One of my favourite gigs in 2016 was, without a doubt, the appearance in Glasgow of former Queensrÿche vocalist Geoff Tate in an intimate acoustic performance. To see someone of his stature play such a small gig was a rare treat and I was thinking it'll be a long time before that feat would be repeated. Not so, however, when an invite to attend an equally intimate show with Steven Rothery and his band to promote his latest solo album, 'The Ghosts of Pripyat', which was released in 2014.
Being a long time fan of Marillion, I absolutely jumped at the chance to see Rothery up close and personal and although this may have been my first gig of 2017, it's got a very high chance of being one of my favourite gigs of the year. A different set up from the acoustic Tate gig, this was Rothery and his band live and electric with a full set up in a small venue and the lure of this was a big draw for the middle aged audience who almost sold out the venue, despite the somewhat inclement weather outside.
The support came from renowned guitarist Dave Foster (Panic Room, Mr So & So) and it was he and his band who served as Rothery's backing band for the evening. As the house lights went down, the band took to the stage with no introduction and were warmly applauded with the biggest cheer naturally reserved for Rothery. There was no introduction as the band kicked things off with 'Morpheus' with a wry smile from Rothery as he and the audience settled into the groove. A slow paced number, it gave Foster and Rothery the chance to share the spotlight as their guitar tones blended seamlessly together.
There was silence between the numbers as the audience patiently waited for words of wisdom from Rothery and they didn't have to wait long: "This is like going on holiday with my mates after all the hard-working has been done," referring to the last Marillion album, 2016s 'Fuck Everyone And Run (F.E.A.R)' and it's subsequent tour, which got a laugh and saw Rothery looking a bit more relaxed.
The evening would be slit into two halves, the first being tracks from 'The Ghosts Of Pripyat' whilst the second half would be a collection of "rarely played" Marillion songs that certainly got the crowd enthused. Carrying on with the first set, he performed 'Old Man Of The Sea' which he admitted was "probably" his favourite song on the album, and it seemed from the reaction that he's not the only one. Complete with sound effects tape it was a shining beacon in the first half of the show with each movement of the track played perfectly culminating in Foster (complete with double neck guitar) and Rothery exchanging soloing duties.
'White Pass' followed which Rothery said should conjure up images of "Alaska, British Columbia... Sauchiehall Street in January," to much laughter. The track itself sounds like something that should be on a Pink Floyd record and, let's face it, Floyd guitar maestro David Gilmour is one of Rothery's influences, and for me, this is my favourite track from the album. 'Summers End' brought the first half of the show to a close and the audience chat immediately turned into debating which tracks would be included in the second half of the show.
It's safe to say that there was a huge expectation for the second part of the set but with over thirty five years of material to chose from, it was always going to be a difficult task. Thankfully, Rothery steered well clear of any 'Misplaced Childhood' material ensuring that fans were treated to rarely played early tracks and some later Fish-era numbers. Joining the band on this part of the set was Martin Jakubski, vocalist with Fish-era Marillion tribute band StillMarillion who, as you'd expect did a fantastic job on vocals throughout the set.
First up was 'Cinderella Search' (dating back to 1984) and it saw the audience in full voice as they helped Jakubski sing along and it was difficult to see who was having more fun. "Going back even further in time," Rothery explained to which some wag at the back shouted "Grendel!" to much laughter and a quick fire back retort from Rothery who explained that it was in fact 'Chelsea Monday', another popular track from the bands early years. Jakubski once again surpassed himself with the vocals and eve the spoken word section was perfectly timed.
"The good thing about this [tour]" explained Rothery before 'Incubus', "is that I get to play all my favourite songs – and, of course, my favourite guitar solos!" and for the audience it was refreshing to hear songs that Marillion haven't played for a long, long time. 'Incubus' was greeted with a huge ovation and had the crowd clapping along without Jakubski needing to encourage them too much and 'Fugazi', which followed on, was given the same treatment from the audience.
One of my all time favourite Marillion songs is the melancholic 'Sugar Mice', from 1987s 'Clutching At Straws' opus, and I've waited a long time to hear it live, having missed Marillion on their UK tour late last year where it was included in their set list. It seemed like I wasn't the only one who loves this song either as the camera phones were out in force as some of the audience tried to capture the moment for prosperity.
Rothery took time out to thank and praise Jakubski for his vocal efforts and it was richly deserved as he didn't put a foot wrong all set. 'Three Boats Down From The Candy' from 1983s 'Script For A Jester's Tear' was introduced by Rothery who joked that it's "another rare song we play every twenty-five years or so" which once again brought laughter from some of the audience, and disbelief in others as the band struck up in this saunter down memory lane.
Closing off the main set with 'White Russian', the band disappeared to the dressing room but they were always going to come out for the encore, as the audience boisterously demanded more. "Driving up here was horrible," admitted Rothery in a rare serious moment before adding that the audiences reaction certainly made the trip worthwhile, and the audience very much appreciated the effort Rothery had gone to, with the band and the set.
Stone cold classic Marillion songs 'Garden Party' which segued into 'Market Square Heroes' were quickly followed by the last song of the night, a cover of Bob Seger's 'Hollywood Nights' before the band finally called it quits. Maybe not the finale you'd expect, but it brought to an end a thoroughly enjoyable evening in the company of one of the UK's most gifted and often under-rated guitarists.
Steven Rothery Band setlist:
Old Man Of The Sea
Three Boats Down From The Candy
Market Square Heroes
Steven Rothery Band are:
Martin Jakubski – Vocals
Steven Rothery – Guitar
Dave Foster – Guitar
Yatim Halimi – Bass Guitar
Riccardo Romano – Keyboards
Leon Parr – Drums