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Marillion with Friends From the Orchestra, Symphony Hall, Birmingham - review

It was a double celebration at Birmingham Symphony Hall as Marillion marked not only 40 years together as a band, but also the 30th anniversary of Steve Hogarth replacing original singer Fish.

Marillion with Friends From the Orchestra, Symphony Hall
Marillion with Friends From the Orchestra, Symphony Hall

To mark the occasion, the legendary prog rockers were joined by their “friends from the orchestra” - the In Praise Of Folly String Quartet, plus flautist Emma Halnan and Sam Morris on French horn - as well as more than 2,000 “friends” in the audience, for an evening of stunning music, bravura performances and high emotion.

The orchestral match-up was a winning combination which first saw them perform with the quartet two years ago for a landmark concert at the Royal Albert Hall. This time they have teamed up for 13 dates in some of the country's most prestigious venues.

If there was any fear that the classical players would somehow soften the edges of Marillion’s sound, that was quickly dispelled by the dark and uncompromising 17-minute Gaza which opened the show. Not gentle, not polite, it showed the combination could work to thrillingly disconcerting effect.

Elsewhere, staccato strings propelled The Space, while the gentle swell of strings, flute and horn lifted Estonia and The Sky Above the Rain majestically into the Symphony Hall’s highest reaches.

Marillion with Friends From the Orchestra, Symphony Hall

“What a great room this is,” remarked Hogarth, ever the magnetic, eccentric ringmaster, toying and playing with the audience at the front and acknowledging the fans in the vertiginous balconies.

Hogarth, his voice in peak form, grabbed the attention throughout, until that is, guitarist Steve Rothery, who often appeared lost in his own private reverie, unleashed his trademark soaring solos.

With the ebullient Pete Trewavas on bass providing a comic foil to Hogarth, and drummer Ian Mosley and keyboard player Mark Kelly both in fine form, Marillion treated fans two more than two hours of songs from the past three decades, other highlights including The New Kings section of F.E.A.R. along with Seasons End, the gorgeous Fantastic Place and This Strange Engine.

It’s true that at times the orchestral players could get lost in the mix when the band was in full flow, but when they shone through they added new colours to Marillion’s musical palette, adding a fitting fanfare to the band's “birthday” celebrations.

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