He joined British progressive rock superstars Marillion in 1989, and yet to many people Steve Hogarth is still the ‘new boy’. With the band’s latest album An Hour Before It’s Dark just released, he talks about spending half his life in the group, and tackling climate change and the pandemic in lyric form when you’re really trying to steer clear of it.
He also recalls how Deep Purple got him into this rock’n’roll lark in the first place, when he was supposed to be in training as an engineer.
Marillion are on their nineteenth album. How did that happen?
Opinion is divided, because we did an [acoustic] album called Less Is More, and we did With Friends From The Orchestra, and I don’t know if that’s included. It’s eighteen, nineteen, twenty… we’ve all lost count.
You’ve left the album’s title, An Hour Before It’s Dark, open to interpretation, haven’t you?
The title was suggested by Simon Ward, who designs our sleeves. I sent him all the lyrics and parts of text that I thought might work. He came back with An Hour Before It’s Dark. Which wasn’t a suggestion, but it was on the end of the song Be Hard On Yourself: ‘Paint a picture, sing a song, plant some flowers in the park/Get out and make it better, you’ve got an hour before it’s dark…’
It kind of encompasses what the album’s about: two main themes of the climate crisis and the pandemic. I didn’t consciously start to write about either. In fact I avoided it. But I couldn’t stop it. And An Hour Before It’s Dark seems to work on a lot of levels. We’ve got to do something about the planet – and do it damn quick.
In Reprogram The Gene you mention activist Greta Thunberg. Why is she inspiring to you?
Quite often it takes a simple and direct opinion to cut through all of the debates and the brouhaha of politics and finance. There are some issues so huge and so urgent that it takes a child to go sort this out: “Do it now, we are all going to die.”
How did the rock-metal collective Choir Noir become involved in the record?
Via our filmmaker and friend Tim Sidwell. He’d been working with Bring Me The Horizon and he’d shot them at the Royal Albert Hall, with Choir Noir accompanying them. We were talking, and I mentioned I’d like some ‘proper backing singers’ on this record. He mentioned Choir Noir, and I Googled them, thinking: “Ooh.”
So we contacted Kat Marsh, who runs it, and she not only made some choral arrangements, but also added backing vocals against my vocal. They’ve really lifted moments in this record, most notably on Crow And Nightingale and at the end of Care.
Care talks about the pandemic and ‘angels on earth’.
One day in the newspaper I saw a photograph by Johannah Churchill of Pete Barber, an artist in Manchester, painting a mural on a wall, of an ICU nurse called Melanie – she’s looking stressed-out, worn out and frightened. I was really moved, and I wrote those words on the spot. Thankfully they made their way into the song that closes the album. It’s our own Thursday-night handclap for the people who looked after us, and in some cases gave their lives.
The recording started in Marillion’s Racket Club studios, then finished, as you often like to, at Peter Gabriel’s Real World. Do you ever bump into Peter?
I think he hides from us [laughs]. We don’t have any encounters with him ourselves, but I have my own Peter Gabriel stories that I can bore you with.
Go on, then.
This is from way back, making the [Hogarth’s previous band] How We Live album [Dry Land, 1987]. We were working with producer David Lord in Bath, who’d worked with Peter and they were still friendly. Peter allowed us to borrow things because we didn’t have a lot of equipment.
I took a sampler back to his house – this is before he’d built Real World – and he was recording So in a studio in a converted barn. I said: “What are you up to?” He said: “We just finished a mix. Would you like to hear something?” I said: “Sure.” And I stood at the mixing desk while he played me Red Rain. I was the first person ever to hear it, apart from the people who worked on it.
You must have been thinking: “Oh my god, I’m standing next to Peter Gabriel.”
I was thinking that. When I was seventeen I’d bought all the Genesis records and gone to all the tours – I saw The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway twice. Now I was hearing Red Rain, standing next to His Nibs, anxiously wondering what it was going to sound like and what I was going to say.
Deep Purple were the inspiration for you to start playing music though, weren’t they?
Yes, because of Jon Lord. I saw them at Sheffield City Hall on the Machine Head tour and thought: “Nothing is better than this. If I do anything else I’ll be wasting my life.” I was doing a degree in electrical engineering in Nottingham, and had never studied or excelled in music.
The next day, I badgered my parents into getting a piano for me, and I spent weeks, months banging away on it trying to learn Genesis and Yes songs, or Keith Emerson solos, like Take A Pebble. I met Keith a few years back at the House Of Blues in LA – he came to a show! He came backstage and said he thought we were amazing. That was quite a thrill.
You’ve actually been in Marillion for half of your life. How does that feel?
It could’ve been worse – digging coal. [Marillion drummer] Ian Mosley congratulated me last Saturday. He said: “Thirty-three years… You’d have got less for murder.” Which is true, I would’ve been out by now. I’d have got more sex as well. It’s remarkable. It’s gone by pretty quickly. It feels like only eighteen years [laughs].
An Hour Before It’s Dark Is out now via earMusic.