“I didn’t have much knowledge of Marillion. A singer who painted his face like Peter Gabriel? It all seemed a little bit derivative…” How Marillion reinvented themselves with Steve Hogarth and Seasons End

Marillion with Steve Hogarth
(Image credit: Paul Cox)

Steve Hogarth’s impact on Marillion and their music was instant and destined to endure. But he could just as easily have ended up languishing on drummer Ian Mosley’s back seat. 

In late 1988, with the departure of frontman Fish, they were still rehearsing and writing music – and looking for a new singer. On his drive to rehearsals, Mosley would listen to tapes of prospective candidates. “Every morning our management would send me cassette tapes of prospective singers," says Mosley. "On the drive over, I’d listen to them for a bit, take them out and then throw them over my shoulder into the back seat. 

“One morning I put this cassette in and Steve’s voice came out. Straight away, I stopped the car and pulled over in a lay-by, just listening. It was instant. I thought, ‘Jesus, this guy’s got a brilliant voice.’”

In the envelope were some pictures of Hogarth. “I thought he was a nice-looking boy as well!” says Mosley. “I got to Pete’s and I played the tape to the boys – and everybody unanimously said, ‘That’s it. That’s the voice!’”

The only problem: Steve Hogarth wasn’t so sure. He was about to go on tour with Matt Johnson’s The The, playing keyboards alongside Johnny Marr on guitar. And he wasn’t that much of a Marillion fan.

“I didn’t have much knowledge of Marillion, to be honest,” he admits. “I’d been a prog fan when I was 17. I was a big fan of Yes and Genesis and Focus, and I’d gone to all the gigs. My prog credentials were immaculate!

“But as time passed, I had got into a lot of stuff like Joni Mitchell, Prefab Sprout, The Blue Nile, Talk Talk – all that really creative 80s stuff. Going back a bit, when Kayleigh was such a monster hit, and Incommunicado after that, they were on Top Of The Pops and it was hard to then not be aware that there was this strange band! 

"In the jaws of punk came this very, very heavily early Genesis-influenced bunch with an enormous Scottish singer who painted his face like Peter Gabriel used to, and it all seemed a little bit derivative to me.”

Pete Trewavas and Steve Hogarth on the Hooks In You video shoot, August 1989

Pete Trewavas and Steve Hogarth on the Hooks In You video shoot, August 1989 (Image credit: Retna/Photoshot)

For the last five months of 1988, Marillion had been an instrumental quartet. After the acrimonious departure of frontman Fish that summer, Aylesbury’s finest were faced with the unenviable task of deciding what to do next.

“There was a sense of relief when Fish left, to be honest,” says guitarist Steve Rothery. “It was like a huge weight was lifted off our shoulders, just because things had got so bad. What had been a great working and personal relationship had degraded to the point where it was just unworkable. This was a bit of a journey into the unknown, but we had faith in the music that we’d already written, and that sustained us.”

“Strangely enough, I don’t think any of us were panicking, like, ‘Oh my God, what are we going to do?’” says bassist Pete Trewavas. “It wasn’t a shock-and-awe moment. It was more, ‘We’re just going to carry on because we’re good at what we do!’ We knew what we did and we knew its worth. We also realised that we had some good music, and we just wanted to complete the new equation with a good singer. It was worth the wait to find somebody like Steve Hogarth, it really was.”

Part of the huge challenge that Marillion were now facing was that Fish had been such a distinctive lyricist and character, and one whose entire persona and approach were inextricably woven into everything that the band had released. Replacing such a charismatic figure was no small task, but Trewavas, Rothery, keyboard player Mark Kelly and drummer Ian Mosley remained united, determined to use this unexpected pause in their story as a means to forge ahead anew.

“Yeah, we’d pre-empted it a little bit, the fact that Fish was such a singular frontman,” says Trewavas. “We decided early on that it was going to be a big ask to find someone that was going to be not just a great singer, but a great frontman and a great lyricist. The only thing we could really do to help that situation was to find a couple of good lyricists, and see what direction we thought the lyrics might want to take.”

Did none of the remaining quartet fancy having a go at writing lyrics? “Ha ha ha! No. It was suggested at one point that I might want to sing, but I didn’t,” Trewavas reveals. “I do love to sing, but I did not want to be a frontman or a singer. I’m terrible at remembering words, so it was definitely a no-no! In all seriousness, I thought it was a bigger thing. What we needed was a proper frontman. 

“As well as looking for a singer, we continued working on the music we’d been writing. Then we found this lyricist, John Helmer, and a couple of other people were suggested as well. I think Viv Stanshall was one of them, but don’t quote me on that! [Laughs]”

“We were trying to find lyrics that would be valid in the context of what we do,” Rothery explains. “There were lyricists suggested, but there were things I picked up on in John Helmer’s lyrics for other people. I thought he was very wordy, in a clever sort of way, and I could imagine him working well with us. So we had a meeting with him in a pub in Hammersmith. We had a chat and I gave him a couple of ideas for lyrics, and he came back with Berlin and The King Of Sunset Town, and they were both in the right direction.”

When it came to selecting their new singer, Marillion were collectively unsure what it was they were looking for, but they absolutely knew what they didn’t want. 

“That’s true,” says Rothery. “We had the various types of singers who came along. We had the straight-forward rock types who didn’t really understand where we were coming from, to the people who really wanted to be Fish. That was kind of missing the point of what we were looking for.”

“We did have a period of time when we were auditioning people – maybe two or three people a day at some points,” says Trewavas. “There was a guy that flew over from Ireland, from an Irish band, and he was really, really good, but a bit too established in what he was doing. We wanted somebody who would grow with a new version of what we wanted to present to the world. We didn’t want someone saying, ‘Oh, but this is the way I’ve always done it in my band!’ You know? So it was difficult, but then we found Steve.”

Ian Mosley played Hogarth’s demo tape to the rest of the band and they were unanimous.  

“He reminded me of Paul Buchanan from The Blue Nile, who it turned out was an influence on him,” recalls Rothery. “I thought he was something different that could be really strong for us. It was just a case of getting him along and convincing him that this is what he wants to do with the rest of his life!”

“There was just something about it,” Trewavas shrugs. “I think it was the soul in it, and that what he sang was believable. You could tell it was coming from the heart. It just drew us in. It was also more commercial than Fish’s voice, and of course that got EMI excited.”

Marillion with Steve Hogarth

“I was expecting them to show me a picture of Fish with his face paint and say, ‘Can you do this?’” Marillion with Steve Hogarth in 1989. (Image credit: Ray Palmer Archive/IconicPix)

So it seemed straight-forward: Marillion would simply contact their new discovery and offer him the job, thereafter sweeping him away to a life of creative fulfilment. Unfortunately, however, Steve Hogarth had other plans. After a few years of moderate success with forward-looking pop acts The Europeans and How We Live, he was running out of patience with the music business, and seriously considering giving it all up for something less stressful. Meantime, he had accepted an offer from Matt Johnson’s The The, to play keyboards on their forthcoming Mind Bomb tour.

“By the time I was being approached as a possible replacement for Fish," says Hogarth, "and I had a head full of Thomas Dolby and Talk Talk and all the Trevor Horn stuff, and that was where I was at, musically at least. So being approached as a possible singer for Marillion felt well weird! On the face of it, it didn’t sound like a good idea. 

"I had this drinking mate in Windsor called Darryl Way [Curved Air/Wolf], and he said to me, ‘Oh you don’t want to write them off, they’re good people, go and meet them.’ If it hadn’t been for Darryl saying that – and bear in mind that I was so far into doing that tour with The The, it was a bit of a distraction for me, going to meet [Marillion] – I probably wouldn’t have even bothered.”

“I knew Darryl, because I used to be in a band with him when I was 18!” remembers Mosley. “So I rang him up and said, ‘We’ve seen Steve and he’s not sure about joining the band. Can we send his missus flowers and lay it on thick?’ [Laughs] But I believe Darryl did have a word with him.”

Late in January 1989, Steve Hogarth travelled to Aylesbury to meet up with Marillion for the first time, more out of curiosity and courtesy than any burning desire to throw his lot in with the men behind Script For A Jester’s Tear. For Marillion, it was an exciting chance to persuade this golden prospect to become the missing piece in their ongoing puzzle. 

“I had this big double garage and there was quite a lot of land around it, so it wasn’t too noisy for the neighbours,” remembers Trewavas. “Steve came down and he said, ‘Okay, so what shall we do?’ And we said, ‘We’ve got this setup for a song, and we’ve got some lyrics. What about we play some music and you see what you want to do with it.’ So he had a look through some of the lyrics that John Helmer sent in.”

“He just came in, he had John’s words for King Of Sunset Town, and we jammed around the music,” adds Rothery. “Basically, 90 per cent of what you hear in that final song came out of that initial thing. That’s how attuned he was, as a musician and songwriter. I think maybe John’s words were a bit of a mouthful, but he did a great job of making them work within that context. His melodic sensibilities were just perfect. I can’t imagine anyone doing a better job. He hadn’t said yes to us at that point, but we were happy!”

“To be honest, when we auditioned H it was kind of like he was coming to check us out, rather than the other way around!” laughs Kelly. “He was mildly interested and thought he’d come along to see what the fuss was about and to see whether it was worth considering. Most of the people we auditioned, they were dead excited and nervous to be in a room with us, and having a chance to possibly join Marillion. H was completely nonchalant!”

Nonchalant or not, Steve Hogarth was quietly stunned. “I was expecting them to show me a picture of Fish with his face paint and say, ‘Can you do this?’” he laughs. “I would’ve said, ‘Yeah, obviously, but I’m not going to!’ And that would’ve been the end of it. But what they said was that as far as they were concerned, the Fish era was done, and they liked what I was doing. It was just, ‘Do what you do, and we’ll do what we do, and we’ll see what happens!’ That was a very different proposition to ‘joining Marillion’. In fact, you could even argue that I wasn’t joining Marillion, I was being invited in to invent something new. To be honest, that’s why I’m still here now!”

“H couldn’t see himself stomping around and doing what Fish did, acting out the songs with the same kind of dramatic approach,” notes Trewavas. “But we wanted to change anyway. We didn’t want to repeat ourselves. You have two choices in situations like that, when you lose a frontman. Do you move forward, or do you become a parody of what you were?”

“He was at a crossroads in his life, so it was understandable that he didn’t want to just jump into it,” Rothery concludes. “But we’re all very glad he made the choice he did.”

Once Hogarth eventually relented and gave Marillion an enthusiastic thumbs-up, it appears to have taken very little time for the five-piece to gel as a unit. What that unit would be called was another matter, at least as far as Hogarth was concerned. With hindsight, they all admit that this was a one-off opportunity to change their name and to make a clean break with their Fish-fronted past. 

“Yeah, that was floated [as an idea] for a little bit, but wasn’t really taken seriously by us, because we knew what it meant to have the name,” Kelly states. “There was a good example in the EMI camp, which was Pink Floyd. They’d gone their separate ways, and you could see that Pink Floyd were selling out stadiums, while Roger Waters, at that time, couldn’t sell out large theatres, even though he’d been the main writer. So that demonstrates what it means to have the name.”

“I still think it was probably a mistake!” laughs Hogarth. “I think the four remaining members of Marillion wanted to prove a point that they were Marillion, and Fish wasn’t. The general public will always identify with the frontman and so he becomes what it’s all about, and they’d just assume that he was Marillion and the others were his backing band. I think that really rankled, and so Messrs Rothery, Kelly, Mosley and Trewavas were damned if they were going to let him have the name! We also had the major record label who knew what value there was in the name, to sell records, so they didn’t want it to change either.”

I think the four remaining members of Marillion wanted to prove a point that they were Marillion, and Fish wasn’t.

Steve Hogarth

“In a way, it would’ve been nice to start again from scratch,” adds Kelly. “But I think it’s a risky strategy, because our sales dropped at the time anyway. We went from Clutching At Straws, which was about a million sales, to Seasons End, which dropped down to 600,000, and really just because of Fish leaving. If we’d ditched the name as well, I think we’d be looking at 100,000 rather than six, on our first album with Steve, which probably wouldn’t have been sustainable.”

Writing sessions for the fifth Marillion album took place at a converted mushroom farm near Brighton. Making a mockery of his initial reluctance, Hogarth soon found that he fitted perfectly into the band’s personal and musical dynamic, and within a matter of days, the material for Seasons End was effectively complete. Perhaps more importantly, this new quintet were able to spend some proper time with one another: something that Hogarth regarded as utterly essential.

“You’re wasting your time if you can’t live together, or you’ll make one record and split up,” he notes. “I’d been in situations in the past where I’d been physically attacked by musicians and ended up in hospital, so I was keenly aware that if you’re going to get into a band, you’ve got to know that there isn’t a nutter in the ranks!” he laughs. “Obviously they’re all as eccentric as they come, but they’re not psychos. I needed to know how the musical and emotional chemistry would come together between us. I never dreamt that I’d be in this band for 30 years, but it was great from the start.”

“H was just a lot easier to work with than Fish, in terms of how he interacted,” says Rothery. “He was also one of the band. He’s a musician, and he had that intrinsic understanding of what the music needs, the dynamics, and where to leave space. He’s also a great keyboard player, so we had that element as well. It just worked really well. There’s always going to be a bit of separation between the singer and the band, it’s just part of the dynamic of rock music generally, but we did and we still do get on really, really well.”

“The thing about Seasons End was that once it was all agreed and Steve was on board, we went to the record company and they said, ‘We want to hear something before we sign you again,’” Trewavas says. “We went away to the mushroom farm, we arranged the music and then demoed the album. That was such a great time because there was so much enthusiasm. After the last couple of years, which had been quite hard work, it was just really nice and enlightening. We all felt we were on the same page, and a gang. That’s what bands start out being – a group of guys hanging out together because they enjoy the same kind of music. That was what Marillion was again.”

While all five members of Marillion were excited and full of optimism about their new line-up, they still had to contend with the small matter of keeping the die-hard fans happy. During rehearsals for the impending Seasons End studio sessions, they were paid a visit by the head of Marillion’s Dutch fan club. He had some questions for the new guy.

“We were still writing it and rehearsing, and this guy turned up,” says Hogarth. “He was much harder work than the band had been! It was a much more rigorous interview than the actual audition. That first meeting hadn’t really felt like an audition, it was more like meeting some guys and them saying, ‘Do you fancy a knock at this?’ And then doing it. This interview was more like, ‘But who are you?’ and ‘Justify yourself to me!’ and all of that. I was sitting there thinking, ‘Blimey, who’s this guy?’ It was much more interrogative. I felt I was being hauled across the coals, and maybe my right to be there was being questioned, so that made me a bit petulant. Who’s this fucking Dutch bloke, you know?”

Luckily, Steve Hogarth survived his ordeal at the hands of the Dutch hardcore, and Marillion were free to hit the studio to record their new album. Armed with material that offered a shrewd blend of past, present and possible future, there was plenty of confidence surging through them as they arrived at Hook End Manor in Oxfordshire. 

“Hook End Manor was this big house that used to belong to Dave Gilmour, but at the time it was a recording studio and it was residential, so we stayed there for a few weeks,” says Pete Trewavas. “It was a really, really hot summer. They had a swimming pool and tennis courts. A lot of the time, various people would be in the studio, doing overdubs, or we’d be all in recording backing tracks. It was a very nice time!”

“We were just having the best time, really,” agrees Rothery. “Not only did we have a line-up that didn’t argue and didn’t have all the grief, but we were in this amazing place. It used to belong to Alvin Lee [Ten Years After] and then David Gilmour. We were all just very well looked after. We were going in to co-produce an album that we really believed in, so it was a fantastic experience.”

While most of Marillion took their lavish new surroundings in their stride, Steve Hogarth confesses to having been entirely swept away by the experience.

“I was lost in the journey to some extent,” he admits. “I’d joined this famous band, and I was making this record in this incredible country house. It was just so dream-like, like I’d clicked my fingers and become Lord Byron, flouncing around in a big shirt! I was in this beautiful mansion house, sitting by the pool, listening to Slave To The Rhythm [by Grace Jones], while young girls brought me Pimm’s and toasted sandwiches, and I was thinking, ‘Holy shit!’ It all felt a little bit unreal at that point. I’ve got both feet on the ground these days – nearly all of the time – but in those days I was probably hanging on with one toe.”

For the Seasons End sessions, Marillion brought in their old friend, engineer Nick Davis, with whom they had worked on Clutching At Straws two years earlier. Rather than bringing in a known producer to take the reins, the band opted to co-produce with Davis, effectively ensuring harmony throughout the ensuing sessions. 

“We had worked with Nick on Clutching At Straws at Westside Studios. There were a couple of other people suggested, I can’t remember who now, but we felt Nick would be good because he got the band,” Trewavas notes. “Seasons End was his first production. I mean, he was a very, very good engineer and he’s very musical, but Nick also got the music. He liked what we were doing, and he liked what he’d heard of the new stuff with Steve. We thought it would be a good way to get what we wanted from it. And I’m sure EMI will have whispered in his ear, ‘Get a couple of singles!’ because they always do.”

“In those days, EMI used to come down to the studio once or twice,” notes Kelly. “Or they’d come to a writing session and hear what we’d got, listen to demos and stuff like that. But it was more an interest in what we were up to, rather than trying to guide us in any way. [Head of A&R at EMI] Nick Gatfield was alright to work with, and he was sympathetic to what we were doing. He wasn’t saying, ‘Write me a hit!’”

“I don’t know about the rest of the band, but I didn’t feel any pressure from EMI,” says Mosley. “I think we were just left to get on with it. I don’t think the record company really understood us in the first place!”

At Hook End, everything was going swimmingly. The new songs were coming together, from the shimmering sprawl of opener The King Of Sunset Town and Easter, Hogarth’s deeply touching hymn to Northern Ireland, to the more succinct The Uninvited Guest and Hooks In You. Piece by piece, this new incarnation of Marillion was laying down its first major creative statement, surrounded by the opulence of a country manor and buoyed by an atmosphere of collaborative bonhomie. But then, just as Hogarth was starting to relax, Mark Kelly booked a gig in the local pub, the Crooked Billet. 

“I thought it was a bloody ludicrous idea!” barks Hogarth. “We were halfway through making the record, and he just skipped into the control room and said he’d agreed to do a gig the following week in the local pub, which posed all kinds of immediate impossibilities. Like, well, we haven’t rehearsed! I’d never rehearsed with the band. We’d never played any of these songs together, apart from the stuff we were recording, which wasn’t finished, and I’ve never been in front of their crowd. And you want all that to happen next week somehow? How do you propose we get that together? Mark just said, ‘Oh, we can rehearse when we’ve finished recording, how hard can it be?’”

On June 8, 1989, Marillion played their first show with their new vocalist. In a tiny pub and under the name of The Low-Fat Yoghurts.

“It was quite intimidating for H, I think, but it was very exciting!” says Steve Rothery. “We thought it was going to be this low-key event, but obviously the word got out and it was just nuts. My wife videoed some of our performance. The intensity and the excitement, the anticipation that we felt from the crowd, was quite something.”

“There were people surrounding the pub like bees round a honeycomb,” says Hogarth. “People were hanging through the windows, trying to hear and see something. The room only held about 60 people and hundreds had turned up! We hadn’t publicised it. I think a few words had gone out via the fan club, and it had spread by word of mouth. We couldn’t get into the pub, so we had to climb through the windows to get in, and again to get out afterwards.”

Despite their singer’s nerves, Marillion’s first post-Fish live foray was a triumph. As they rattled through some old classics (Warm Wet Circles, Lavender, Kayleigh and more) and some brand new, never-before-heard tunes (The King Of Sunset Town, Easter, The Uninvited Guest and Hooks In You), a deafening response from the assembled hordes seemed to confirm that the fans’ approval was forthcoming. Hogarth was still shitting himself, however.

“It was pretty terrifying for me. I didn’t have crowd barriers or security, so if anybody wanted to reach out and strangle me, it would’ve been pretty straightforward. I was well nervous, and I’d have been nervous just from the prospect of doing it, but then to be fearing for my own life! [Laughs] I don’t know what Mark Kelly was thinking. I think he wanted to get it done, have a first gig, and that’s alright if you’re a keyboard player, stood behind a load of boxes, but if you’re at the front and in the middle where people can reach out and stab you, it’s a different prospect!”

Completed by the end of the summer, Seasons End was eventually released on September 25, 1989. Preceded by a slightly misleading first single, Hooks In You, a month earlier, the album entered the charts at a very healthy No.7: not quite the giddy heights of Misplaced Childhood and Clutching At Straws, but at the very least it was a strong indication that the band had weathered Fish’s departure and introduced a new singer without alienating their large fanbase. The real clincher came when Marillion set off on a full European tour, to promote Seasons End and give Hogarth a proper taste of his new position. Kicking off at Palais Des Sports in Besançon, France on October 5, the tour still stands as one of the most celebratory the band have ever done.

“I’ve got a feeling that EMI weren’t exactly disappointed with Seasons End, but that they were expecting us to get higher [in the charts],” says Trewavas. “The thing is, we did quite a good tour after it came out. We were very pleased, because the fans were really engaging. It was a relief, especially for Steve, I think. He was just being himself and the fans loved him. We were probably playing more shows and in bigger venues than maybe he was used to. But he took to it very quickly, and most of the fans did too.”

“We toured a lot in 1989 and 1990, on the back of the album,” adds Kelly. “I think we did over 100 dates. It was a great time, but it could’ve been horrible if we’d gone on stage and people had started booing Steve or shouting for Fish! But I don’t remember it ever happening. People still shout for Grendel, even now, but that’s about it! But everywhere we went it was great. H was terrified that he was going to be crucified every night, but it was quite the opposite.”

“Oh, it was an amazing tour,” Hogarth avows. “Every night, I’d walk out to an audience of people hoping it was going to be good but not sure that it would be. Then there’d be this wave of relief that you’d almost feel run right through the crowd, and by song three, it was, ‘Count me in!’ because they felt it was going to be great. Each one was a triumph, night after night. There was nothing to take for granted in that feeling of applause. You didn’t walk on assuming it was going to happen, and so we felt we were earning it every night. It was kind of a honeymoon for us as a five-piece as well. It was really uplifting.”

Many Marillion fans will remember buying Seasons End for the first time, nervously placing it on the turntable (or cassette deck) and waiting to find out exactly what the band had turned into, post-Fish. Thirty-four years later, Seasons End is widely and rightly regarded as a classic in Marillion’s increasingly impressive catalogue. The newly released deluxe edition is a particularly compelling artifact, both of the album itself (now in new, remixed form) and of the transition and renewal that those songs still represent. Seasons End perfectly bridged the gap between an old era and a new one that still shows no signs of ending. Most of all, it’s an album that proclaims, loudly and with a huge twinkle in its eye, “How could you have ever doubted us?”

“When I joined the band I thought it might last for two or three albums, you know, with a bit of luck,” says Hogarth. “It was like Ringo Starr saying he was going to open a hairdresser’s after it had all died down! [Laughs] But to this day, this is a very honest band and a very honest unit. It’s a process that is entirely defined creatively. It’s not defined by anything calculating, in the business sense. There’s none of that. It’s always just been about getting into a room and jamming until a good accident happens. It’s always about moving forward for these guys, and I figured that out on the first day I met them.”

“It’s nice that we’re still here to celebrate it,” says Trewavas, “but also that it’s still relevant enough for people, and enough of a favourite for people to warrant us doing a remix, or playing the whole thing live.”

“I just feel incredibly proud that we came back, at a time when a lot of people had written the band off,” says Rothery. “When I listen to Seasons End, I hear a rebirth in the music, and a confidence that I think maybe surprised people!”

“The significance of Seasons End gets overlooked now, partly because of the success we’ve had recently,” concludes Trewavas. “But it’s very easy to forget how much importance was put on the album, really. Not just by us, but by EMI and the fans too. We were asking a lot of people for a leap of faith, and we’ve been doing the same ever since!” 

Seasons End (Deluxe Edition) is out now via Parlophone. For more info, visit the Marillion website.

Dom Lawson

Dom Lawson has been writing for Metal Hammer and Prog for over 14 years and is extremely fond of heavy metal, progressive rock, coffee and snooker. He also contributes to The Guardian, Classic Rock, Bravewords and Blabbermouth and has previously written for Kerrang! magazine in the mid-2000s.