Steve Hogarth, English singer, songwriter and lead singer with Marillion, chats with Kevin Cooper about his time studying at Trent Polytechnic, why he hesitated on joining Marillion, the release of their latest album With Friends From The Orchestra and Marillion’s forthcoming tour of the UK

Steve Hogarth is an English singer-songwriter and musician, who since 1989 has been the lead singer of the British rock band Marillion, for which he also performs additional keyboards and guitar. Hogarth was formerly a keyboard player and co-lead vocalist with the Europeans and vocalist with How We Live.

Marillion are a British rock band, who emerged from the post-punk music scene and existed as a bridge between the styles of punk rock and classic progressive rock, becoming the most commercially successful neo-progressive rock band of the 1980s.

They formed in 1979 with their original lead singer, Fish, who left the band in 1982, only to be replaced by Hogarth in early 1989. Their first album with Hogarth was released in 1989, entitled Seasons End which went on to be a top ten hit. Their albums continued to chart well until they left EMI Records following the release of their 1996 live album, Made Again.

The band also went on to achieve a further twelve top forty hit singles in the UK with Hogarth including 2004’s You’re Gone. They continue to tour internationally and in 2008 were ranked 38th in Classic Rock’s ’50 Best Live Acts Of All Time’. In 2016 Marillion returned to the UK Albums Chart top ten for the first time in twenty two years with Fuck Everyone And Run which was their highest chart placing since 1987. They have sold over fifteen million albums worldwide.

Having recently toured with Trevor Horn, Hogarth is now busy rehearsing for Marillion’s forthcoming tour of the UK, but he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Steve good afternoon.

Hello Kevin, how are you today?

I’m fine thank you, how are you?

I’m good thanks, in fact I have to say that all is good.

Before we move on let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

You are welcome and thank you for your time.

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

Life at the moment is treating me very well if I am honest. I’m fit and healthy, and I’m still getting away with being a musician for all these years (laughter). My career has lasted far longer than I ever thought it would.

I’m so pleased that you have mentioned your career because I really should congratulate you as you have now been with Marillion for thirty years.

That’s right, it is now thirty years since I became the singer with Marillion and I have recorded god knows how many albums with them, I have actually lost track (laughter). It’s twelve, thirteen or fourteen, something like that.

I believe that it is fourteen with the fifteenth, With Friends From The Orchestra, to be released imminently to tie in with the forthcoming tour of the same name.

(Laughter) well you have certainly done your homework.

It helps (laughter). If it’s okay with you can we speak about the album first and then move onto the tour?

Sure, go for it.

The PR Company together with the band have kept any information regarding With Friends From The Orchestra pretty close to their respective chests but from the snippets that I have seen and heard, I have to say that the album sounds great.

Thank you very much. We are very pleased with how the album has turned out. In fact, all five of us are well chuffed. I personally feel that the new recordings of Estonia and The Sky Above The Rain are arguably better than the originals. So, it is wonderful for me to be able to make a statement that bold about something that I was already happy with in the first place. I do think that our producer, Michael Hunter, really has done an amazing job. He has written all of the arrangements, and he has also supervised the recording of all of the instruments. We all went down to the Real-World Studio at the end of last year, in fact there were ten of us, and we recorded these tracks, and I will tell you that Michael has just finished the mixes within the last few weeks, and I have to say that I think that it all sounds fantastic.

Whose idea was it to work with a classical ensemble?

(Laughter) I have to say that the idea for Marillion to work with a classical ensemble grew out of a chance meeting that I had over in Sweden. I was working with a Swedish chamber rock band and they had a string quartet, I mean god, they had all sorts on stage (laughter). They had got many, many different instruments on stage, but they had a quartet and the Viola player, Nicole Miller and I got talking and she said “I’ve got another quartet over in Belgium, and if you would ever like to try those elements in your music, just give me a shout” and so it kind of grew from there. Marillion played at a convention a couple of years ago now, over in Holland, and we used Nicole’s quartet as part of that convention.

I had them all dressed up like Miss Havisham, who as you know is a character in the Charles Dickens novel Great Expectations. She is a wealthy spinster who was once jilted at the altar, and who insists on wearing her wedding dress for the rest of her life (laughter). So, I had the quartet dress in dusty old wedding dresses and powdered wigs, and I have to say that it was wonderful (laughter). They are not just great players, but they were all good sports too. They were not averse to a little dressing up lunacy (laughter). So, they did that with us, then we had a short tour of Europe at the back end of 2017, where we added Sam Morris on the French Horn and Emma Halnan on Flute in order to make it six classical players.

We played a really successful sold-out show with them at The Royal Albert Hall, and we just felt a little bit full of regret that we hadn’t actually made a studio album with them. We had worked together live but we hadn’t done anything in the studio with them. So, this new album is us addressing that regret really and taking some of our songs and re-recording them with these elements. As I mentioned previously, our long-standing producer Mike has written all of the arrangements, so all of these arrangements have been written by someone who really understands the nuts and bolts of our music and who has helped us write the last few albums.

How many songs did you begin with?

Let me firstly say that I am not a mathematician (laughter). How many did we begin with; well how many tracks are there on the album?

There are nine tracks on the finished album.

Really, you know way more about this than I do (laughter). Well, in that case, we started with nine, seriously, and we actually thought that we would leave a couple of songs off the album. However, in the end, we liked them all so much that we thought ‘sod it, we will release the lot’ (laughter). So, it is quite a long album running at one hour and twenty minutes. It is a crazy length for an album really, but we couldn’t bear to leave anything off.

Were there any tracks that you wanted to get onto the album but found that they simply didn’t work alongside the orchestration?

To be honest, we thought that Fantastic Place might not work, but then it did. We also thought that Beyond You also might not work, but that did as well. We wondered whether Hollow Man would fit in and that worked as well so really everything that we kind of hoped might work, we did have a stab at, and thankfully they all did. So really, the short answer is no, there is nothing that we had dreamed about putting on there that isn’t there.

Do you have a current favourite track on the album that you are particularly looking forward to performing live?

It is probably a toss up between Estonia and The Sky Above The Rain. I think that both of those turned out far better than we could ever have dreamt, and I think that we have possibly beaten the originals.

I have to say that I personally think that Estonia is absolutely fantastic.

Thank you.

Is this a project that you would sometime like to revisit?

To be absolutely honest with you, I don’t really know. I think that once we have done this, and we have finished the tour, remembering that it is quite an extensive tour, we are playing a lot of dates here in the UK and then quite a few over in Europe, which will take us all the way through until Christmas; once we have done that and put that to bed, our focus will then be one hundred percent on our next Marillion studio album. That should hopefully appear at the back end of next year. We are intending to spend the whole of next year on it. Whether or not we will drag the girls into the studio once again to scrub a few violins on it, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised (laughter).

I wouldn’t be surprised if we get Sam Morris to blow a bit of French Horn here and there. On and off, Sam has played the French Horn on quite a few of our albums over the years. It has been an instrument that we have used on almost every album. I personally really love the French Horn. Sam has worked with us a lot so I really wouldn’t be that surprised if he doesn’t have a finger in the next album.

You always seem to be out on the road with one project or another so are you looking forward to actually being back out on the road with Marillion?

Yes, I am, very much so. In fact, I have been looking forward to this tour all year really. We played with these classical players a couple of years ago now, and we had such a good time we did feel as though we hadn’t finished. So, I have been looking forward to getting back with them ever since. I have been over in South America this year as a solo artist, just me and a piano, and I have toured South America and Mexico. As you know, I have also recently done a tour with Trevor Horn and his band and we actually played the last night of the tour in Nottingham at The Royal Centre. However, whilst it has been both fantastic and a great privilege to sing with Trevor, at the same time I have been looking forward to this forthcoming tour at the end of the year with Marillion. I really can’t wait.

I was fortunate enough to be photographing and reviewing the Trevor Horn gig at The Royal Concert Hall in August.

Oh right, was I any good? (laughter).

You were, yes you were very good. When I have told friends that I was going to be speaking to you everyone of then has asked me to ask you the same question.

Really, what is that?

They all want to know when you will be releasing your version of Kiss From A Rose.

That is so nice to hear. However, that would not be my decision; that would be for His Lordship Trevor, who most probably would have to get it past Seal as well and let me tell you, on that point there is more chance of hell freezing over (laughter). Having said all of that, I have to say that I did really enjoy singing that song.

Just mentioning ‘His Lordship’ what is Trevor like to work with?

What can I say, he is intense. His mind is always slightly elsewhere. He is probably always thinking of the next thing. But as far as him being in that situation, he is under a hell of a lot of pressure because he is the Musical Director of twenty people. So, he really does have a lot on his plate. He really is a very intense guy. I would often speak to him and he would simply stare back at me and say nothing because I don’t think that he had even heard me. After the Nottingham show, which you have mentioned was the last night of the tour; Trevor bought all of the guest singers flowers (laughter). After the show I said to him, “you are the only man to ever buy me flowers when I haven’t been in the hospital” (laughter).

You are no stranger to Nottingham having spent three years studying for a degree in electrical engineering at what was the Trent Polytechnic, now the Nottingham Trent University. There have been so many changes to the city over the years; could you still recognise it?

Yes, I did but I have to say that it is barely recognisable. I wandered down to the Old Market Square with my wife and my little one when I played there in August and I was shocked. I take on board that it has been a long time; I was there in 1976 when we had that really hot summer, when everyone used to be flaked-out in the Market Square by the fountains. However, now that the fountains have gone, I barely recognised the Market Square. I went looking for the number 31 bus which was the bus that I would take back to my digs, but they seem to have moved that as well, or they have re-numbered it, but I couldn’t find it (laughter). It was the same, yet at the same time totally different.

As you know I was studying for a degree in electrical engineering, but I have to say that I spent very little time in that faculty (laughter). I was supposed to be in the Newton Building and the Bonington Lecture Theatre, but I actually spent all my time in the Arkwright Lecture Theatre which had a rather fine grand piano in it. So, I used to find myself in whatever lecture theatre had the best grand piano in it trying to teach myself how to play the piano when I should really have been attending lectures studying quantum mechanics (laughter). I was trying to teach myself Keith Emerson piano solos.

Fish spent a total of seven years in the band, whilst as we have already mentioned you have now spent the last thirty years in the band. Does it still piss you off to be referred to as ‘the new guy’?

(Laugher) it doesn’t really piss me off anymore. However, I did go through a phase when it annoyed me, probably about ten years in. Once you have been in a band for thirty years, and people are still saying stuff like that, it becomes too daft to be offensive really. I have been in the band for thirty years, if you don’t know that then it really is not my problem. That is how I feel about it now. But, on the other hand, I’m a bit like Ronnie Wood in The Rolling Stones, I guess that I will always be the new boy until god knows how long. The fact of the matter is that I have been in the band three times longer than Fish was; I have made more than three times as many albums as he made with the band, so get over yourself (laughter).

That’s how I feel about it. The thing is that it is not about time, it is about the big hits and if a band has had big hits, they are a bit like photo flashes, and that is the bright light that will forever engrain an image into the photographic paper or the minds of the media, the minds of the casual fans, that is what you will always be about and there is no getting away from that. But I have to say that there is more to life than having hits. At the end of the day it is really all about the music you make, how much that music means to you, how honest that music is, and feeling creatively free. I must tell you that me and the boys feel incredibly privileged that after all these years; we are as free as we ever were to do whatever we want.

Also, we have got enough fans out there in the world to be able to do it at a serious level. I honestly feel incredibly privileged because it doesn’t matter how much talent you have got, if you haven’t got a little bit of luck with you, then you are not going anywhere. We all need that little bit of luck and luckily, Marillion have had some.

After thirty years in the band I must ask, are you still enjoying the ride?

(Laughter) what can I say, I am certainly enjoying it far more than I enjoyed my first day with the boys. I must be honest and say that on my very first day with the band it felt weird (laughter). I am a good deal more relaxed now than I was back then (laughter). I am enjoying the ride immensely; we are free to make the music that we chose to make whenever we are in the studio writing, so we don’t really have to give a damn about anyone else. We have got some of the best fans in the world, although we don’t really give a damn about them either. Whenever we are writing it is for us, nobody else. There aren’t that many artists who can honestly say that they feel that way, and that they have that degree of freedom to do what they do, whilst at the same time, strongly suspecting that they will get away with it (laughter).

Taking you back to 1989, when you received the call to join Marillion, just how long did it take you to say yes?

To be totally honest with you it took absolutely ages. I really was quite hard to get because I had received a phone call earlier that very same week from Matt Johnson who had put together a band called The The. I had previously played the piano with The The on the Infected album; I actually played on the track Heartland which Matt released as a single. There is a piano solo on there and it is me. I got a phone call from him and he said “I have got this band together with Johnny Marr on guitar, David Palmer on drums, James Eller on bass, and we are going to go out and tour the Mind Bomb album in the summer. Do you want to come along and play the piano” and I said “yes, I would love to”.

At that time my band had just split up, and I was thinking of getting out of the music business, and then I thought that touring with The The could be the very best thing for me. I thought that if I went on tour with them, I would be playing the piano, I would be at the back of the stage out of the way, I wouldn’t be in the spotlight, I would be in this amazing band, touring the world, having a great time. It really could re-energise me completely. So, I met up with Matt at his flat in Shoreditch and made a commitment to do the tour in the summer. And then the phone rang, and it was Marillion’s management saying that they would like to meet me.

However, I kept putting them off but eventually I did go along and meet the boys. We jammed together and I asked them ”what is it that you are looking for” to which they replied “we have heard what you do, we like your song writing, we really like your voice, and we would like you to do what you do, we will do what we do and we will see what happens”. They were inviting me to just be me. There was no reference to the past, how many records they had sold, who used to be their singer, there was no thought given to that it was just future, future, future. So, as you can no doubt imagine, that was very hard for me to turn down, but I still did.

I think that they were all amazed that I was being so reticent, because I think that they had already auditioned a hell of a lot of people who would have cheerfully chopped off a limb for the gig. I was a little bit backwards in coming forward simply because I didn’t want to blow out my gig with The The. However, in the end I decided that it was the right decision and the rest is thirty years of history as they say.

It has always been acknowledged that Marillion were at the fore of crowd funding campaigns. Were you hit when PledgeMusic went under?

We have indeed; in fact I think that we invented crowd funding. We crowd funded before crowd funding existed so we must have done. We were lucky in the fact that the collapse of PledgeMusic didn’t affect us in any way whatsoever. We have worked with PledgeMusic in the past and everything has always gone well. Having said that though, we know a hell of a lot of artists who worked with them after us and who never got paid. I think that we just got out by the skin of our teeth. They first approached us by saying “you invented this business model, we have developed it and we have become the Masters of it” but I’m not sure that they did (laughter). I think that, perhaps, we remain the Master of It (laughter).

What was the first record that you bought?

That’s easy; it was She Loves You by The Beatles.

Who did you first see performing live?

The first proper live gig that I went to was to see Deep Purple on the Machine Head Tour.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

That was Family Life by The Blue Nile.

On that note Steve let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me, it’s been fantastic. You take care and I will see you here in Nottingham on 3rd November at the Royal Concert Hall.

That’s okay Kevin, thank you for your time. It’s been a pleasure. Make sure that you give me a wave (laughter). I will most probably be wearing the same jacket that I wore on the Trevor Horn Tour.

I will try to give you a wave, but I will not be buying you any flowers (laughter).

You should (laughter). Take care and I will see you soon.