When, having just played his own Better Dreams, and prior to launching into a spirited Afraid Of Sunlight, Steve Hogarth declares “this is like playing a gig inside Roger Dean’s mind”, you know exactly what he’s talking about.
We’re seated in St. Michael’s Cave, a network of limestone caves situated in the Upper Nature reserve on the giant Rock of Gibraltar, but could easily be the cover of many a Yes album. Long thought to have been bottomless, one legend states that Gibraltar’s Barbary apes made their way from the African continent via a 15-mile long subterranean tunnel into the cave!
No such monkeying around from the Marillion frontman tonight however, although he is in good humour and even better voice. Tonight’s concert takes place in the Cathedral Cave, once designated (though unused) as a hospital in WWII, but since the 60s, converted into an auditorium for all manner of art performances (Hogarth first played here several years ago) as well as things like the Miss Gibraltar beauty pageant. Strangely, Hogarth fails to recall his own time on the jury at one of these events!!
But there’s plenty of reminiscing to be done throughout what stretches out to be two and half hour show. It’s above and beyond one of his ‘h natural’ shows, which would just be Hogarth, piano and voice, however, with the promise of ‘guests’ for the second half of the show. What is striking, aside from the environment we’re in, occasionally dripping from it’s bold stalactites onto the crowd below, is that without the sonics provided by Marillion, how passionate and emboldened the voice remains. Despite admitting to Prog that he was pretty nervous, those 26 years of fronting Marillion have served Hogarth well as a performer. The impish grin might still be there, but this is a commanding musician before us tonight.
He opens with Marbles’ Ocean Cloud, Marillion’s dedication to the late Atlantic rower Don Allum, easing into an emotive Runaway, latterly revealing the subject matter of 1994’s Brave album. “It didn’t get much airplay, “ he giggles, warming to his theme in style. Afraid Of Sunlight and a splendid cover of Split Enz Message To My Girl, before dipping into the second volume of his Invisible Man memoirs, for a lengthy but hilarious tale about the current tawdry state of US commercial flight carriers, using the FBI’s removal of Cat Stevens from a flight Marillion were on as a lead-in (buy the book for the read – I assure you it’s hilarious).
Having ended the first half with Fantastic Place from Marbles (after a botched attempt at Happiness Is The Road’s Essence), Hogarth returns after a break (during which we discover the VIP bar is delightfully situated in one of the cave’s lower chambers) for Marillion’s 2004 Top 10 hit You’re Gone, before welcoming to the stage guitarist extraordinaire (as well as all round nice guy) Dave Gregory of Big Big Train/Tin Spirits fame. From here the pace picks up, and proceedings take on an even more relaxed and enjoyable air. A cover of Wichita Lineman is played, as it was one of Hogarth’s father’s favourite tunes that he recalls hearing around the house as a youngster. XTC’s brilliant Love On A Farm Boy’s Wages goes own a storm with the delightfully boisterous Marillion fans in the crowd, whilst Cat Stevens’ Lady D’Arbanville links to the earlier tale and Jethro Tull’s Life Is A Long Song is prefaced with reminiscing about thanking Ian Anderson for writing the song when Marillion picked up Band Of The Year at the 2013 Prog Awards.
Hogarth’s own son Nial joins for percussion on Peruvian percussive instrument the cajon. It’s the first time father and son (a gifted drummer in his own right) have performed together, but they’re an expertly natural fit, as is Hogarth’s daughter Sofi, who later joins to add backing vocals to a cover of Ruby Tuesday and How We Live’s Working Town, a song he wrote about his own father, sat looking down on his childhood home of Doncaster. One real highlight is to hear Hogarth the raconteur, offering stories behind many of his song choices this evening, which helps add real depth to the performances. He reveals both children bear tattoos of ships in lightbulbs in honour of their grandfather (“He built them in bottles, then later, lightbulbs. Crazy…” chuckles the singer).
We also get an emotional Beautiful and Waiting To Happen, and an energetic 80 Days. The latter is prefaced with the story of how, having viewed Marillion fans queuing for a show in the damp and cold from a dressing room window, he felt compelled to write something to say thank you. Years later when the band’s website polled for favourite and least favourite songs, guess where that particular tune ended up? “Fuck ‘em”,” he giggles, tongue-firmly in cheek. And the good humour carries over into the main set’s cover of Ballad Of John & Yoko (fitting as we’re all staying in the same hotel John and Yoko stayed in after they got married) and final song, a mightily gregarious take on The Waterboys’s The Whole Of The Moon/Spirit.
Hogarth, and audience, are all still noticeably buzzing, when he returns for final triumvirate of Marilli-songs, No One Can, Cover My Eyes (with Hogarth giggling his way through half forgotten choruses) and a final Three Minute Boy, before he leaves to a well deserved standing ovation. The previous day at our hotel Hogarth had confided to Prog that these types of solo shows can go anywhere, whilst laughingly admitting it could all get a bit “Von Trapp Family” with his kids also appearing. But the truth is that takes a special kind of artist to pull off a show like this. To engage so directly with the audience, have them laughing at the stories yet allowing themselves to be moved by the words within the songs, and at the same time, maintaining a strong, almost personal bond. It’s something Marillion themselves have always been good at. But on tonight’s showing, it’s something that Steve Hogarth totally excels at. This was a very special night indeed.