“The jollity can’t undercut the impact of the music”: Marillion’s An Hour Before It‘s Dark: Live In Port Zelande

Pandemic-era masterpiece brought vividly to life with additional material.

Marillion - An Hour Before It's Dark Live
(Image: © earMusic)

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Marillion have come a long way since 1984’s live Real To Reel album provided them with a life raft to cling to after the disappointing commercial performance of its studio predecessor, Fugazi. Forty years on, the format has become one of the foundations on which their cottage industry-turned-mini-empire is built.

At the last count, there have been 17 official live albums from the Steve Hogarth-fronted line-up, plus more than 40 released via their own Racket label. A valuable income stream, for sure, but something that’s become so deeply knitted into their ongoing mythology that it would feel weird if they didn’t exist.

An Hour Before It’s Dark: Live In Port Zelande brings the tally close to 60. Released on CD as well as DVD and Blu-ray, the hook is self-explanatory. In March 2023, the band held their traditional Marillion Weekender at Center Parcs, Port Zelande, on the coast of Holland. The second of its three nights was dedicated to An Hour Before It’s Dark – still one of the most powerful and moving documents of the Covid era.

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Those emotions are cued up from the start via an audio snippet of Carl Sagan’s 1994 book Pale Blue Dot, in which the late scientist benignly but firmly puts humanity in its ultimately insignificant place in the universe. “Saturday night is album night,” says a gleeful Hogarth, as bassist Pete Trewavas plays a few bars of Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting; but the jollity can’t undercut the impact of the music.

A rendition of Go! easily trumps its studio version

Be Hard On Yourself, Murder Machines and especially the hymnal Care – with its salute to the NHS heroes who helped the nation through lethal times – are magnificent, flashing back to a time when the pandemic was still very real. Yet for all the darkness that inspired the original album, it flickered with the flame of hope. With the pandemic disappearing in the rear view mirror of history, that flame feels like a communal conflagration. For a night, anyway.

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The album’s songs are bolstered by five from further back in their catalogue: the ever-stirring Estonia; Afraid Of Sunlight with its hollered ‘King of the world!’ line; a rendition of Go! which easily trumps its studio version; Seasons End’s billowing into The Space... and the now-familiar Zeperated Out, which features a snippet of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir spliced into Marillion’s own Separated Out (the DVD/Blu-ray version features half of the Brave-heavy set from the following night).

It’s not the first time any of these songs have appeared on a Marillion live album, but it’s unlikely anyone will complain. Fifty-something releases in, it’s a little late for that.

An Hour Before It’s Dark: Live In Port Zelande is on sale now via earMusic.

Dave Everley

Dave Everley has been writing about and occasionally humming along to music since the early 90s. During that time, he has been Deputy Editor on Kerrang! and Classic Rock, Associate Editor on Q magazine and staff writer/tea boy on Raw, not necessarily in that order. He has written for Metal Hammer, Louder, Prog, the Observer, Select, Mojo, the Evening Standard and the totally legendary Ultrakill. He is still waiting for Billy Gibbons to send him a bottle of hot sauce he was promised several years ago.