So here I am once more, it would seem, probably 34 years on from having last seen the real thing. I will confess straight out that I am a Fish-era fan. Like many, I grew up listening to and revelling in the wordplay of a certain Derek W. Dick, and, though I tried (Seasons End was, in hindsight, not a bad album), it was their original singer who captivated me. I never stuck with the band after the change at the front. I may be a snob. It may be a cliche. But I’m not alone in this. I’m also okay with things being that way.

I also tend not to only go in for tribute bands too much, especially if the band in question is still going. But, in my defence, Stillmarillion is a celebration of a song cycle that you will never, or at least rarely, experience played together as a complete set, or in a sound and style resembling how you may have first encountered them way back when.

I spent my formative years of the mid-eighties watching the band in what many consider the classic lineup of the first four albums (with wiggle room for a drummer upgrade after the first) and so perhaps 34 years (well over half a lifetime in my case) is too long to leave things. And so here I am, as I say…once more.

Since the debut album, Script For a Jester’s Tear, turns forty this year, the band elected to play the whole of… the fourth studio album, Clutching At Straws…why not? It’s their show, after all, and why be predictable? And so we headed off into the nostalgia of my sonic past, and a suite of songs exploring darker human urges, alcoholism and the excesses quickly succumbed to during a life on the road. What we got was the whole album interspersed with both hits and more discerning musical choices from that era.

From the dynamic ebb and flow of Sugar Mice to the relentless energy and drive of Incommunicado, from Warm Wet Circles’ gentle majesty to all the interlude tracks that even the band themselves never played live. There were lesser-known b-sides such as Tux On (Sugar Mice, in case you were wondering), Emerald Lies from Fugazi and a whole bunch of crowd pleasers, such as the “commercial bit” from Misplaced Childhood, which takes in Kayleigh and Lavender, and rousing versions of Incubus, Forgotten Sons and Market Square Heroes to finish. Despite repetitious and increasingly annoying shouts for Grendel, the early epic, quite wisely, didn’t materialize.

Whereas cover bands can often merely cobble together rough takes of songs and get away with it, tribute bands are a different matter. Those paying good money to experience a tribute to a beloved band are more exacting in their expectations. For this reason, tribute band players have to be at least the equal to the musician they are portraying, in many respects. And with all the ornateness, time changes and soaring spectacle of what is still known as progressive music, such as that made by Marillion, it takes a brave and talented person to tackle such sonic subject matter. But I am pleased to report that Stillmarillion is more than up to the task at hand, and not for nothing does frontman Martin Jakubski also handle vocal duties in Steve Rothery’s band.

A glorious night celebrating and soaking up the songs of my youth, of music that soared and swooned, hit heady crescendos and lulling interludes, built of epic soundscapes and gentle restraint, a night of banter and fun, good company and good cheer, of exquisite sonic salvos and expert musical deliveries, and a full-throated and responsive audience.

And of lyrics which continue to beguile and amaze me, even to this day. A tongue forged from eloquence? Indeed!

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Musician, scribbler, historian, gnostic, seeker of enlightenment, asker of the wrong questions, delver into the lost archives, fugitive from the law of averages, blogger, quantum spanner, left footed traveller, music journalist, zenarchist, freelance writer, reviewer and gemini. People have woken up to worse.

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