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Jon Collins - Marillion Seperated Out....Redux

Ten years after publishing his original ‘Separated Out’ biography of long serving (dare I say prog) rock band Marillion, renowned aficionado Jon Collins has updated his work and brought the Marillion story bang up to date. Not an easy task with publishing demands that an additional ten years be fitted into less text, but with some editing and a chance to streamline some parts of the earlier edition, the outcome is a gratifying and thorough account of Marillion’s thirty year career in music.

Taking contributions from many people who have been part of Marillion’s career including the full co-operation of the band itself  and major contributions from fans, who can often be forgotten as major players behind the success of a band like Marillion, especially when considering their innovative pre-order release campaigns  of several of their later albums. In fact, the book is a tribute to the fans from whom Jon has assembled  a collection of stories and anecdotes to add interest to what could easily be seen as a dry and lifeless run of the mill biographical account.

The 2003 edition ended with the ground breaking and entirely fan funded issue of the Anoraknophobia album and the first of what were to become regular fan ‘weekends’ which quickly moved on from the initial event at Pontins to the much more modish modern day versions in the fan strongholds of Center Parcs in Holland and over the Atlantic to Montreal. He charts the continuing and developing relationships between band and fans, often referred to as ‘the family’ (in fact it was singer Steve Hogarth who greeted the audience at  the 2005 UK convention at Butlins in Minehead with the words “it’s nice to be back with the family.”) and the continued successes with the pre-order campaigns amid the backdrop of ever changing trends and business practices within the music industry.

Not wanting to fudge any issues or be entirely sycophantic, the highs of the Marbles double album and live performances are countered with the slightly underwhelming response by many hardcore fans of the release of the subsequent Somewehere Else album. The difficult gestation period of their highly acclaimed 2012 effort Sounds That Can’t Be Made is also charted as the account comes full circle.  It’s a tale about which Steve Hogarth opened up quite frankly during his ‘h natural’ performance in Liverpool in December 2012, confessing quite candidly about the significant strain it placed  on him in terms of the expectations laced upon him to  turn on his art and the pressures within the framework of a close knit  band.

The text has had to compromise from its previous edition to comply with the modern age and be available in Kindle format, so gone is the  friendly and distinctive layout of text boxes and photographs to be replaced with a text which is much more in keeping with the need to publish electronically. As a result the chapters are much more concisely edited than in the original; the period covering the first five years with new singer Hogarth now are contained in 4 manageable bite sized sections for example. The appendices remain with including coverage of the various solo activities and side projects, although the 22 pages of discography and bibliography which keep the hardcore fans and fervent collectors happy from the first edition (alongside very detailed foreign pressings and catalogue numbers) have taken a bit of a bashing to become condensed into a perfunctory listing of albums and singles.

Interestingly, as I write, the internet news desks are following the administration procedures being issued against the stalwart HMV high street music chain charting yet more changes in the way that music is bought and sold. Redux is a depiction of an uncompromising  band which saw the light and has taken the bull by the horns in running its own affairs will surely have a few more tales still to tell. 

Garry Freedman – Do You Wanna Play Some Magic [Emerson Lake & Palmer in concert 1970-1979] (Soundcheck books)

Yes – it does sound very much like a specialist subject on Mastermind, but then there are quite a few ‘major’ rock bands who have had their concert or live career examined in print; The Beatles, U2,  Genesis in their ‘Gabriel’ years and in particular, the Led Zeppelin live phenomenon has been explored in detail in the analysis of  collections of their ‘underground’ recordings.

The relatively short span of ELP’s live career covered here (although they did reform in the early 1990’s for a few years for a new album and subsequent tours and another ‘final’ live performance in 2010) gives the author the chance to cover the tours and the shows in some detail. Of course, with any project of this nature there is the danger of falling into the trap of repetition, although he does make it clear that part of the thrill of  listening to shows with the same set list repeated for the length of a tour is countered by the fact that the ELP live performance relies on considerable amounts of improvised material. In fact, it’s Carl Palmer who noted that around 40% of an ELP gig was improvised, while Freedman is at pains to point out that in his opinion after listening to so many show, it was likely to be an even proportion.

Freedman has listened to and evaluated over 150 shows – dedication indeed and one which will be appreciated by hardcore fans for whom listening to onstage performances night after night is a treat rather than a hardship. Each concert examined has its own little introductory caption and a concluding comment, although it has to be said that the nature of the project means that some repetition is difficult to avoid. When a band plays one piece of music, albeit in slightly different arrangements, throughout its career (‘Pictures At An Exhibition’ is the classic example) sometimes it must be hard to know what to say about it to maintain the interest of the more casual reader as opposed to the dedicated fan, the sort of whom lap up this type of minutiae. What is apparent is that Freeman’s commentary is overwhelmingly and consistently positive. Not to undermine the obvious virtuosity of Emerson, Lake and Palmer or the objectivity of the author, but there must have been some nights when it didn’t quite gel. Some element of  critical perspective might also depict ELP to have some human qualities rather than untouchable rock gods.

This type of book is perfect for those fans who want to find out about the likes of the between song patter from the Green’s Playhouse, Glasgow on the 1972 UK tour and who are interested in the developing sets of instruments, equipment and PA systems. However, there may well be those particularly obsessive and demanding fans who may hit on the fact that  the author  has chosen not  to include the more obvious appendices such as the almost obligatory complete gig listing. Also absent are more detail listings or records of any ‘released’ bootleg/unofficial recordings as well as not covering a significant raft of official live releases.

The picture sections have included some more interesting fan-type shots which won’t have been seen before. Who would have ever thought that  sneaking  your instamatic into to a show and capturing some souvenir of the evening would find its place in print several decades after the event as a valuable artefact. Some of the colour images  are of an age where they have that distinctive grain and saturation which dates them, yet they stand as quite a rare archive and record of the era.

A foreword to the book comes from celebrity fan Jim Davidson, and the 3 members of the band itself are acknowledged as giving the author their support and encouragement. ELP aficionados will see this as a welcome acknowledgement of the live performance legacy of their band yet maybe a missed opportunity missed to really delve and produce a definitive work.

David Rees & Martin Webb – Jethro Tull – The ‘A’ New Day Tapes Vol 1

'A New Day’ magazine is one of those slightly more unusual publications. For a start, it’s an independent magazine (which in the current economic climate may possibly be the best way to publish!) and has been running since 1985; again, slightly unusual in that 28 years is no mean feat for any magazine to run. Unusual too in that it features the terminally unfashionable Jethro Tull – a band oft ridiculed and pilloried but with a hardcore and loyal fanbase which has seen them holding their own in the music industry for nigh on 45 years and a exactly the type of band and fans who encourage such devotion, passion and longevity. From the early days of photocopied sheets, A New Day is now over 100 issues old; published as an infrequent A5 magazine  and Tull enthusiasts can now even buy their copy electronically as the magazine is now available to subscribers and one off purchasers in a Kindle edition!

Messers Rees and  Webb have undoubtedly earned their spurs and been acknowledged by the Tull organisation who have lent some authorisation to their publication. In 1988, the two acted as consultants in the compilation of the ‘20 Years of Jethro Tull’ box set and were name checked in the accompanying booklet as “Two noteworthy but completely crazy fans”. In 1998 Rees published ‘Minstrels In The Gallery – a history of Jethro Tull’ in which he delighted in quoting Tull matriarch Ian Anderson from the  1996 UK Tull fan convention : “When they think we’re shite, they say we’re shite – in the nicest possible way!”  It’s probably the acknowledgement that these guys are not just sycophantic fans who observe their heroes through permanently rose tinted glasses and manage to maintain some sort of subjective view of a band they dearly love and cherish which has gained them such trust and entry into maybe not the Tull inner sanctum, but certainly they could be seen perching  on a wooden fence which sits  on the outside of the inner circle.  There is also fact that they have been  granted  access to the hallowed backstage areas of concert halls all over the world and opportunities to interact with the band in a way 99.9% of fans would only dream of.

What is particularly noteworthy about AND is the way it has become what Dave Lewis in his Led Zeppelin chronicle ‘Tight But Loose’ calls a platform of communication between fans and the band. In the early days of AND, it wasn’t too long before members of the band, Anderson included, were sniffing out the magazine and what it was saying and before long, the offer to speak to the fans through the magazine was forthcoming. For someone who is regarded as being, what might be termed, not always the easiest person to deal with, Ian Anderson has been very forthcoming over the years in the time he has offered for interview and in the way he has granted semi-official status on Messrs Rees and Webb and their musings.

In fact, the transcriptions of interviews with the Tull leader himself are perhaps the most enlightening and lengthy contained in this collection which has been gathered over the first ten years of the magazine consisting of  29 chapters with interviews from the first 48 issues of AND. The range of interviewees is quite comprehensively staggering and virtually anyone who has played a role in the Tull story who has been hunted down and offered (or even been press ganged) the chance to answer questions and put their point of view forward in a most good humoured way. Indeed, the number of musicians who have played in Tull must make it seem like a revolving doors policy to its members, particularly in the pre-Tull days of the John Evan band and in the more modern incarnation of the band. Ian Anderson has remained the constant with the ‘almost, but not quite’ as constant guitarist, the unassuming Martin Barre. Current drummer Doane Perry is the longest serving Tull drummer and being an American (sorry to stereotype), is an easy and relaxed interviewee and talks comfortably and at great length when given his turn in the interview chair.

It’s not to say though that Anderson and Barre get the bulk of the attention. True, they do feature in more and lengthier pieces and Anderson in particular is very forthright and open in his often meticulous and detailed dialogue in interviews from the 1987-1993 period. It feels like he’s relaxed enough not so much to totally let his guard down, but certainly enough to relish the chance to speak frankly about himself and the band to people who he regards as genuine as opposed to the cynical music hacks. Anderson also adds a foreword to the venture.

What is most enlightening though is the very casual nature of the interviews. At one point, short time multi-instrumentalist Martin Allcock turns the tables and interrogates David Rees with a set of questions from Doane Perry. It’s perhaps this relaxed manner which is the most endearing quality about the whole set of interviews.

It’s hard to imagine who isn’t included in this first volume (the second volume is due to be published early this year). Even Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi gets the chance to say a few words on his fleeting appearance as a (very) brief member of Jethro Tull; he played just the single gig – the Rolling Stones Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus in December 1968 as a short term replacement for original guitarist Mick Abrahams. There’s also an impressive 36 page chunk, which is literally the centrepiece of the book, which chronicles the pre-Tull days with more exclusive material gleaned from researching into the Blackpool scene where the John Evan Band had their roots before evolving into Jethro Tull.

All in all, a very satisfying read certainly for Jethro Tull fans although the more hardcore section will undoubtedly be subscribers to the magazine where these were initially published, but for the more casual Tull fans and rock fans in general, an impressive collection.

Review by Mike Ainscoe

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