The Royal Festival Hall in London is one of those buildings that splits opinion. For some, it’s an amazing piece of 70s architecture, a lasting snapshot from a time when things looked yellow and brown…and different; for others, its mess of passageways and stairs around every corner gives the feeling of being stuck in an Escher painting. The performance area is great for the “serious” music event, the classical performance or world music extravaganza; for the rock or pop audience, it’s a space that never quite reaches its full potential, with people dancing in a restrained way in front of their fold up seats. Nevertheless, it’s here that Deacon Blue have returned after selling out the venue two years previously.
For those who grew up in Kent, Maidstone’s Mote Park is likely to hold childhood memories of family picnics and feeding ducks. It seems almost inconceivable that very same park in the middle of an incredibly residential area, albeit many years later, would play host to a variety of superb rock bands. On the evening of Saturday 25th July, classic rock legends Scorpions are the headliners at the very first Ramblin’ Man Fair, but they’ve also got sterling support from NWOBHM legends Saxon, among others.
Over the years, Marillion have released some great albums and played some fantastic shows. Their 2004 double album ‘Marbles’ and following tour very much represents a high point in the band’s career and post-80s fortunes – the shows on that tour were arguably some of the best they’ve ever played. Like every band that has ever set foot upon a stage, naturally, they don’t always get it right and some of the shows promoting their ‘Somewhere Else’ album in 2007 were frankly very dull indeed.
On this occasion, Marillion been given the honour of headlining the Prog stage at the very first Ramblin’ Man Fair, a classic rock and prog festival. It’s kind of ironic that a band who spent the whole of the nineties trying to convince everyone they were not a prog band would headline a prog rock stage, but the idea that Marillion have a headline slot at a UK festival is a very appealing one to both the band and their fans.
It’s approximately 6:45 PM and it’s finally stopped raining after about twelve hours. It’s wet and cold and half the field’s population are still shuffling about draped in waterproof macs. French progressive black metallers Alcest are coming to the end of their set. Their wall of sound approach is definitely an acquired taste and often makes a lot of their material indistinct within the live scenario, with only occasional tinkly prog flourishes cutting through massive doom riffs. Even so, it’s been enjoyable…and as they churn out their last few oppressively heavy chords (for Alcest have arguably been the heaviest band to appear at the festival), the sun finally breaks through – too little, too late – causing a beam of light to centre upon the middle of the crowd. Had this occurred barely minutes later, you could even jest that it was stage managed, as was such a spooky spectacle. This of course, is the only sunshine we’ve seen all day, and with that, it sheepishly hides back behind a huge blanket of cloud and decides that it’s all too hard.
The Replacements broke up in 1991. During their lifetime, they became one of the world’s greatest cult bands, gaining a legion of loyal fans, the actor Matt Dillon among them. Following the split, bassist Tommy Stinson embarked on an interesting career, as frontman of his own bands Bash & Pop (whose sole album ‘Friday Night Is Killing Me’ an essential listen for ‘Mats devotees), and Perfect, maker of solo records and as a touring member of Soul Asylum. Rather unbelievably, he’s also been a member of Guns N’ Roses – an odd move, certainly, but one Stinson has previously claimed pays well. Guitarist/vocalist Paul Westerberg released a string of excellent solo recordings, some of a rather lo-fi persuasion, but always showing the songwriter’s gift for a lyric. In a move that pretty much no fans ever expected, Westerberg and Stinson reunited in 2012 as The Replacements, played their own live shows and appeared at festivals across the US.
In 2015, the even more unexpected occurred when The ’Mats announced gigs in the UK. For some fans this would be a great opportunity for revisiting their youth, but for many – and certainly for a huge part of the audience present at The Roundhouse on June 2nd – their first live experience of the band. A proper bucket list job.