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‘Seasons End’: How Marillion Embarked On A New Era
In Depth

‘Seasons End’: How Marillion Embarked On A New Era

With the arrival of new singer Steve Hogarth, Marillion’s 1989 album, ‘Seasons End’, made the neo-prog heroes a formidable pop-rock force.


Following the departure of their original frontman, Fish, Marillion underwent a major transformation in early 1989. After hiring a new singer in the shape of Steve Hogarth, the band moved away from Fish’s trademark poetics and embraced a more atmospheric and melodic approach to their music. While still wanting to stay true to their neo-prog roots, Marillion used their fifth album, Seasons End, as an opportunity to prove their ability to evolve and adapt to a new musical landscape.

Not only would Seasons End draw a line under Marillion’s Fish-led incarnation, but Hogarth’s poignant and evocative vocals undoubtedly helped push the group into the slipstream of contemporary pop-rock. Now considered a classic album in its own right, Seasons End was a critical and commercial success upon release, its soaring melodies, complex arrangements and introspective lyrics further guaranteeing Marillion’s status as one of the most innovative and forward-thinking progressive-rock bands of their time.

Here is the story of how Seasons End proved to be a pivotal moment in Marillion’s career…

Listen to ‘Seasons End’ here.

The backstory: “It was like our whole creativity became supercharged again”

When former frontman Fish quit Marillion in 1988, in order to pursue a solo career, it was clear that whoever replaced him would have a lot to live up to. As the face and voice of Marillion for much of the decade, Fish had done wonders in helping the group establish a loyal following on the progressive-rock scene, thanks to his offbeat lyrics and enigmatic displays of showmanship. Saddled with the difficult task of finding a new lead singer, the remaining members of Marillion – guitarist Steve Rothery, keyboardist Mark Kelly, bassist Pete Trewavas and drummer Ian Mosley – held some auditions and decided to push ahead.

Enter Steve Hogarth, a singer and songwriter from Manchester who had previously been a member of obscure new-wave pop groups such as The Europeans and How We Live. Arriving at his audition like a breath of fresh air, Hogarth left Steve Rothery awestruck: “The minute Steve started singing, it was like our whole creativity became supercharged again,” the guitarist recalled. Hogarth’s hiring turned a page in the Marillion fairy tale, weaving a spell to bring a new spark of energy and passion to the band’s sound. With a distinctive tone and gut-punching vocal delivery, the new singer quickly established himself as a key member of the group, and the chemistry between Hogarth and the rest of the band was instantaneous.

Marillion’s ambitions for a post-Fish future were surprisingly straightforward: they simply wanted to carry on where they had left off. Their previous studio album, 1987’s Clutching At Straws, had sold over 100,000 copies in the UK and included the UK Top 10 hit Incommunicado, and much of the group’s new material was already being written in the same vein. However, change was in the air, with Mark Kelly admitting that Hogarth stirred new ambitions within the group. “People expected us to fail, because Fish had left the band,” the bassist reflected in Prog magazine. “We had something to prove.”

The recording: “It was just like being on holiday”

The recording of Seasons End took place in the summer of 1989, at Hook End Manor, a 16th-century country house in Oxfordshire that had been converted into a recording studio. Working with co-producer Nick Davis, the band quickly and painlessly laid down some tracks in a matter of weeks, making the most of the manor’s relaxed and secluded environment to hone their new sound. “It was just like being on holiday,” drummer Ian Mosley remembered. “We just played tennis every day and built hot-air balloons.”

Despite the absence of Fish, there was some continuity in that many of the songs on Seasons End had actually been written before his departure. Steve Rothery would often turn up to rehearsals with a bundle of demo cassette tapes. “I’d say maybe 70 or 80 per cent of the material was already written when Fish was still in the band,” Peter Trewavas later told Prog magazine. Knowing how much Fish’s lyrical stylings would be missed among Marillion fans, a friend of the band, John Helmer (formerly of Brighton-based punk act The Pirahnas), was asked to pen some lyrics in his stead. This proved to be a master-stroke, as Helmer’s writing style was a good fit for Marillion’s new direction, cramming their songs with poetically cryptic touches (The Space…) and steeping them with socially-potent metaphors (The Uninvited Guest).

The first Marillion single to be released with Steve Hogarth as lead singer was Hooks In You. Released in late August 1989, the song boasted spider-life guitar riffs and a beefed-up 80s pop-rock sound that showcased Hogarth’s roof-raising pipes. Peaking at No.30 in the UK, Hooks In You was a radio-friendly burst of third-wheel angst, with lyrics written from the perspective of a friend watching helplessly as his friend falls victim to the wiles of a femme fatale.

Capturing their vision on tape, Seasons End had all the ingredients of a classic Marillion album, hopping majestically from the soaring and melodic epic The King Of Sunset Town to the haunting and atmospheric ballad Easter. While there was some uncertainty about how their new music would be received following their divorce from Fish, Steve Rothery would later describe Seasons End as Marillion’s “wedding album”. “We’d all just met,” the guitarist explained, “and we’re having a whale of a time.”

The release: “I really did think I’d get nailed”

Released on 25 September 1989, Marillion’s fifth album, Seasons End, entered the UK charts at No.7 and ushered in a completely new era for the band. Not only was new singer Steve Hogarth a handsome piece of MTV bait, but his voice felt more attuned to the clean-sounding production values that were dominating ballad-oriented rock throughout the 80s. By experimenting with more modern sounds and textures while still staying true to their progressive-rock origins, Seasons End marked a moment of rejuvenation for the group.

Fuelled by the same mercurial and enigmatic spirit that had characterised Marillion’s early years, The Uninvited Guest was released as Seasons End’s second single, in November 1989. With John Helmer’s timely lyrics addressing the AIDS epidemic from the perspective of the virus itself, the song reached No.53 in the UK and boasted one of Steve Rothery’s most shred-heavy solos to date. Infused with the band’s trademark arpeggios, The Uninvited Guest highlighted how the best Marillion songs would continue to tackle thought-provoking and socially conscious themes.

Unsurprisingly, the album’s success was not limited to the UK, as it also gained significant traction in other parts of Europe, particularly in Germany, where it reached No.11. Seasons End’s popularity further solidified Marillion’s position as a major force in the European prog-rock scene; with its polished production style, the album opened the door to a new era of sonic exploration, splicing Marillion’s progressive-rock DNA with the Whitesnake-like forcefulness of commercial pop-rock.

As Marillion headed out on tour to promote the album, Steve Hogarth found himself playing to sold-out venues across the continent, but admitted he wasn’t sure if fans would welcome him with open arms. “I thought I’d get nailed,” he admitted, knowing how difficult it would be to fill Fish’s shoes. Thankfully, Hogarth’s fears were quickly put to rest, as he soon won over the band’s fanbase with his dynamic stage presence and powerful vocal range.

Released in March 1990, the third single lifted from Seasons End, Easter, saw lyricist John Helmer tackle The Troubles in Northern Ireland, taking inspiration from a poem by WB Yeats. An electro-acoustic ballad channelling the spirit of folk songs sung by Jacobite rebels, the song peaked at No.34 in the UK and saw Hogarth address the violence at the heart of civil disunity with undeniable compassion (“What will you do with the wire and the gun/That’ll set things right when it’s said and done?”).

Cementing Marillion’s place as one of the most innovative and enduring bands in the history of progressive rock, Seasons End would go on to sell over 100,000 copies in the UK and marked a significant turning point for the band. By introducing fans to their new vocalist, the album widened Marillion’s commercial scopes while remaining loyal to their neo-prog roots. A masterclass in reinvention, Seasons End brought a new freshness and vitality to the group’s music, paving the way for the Hogarth era and proving that Marillion would continue to be a force to be reckoned with.

Buy the ‘Seasons End’ deluxe edition box set.

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