifts. And also your signature changes over time. In fact when I first started in the band we used to have the old Web hand printed magazines and handouts and stuff like that so there was always something that people wanted signing so I had to devise a signature as I didn’t really have one until that point. If you’re smart enough to devise a signature that’s so quick it doesn’t matter and that becomes THE signature then you’re laughing. Sadly I tried to write my whole name that over the years has become a ‘P’ with a squiggle and a long bit that looks like a ‘T’ that starts my surname and then a flourish at the end for the ‘S’

We digress yet again when I mention having first seen Marillion at Bangor University in late 1982 in the pre-Script days (check out our Time Tunnel here) so, if you  pardon the pun, back to the script and as it’s almost forty years ago since the album  so what sort of memories are there of that time?

Well, very fondly really. It was an odd time for me suddenly going back – on the one hand I’d left the prog scene having been in a couple of prog bands prior to Marillion and I’d branched off into new wave. Where the band were based in Aylesbury was very close to London to allow progressive music to flourish. Or so I thought. I remember seeing the band before I joined them in a pub in Aylesbury called The Britannia where I’d played as well. They stood out because they were playing progressive music, they were dressed weirdly in these cloth things and of course Fish was very tall and it was all very theatrical. So when I joined it was like I thought I’d left an area of music I used to love – I have all my prog credentials! I only got into new wave when it was bands like The Stranglers that sort of reminded me of the progressive era. I didn’t  get on with punk too well but The Stranglers and all the new wave stuff that was coming on after that. Interestingly, I used to love a band from the Seventies called Stackridge and two of the guys from Stackridge became The Corgis who of course had that massive hit Change Your Heart.”

“So yes…I have fond memories but it was a bit tricky fitting in to start with as I was so different. I had red hair and I got the piss taken out of me by certain members of the band because I had white trainers as I was on the new wave curve where all your clothes had to be brand spanking new so I had this layered red henna-ed hair, white jackets and bright trainers and red skin tight jeans and all that. I couldn’t grow my hair long quickly enough so the first thing I did was grow a beard and get some facial hair so I looked a bit more folky and interesting.”

There are some interesting photos in the deluxe Script booklet with that very facial hair to the fore.

“I had long hair from when I was about fifteen. I was always being told to get my hair cut at school and by my dad and the neighbours used to joke about it. All my parents’ friends used to say I was on drugs but I was just a teenager into the music scene. So I reverted back to wearing similar kind of clothes and music like when I was fifteen and sixteen which seems fairly odd to be doing later on.

“But what I realised on that first tour was then when you’re out of the clutches of the London music press, the rest of the world was very different and not really bothered about what new bands were out – the rest of the world wanted proper bands and we certainly were. Musically we were getting stronger and getting stronger with every change in the band. Although I replaced Diz (Minnit) who I’m still good friends with as is Steve (Rothery) he’s a very good bass player,  and luckily for me it was the start of a long music career.”

“Of course, it was exciting signing a record deal and doing your first recordings. I’d been in studios in London before as some friends of mine were signed to Chappell Music and I was in a scratch band who would go up to London to demo their song in the studio in New Bond Street and I went to Rockfield once too. Bit not to the extent of doing a proper album. It was a new level for all of us.”

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Pete at Manchester Academy 2012

It’s an experience bands won’t have in the current times – being spotted and then signed to a contract that rips you off mercilessly in the traditional way!

“Oh they can still get the experience of being ripped off. Luckily that’s still there but things have changed in a weird way. In some ways it’s very easy to do your things and in others it’s almost impossible. There’s so much chatter and background noise out there. It was never an easy thing to get noticed by A&R men or record companies and it’s just changed in the way it happens now and it really is down to the talent – whatever that is. Whether it’s just amazing looks or a persona or someone who’s just so likeable or a great singer. There has to be a media position, that’s the main thing now.”

“The Sixties you had to be fairly polished before you got really noticed. The Seventies was when record companies didn’t really understand the music so they would just sign bands and let them do their thing because the kids liked it! Leave it up to them – there’s a great interview with Frank Zappa where he talks about that. We were just on the back of that era where we got signed because we had a following and we would probably sell records on that back of it and that was about all the record company knew about us. We could sell out the Marquee and we played the Reading Festival which was pretty unheard of and so they signed us. They weren’t really sure of what to do with us but knew someone could make an album with us that people would listen to.”

But before the album came the single…

“That first EP was just us in a studio to capture the best version of the songs we had. We didn’t want to do a single per se, we wanted a 12” with a statement – which was Grendel. We didn’t want people to think we’d sold out and we wanted the record company to know what we were. It gave us that which was nice, but then it was the serious business of making a record that could be played on the radio with Nick Tauber.”

“That was quite exciting as Nick had worked with some great musicians and he’d done Toyah’s stuff. Her live band were really good and he was also into The Tubes who had their moments and I always liked them. He took influences on how they were putting their records together. We were all excited about being in Marquee Studios in Wardour Street and just hanging about there. These days it would be ‘if I’ve done my bits I’m going home.’  We were just happy to be there – and we still are as we’re lucky enough to have our own studio and we spend an awful lot of time in it because we spend an awful lot of time making records. The slow recording company! But everything was exciting and new and we felt we couldn’t put a foot wrong and for the first album it all went very well. It could have been better but it was a first album. There was a plan because it had to brought in on time and budget and the only way to do that is to have a plan and stick to it.”

Looking back on the songs, Steve Rothery clearly has a lot of affection, playing the early stuff with his solo band. Is there a fondness for the fledgling Marillion. Often bands look back on their first efforts with some embarrassment or disown the songs, or on the other hand they hold some element of nostalgia…

“We’ve played all sorts of stuff recently. We tend to save the big old sets for our convention weekends as that seems to be the most appropriate time. We’re in a position where we’re often on tour with a current album which isn’t the time to trot out the old material. Shorter things like Sugar Mice which is always in and around the set. From the early days its market Square and Garden Party and some stuff like Warm Wet Circles in America…and Kayleigh! It must have been about ten years ago we did the tour with Deep Purple around France and Germany and we thought we’d better do some old stuff and play ‘the single’ (Kayleigh, although there are a bunch of charting singles) because there might be a lot of Deep Purple fans that don’t know what we do but it wasn’t the song that went down best. What went down best were things like Neverland and Invisible Man which we thought was quite a challenge! As well as show them where we came from! It was nice that they thought the same as our fanbase.”

Without going into detail we sidetrack again to talk about the music of Deep Purple and the amazing skills of guitarist Steve Morse and his technique that Pete likens to that of Jeff Beck.

“Him and Steve Rothery, for me, have the best guitar sounds in modern music. You have to count Gilmour in there as he’s a bit of a master, but Steve Morse is up there.”

But back to the album, “Oh yes!” and the title track – it’s introduced by Fish on the box set live recording at the Marquee 1982 as “a new one.” A lot of the album you’d been playing but not the grand title track…… “So new we hadn’t finished writing it. We were recording it – at the beginning of 83 or the end of 82…I can’t recall…but it was probably after Christmas but although we were playing it we might not have finished writing it. I might be wrong! I should know shouldn’t I!”

So it’s time to ask about Grendel! There are a couple of versions – the 12” single b-side and a live version but it was the number that Marillion were well known for. Was the 12” the opportunity to get it out rather than take up such a huge chunk of a first album?

“Hmmm. Good point and I think it probably was and it served a great purpose being on the first single as EMI wanted a single ahead of the album. Basically if the single hadn’t gone so well they may have been scratching their heads wondering what to do with us. We were adamant we weren’t a single band so the way around that to pacify ourselves was to have Grendel on the single. And then the album was made up of the rest of what we used to play live. You see with Grendel it wasn’t just theatrical it was a very long song so it would have taken up a lot of the album and Forgotten Sons was a big thing, especially for Fish. A lot fo those songs were written as in the chord structures and lyrics but they all got refined a bit more as I started to write more complex bass things and that would define the drum patterns a bit more. Chelsea Monday, thinking about it more recently, start with me as the new boy in the band, playing the walking bass line over the bass pedals. I’m not sure anyone had done it like that before and the only reason I used the bass pedals like that was because we had to have the bass pedals! I kind of fell into playing them and I incorporated the pedals into the playing. The power you feel when you press down and feel it coming back at you.”

We go off on a tangent again talking about the bass pedal techniques of John Hackett and Nick Beggs (”I’ve known him for years and he’s a great guy”) who I met when we first signed to EMI. (“I saw him playing the Chapman Stick with Howard Jones who does all sorts of stuff now. He’s written a lot of new music apart from the Rewind stuff and he has my old mate – actually my best friend – Robin Boult – on guitar with him as well…we’re digressing again! But he’s also written a lot with Fish at the minute.”)

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Going back to Grendel and the first album tour that went round the larger concert halls of the UK, the calls for the song at  Manchester Apollo were met with the slightly perverse comment from Fish: “not being played on this tour!” Although Marillion did play it in Edinburgh and Hammersmith (the latter being filmed for the Recital Of The Script video). Do you remember that?

“No!” (general laughter) “Sorry I don’t! We probably just decided we’d played it a lot. I wonder what else we played then because we only had an hour or so of music. I suppose we did some music that would hopefully be on the second album. I bet Charting The Single was in although in a different form…”

Three Boats Down From The Candy would have been there…

I love Three Boats.  I used to love playing that particularly the second half. It’s the little things.”

But then in a similar perverse way, Grendel re-emerged to open the set at the Reading Festival in 1983

“We did like to keep people on their toes! And that was the last time we played it with John Martyr on drums and Andy Ward. And then when Ian Moseley joined the band we decided to stop playng Grendel. He said ‘I’m not playing that…’ and that’s it. Although it had some nice moments, it did have a few bits that were…of their time. Whereas something like Script and a lot of the other songs actually have stood the test of time a little better and the songs from Fugazi have done the same as well. Some songs do and some don’t and that’s the way it is.”

So if you look at Marillion’s body of work which is not inconsiderable, things like Script and Incubus would rise to the top along with later stuff like Neverland and Sugar Mice and so on.

“Some of the Marbles songs as well, especially the little interludes are lovey. Oh yeah there’s lots. Sounds That Can’t Be Made would be up there and that’s such a good sounding album.”

Talking of which, the new mix is great – have you heard it?

“Oh yeah – quite extensively actually. We have to live that process and sign off on it. I haven’t heard the 5.1 remix yet by Andy and Avril. Interestingly enough Avril and Mike Hunter used to both work at Parr Street Studios in Liverpool which used to be Amazon where all the Liverpool bands used to record. Echo & The Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes – they all came through – and they were both working on Brave when we finished off in Parr Street.”

I was about to say that I’m  off to see Fish shortly on what should be his last tour (postponed as with all current tours). Are there any thoughts of impending retirement or writing an autobiography? Steve Rothery has has his photo projects, there’s the Hogarth diaries…..

“I can’t remember enough of my life to be able to do something like that although I could write a book about something but I doubt it. When you’re a creative person you want to carry on and some people wonder why bands carry on until they’re quite old, it’s because that’s what interests them. It’s what they want to do when they get up in the morning. I could probably do with a bit more time on my hands but if you’re thinking about Marillion retiring, no we’re not. At all. We’re writing a new album and we’re not getting any younger but we’re going to be doing it way way after the cornonavirus has finished. Marillion and the cockroaches will still be around you’ll find.”

And on that bombshell, we have a quick chat about the upcoming arrangements for the new Transatlantic album between the Trewavas/Portnoy/Stolt/Morse partnership (“what goes where, who should sing what”) andthe longevity of the bands of the early Eighties, many of whom are still very active; IQ, Pendragon and Pallas amongst others.

“I spent the first ten years thinking it could end anytime. We’re lucky these days to be in charge of what we do so we’re not beholden anymore and not to have the pressure of what the next album would have to do. It served us well at times.”

Check out our Time Tunnel feature on Marillion and the review of the Script reissue.

Marillion online: Website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube

Our thanks to Pete for being so generous with his time and for chatting so openly and also to Pete Flatt at PPR Publicity for his help with this and the Script reissue.

Photography by Mike Ainscoe. You can find more of Mike’s work on the At The Barrier Facebook page.

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