From black clouds to Cloud Nine as Marillion’s Seasons End gets the full deluxe treatment.
Release Date: 19th May 2023
Format: 3cd + 1 Buray / 4LP
September 1988 – Marillion part company with Fish – this is what happened next.
So reads the subtitle of the documentary, Seasons Change, which accompanies the final part of a frankly excellent series of reissues of the Marillion catalogue – the first four albums of what people refer to as the Fish era and first four of the ‘h’ era. Manna from heaven for the faithful.
It’s an album that ranked #10 in our feature on the Marillion albums ranked. On another day it might have made the top five. One of those Marillion albums where there’s not really a duff track that you want to skip. Not dissimilar in the same way to their most recent, An Hour Before It’s Dark. And there’s a game in itself – name a Marillion album and the track you’ could do without. Also worth trying the same with Achtung Baby which might prove more challenging…
The departure of Fish might have caused a ‘Robbie leaves Take That’ tsunami of grief for some, but for Messrs Kelly, Rothery, Mosley and Trewavas, it must have been a huge sigh of relief as the weight of the burden was lifted from their shoulders. “What a bloody shame,” thought Steve Rothery justifiably about the breakdown of the relationships, but the trappings of success (and what many believe to be a hugely overinflated opinion of himself and his own self-importance) had driven their erstwhile singer into a place from which there would be no return. But every cloud has a silver lining and all that.
Much has been written about a particularly acerbic episode in Marillion’s history and a great place to dip into is Mark Kelly’s own autobiography where he pulls very few punches. However, ever onward and as we now know, the silver lining came in the form of a fresh-faced Steve Hogarth and a period of connection and resurgence that had us drooling at what the new Marillion had in store for us.
The album emerged from the Hook End residency where the famous five, indulged in high jinks and Summer japes while concocting a set of songs that would both resonate and endure. “It worked, and continues to work,” says h. His bucket of ideas contained on fistfuls of cassettes, saw the new man bonding both professionally and personally and yielding a bonafide Marillion classic, whilst he tweaked the lyrics submitted by John Helmer.
First taste of the new band is The King Of Sunset Town and the moment that follows the sparkle of the intro when Rothery launches into the guitar line and Ian Mosley rattles around the kit- not forgetting the bounce of the bassline and Mark Kelly’s textural keys – the goosebumps act as the reassuring sign that Marillion are going to be ok. Of course it’s not a new band as Ian Mosely has pointed out, the four still wanted to write and play together and they had plenty of music to go with. Establishing early doors that the musical DNA was unaltered and with Easter following on, it’s a viciously strong start and as producer Nick Davis points out, you have the Rock/Pop numbers in Hooks In You (had to be the single although not really what the band or the album were about) and Uninvited Guest balanced with the proggier moments on Easter, The Space and the title track.
Easter of course is one of the desert island choices. One of, if not the greatest of Rothery’s solos breaks out of a multi-part landmark piece of music. Acoustic, folky, emotional and inspirational. Worth the price of admission alone, despite the hardships of filming of the promo video. Knocks Gilmour’s Comfortably Numb out of the park, IMHO as they say.
The critic who mauled The Space with the ‘overworked’ phrase (later rearranged so the ‘overworked middle section would also be repeated as the intro – great idea Mr h) might have maimed the band for life with a misplaced comment, but the album is one of the multiple strengths. An album regularly mined for the live set, even b-side The Release finds its way into the gigs now and again, being a personal favourite non-album song EVER.
The 2023 remix – well, it may be that I need to don the white lab coat, sit down and take part in a thorough forensic analysis to see how it’s been worked and how it compares to what’s been familiar over the years including the EMI remaster. What strikes on reappraisal is how Seasons End is very much a guitar album that shows off Steve Rothery as a unique writer and composer. The solos (Sunset Town / Easter), the complex guitar picking (Berlin / Season’s End), the acoustic (Easter / After Me) and the rocking (Uninvited Guest / Hooks – inspired by the style of Francis Dunnery) show what he has in his back pocket. As he states in the interview quite simply: “I’m not an actor, I play guitar.”
As usual, the package comes with some exclusive live content. In this case, the live show from the 2022 Marillion weekend in Leicester which featured a Full Season’s End performance (strangely no Bell In The Sea which alongside The Release, is the high profile Seasons End b-side) plus encores of Gaza and The Leavers. Hmm, bit of a muddy mix but probably a case of how it sounded in the room. Rothery’s guitar naturally cuts through and I enjoyed Uninvited Guest getting a Heavy Rock density.
The wealth of content on the bluray is worth the entrance price alone. The usual array of mixes (48/24, DTA, 5.1 etc) are ready to be dissected in full clarity on our audio-visual systems. A fistful of demos are gathered from the aborted Dalnagar Castle sessions (to complement those available on the EMI remaster) to fledgling Hogarth demos and almost final demos of the tracks in mostly completed form. The Montreal bootleg from 1990 is what it is. Definitely worth having with almost all Seasons End and peppering the older material that Hogarth felt empathy and connection with. Bootleg quality, but more than listenable and full of punch revitalised band.
The highlights of these deluxe reissues have been the band interviews that find the band in conversation. A nice touch to ‘Seasons Change’ conducting the interviews with the band in The Crooked Billet – the pub and the very same room that the ‘new’ Marillion debuted live. Each member is afforded individual time rather than sitting in a semi-circle format that’s been utilised in the past. Probably easier on the edit too! We get gems such as Ian Mosley informing us about the time signatures, Hogarth’s Uninvited Guest video shoot tale and admitting to flouncing around like Lord Byron during the recording. Had to be a better plan that the milkman option.
Producer Nick Davis talks of the album being the most pleasurable he’s ever done – the period at Hook End, the Summer of ’89 and endless sunny days (I know – it was the year I go married) and the gradual re-emergence of Marillion. Indeed, the days when record companies had money to spend on setting up a band to make an album. The keyword that’s bandied about with the sort of abandon that Enid Blyton uses ‘queer’ in Five Get Into A Fix, is Fun – even when the writs arrived, with Fish demanding his one-fifth of the equipment, which in itself was quite comical.
There’s also the convenience of adding the From Stoke Row To Ipanema documentary – great for me as my only copy is a treasured old VHS that resides in the loft (never got around to grabbing the DVD). Everyone looks SO young and you can literally see Hogarths’s hair getting suitably longer from the initial (and quite disarming) bob/fop cut. Fly on the wall in the studio, chatting out in the sun, clips from the trip to Rock In Rio; it’s a fascinating insight into a time of evolution for the band.
A full Marillion live set from the era with the Rock Steady film from, where else but Leicester, in 1990. Some may recall the quote – “Leicester de Monfort – what a crowd!” It sees a highly animated quintet, with the front three of Trewavas, Rothry and Hogarth all high on adrenalin and Hogarth bounding around like a playful puppy, the long frock coat soon discarded as he works up a sweat and starts a long association with the fashion of wearing a coat on stage. They play all of Seasons End, with After Me an incongruous part of an energetic finale that includes a Misplaced Childhood ‘hits’ medley plus the rush of Incommunicado and even Market Square Heroes.
Rich Wilson adds his usual perceptive opinion and summary to the essay in the package. There’s some inevitable crossover with the lengthy documentary but in particular, he adds in some nice insight into the selection procedure for the new singer with some quotes from some of the unsuccessful candidates.
Many, us/me include, will always look on Season’s End with a great deal of fondness. Seems the band does too.
Here’s the original version of Easter with ‘that’ guitar solo right in the middle: