“If anyone asks ‘How did you get into Marillion?’ I’m proud to say it was because of a deaf person.”
“My closest friend at the time, Martin, is profoundly deaf, but he had a record collection and he was an Iron Maiden fan – the first band I ever fell in love with after their Running Free performance on Top Of The Pops. As well as loving Maiden, he’s a Marillion fan. As soon as I listened to Marillion I became obsessed with them and Script for A Jester’s Tear is my number one prog album ever. It’s very gloomy – which was great for a 14-year-old boy - and it had a song on it about Northern Ireland, a place ignored by music at the time, apart from by Boney M. I realised the person I truly was – a shambles of a human being – when I saw Marillion live in Belfast in 1985.
It would take balls for a predominantly English band to come over and play Forgotten Sons, a song about a British soldier lost in Belfast, in the 80s. Then the encore came and they did it. There were a lot of boos – to be fair that started during Lavender – but the worst moment came during the guitar solo. Steve Rothery, my idol, was three feet away from me. As he stepped forward to play his solo I shouted, ‘Tell it like it is, Steve!’ to which my hero actually had to turn his back because he was laughing. I have to live with that every day.
If Radiohead don’t know that they’re prog rock then they’re idiots.
I knew of Phil Collins’ Genesis and bought Invisible Touch when it came out. I liked it and still have a soft spot for Land Of Confusion. But I had a bootleg of Marillion doing I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe), to me it was an additional free Marillion song. Then my dad found a tape of Selling England By The Pound in the street and brought it home saying ‘Is this any use?’ It had that song on it so I forced myself to listen to it but it didn’t click. Four years later I was at a friend’s party and I heard a guy singing ‘Can you tell me where my country lies’ and the memories came flooding back. I went out and bought it on CD and that was it. Everything on it is brilliant, including Phil Collins’ More Fool Me. I have [former Record Collection victim and podcast partner-in-crime] Robin Ince to blame for Soft Machine’s Vol 2. I used to disregard jazz in prog when I was younger, now I think it’s the best thing. When he heard this album he didn’t say much to me, just ‘buy it and listen to it’, so I did. We both said the same thing: ‘Why do we bother with other music when this has been waiting for us all the time? [Incredulously] We bought Shed Seven! Why did we waste our time?’
As much as I loved Doctor Who as kid, I didn’t notice the music. I thought my Who days were behind me, then it came back and I bought all the DVDs and enjoyed it all again. I can’t separate prog rock from Doctor Who. If it wasn’t for the Radiophonic Workshop I would want Yes or Genesis to do the music. But the original theme tune by Delia Derbyshire is a masterpiece. It is literally otherworldly, especially when you think that in 1963 those instruments had never existed before. The ideas behind Doctor Who are so new, even from the get-go with the music. Kids would not have known what hit them. When Fish left Marillion I got his first solo album, Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors, which I loved but then I tuned out. Someone pushed 13th Star on me and I loved it. So when Feast Of Consequences came out I thought, ‘It won’t be as good as 13th Star but I’ll give it a go.’ How wrong I was. It’s brilliantly prog, then there’s the pop songs again, like All Loved Up. I saw him in Aylesbury recently and Feast Of Consequences was up there with the Marillion stuff, plus his voice has such grit now. I think his retirement is very graceful, his is a good example to follow.
I realise this is idiotic but I can’t find a good prog rock compilation that isn’t stark-staringly obvious apart from Copendium, compiled by Julian Cope. Musicians can learn a lot from this, the first track is a stand-up comedy routine about supermarkets, which is insane and goes on too long. But probably my favourite track is Helicopter by SAND, which makes me laugh because it’s like the wanker at a party that finds an acoustic guitar and just starts to strum, ‘yeah, I could play a tune if I wanted to…’, then a weird space pirate sits beside him and starts singing. It’s amazing.
If Radiohead don’t know that they’re prog rock then they’re idiots. I find they age horribly and Kid A is the only album that I go back to, I find something new every time I listen to it. It’s so jazzy, very atmospheric, probably very humourless. To a lot of music fans Kid A was a failure. But they were a Trojan horse, sneaking prog into the charts. Or maybe they have no idea and have snuck prog past themselves.
I’ve picked The Mars Volta to challenge myself. I have a tin ear for drums, but like on Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats where the drumming is the greatest part of that album, so it is on Noctourniquet. If drummers are geniuses, Deantoni Parks is one, the rhythm makes you feel fizzy. I had difficulty reconciling these former punks with prog but now I get it and I like that they’re a Texan prog band too.
Human Don’t Be Angry is Malcolm Middleton. He started in Arab Strap, doing long jangly songs about his failure as
a man. This album is all about guitars and keyboards, some of which are eight minutes long, some of which become
different songs as they go along, all of which have complex arrangements and keyboard solos. It’s prog, but extremely
subtle. Lyrically, it reminds me of Misplaced Childhood, someone who’s lost and hates himself. If Malcolm Middleton farted onto a tape I’d love it. It’s the soundtrack to my actual life, so please listen.
A Night At The Opera is the best album to pick to argue that Queen are a prog band. My cousin had this record collection and I was terrified of it cos it had Sex Pistols in it and they were the Antichrist. Then I saw this, listened to it and loved it. Aside from the beautiful pop of songs like You’re My Best Friend, there’s The Prophet’s Song – eight minutes long, a choir in the middle, so Brian May. I became a huge fan. In 1980 when I was 11 were at my cousin’s house in San Francisco and my uncle noticed I was wearing a T-shirt, his awkward ice-breaker was, ‘So, you like T-shirts. Paddy has a box of T-shirts downstairs if you want to have a look through.’ So I did and I found this sparkly and glittery Queen one. I put it on and everyone started laughing. My mum, embarrassed, said, ‘You can’t wear that, that T-shirt’s for girls.’ It had a very low neckline to reveal boobs. But that’s what Freddie wore! I refused take it off and my parents had to walk around California with an 11-year-old Freddie. Queen played in San Francisco while I was there. I was too young to go, but my cousin Danny drove me up to a hill where we could see the flashing lights and hear the muffled sounds it. So, technically, that was my first gig. In reality, it was Nik Kershaw, so let’s move on…”
Follow Michael on Twitter @michaellegge. Listen to his Vitriola music podcasts with Robin Ince on Soundcloud.