A conversation with Mark Kelly of Marillion

I spoke with Mark Kelly, keyboardist for the band Marillion, about the release of the double CD live album Made Again, the move from EMI to Castle, and his view on the current music scene. Here're some highlights.

Apparently Marillion had been planning the release of a live album for quite a while, collecting live recordings as they toured. The major factor in deciding to release a live album now, according to Mark were: (i) if they waited longer, they would have too much material too chose from (as it stands, Mark feels certain special tracks (like Season's End) were left out, (ii) the second night of their show in Paris, where they featured the Brave recording, came out really well (even though the liner notes by Steve Hogarth are a bit contrary to this) and there wouldn't be any need to mess around with overdubs and the like, and (iii) it is part of the move towards independence from the major label EMI's clutches.

With regards to putting the entire live performance of Brave on the album: "You can't break up Brave because it wouldn't make sense." Brave works well together as a concept album, and splitting it apart would seem highly incongruous. I agree with this decision, and I think having Brave live in its entirety on the second side showcases their live skills convicingly, and will probably end up converting a lot of fans who are still stuck in the Fish-Marillion era (like I was).

I touched a bit on whether or not Steve Hogarth, the vocalist who replaced Fish, likes performing the older tunes: "Steve only performs songs [written when Fish was in the band] that he can identify with, ones where he can make his own interpretation." In general, the live album is an attempt to showcase the years with Hogarth as a vocalist, and I think to prove to still skeptical fans Marillion didn't lose it when Fish left. (It worked for me!)

Previously, Marillion records were available on EMI. Made Again was however released on the independent Castle records, which is distributed by the powerful (and rich) Alliance Entertainment. A large portion of our conversation was focused on this move, and it's clear from speaking to Mark that EMI was stifling the progress of band in all ways possible.

Mark agrees with the view that Brave is one of the best Marillion albums recorded: "It's the hardest Marillion album there is. We set out to do something without compromises and Brave is the result." However, while Brave won critical acclaim, it didn't sell as well as EMI wanted. So EMI wanted to hurry Marillion to produce their next album in order to cash in on Brave's critical success. However, part of the reason Brave didn't do well is because EMI's handling of it was miserable---they just didn't view it as commercially viable product, and didn't promote it as such. Needless to say, "the band thought it was a bit wrong and decided to look elsewhere for distribution."

Marillion are now very happy with Castle. Their manager talks directly to Castle all over the world. The arrangement they have is that everything is recorded on their label Intact, which is then exclusively licensed to Castle. This exclusive licensing process is a lot better than the deal they with EMI, who basically owns the rights to all their previous work indefinitely. However, negotations are underway to get out of EMI's grip, and once that happens we should see remastered albums being released from Marillion's back catalog, and hopefully it will have bonus discs with the B-side singles on them, along the lines of what other bands with Castle, such as Helloween and Iron Maiden have done. Marillion also have freedom to pursue solo releases---EMI has a lot of control over whether a band member's solo work should be released by them or not, and Castle records basically gives the artist the freedom to go to any record label.

With regards to people not being able to find Made Again in the stores, there was a bit of confusion about the release date. However, it should all be sorted out by now and the album should be in the stores. There will be no singles from Made Again, and the album is available on vinyl only in Europe. There will not be a tour in support of the live album, but Mark said Castle was enthusiastic about them coming over to the U.S. and that Alliance is a company with money that is excited about the band. Mark assured me that they would be here in support of their new album. The band will reconvene in May at their personal studio, The Racket Club, to begin writing their next album, due for release in early 1997.

There will not be a companion concert video because the band doesn't have anything good enough. They apparently tried to get EMI to film the Brave show and EMI didn't want to bother. Castle was keen to film the Rotterdame show but EMI held the whole thing up couldn't give Castle the permission. There will be live video to coincide with the next studio record.

I asked Mark about releasing an interactive CD, but he said that doesn't really excite him much. He doesn't think much of the way people are using the technology at the moment. Mark thinks that there's room for Marillion to use the www for promoting future releases. In fact, he should uploading solo works that he's been playing around with in MIDI format (so you can mess around with it as much as you feel like) soon. I think there're a couple of problems with this, which we didn't get to finish discussing, mainly having to do with the patches/sounds used (but that's a whole different issue altogether). He said he tried out some of the MIDI files of Marillion stuff posted by others and said they were interesting, but full of errors.

Mark's views on the music industry are a bit depressing. He dislikes the entire commercial setup: "MTV is a disaster. If I grew up watching MTV I probably wouldn't like music." While he thinks there's more variety on the U.S. airwaves than in the U.K. he thinks it is unsatisfying that money is the motivation: "The whole concern is to play music to make people not want to turn off the channel." He thinks that new and diverse talent should be introduced to rejuvenate the music. However this means taking a risk, and record labels, MTV, and radio stations alike don't want to take risks. He thinks that even if you end up with a station that plays what they want instead of what gets the most listeners, it will eventually fall prey to greed and change its format. A bit cynical there, but given the number of times I've seen/heard of it happening, it might well be the sad truth. He does agree that Internet offers potential in the future for independent distribution.

On the subject of the Marillion fan base on the Internet: "The Marillion newsgroup is a crude bunch compared to the mailing list." He has apparently posted on both the newsgroup alt.music.marillion and the mailing list (Freaks). dedicated to Marillion, and the responses have been different. Mark has received a few e-mail message asking why Marillion doesn't give up. On Freaks, he has been respected and at least he's got the choice to answer the questions and sometimes he does and sometimes he doesn't. The other person in the band who uses the Internet is guitarist Steve Rothery. So keep an eye out for either of them on the 'net.

I guess that this has been pretty long. If you're still reading, definitely give the live album a chance particularly if you've not kept up with Marillion. I can't wait to hear their next studio release with Hogarth---let's hope it's as hard as Brave.

Music ram-blings || Ram Samudrala || me@ram.org || April 11, 1996