There are many moments in the course of this two days, when only one thing is clear – and its that you are watching the best band in the world at what they do, but still, its day one and Steve Hogarth isn’t happy.

“I never got used to having ‘stage patter’ he reckons, “people can go and see Paul McCartney and he says the same thing every time, not me!”

To be fair to “H”, its about the only thing they’ve not got spot on – and you could argue with some conviction that the fella is the best frontman in rock, his sense of the theatrical gives these songs something live, something else, something that even though they touch the heights they do on record, means they truly belong on stage.

Someone had said that to me about a decade ago. And that night, the first time I’d seen Marillion live (which thanks to the internet I can tell you was the 13th December 2011 was the night I’d gone from a casual fan of the band to one of the 3000 who were here to celebrate the 21st  year of the weekend.

The first evening had begun with Norway’s Dim Gray. A trio on record, they are beefed up live and they are clearly thrilled to be playing their biggest ever show. The result is a set that exists in its subtleties. The harmonies of “The Wave We Thought We’d Ride Forever”, the way it builds at the end, the keyboards of “Avalon/The Tide”(DG man Oskar Holldorff is now performing that role for Big Big Train), or the brand new song “Murals”, there’s a skill here that indicates why so many are getting excited about the band.

The majority of the set is taken from their “Flown” album and “Closer” finds a kind of Jeff Buckley vibe, indeed, one that seems that all the band are playing different songs (the drumming in particular is spectacular) but it works. “Black Sun” – another from “Flown” – is a clear highlight, there’s a palpable joy in their performance of it, as if they’ve finally worked out they are here because they deserve to be. The smiles as are they afforded an incredible reception at the end seem to suggest it was an experience they all enjoyed.

Before Marillion arrive on stage, they play a video on the big screen which shows where audience members have travelled from for the show. The staggering array of nationalities underlines the universal appeal that the band has, but more than that, it underlines that they are amongst friends here. And playing to their own audience, the band are unstoppable.

Beginning with “Be Hard On Yourself” from 2022s album of the year “An Hour Before It’s Dark” and following that up with “Only A Kiss” and “Murder Machines” is a wonderful start, but “Reprogramme The Gene” – Hogarth’s de facto state of the union address as he surveyed things post-covid – is stunning.

The musicianship is, it almost doesn’t need saying, exceptional, but Mark Kelly’s keyboards in “Fantastic Place” elevate that one, and the same can be said for the whole band on “Map Of The World”.

The promise of these shows is simple. No song will be played twice, and that enables a varied setlist. “White Paper” is delivered with passion, but the first of two truly jaw dropping moments that day one had to offer “Warm Wet Circles” is stunning, while in the second encore (“Care” – another Covid one – had been the first) “Three Minute Boy” is a fitting conclusion. Sitting listening to the lyrics: “A three minute song is all he wrote/He only did it for a joke/They played him on the radio/From Tokyo to Timbuktu”, the irony is clear. “H” reckoned earlier in the set that “we often bin things we think are too commercial…..” You’ll be glad they did, to paraphrase the first song they’d played.

Following on from that, day two had begun with a Q and A, where the most prescient question had seen them asked: “would you do Eurovision?” the consensus was no, and what followed half an hour later was ample discussion as to why.

Quite simply: Marillion were sensational.

“Living With The Big Lie” ushered in a set that had felt slightly different to the last one. More serious, perhaps? (although Hogarth did dedicate “Older Than Me” to Wayne Rooney and claim they were going to have a five a side with Leicester City – who had been relegated a couple of hours previously – after the show….) whatever, “Crow And The Nightingale” is one to lose yourself in, while “Sierra Leone” is wonderful and the emotion there for everyone to feel.

“This Train Is My Life” – and “H” explains in detail what the song means to him – gives way to “Sugar Mice” and there’s a couple of things here. The frontman gives the first two verses to the audience as if he’s proving its “their” song as much as the bands but secondly, if there’s a better guitar solo anywhere, than the one that Steve Rothery plays, I’ve never heard it.

“Made Again” ends the main set, for the first time on tour, but that means nothing, actually, given that its before ten o’clock and you might say that they are only just getting started….

Certainly a real hard rock version of “Separated Out” (complete with balloons flying all over the place) brings a party atmosphere) but that’s only a precursor to “This Strange Engine”. Hogarth had joked the night before that “without me you wouldn’t have it, so stick that up your pipe next time you call me a pop singer” and it’s a treat to see it in full.

They are back, of course, and they are back with “The Leavers” and its hymn to the good and bad of being on the road. The good, surely, outweighs the bad? And a weekend like this is reward for the band, but also for the audience. Many of the best bands in the world only look for the validation of themselves and their crowd. Why go pandering? Chasing things that aren’t there. The two shows here were a celebration of just that. Marillion in 2023 aren’t for everyone, they’re not mainstream like in the mid-80s and, they absolutely do not care. And, I’d argue, despite being only a “disciple” for 12 years, that they haven’t sounded better.

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