Marillion’s The Light At The End Of The Tunnel tour found its way to Manchester’s excellent venue Bridgewater Hall on Thursday 18th November 2021. And I was there…..
Announcing the tour, Steve Hogarth said at the time: “……it is in fact, The Light at the End of the Tunnel. We spent our time IN the tunnel writing our twentieth studio album. We will tour in the UK and debut one or two new tracks, along with what we feel is the best of our (let’s face it) huge catalogue. Our fans are legendary creatures of faith and enthusiasm – some say obsession – so we can’t wait for that feeling of reunification as we return from the wilderness, to the stage. The light is gonna feel good.”
After a stonkingly good idea to crowdfund the tour insurance which the anonymous suited bigwigs refused, the tour started. And here they were in Manchester…..
….who gave them such a rapturous, warm, lengthy welcome, as the applause died down, singer Hogarth jokingly shouted ‘thank you Manchester and goodnight!’
And it was a good night.
Whilst opening with ‘Sounds that can’t be Made’ might not have been my preferred strongest opener, the sheer joy to be back onstage was palpable from Steve Hogarth (let’s call him h from now on). Pete Trewavas prowled his corner of the stage to start, bass pedals not yet needed. Ian Mosley, screened off and headphones on cut a seemingly oblivious yet importantly metronomic figure. Mark Kelly looked and sounded imperious behind his kit, and Steve Rothery oozed cool, calm collectedness in the opposite corner to Pete. That said, on occasion, watching them, I was reminded of Bilbo Baggins and Orson Welles wielding their instruments.
H then explained that the setlist would be a sort of greatest hits for them, before introducing an excellent rendition of crowd pleaser ‘King’, H was in his element, at times strutting, at times cutting a mischievous figure with his enthusiasm infecting the willing audience.
I confess I’d taken a look at the Hull gig setlist before the night in anticipation. Fat lot of good that did me! Should’ve known better….
‘Afraid of Sunlight’ followed, another crowd pleaser and one of those songs which has both matured well and also plays out well live. But when this band talks of greatest hits, it doesn’t necessarily mean those songs which feature on their one and only best of CD or probably not on online playlists. So ‘You’re Gone’ was a positive surprise and a pleasure to hear.
Talking of hearing, my only negative reflection was that Kelly’s keyboards were on occasion low in the mix, and Trewavas’ complex basswork had to be watched closely when it, too, didn’t stand out.
You may have noticed the stunning stage lighting by now in my attempts to take representative pics. I hope they do justice to what was an excellent enhancement and companion to the music. H introduced the next song referencing the 1996 Arndale Centre bombing and empathy with the city of Manchester. ‘Easter ‘ was sublimely and spine-tinglingly performed, Rothery’s superb guitar as awesome as ever, with rapturous applause to follow.
The intensity continued with an extract from the album Brave: ‘Bridge’, ‘Living With The Big Lie’ and the cathartic ‘Runaway’.
H is an engaging, self-effacing and brutally honest frontman, clearly connected with the audience, his utter joy at being back on stage obvious to all. His introduction to ‘Be Hard On Yourself’ hilarious, his opinions on Tony Blair and billionaires with bright ideas frankly expressed, and his reason for the cardboard crisis hilarious. And the track itself is a strong one, complex in structure and rhythm, boding well for next year’s new album ‘An Hour Before It’s Dark’. He says he’s going to give all the Amazon cardboard back, so maybe it can be packaged and released sooner….. (you had to be there).
‘Berlin’ followed, superbly rendered and a great reminder of what a strong album Season’s End was. And then followed my surprise of the evening: ‘The Release’. This track was not in my memory bank yet it was also on that album! But what a release it was – of energy. A pressure-cooker release of a song after so much emotion and intensity that had preceded it.
And, to close the set, a spellbinding arrangement of the perennial favourite ‘Neverland’, a haunting, storytelling and ultimately rousing closing number ideally placed to demand an immediate encore. Such satisfaction on the faces of the band, and such demand for more from the insatiatiable audience.
Brief interlude over, came probably my highlight of the evening: ‘Splintering Heart’ with a superb lighting arrangement that gave the song additional power and poignancy. That was followed by an excellent acoustic ‘Made Again’, Hogarth sat at the front of the stage with such mesmeric delivery, and the chance for Trewavas to display his six-string skills. First encore over.
Of course there was going to be a second encore, the crowd demanding it and Marillion expecting it. The band returned to rapturous applause to deliver what was, for me, another reminder of how good the FEAR album actually was: ‘The Leavers’ – compelling, powerful, dramatic, pointed. So many months of lockdown frustration were unleashed in dramatic and passionate fashion, and received hungrily by an overwhelmingly receptive audience. A band that can switch sets around and still deliver such stunning live performances. This was the light at the end of the tunnel and, to paraphrase h “the light felt good.”
It was a good night!
Sounds That Can’t Be Made
Afraid of Sunlight
Living With The Big Lie
Be Hard On Yourself
The Leavers 1: Wake Up In Music
The Leavers 2: The Remainers
The Leavers 3: Vapour Trails In The Sky
The Leavers 4: The Jumble Of Days
The Leavers 5: One Tonight