Name: Rich Harding
(I'm not sure this works though! Find me on Facebook or something!)
Lives: Abergavenny, Wales - and some waterway or other, on our narrowboat
Favourite Musician: Billy Mackenzie
Favourite Monty Python line: The Thinkers' Song
Favourite MN moment: first off was the incredible, warm reaction of the crowd at the end of the 2005 Oslo show, when I was still the Invited Guest. The look on some of your faces when we went into Blind Curve from the Incommunicado intro at John Dee was priceless though!
Finest concert memory: Brave live at Bristol Colston Hall or The h Band at Hellendoorn in 2002
Favourite record: Marillion - Brave, Marillion - Afraid of Sunlight, Porcupine Tree - Deadwing, ELO - Time, Rush - Roll The Bones, The Associates - Sulk. And many, many more...
Favourite movie: Blade Runner, Diva, Split Second
Favourite book: Jonathan Livingston Seagull
Favourite M song: Runaway, Splintering Heart, 100 Nights
Favourite country: Wales
Equipment: Trantec SM58 Radio Mic, Mk I Larynx
Playing Tribute to Marillion
After a marvellous extended evening in Oslo yesterday (23/06/07), and while it's all fresh, I thought I'd sit down and type up some of the things that have been going through my head on my trip back to Holland today, for those who might be interested in what it's like playing in a Marillion tribute band. Of course these are my thoughts and not necessarily those of the other musicians involved in the bands I've been in but I've discussed most of the things below with various of them at one time or another, so I hope you and they will forgive a little licence in the interests of my not continually repeating that qualification.
Tribute band in itself is an interesting description - none of the Marillion-related bands I've been involved in or have otherwise encountered are "pure" tribute bands in the sense that, say, The Musical Box recreate entire Genesis shows from thirty years ago, complete with sets, costumes and the like. As some of you may have noticed, I'm nowhere near six foot for starters! Mind you, that's an interesting point in itself, as I'm listening not to Script but to Somewhere Else whilst typing this and personally enjoy performing songs from both eras pretty much equally, which would be the point of view of many of the musicians I've been lucky enough to sing these songs with; as a vocalist there is an interesting distinction in singing the two eras which, seeing as this isn't a mailing list and it can't turn into a flame war, I might come back and elaborate on later, if I'm feeling, erm, brave! But back to the point, last night was the first time I believe I've been involved in a one era only gig (and even then there were three h-era options on the setlist), so I'd have to develop a personality disorder to do the 100% tribute thing, or have two vocalists (but then I'd clearly have to kill the other one) or be 100% an actor, which I'm not.
Which brings me to my next observation, which has to do with most of the tribute musicians having a history of playing mainly original material rather than covers. Whilst Marillion aren't as much a "musicians' band" as the likes of, say, Dream Theater or even Rush, they do appeal to a lot of musicians and composers because of the engaging but not over-egged nature of their compositions. What this means in practice is that, when you see a Marillion "tribute" band, you're generally seeing people who are used to writing and performing their own material and who, as a consequence, will most definitely be doing their utmost to reproduce the essence of the song but won't be afraid to throw in their own, small variations on appropriate occasions. When on form (pretty much always!) Marillion are a very fluid band and both vocalists regularly "play with" the songs, which means that whilst the band as a whole is basing the song structure on perhaps the Real to Reel version, there might be a line here that I really like how Fish did it on some dodgy mid-eighties bootleg and another bit that I reckon h had off to a tee at some convention or other. (I laughed my socks off at one review that said I didn't sing the songs precisely how Fish did - the reviewer was four years old when I saw my first Marillion gig and eleven when he quit!)
But in one respect it is very different for the vocalist - and the drummers to a larger degree than you might at first think - in that a keyboard patch is a keyboard patch, a guitar tone is a guitar tone (and believe you me, those guys spend hours trying to get them as spot on as they can for you), whereas a larynx is a larynx and there's only so much tweaking you can do before, like a badly compressed MP3, you lose the core. Singing "as myself", the vocalist I've most often been compared to is Bruce Dickinson; now, if you ended up listening to Iron Marillion, I'd be mortified - and would hope that you'd point out the error of my ways - but I personally sing the songs to a certain extent how I've always sung them to myself over the years, which is to blend my natural voice with the particular - and certainly the most important - inflections of the Marillion singer concerned. I hope it works for you.
Tying two previous observations together makes another - all of the tribute musicians I've been involved with are huge Marillion fans who, as I've often pointed out from the stage, are playing the music that has been the soundtrack to their own lives for as much as twenty five years. We all consider it an honour and a privilege to play this music to such an appreciative audience. But with that comes a huge responsibility, perceived at least, as we know it's been the soundtrack to your lives too! Many of us are quite self-critical anyway and absolutely hate it when we mess something up - I don't think I've ever got through a tribute gig without missing a cue and/or flipping a couple of lyrics, which I can imagine might be bloody annoying out front. As I noted from the stage at John Dee, many of us have played some pretty big gigs in our time, done live telly, whatever; it's not as nerve-wracking as this stuff can be, believe you me! The rewarding feeling of getting it right though is worth the odd slip, ohhhh, yes :)
And in theory there's a level at which all the songs have been written, there's different versions out there to listen to and practice and competent musicians should be able to learn their parts, come together and play them and have few areas to iron out. This is certainly how Misplaced Neighbourhood and also Skyline Drifters have always had to operate, with musicians widely spread, even across national borders - both bands have, and this is no exaggeration, played more gigs than they have had practices (!) - and so it will always be: there is not enough of a market for a Marillion tribute band to make it work on any other level. It'll never be perfect but it certainly keeps the adrenaline flowing! And we'll keep trying to surprise you into the bargain :D
In the end though, we do it because it is incredibly good fun to get together with likeminded people to play music we all love, to people who love it just as much. It's a very special thing to have the opportunity to do. A huge thank you, as ever, to Marillion for producing such wonderful music and to all of you in the audience for all the support you give to those of us lucky enough to get the chance to play it.