Steve Hogarth, an English singer, songwriter, musician and lead vocalist with Marillion, chats with Kevin Cooper about his ideal Christmas, the Marillion Lightsavers Pledges, their new album An Hour Before It’s Dark and their forthcoming The Light At The End Of The Tunnel UK Tour.

Steve Hogarth is an English singer, songwriter and musician. Since 1989 he has been the lead singer of the British rock band Marillion, for which he also performs additional keyboards and guitar.

His music career began when he answered an advertisement to join a band called Motion Pictures, which were subsequently renamed The Europeans. Initially joining just as a keyboard player, he did share vocal duties with Ferg Harper. The band released two studio albums and one live album through A&M Records.

In 1985, Hogarth and guitarist Colin Woore left the band to form How We Live, and managed to get signed to Columbia Records. In 1987, following record company changes, How We Live’s debut album Dry Land was unsuccessful. This left Hogarth reassessing his career until he heard that rock band, Marillion were recruiting a new lead vocalist following the departure of Fish in late 1988. On hearing his audition tape, the band was immediately impressed by his vocal prowess.

Hogarth’s first album with the band, released in September 1989, was Seasons End, their fifth studio album. Since then, Marillion have recorded a further fourteen studio, and numerous live albums, with Hogarth on vocals, the most recent being Fuck Everyone And Run (F E A R) released in September 2016. There has also been a discography called With Friends From The Orchestra.

Hogarth has also released one solo studio album under the name H called Ice Cream Genius. In 2006, he undertook a solo tour, H Natural, during which he played around twenty dates in the UK and Europe. It was billed as an evening of music and conversation with Hogarth at the piano.

In 2014, it was announced that Hogarth was releasing two volumes of diaries, written between 1991 and 2014. The first was released in June 2014 and is called The Invisible Man, with the second volume being released later the same year in December.

Whilst busy rehearsing for their forthcoming tour, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Steve, good afternoon, how are you?

I’m very well thanks Kevin. How are you?

I’m very well thank you and before we move on, let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

You are very welcome.

I have to tell you that you and I last spoke on 10th October 2019.

Did we now?

Yes, we did. We managed to squeeze an interview in right before the world shut down.

(Laughter) what a time we have had (laughter).

Yes, we have (laughter). I was then fortunate enough to photograph and review the gig at The Royal Concert Hall on 3rd November where I witnessed you playing a cricket bat of all things (laughter).

That’s right, I was (laughter). I do play a cricket bat, although I have to come clean and tell you that I am not very good at cricket (laughter).

I have to ask, just how is life treating you?

Life is actually treating me well, to be honest with you. I really can’t complain at all. We were very fortunate for the most part of the pandemic and the lockdown in the fact that we had already planned to take last year off the road. We had planned to write and record an album last year, so when we found ourselves in lockdown, we didn’t really lose very much live work. I think we lost one show, but we managed to reschedule everything else. We simply spent the whole time in the studio writing. So we were extremely fortunate. However, if we had been planning a whole year out on the road, it really would have been disastrous for us. That really was just pure luck on our part.

We have just finished mixing the new album, which is going to be called An Hour Before Its Dark, and we are hoping to get it out early next year. Well, it will be out early next year; it’s just a question of how early, because there is a world shortage of vinyl, and a world shortage of cardboard, even though I seem to have most of it (laughter). Barely an hour goes by without someone knocking on the door giving me another box.

And of course, there is a shortage of pressing plants too.

Yes, that’s right, there are. Someone in their wisdom decided that vinyl was dead so they trashed all of the pressing plants. However, vinyl once again is alive and well but alas, there is no one available to manufacture it. There is money to be made there; if you can get the gear and open up yourself a pressing plant, then you would be inundated.

How are the rehearsals going for the tour?

(Laughter) it’s funny that you should ask me that. I’ve not started yet and I am intending to start tomorrow. Mark, our keyboard player has been programming in the studio for the last couple of weeks, and we keep getting messages from him saying, “can we put it back a day” then I got a message from Peter the bass player yesterday saying, “can we put it back a week as I have been bitten by the cat” (laughter). You really shouldn’t laugh (laughter). He said, “can we leave it until Friday as I have got an infected thumb”’ (laughter). So, it is situation as normal basically.

Having not been able to perform over the last couple of years, will there be any nerves when you finally walk back out onto the stage?

Good question. For me, being a singer, my biggest concern is what to wear (laughter). So, I will be nervous about the outfit. No, I think that we will be alright. I’m feeling good about the music; I find it really easy to remember words, so my gig cupboard is actually not too bad. I occasionally do a few solo shows, and I have to tell you that I am a nervous wreck for those simply because I have got to do all of it at once, and let me tell you, that really is tricky. When I’m with the band I am generally a lot more relaxed, because there is always someone else to blame. I can look over my shoulder and leave a lot of it to other people.

What’s going to be amazing is being back on a stage, in front of the fans again after this enforced absence. I think that is going to make the whole atmosphere higher because as the saying goes, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, or you have been denied it. So, I feel that there will be a sense of celebration and homecoming throughout this tour, I think.

What measures have you put in place for the forthcoming tour?

Being perfectly honest with you, I still don’t know if I want to be in an enclosed space with that many people. If I get sick, then that really is going to impact upon everything. I have got to be super careful, and on this tour, we are going to be together effectively as a band; we are going to have to quarantine ourselves throughout the whole tour. There will be no friends and family backstage, and we are not even going to mix with the crew. In that sense it is going to be a strange tour. I am really looking forward to the shows, but I am not looking forward to the process because I think that we are going to be very isolated.

What can we expect?

Well, we thought that for this one we would do a kind of greatest hits which means that basically we are going to be playing all of the big tunes, in our opinion. Not in the BBC’s opinion, and not in BBC Radio Somerset’s opinion but in our opinion, the really seriously good stuff (laughter). It will have the things that we have left alone for a while now; the really big songs. In addition to that we are going to play one of the new songs from the forthcoming album, which is called Be Hard On Yourself. We are going to throw that in the middle, as a taster of what’s to come early next year.

The name of the tour is The Light At The End Of The Tunnel. Is that reflective of where we currently find ourselves?

Yes, it is, and I have to say that it really was the obvious name for the tour really, when we first had to come up with a name which is getting on for a year ago now. At that time, the prospect of us playing live was literally the light at the end of a very long tunnel for everybody, both the band and fans alike. I joked, “no it’s not a train coming the other way, it is in fact the light at the end of the tunnel” (laughter).

I see that there is no Nottingham date on the forthcoming tour; who has upset you?

(Laughter) somebody nicked my razor when we played Nottingham last. I had left it in the dressing room, and it went. I have no idea as to who half inched that (laughter). Seriously, that’s not the reason why we are not playing Nottingham this time around; it is simply down to hall availability, and whether we are in the right place at the right time. It’s never personal (laughter).

We have to talk about the Marillion Lightsavers Pledges. Whose idea was that?

That was actually our manager Lucy’s idea. She called a crisis meeting when we realised that if just one of us tested positive for Covid then we would have to pull the tour. If we did that, we would still have all the trucks, buses, the sound and lights still to pay for, and we would lose an awful lot of money. Any band who is out there on the road touring at the moment, are seriously taking a colossal risk, and they have to be super careful. As Genesis realised it only takes one person to test positive and you are done. So, we didn’t want to find ourselves in that situation, but if we do end up in that situation, there is no insurance; there is no insurer on Earth who will insure artists against testing positive.

What does that leave, and it was at that point that Lucy said, “why don’t we crowdfund it”. We all thought that was a brilliant idea, because we know for a fact that we have got the kind of fans who wouldn’t think twice before getting involved in something like that. They really do trust us with their money. So, we opened an account and I think that we have got £150k in there already, and of course, that will all be returned at the end of the tour, when we don’t need it. If, God forbid, one of us tests positive, and we really are going to do all that we can to avoid that, but if one of us does, then at least it won’t sink the ship.

Looking at where the donations have come from, it really has been a global response hasn’t it?

It really is so humbling man. The people who have contributed to this have absolutely nothing at all to gain from it. We have even had emails from people saying, “I will send you a thousand Euros; I don’t want anything, and I don’t particularly want anything back, just have it”’ and when you see an email like that, you really do have to sit down. What we have got going on amongst our fans is really extraordinary and precious.

In the past you have been referred to as the masters of crowdfunding and I think that this lives up to that billing doesn’t it?

We invented it, we literally invented it. Before us, no one had ever crowdfunded anything until we crowdfunded our American Tour (laughter). Immediately after that, we crowdfunded the album that followed it which was Anoraknophobia. In doing so, we kind of invented that model upon which the likes of Kickstarter and PledgeMusic actually set up businesses on it. And of course, all sorts of other artists, not just musicians, but actors, theatrical productions, film makers, and the arts in general, have all managed to fund projects going forward by asking the public to invest in it upfront. I personally feel that it is a great way forward. However, having said that it does involve a lot of faith, and it also involves a lot of trust because if you send someone your money you have got to be able to trust them, in the fact that whatever it is that you have bought will eventually come to be.

You and I have laughed about this the last time that we spoke. You have spent the last 32 years as the new guy in the band; do you think that you will finally take the job?

(Hysterical laughter) I honestly don’t know. I am still awaiting the phone call (laughter).

Being serious for a minute, are you enjoying yourself?

Yes, I am. They really are four nice human beings in the band that I am in, and when you have been in a band for this long there are not many people who will say that about the rest of their band mates. There is always a lot of scope for friction, and being let-down, I suppose, as there is with any long-term relationship. But I’m just fortunate to be in a band with four decent blokes with a very clear sense of right and wrong and what’s good and bad with a decent moral compass so, as long as you have got that, you are lucky, and you can always ride out any petty squabbles because they are inevitable when you are trying to create art together.

You are never going to agree on everything. We have created some pretty good stuff together over the years and this new baby is no exception, in fact Lucy thinks that it is the best thing that the band has ever done. However, I must say that she is a bit of a fan as well as managing us (laughter). I’m at the stage where I just don’t know anymore (laughter). Lucy tells me that it is great so for me that is fantastic.

On the subject of the album, An Hour Before It’s Dark, where did the title come from?

To be honest with you it was just something that I threw onto the end of one of the songs, in fact it was on the end of the song that we are going to play on tour, Be Hard On Yourself. Right at the very end, I threw a few lines down; ‘paint a picture, sing a song, plant some flowers in the park, get out and make it better, you’ve got an hour before it’s dark’. However, I didn’t ever think that would be the title of the album. We sent all the lyrics for the album over to our graphic art designer, Simon Ward, who designs all of our album sleeves, and that was the line that he pulled out of all of it. He felt that it was strong and kind of summed up a lot of the themes in the album.

The recurring themes within the album are the environment, which is pretty topical at the moment with the COP26 thing. Of course, by the time that we get the thing out it could very well be old news (laughter). Having said that, somehow I don’t think so; we were talking about the environment back in 1989, and here we are 32 years later, and everyone is still saying, “we really should be doing something about this” (laughter). So, I guess that An Hour Before It’s Dark is a hooded reference to the environment and also the pandemic as well.

I was going to chat to you at this point about the album, but I can’t as there is nothing out there (laughter).

I know, perhaps you and I should do it all again next year when the album is out (laughter).

Back in the day a band or artist would always release a single off their forthcoming album, but Marillion have well and truly kicked that trend into touch.

What we thought that we would do was release a lead track and because we are going to be playing Be Hard On Yourself in the live shows on this tour, we thought that we would release that track as a download to anyone who has bought tickets so that they can get their head around it before we play it. So, in that sense it will be a lead track. There is very little point in us releasing a single because the radio wouldn’t play it for a kick-off, so for us there really isn’t any point any more. The way that people listen to music has moved on now. But having said all of that, our fans still buy CD’s because they still do enjoy holding a physical product which is great for us because downloads are not paying artists very much money at all.

That really is the crime of the century, what has happened with downloads. It really does need to be addressed if decent music is going to carry on being made. But there really isn’t that much point in us releasing a single.

An Hour before It’s Dark is your sixteenth album with Marillion. In your opinion just how good is it?

At one stage I did actually get very excited about it, but having created it in the first place, you get so wound up in it that you get to a point where you just don’t know anymore. We played it for Lucy, and as I said earlier, she feels that it is the best album the band has ever made, in either incarnation of the band as well. She thinks it’s a high point. For her to say that after twenty albums is extraordinary really. So, let’s hope that she’s right.

Do you ever consider life without Marillion?

Now that’s a good question, do I? What would take its place? I honestly don’t know. I have days where it would be nice for me to have a proper break, and maybe do something else entirely. I have always been given the freedom to go and do the odd solo show if I feel like doing that. I did make a solo album a while back, but I honestly don’t know if I would even want to make another solo album. I have got so much freedom to move within the band so I can get it out of my system within the band really. I suppose that it would be nice to go to India and sit on a hill for six months (laughter). However, at this moment in time, that’s not an option (laughter).

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

Gosh, that’s tricky. The most fun I guess we had was way back in 1990. We played a festival over in Rio de Janeiro and San Palo in the carnival stadium and the football stadium, and I have to say that was unbelievable. That was most definitely a high point. Also, just about every time that we have ever played over in Montreal has been incredible. There is just something very special about that place and the fans there. Every time that we have played in Paris has been unreal. There really has been a hell of a lot of high points. The shows at The Royal Albert Hall with the classical players which we did in 2019 were pretty astounding. So, as you can see, we have had some seriously good times.

Turning that on its head, there must have been some low points?

Well, Mark Kelly running into the back of a cement truck on our last German tour was a low point because at one point we thought that we had lost him. But thankfully he was okay. For me, my marriage going down the pan was a pretty low point for me, although I have to say that often goes with the territory, I’m afraid. I’m sure that ninety percent of the artists you might speak to could all tell you a story like that. It does take a toll on your domestic life. That’s one that you need to ride until you come out of it wiser and with a better idea of how to marry the work and your domestic life and, fingers crossed, I think that I have got that right now in a way that I didn’t before.

Which do you prefer, performing or recording?

That’s easy, performing. I can effortlessly make that choice. Don’t get me wrong, recording can be fun, but it is an experimental process really. You are always trying to have happy accidents (laughter). You are feeling your way whilst using the good stuff all the time. That is quite a fun process but it can’t be compared to standing in a room full of love, which is essentially what our gigs are. The affection that comes my way at the end of each show is really unparalleled and unnatural but truly amazing. If you have got your antenna tuned to receive it, then there is an awful lot of love to receive.

As we are rapidly approaching that time of year, what would your ideal Christmas be?

What would my ideal Christmas be? I guess that it would be something that I have never done, being hauled up in a warm log cabin, in the snow, in the mountains, with my family and my extended family, my sisters and my children, all together; it would be wonderful. I wouldn’t give a damn about the presents, so long as we could have plenty of plonk and throwing the odd snowball; that would be incredible.

And a nice big TV so that you could all watch the 1958 Andy Williams Christmas Special (laughter).

(Laughter) and of course The Morecombe and Wise Show (laughter).

Steve, on that note let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been absolutely delightful.

You take care Kevin and I hope to see you in Birmingham. Bye for now.