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Mark Kelly interview: from Marillion to Marathon and beyond

Mark Kelly
(Image credit: Mark Kelly)

The unexpected downtime is for musicians among the very few bonuses of lockdown. Marillion keyboard player Mark Kelly admits that without it his first ever solo project may not have come to fruition. 

Kelly explains why he chose to use a largely untried group of collaborators for his Marathon project, and also provides his take on the weirdest year in living memory.

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The record label’s biog tells us that Mark Kelly’s Marathon has been thirty years in the making

That’s a bit of an exaggeration. During the mid-nineties I stupidly mentioned my intention to do a solo album about Dante’s Inferno, but never got very far. In fact I sent some music to Steven Wilson with a view to collaborating, but never heard back from him. He must have thought it was rubbish. Steven reminded me about that recently. 

So what is the timeline here? 

The idea resurfaced about eight years ago, but again nothing really happened. Marillion always has to take precedence. A solo album is something you work on when you’ve nothing to do, and lockdown provided that three-month window. The one positive [of the second attempt] was that it introduced me to a lyricist called Guy Vickers. The drummer, Henry [Rogers], I knew from our band DeeExpus. 

Guy wrote some fascinating lyrics for this record, especially for a novice. 

Yeah. And Guy is a barrister. We met when I sought legal advice from him. He prodded me into doing this solo thing. 

And Oliver M Smith is quite a vocalist. 

I wanted a singer in the Peter Gabriel mould, and a friend said: “I know just the guy.” Olly sings brilliantly and writes great vocal melodies, and that was it – we were off to the races. My nephew Conal Kelly plays the bass. He comes from pop music. 

Who plays the superb guitar solo on Whistling At The Sea – Pete Wood or John Cordy? 

That’s John. He came into the project fairly late on as a recommendation from Steve [Rothery], who’d seen him on YouTube. 

Steve Rothery plays on the track Puppets, which is awash with guitar. 

Steve plays the part in the main chorus and in the middle, and John plays the solo at the end which is great. 

Do we hear a nod to Genesis’s Los Endos on Trail Of Tears? 

Oh, blimey, the lead synth part? I didn’t do it consciously, but I was aware that with this album I could do things that might get frowned upon in Marillion. Amelia has a snippet that sounds like Rick Wakeman – and that one was intentional.

It’s nice and melodic, very few complex time changes, just leisurely, confident strokes of the brush on the canvas. 

I wanted it to have strong melodies, which is why I was so pleased to find Olly. It needed songs, as opposed to having just a bunch of musical passages strung together. 

What’s the concept behind the album? 

Except that its two biggest songs [Amelia and Twenty Fifty-One] are about a breakdown in communication, there isn’t one, really. A further three songs got left off. I’d like to make another album fairly soon. 

How has lockdown affected you? 

I don’t want to sound uncaring, but we [Marillion] didn’t plan to tour this year. So of all the years it could have happened to us… Well, things could have been worse. 

How did you enjoy the recent Couch Convention that Marillion did? 

That was fun. The fans raised 31,000 pounds to distribute to our crew. 

How do you think the British politicians have handled the pandemic? 

I’m sick of them all. Boris Johnson is a clown. 

Have you heard Fish’s latest album, Weltschmerz, which is also his final album? 

Just a couple of tracks. There were no surprises, really. I suspect that if it does really well for him he’ll do another one [laughs]. 

What are your personal hopes for 2021? 

I would like to see the entertainment world return to some sort of normality. It would be great to go and see a couple of bands play. Maybe that’ll happen in the back end of 2021. 

Who were your hero and villain of 2020? 

Sir David Attenborough, and Donald Trump. 

When can we expect a new Marillion album? 

We’ve been back in the studio since September. Within a few weeks we’ll start checking how much of it there is, but we’re in pretty good shape.