Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Wide Awake in Royal Albert Hall

It has taken me a while to collect my thoughts after Friday's amazing concert. On Friday the 13th of October, 2017, we witnessed pure musical and performance magic in the Royal Albert Hall. Below will follow not so much a review but more an attempt to describe the emotional journey a concert like this takes its listeners on. Something completely beyond words and description occurs, and this is what I will try to find the words to convey.

The regular readers of my blog will remember that I have told you about the wonderful Marillion before on many occasions. Their music has been an inspirational backdrop to my life for several years. Here we go again. 
         When the band announced that they were going to perform in the enigmatic Royal Albert Hall, I just knew I had to get tickets. That in itself was not an easy task as the tickets sold out incredibly fast (I have heard that most of the tickets were ripped away in less than ten minutes, but I could be mistaken here…). But at last, with the help of a link from Stephanie (Marillion management, thank you x), I managed to get three tickets (and at that point I didn't care where we were seated, as long as we got tickets), one for my twelve-year-old son, one for my partner and one for me. We were going to see Marillion in the Royal Albert Hall!

We travelled from Leicester, the city of the successful UK Marillion convention this year (the one I sadly missed because I was in the finishing process of my Master thesis), to London. We quickly maneuvered towards the iconic venue. The closer we got, the more Marillion T-shirts and happy faces we saw (and pubs so full that the Marillion fans were practically pouring out of the doors onto the pavement). We could even smile to people and get a smile in return…not a usual thing in London J And there it was…
Royal Albert Hall has been the epitome stage of musical and cultural expression since 1871. And for that reason it is not difficult to understand why playing there is considered a massive honour and a high point in one's career. Marillion definitely deserve to finally grace this classical venue with the music that, in my opinion, is a ticket to a better life. I want to keep them to myself, but on the other hand, the whole world should know the songs as I do...the world WOULD be a better place, of that I have no doubt. 
So, the concert...on the way in we were given finger lights for audience shenanigans for the song GO! which was one of the things my son was looking forward be honest, so was I. We found our seats, and felt the magic descending just by sitting there in the iconic hall, surrounded by the echo of history. We looked around and could see familiar faces in every direction, smiling, anticipating what was about to bring us together, the music and lyrics, and musical and vocal deliveries of world class. Among the 4555 people there, I was first of all ecstatic to share this experience with the two favourite people in my world, my boyfriend and my son. Smilingly we looked around, our finger lights ready for later, now the concert could start. 

When Marillion walked on and started the concert by playing their latest album, FEAR, I was a bit surprised for a second or two. Not that I didn’t like the fact, but I thought, you are here, you have so many great, iconic and legendary songs you should be playing instead...but I was about to be educated. I finally understood FEAR (and obviously I know that the music you have to work to understand often ends up being the music you appreciate the most. I have listened to FEAR almost nonstop since I came home). Right there in Royal Albert Hall, I completely broke down. I see it now! With the help of the beautiful and sometimes disturbing films showing on the big screen behind the band, the songs from FEAR took on completely new meanings, and the lyrics stood out in a way that only a live delivery can provide.
What I take from their live version of FEAR is that the album is an important comment on the society of consumption and consumerism. Capitalism and Neoliberalism are definitely at the top of any political decisions made in the world, and these are matters we should and must address from a cultural perspective. Marillion have never been afraid of speaking up (for example, their last album, Sounds that can't be Made addressed the conflict in the Middle East), and FEAR is no exception. Artists and cultural commentators have been the legislators of the world through history, and I hope they continue to be. And just maybe their voices will make the moneymakers think...maybe? 
But FEAR is not only about the new kings of the world, it is also about how the life of a touring band really is. The Leavers 1-5, Wake up in Music, The Remainers, Vapour Trails in the Sky, The Jumble of Days tell the story of how overwhelming and beautiful, yet bittersweet and heavy the emotional journey of what life on the road is like. But The Leavers gets its fantastic finale with the amazing fifth song, One Tonight. It is a profound musical statement of what it is all really about, why they do what they do, why we love them so much, we come together in music and we’re all one tonight. When this pearl of a song came I was left in tears, happy, cathartic tears, and I really felt as one with the band, the fans, the venue, it was absolutely sublime. The rest of FEAR took our breaths away, and the anticipation definitely grew for the second part of the concert. 

This part started with Seasons End’s The Space. Now, on stage, were a string quartet, a French horn and a flute. The proper instruments played live sounds so much better than the sampled sounds (no offence x). There is a tangible and vibrant authenticity to the way a violin sounds in the hands of someone who knows how to play it. I grew up in a family where Mozart and Bach were daily musical backdrops, so I salute Marillion for putting these brilliant young musicians on stage.
Steve Hogarth confirmed his position as one of the best singers in the world of progressional rock today. The last part of The Space is in a high key where he sings with a full tone (not falsetto), difficult on a good day. But he completely nailed it. I can only imagine (being a classically trained singer) how he must have felt doing a song of that difficulty level in a venue such as Royal Albert Hall. If he was nervous about it, he hid it well, as his voice was pitch perfect, full toned, and just brilliant.
After a stop by the sun in Afraid of Sunlight, the band continued to play one of the most beautiful and emotional songs in their entire catalogue, The Great Escape/Falling From The Moon from their concept album, Brave. We all fell from the moon with the band...and we all rose stronger and wiser. 
But it was soon time for GO! we had to get our finger lights ready. Easter from Seasons End brought another moment of deep reflection concerning destinies around the world. What would you do, make a stone of your heart...? No, you can't make a stone of your heart when submerged in music the way we were in Royal Albert Hall. We breathed in syncronicity, we were one the whole night.
Then we GO! The light show was spectacular from the beginning, multicoloured lasers transported the audience to the inside of a dream, on a cloud, upside down…wide awake on the edge of the world.
We put our finger lights on, and started counting. It had to be correct; we were not going to be premature lighters…one, two, three, four…and then…had I not been singing with all the others at the time, I would have been left speechless. Even thinking about it now makes the hair on my entire body stand up. The picture below is from that exact moment (pictures from Marillion’s page), but the picture, though beautiful, does not give a fair representation of what it really was like to float on the fluffy clouds of light and music, to have the soft rhythm of Mosely’s drums beat with the rhythm of our hearts, to have the harmonies of Kelly’s keyboards flow through us like the blood in our veins, to have the deep notes from Trewavas’ bass touch every nerve in our body, to have the enigmatic guitar of Rothery help us see into heaven and then finally Hogarth’s velvet voice guide us safely towards the dreamy, otherworldly existence where the only thing is now.
GO! was a tough act to follow, but going to the best album of them all, This Strange Engine, they both succeeded, and made the roof of the hall lift a few inches with Man of a Thousand Faces. Then a soft stop at Waiting to Happen from Holidays in Eden, before the final song, Neverland from Marbles. Neverland is one of those songs they had to play when in Royal Albert Hall. It is, in music and lyrics, a synopsis of the whole concert, a journey from the hard and sometimes difficult reality, to the soft and fluffy dreams of a fairytale Neverland. The epicness of Neverland became a worthy exit, and when a million golden pieces of confetti rained on those who were close enough, we all agreed wordlessly but with cheers and standing ovation that it had been one of the most profound musical experiences of our lives. They reprised One Tonight and then it was over…

I imagine all the ghosts of great musicians and performers from the past were sitting on the gallery with their dangling feet and fluttering wings, letting these hours of heaven on earth reaffirm their trust in humanity.
         My son was, and still is in awe of his first proper rock concert experience, one that I think might be difficult to top...but we will obviously take him to see more Marillion for (hopefully) many years to come. We all had an absolutely amazing time. 
Marillion, for years you have been the voice that subliminally told me to hope when I thought there was none. For years you have been my inspiration to create and step up my game. For years you have provided me with courage and comfort to dare to believe in myself. For years I have been lucky enough to understand and completely love your musical expressions. I am so grateful I was there with you in one of your biggest moments. I am so grateful I can tell other people about what was the best concert I have ever attended. I am, forever, wide awake on the edge… x

Find a better life at