were the circumstances of your joining Marillion? Everybody knew the
position was vacant after Fish left, but did you send off a tape like
all the other hopefuls?
My publisher sent a tape, at the back end of 1988. To be honest, I wasn’t
terribly interested in doing it. My previous band, How We Live, had
just split up and one day I went into Rondor Music and asked whether
anyone could think of anything I could do. I didn’t mean music…
What, you’d have considered busying yourself with some
Yeah! I had no income and was completely skint. It was in a groovy building
on [west London’s] Parsons Green and I’d have done anything
at all. They also had a demo studio in the basement where’s have
been quite happy engineering their other acts.
Did you even know Marillion were looking for a new lead singer?
I had no idea that Fish had gone. So they persuaded me to send a tape.
I’d forgotten all about it until January 1989, when they rang.
At about the same time, Matt Johnson of The The asked me to play piano
on his tour. I always say I had to make a choice between the most hip
band in the world, and the least. But when I met up with them it didn’t
take long at all to make up my mind.
After several years away from their long-time home, EMI Records,
how better to commemorate Marillion’s return to their original
label than a lengthy inquisition at the company’s plush Hammersmith
Vocalist Steve Hogarth was keener than ever to discuss the "millstone"
of the band’s progressive rock heritage, sinking a couple of bottles
of Becks as he explained what he sees as the "laughable" misconceptions
that continue to surround the group.
“If the Daily Mail ever talks about
Marillion they still print a picture of Fish, that’s a ghost
we haven’t been able to lay to rest. But on all other fronts,
it’s Marillion 1 and Fish 0”
It’s strange how things pan out. Everyone expected Fish
to thrive as a solo artist and Marillion to fall by the wayside without
In musical terms it didn’t happen that way, or in business terms
because we make more money than him. But it did pan out like that in
media terms. If the Daily Mail ever talks about Marillion they still
print a picture of Fish, even now. That’s a ghost we haven’t
been able to lay to rest. But on all other fronts, it’s Marillion
1 and Fish 0.
What did you think you could bring to the band?
Myself. And that was all they seemed to want. That was why I joined.
If they’d said to me, ‘This is our last album, this is what
it sounds like, this is how many copies it sold and this is what we
want you to do’, I wouldn’t have been interested. I’d
feared that was what it would be like, but it was completely the opposite.
To most vocalists, interpreting their own lyrics is integral
to what they do. Yet Marillion often rely upon words written by John
I really admire what he does. In some ways he provides an analytical
and intellectual edge, whereas my own lyrics tend to be based on what
makes us tick. That said, John didn’t write anything on the new
album, or on [1998’s] ‘Radiation’. On this one, I
wrote everything except ‘Map Of The World’, which Nick Van
Eede of the Cutting Crew helped me to unlock after I’d been having
problems with it.
Did you own any albums from the Fish era?
Not a single one.
The perception of many is that when you joined Marillion you
looked around and thought, ‘Right, I’m here now. What can
I change?’ True?
I’d take 80 per cent of the credit – or the flak –
for that. Bare in mind, I’ve been in the band for 12 years now
and there have been points when different members have decided they
would change. Right at the beginning, I was keen to change everything.
And they weren’t. But as time went by, one or other of the boys
would decide they didn’t want to carry on the same way. [Guitarist]
Steve Rothery is a great example. He’s completely changed his
approach to his sound and the choice of some of the instruments he uses.
You can still tell it’s him, but I really admired that he was
prepared to change his whole focus.
But, yeah, I was always pulling to change this or that. And I gradually
got the whole band into a mindset where doing something we’d done
before was cheap.
At the recent Dingwalls gig, some cretins still insisted in
shouting for ‘Grendel’, the obscure B-side of the band’s
‘Market Square Heroes’ single. Be honest, what goes through
your mind when you hear that?
They probably didn’t even know what it means, it’s just
something that some clever dicks shout because they know they’ll
get a reaction from the boys in the band. A way of making yourself seem
more important at a gig. It’s pointless. You might as well shout,
‘Show us your arse’.
“We should’ve changed the name
when I joined the band.
The Marillion [of the past] is a band that’s dead and gone.”
Give us a ballpark figure of how many copies you have sold
of the past few albums?
Between 70,000 and 80,000 at the last count. Definitely no less than
You’ve often complained at the lack of label backing since
you left EMI. Is that the sole root of your problems, or are some self-created?
The only problem we’ve created for ourselves in being uncompromising
in our music. Doing it for ourselves and hoping that the fan-base will
enjoy it and maybe that someone somewhere at radio will play it. What
choice have we got; you can’t deliberately write for radio, although
there are some artists out there that do precisely that. They find a
sound that’s successful, but they secretly hate it. To me, that’s
not why you make music.
How have you coped financially during the time away from EMI
– has it been difficult?
It’s certainly been hairy, and a bit of a roller coaster ride.
Fortunately, the car never left the rail, but we have had to negotiate
some tight corners.
The internet has proven invaluable to Marillion.
It saved our bacon. It gave us a medium through which to collect data,
find out who our fans are and advertise to them directly without spending
any money. We’ve got Mark Kelly [keyboards] to thank for that,
because he saw its potential in the very early days. Nowadays there’s
so much talk of internet trading, but we were doing it before it was
on the TV.
How then do you view its flipside, Napster and the whole MP3
Personally, I don’t mind a fan owning one or two of the tracks
that way before it comes out because they’ll still buy the record.
But you also have to consider that music does cost quite a lot to create,
and if you give it away you’re gonna go out of business. My own
viewpoint is that I don’t mind a student who doesn’t have
two pennies to rub together listening to my work if it cheers them up
- it’s crap being skint! I only have a problem when people start
making large amounts of money out if it.
You’re now back in the bosom of EMI Records, after a
groundbreaking arrangement with your fans that saw them finance the
recording of the new album in return for total creative freedom.
Two independent labels had offered us deals, but when we got the contracts
we decided that to sign them would consign ourselves to being fairly
helpless about our career. Somebody – it could have been Mark
– said, ‘What if we asked the fans to buy the album now,
six months before it’s made’. And it grew from there.
Even with 13,000 names having committed themselves, we weren’t
sure whether somebody like EMI would be interested in our proposal of
making an album with no advance payment whatsoever, but we came into
the building and presented to them and that the end of the meeting they
practically broke into applause. Basically, we were offering them free
money. If we can sell 10,000 copies of this record, they can do 90,000
through the shops. All we wanted was a decent royalty rate and a reasonable
Does the fact that it was 100 per cent dependent on the goodwill
of your fans cheapen your return to a major label?
[Frowning slightly]: In what way?
Well, you just as good as admitted that we wouldn’t be
sitting here in an EMI boardroom unless they’d promised all those
[Looking slightly irritated]: That’s true. But no, I don’t
really give a monkey’s. I don’t think ‘cheap’
is a word you could use in connection with all of this, unless you had
a fairly cheap view of what music’s all about.
you could explain the circumstances of leaving EMI in the first place.
Did you jump or were you pushed?
A bit of both. Our long-term deal had long since run out and we had
the option to do things album by album.
After ‘Brave’ [a double concept album from 1994] we’d
been given a new A&R guy who fancied himself within the company
and had been telling everybody that he was gonna whip Marillion into
shape – get us to make a comparatively cheap album for £60,000.
We responded with ‘Brave’ which took two years, and he never
forgave us for the egg that ended up on his face.
Although we saw ‘Brave’ as a work of art, it didn’t
sell shed loads and at that point we considered leaving EMI. But although
we decided to stay for ‘Afraid Of Sunlight’ , we quickly
got the impression that the steam on our behalf had gone out of the
To accompany your new album you have released an extraordinary
biography to the press. In it you challenge reviewers not to mention
the words ‘Genesis’, ‘progressive rock’, ‘Fish’,
‘heavy metal’, ‘dinosaurs’, ‘predictable’
and ‘concept album’.
[Laughs loudly]. Well, it had to be said.
Yet in the same breath you also claim to have "gone way
past caring what the cynics believe". Bit of a contradiction there.
[Laughs less loudly]. We’re just tired of the opinions of people
who haven’t heard anything we’ve done in ten years. A lot
of what’s spread about this band is laughable. For instance, I
wrote a song on ‘Afraid Of Sunlight’ called ‘Out Of
This World’ which was about Donald Campbell’s ill-fated
attempt to break the world water speed record. As a consequence of that
song, a guy decided to see if he could find his boat. He spent four
years searching and finally brought it out of the water last week. And
I was there to see it happen. It was a right old media circus, but nobody
wanted to speak to me because they didn’t know I’d started
it. The Times ran an interview with the guy in which he mentioned our
role in proceedings, but they still called us "80s rock band Marillion".
And yet ‘Out Of This World’ was written in 1995. Although
you’re way past caring about these things, they still rattle you.
So when VH-1’s Friday Rock Show screen three tracks by
Marillion, as witnessed in a recent show, you fully expect them to play
‘Incommunicado’, ‘Market Square Heroes’ and
[Looks slightly crestfallen]. Did they? Oh dear, they ought to know
better than that, we’ve been in there a few times. But it doesn’t
Wouldn’t the bravest thing you could do right now be
to start again with a new name?
With hindsight, yes. We should’ve done that when I joined the
band. The Marillion you’re talking about on the VH-1 Rock Show
is a band that’s dead and gone. If we’d called ourselves
something different, when VH-1 shows that stuff it wouldn’t be
sullying our good name.
So, is changing the name a serious option?
We talk about it every two years. Half the band are for the idea and
the other half say it wouldn’t achieve anything. We’ll have
to wait and see, but to me the name Marillion is definitely a millstone.
Likewise, isn’t calling your new album ‘Anoraknophobia’
creating another noose for your own neck?
Well, I don’t think of the anorak thing as being prog-related.
Our fans are very, very dedicated and sometimes obsessive types. Lesser
people sometimes call them anoraks, and this is our way of saying that
we’re anoraks, too. We haven’t got a problem with people
believing in something, or being so into it that they know everything
about it. On Room 101 recently, Stephen Fry made the point that there
are too many programmes on TV about what’s crap. Laughing at things
has become a source of entertainment, yet the smart Alecs who point
the finger are always the last ones to stand up and say what they believe
in. The album got its title because I’m an anorak, too.
The new album is indeed an excellent, contemporary sounding
release. You’ve been trumpeting loudly for the past several years
about cutting ties with the past, but to these ears ‘Anoraknophobia’
is the first album to seriously validate any of those claims.
Somebody in the media actually agreeing with us. Maybe that’ll
make a difference…
Until now, I, like many of the press, believed all your claims
to be somewhat pretentious. Those comparisons with Radiohead that you
made seemed to be wishful thinking on your part.
[Shrugs]. Right. Well, I don’t think we’ve actually compared
ourselves to Radiohead. A girl who used to work at EMI International
told me one day that they [Radiohead] had been in the office taking
copies of ‘Brave’, and that was at the point before they
wrote ‘OK Computer’. I daresay they were checking out a
whole load of progressive stuff, not just ours.
Have you ever had any feedback from Radiohead, or do you expect
No. And I don’t really expect to. I can’t imagine Thom Yorke
being the kind of guy to just ring anybody up. But I suppose it would
I’m just trying to gauge your expectations for this album.
We seriously don’t have any. We don’t necessarily expect
it to be big because we’ve made 12 records now, some of them very
interesting. I may be wrong, but I can’t see anybody at daytime
radio jumping on it. In a fair world they would, but the bias against
the band is so considerable that it’s almost as though you would
lose kudos by playing one of our records. Even if there was bribery
It was almost inevitable that Classic Rock would want to interview
the band, but which other magazines do you feel that in a fair world
you deserve coverage in?
heartily]. It hasn’t been invented yet. We’ve very proud
to be associated with Classic Rock because we’re in company like
Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. But to answer your question, I don’t
understand why Q Magazine won’t write about us. The most memorable
review they gave us was of ‘Afraid Of Sunlight’ which said,
‘If this band were by anything other than Marillion it would be
hailed as near genius’. And they still wouldn’t give us
a feature. How can they say, this is an amazing record… no, we
don’t want to talk to you? It’s hard to take when they say,
here’s a very average record… we’ll put you on the
front cover. Why don’t they just stop pretending that it’s
all about music and admit it’s really about money. Then put the
top selling five bands on the cover and tell everyone else to fuck off.
Do you really think that your fans go, ‘Wow, Marillion
are experimenting with drum and bass – that’s excellent
news’ when they hear of your latest exploits – or do they
merely tolerate it in the hope that you’ll bring back ‘Kayleigh’
as a second encore?
Neither, actually. We get letters of complaint if we play ‘Kayleigh’.
We’re not trying to say that people who pay money to see us are
into drum and bass because I don’t think they’re the type
to split music up into different genres. They just go, this is good,
innit? When they listen to Massive Attack, they don’t compartmentalise
it, they just know it’s pure class. The reason we have loops on
this album is because Steve Rothery bought a machine on the first day
of writing, and it just seemed to work.
When learning of this interview, one of our writers put forward
the theory: If Steve Hogarth really loves Marillion as much as he claims,
why doesn't he leave and let them bring Fish back?
For a kick-off, they wouldn’t have him. But I don’t love
the Marillion that that guy’s talking about. That’s the
VH-1 Marillion that we were talking about earlier. I’ve never
claimed to love that Marillion, I’m in love with the Marillion
that exists now. Fish has no place in that, I dare him to try.
Did the revelation that bassist Pete Trewavas told us that
he would consider quitting Marillion to join the all-star, pure-prog
project Transatlantic cause shock waves within the band?
I don’t know if I want to comment on that. It definitely puts
out the wrong signals. But then I don’t think Pete much cares
what signals it puts out. Pete’s amazing, he’s such a pure
musician that everything excites him. He doesn’t really have a
notion of what’s cool. I’ve seen him sit at a piano and
play a Lionel Richie song with the same amount of conviction as a massive,
monster fuzz-bass riff. I suppose it does bother me a bit when he says
things like that. I’m not really interested in progressive rock
music, and I don’t think he is really, no more so than he is in
anything else. It doesn’t help, but he doesn’t give a toss
because he loves music to death and genres don’t mean anything
to Pete at all.