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Pete Trewas talks to Robin Harrison

Not everyone has heard of MARILLION, but everyone has felt their influence. As far back as the late 1990s, Marillion’s fans sponsored an entire US tour responding to an appeal posted on the fledgling Internet, donating $60,000. In 1997 the band responded creating its own website (the first rock ‘n’ roll website in the UK) and began what was to change the landscape of music. With the support of its passionate fans, Marillion bypassed the conventional music industry, took control of its future, and forged its own path, banishing the spectre of record company pressure and influence once and for all. Marillion launched its own record label, the aptly named Intact imprint. In so doing, the band freed itself up to produce some of the finest music of its career.

In 2001, Anoraknophobia saw Marillion take the groundbreaking step of asking fans to pre-order an album a full 12 months before release.  In doing so, the band invented “Crowdfunding”. The crowd-funded business model has since been embraced globally to finance music, film and art which otherwise might never have existed.

After over thirty years, the band shows no signs of slowing down and new generations of young fans are discovering the music for themselves. And there’s plenty of it.  With a catalogue of 18 studio albums behind them, having written music that draws on every genre Marillion can be considered Progressive not just musically, but in just about every sense.

The band has spent much of the last three years following the release of their last studio album F.E.A.R on tour and playing the ever popular “Marillion Weekends.”  They started 2018 as guests of YES on Cruise to The Edge which was followed by dates in America and the UK and Europe and more recently a series of concerts in Japan. 

Marillion return to the UK for 13 shows in November 2019 with an extended line up of musicians joining the band for their With Friends from the Orchestra Tour with a show celebrating 30 years and 14 studio albums with Steve Hogarth as lead singer. The shows will feature the In Praise of Folly String Quartet plus Sam Morris on French Horn and Emma Halnan on Flute, on select numbers throughout the show.

In advance of the tour, Lyric Lounges’ resident Prog aficionado Robin Harrison spoke with bassist Pete Trewavas about how he came to play bass, his solo work outside Marillion, and about the forthcoming gig on 3rd November 2019 at Nottingham Royal Concert Hall .

We started off by exploring how Pete came to play bass in the first place.

I kind of used to say that I was a failed guitarist. I learned to play guitar when I was about seven, with a very good friend of mine, who is currently on tour with Howard Jones (Robin Boult – who has also played guitar with Fish recently), and when we got to the stage where we were going to form our first band, we had too many guitarists, so I went on to bass. But I’d always been interested in all sorts of music. My dad’s a huge jazz fan, I used to listen to Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson trios, things like that, there’s a lot of double bass work in trios. When the Beatles came along, I liked what Paul McCartney was doing on the bass guitar, so it didn’t phase me going on to bass, it was “oh yeah, I get this, I get what’s going on.

When I listened to music even from a very early age, I just understood music, I could almost tell what was going on. I mean, I wasn’t quite Mozart, I wouldn’t have been able to write it all out, but I got music, how it all happened and what made it good and what made it bad, it was a good head start for me. That’s how I started on the bass, and then I moved on. What did I start listening to? Well obviously, the Beatles were huge, then strangely I went into Alice Cooper, so songs like for example “Schools Out” (1972), that’s got a great bass line actually, I was in my room playing all this stuff, and then I moved on to Yes and Genesis, and I’d be in my room learning how to play parts of “Fragile” (1971) and “Close To The Edge” (1972) and of course a few of Mike Rutherford’s bass lines as well. Strangely enough, there’s a band called Caravan that I really, really got into along with Focus, they were more of an influence on me than I thought. When I listen back to some of those Caravan albums that I used to listen to, for example “Nine Feet Underground” from “In The Land of Grey and Pink” (1971) , or “For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night” (1973), there’s a lot of that sort of bass playing that I took on and used in Marillion, and funnily enough Utopia, Kasim Sulton’s bass playing in Utopia, from the “Ra” album (1977) particularly, there’s a lot of that in early Marillion.

You are rarely seen live these days without a Warwick bass? Pete answers, but goes on to enthusiastically discuss other basses.

A long time ago I bumped into the two guys who started Warwick, and they very kindly gave me a couple of (bass) guitars, and I’ve still got those, my main Warwick Bass is an original 1984/85 (JD Thumb Bass) and it’s a great bass. It’s got its own unique sound. I stopped using Warwick’s for a while and used Ibanez, their Soundgear series basses are phenomenal I think and very good value, I’ve obviously got Fender Precision and Jazz basses. I’ve got an Epiphone violin bass which is a copy of the Hofner (famously popularised by Paul McCartney). What’s interesting is that the Hofner was a copy of the Gibson which was a solid body. But because Hofner were started essentially by people who used to make stringed instruments like violins and violas and things, they made hollow bodied guitars. But yes, I play Warwicks most of the time now. I like the fact that the necks have 24 frets, though they are very heavy – my main bass is stupidly heavy.  

He adds, with a laugh,

And I’m quite short as well and having a smaller bodied bass does make me look a little taller, I like to think, anyway.

Photo c J R Harrison. Leicester March 2019.

There are more strings to Pete’s bow, as it were, than just bass guitar. He has played acoustic guitar on some Marillion tracks, and in a side project with his old friend Robin Boult. When Marillion experimented with acoustic instruments on their Less is More album, Pete played acoustic guitar,  acoustic bass and xylophone. He also knows his way around a keyboard. With Pete’s current side project, Edison’s Children , he is credited with playing lead and rhythm guitars, lead and backing vocals, orchestration, and fx, in addition to bass. Where did this musical versatility come from?

I can get a tune out of nearly everything I pick up, there’s very few instruments I can’t get a decent sound out of, and I can usually figure out how to play a tune quite quickly. I studied the clarinet when I was at school and I learned to read music to a relatively professional level. I was a bass player in a brass band at one time because the leader of the brass band thought the low end, the euphonium: wasn’t quite up to it. I was in a jazz band for him, so he asked me to be there and bolster up the low end, so I used to have to transpose the music when I was sight reading.

Have you been tempted to try 5 string bass?

All my favourite bass lines were written on a four-string bass, and I can more or less do the stuff I want to do, there are a few moments when I want to play lower but no I’ve never really been tempted. I think also that five and six string basses, they’re kind of different instruments, there are constraints that I like about the four-string bass guitar. One of the things I like doing Is, I like melodic bass lines, I like making a bass line that’s its’ own melody, throughout a song, and grows and has movement to it, and can be very much another instrument and part of the orchestration, rather than just a bass line. There’s something quite nice about having to move across the neck, and work out how musically you’re going to get from A to B

Do you get scowls from Steve Rothery (Marillion lead guitarist) when you get up to the dusty end?

Well I’m up there quite a lot sometimes. But I use bass pedals as well, and of course there’s keyboards with low end, so we’ve got two keyboard players in the band, and the bass pedals, so there’s plenty of low end to be had when I’m up there fiddling around.

Edison’s Children has just released its’ fourth album The Disturbance Fields  to much acclaim. The CD sleeve says:

“The Disturbance Fields are the physical manifestations that mother nature’s fury can take against the human race due to our mistreatment of the oceans, rainforests and overdevelopment of urban landmasses. This has resulted in dramatic climatic changes in the temperatures of the earth and the sea and is the cause of far stronger and more violent storms and destructive natural events.

“The Disturbance Fields features just one song… a 68 minute epic piece of music called “Washed Away” that takes you on a journey of a man fighting all of the forces of Mother Nature’ wrath.

It is also personally based on the fact that during these recording sessions were hit by a hurricane, a 6.0 earthquake, a tornado and a massive blizzard which caused a state of emergency. Having experienced first-hand much of what Mother Nature’s ferocity can deliver … it was natural for the band to write a concept that maybe… we’ve crossed that line and perhaps Mother Nature has come to purge the world of what has become its biggest liability…human nature.”

I tell Pete the album has been on constant rotation on my playlist.

I’m glad you like it, it’s got a lot to it I think, I’ve spent so much time on that album because I am essentially the sort of librarian of the projects and I co-wrote the music with Eric Blackwood, Rick (Armstrong, son of the astronaut Neil Armstrong) plays on it as well, Rick plays bass and guitar, along with Henry Rogers and Lisa Wetton on drums.

Edison’s Children played a rare live gig on 13th July supporting the Alan Parson Project for NASA in Florida, as part of the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the first man on the Moon. Pete payed lots of guitar parts, while Rick Armstrong stepped in on bass. Was it strange seeing someone else play your bass parts?

Its fine actually, he’s a good bass player, Rick, he’s got a lovely Rickenbacker as well. It was amazing, what a proud moment and so humbling as well to be involved and a part of that whole celebration. Being up on stage with Rick to celebrate the Apollo 11 moon landing 50th anniversary was just quite a special moment really.  I’m glad we did it, I’m glad we could do it, and I’m glad we did the whole thing proud.

Much of The Disturbance Fields was created via the internet with musicians on both sides of the Atlantic. How did rehearsals for the gig work out logistically?

Lisa (Wetton, wife of the late John) was in America anyway so she played percussion and piano. The nucleus of the band was myself, Rick and Eric, and I brought in Wes (John Wesley, guitars, ex Porcupine Tree and friend of Marillion) and he’d got his own project as well, so we used his drummer, and they are based in Florida so it was very handy. They are based in Tampa, so we moved to Tampa. When we realized that this was on the cards and was probably going to happen, I emailed Wes and said “look Wes, this is the situation, would you fancy being a part of this and it would be really great if you would help us out. So he found us a really good studio, ESI Audio Studios were really helpful. We used Wes’s sound guy, a guy called Smokey, who we’ve worked with before because he does a lot of the cruises, Cruise to The Edge goes out from Tampa, he’s one of the guys on the ship doing the sound. And Mark Prator, Wes’s drummer. We rehearsed for three days. We were doing an hour. We all worked out what the arrangements were going to be and who was going to play what in advance. When we got there, we just played through it and played through it and played through it until it was pretty perfect.

Can we hope to see Edison’s Children live in the UK?

The trouble is it is so expensive, it’s the same with (previous side project)Transatlantic, it’s so expensive for us to do anything because we are all in different continents and we are all so busy as well. The main difference with Edison’s Children is that it’s a much smaller deal than Transatlantic. Transatlantic kind of had a helping start because at the time we formed, Dream Theater were becoming quite a big band in Europe so we managed to get the backing of Inside Out, and we had a couple of Progressive festivals in America that were very interested in us playing. That was a stepping stone to us being able to start a following for the live band, it’s very hard to do that unless you’ve got other people helping you out.

What about more studio work from Transatlantic or Edison’s Children?

Certainly Edison’s Children, Transatlantic we’ll have to wait and see, we’re all pretty busy, but we have been talking so one never knows. We seem to meet up once every year on the cruises, strangely enough everyone in Transatlantic is on The Cruise to the Edge next year and that will give us the opportunity to talk, so there you are, they may be something on the horizon.

We turn to the November UK tour, and the gig on Sunday 3rd November. Marillion seem to visit Nottingham fairly often, but it’s been a while since your last visit.

We used to do Nottingham Rock City years ago, and fairly recently, and the Royal Concert Hall. If I’m right in thinking we played the “Brave” tour at the Concert Hall, there was a pub opposite that used to have a black and white chequered floor like a chess board, and I seem to remember going over there for refreshments shall we say. (Nottingham was H’s (Steve Hogarth, Marillion lead singer) old student stomping ground. For years Mark and I used to go running together on tour to keep fit. I started doing it then after a few months Mark decided to join me and it was in Nottingham when Mark joined me on his first run and we ran up to and around one of the Parks. He has since run in several marathons and organises the fun runs at our conventions.

Can you keep up with Mark now?)

No, the last few times I went running with Mark he was training for a marathon, and he kept on saying, we’ll just do 10K”, then he’d say, “Oh there’s a short cut”, and we’d end up doing something like twelve miles and I’d be completely shattered.

I first saw Marillion back in 1982 at the Limit Club in Sheffield, and then many times in Nottingham ever since.

I’ve got a great story about playing the Limit Club, I’ll tell you later.

The biggest gig was the Monsters of Rock festival in 2015 supporting ZZ Top, the smallest was in February 2001 on the University Tour at the Glow Bar at Nottingham Trent University, probably the smallest venue I’ve seen you at. Since then the band has seen a resurgence in popularity that culminated in selling out the Royal Albert Hall in two minutes in 2017, the fastest selling concert of the bands career. For this Novembers’ tour you are back to larger venues, including a return for 2 more nights at the Royal Albert Hall. How do you explain this resurgence?

We have had a resurgence, yes. It’s been very nice actually, and very rewarding, because we put a lot of work into what we do, and you just hope that people connect with what is exciting you and what you’re talking about. We try and keep the music relevant which we obviously have on the last album F.E.A.R. The last two albums, Sounds that Can’t be Made and FEAR were both very well received and I think that’s helped push our profile up a bit. We are in a situation where we’ve got our own studio. We’re very comfortable with the recording process. Having said that, we’re very conscious of the fact that we have to push ourselves as well. The recording quality is down to Mike Hunter. He is a phenomenal engineer and he takes on a huge workload and he probably cares more about the music than even we do if that’s possible, to the nth degree and the finest detail. We’re very happy having him at the helm and over-seeing everything that we do.

Having experimented with guest orchestral musicians at the 2017 fan club conventions, the concert at the Royal Albert hall included a complete second half of the show where the band was augmented with the string quartet, french horn and flute. The show was hailed by the fans and critics alike as ‘one of the best concerts in Marillion’s history.  The recording of the show, “All One Tonight has since been released on DVD, Blu-Ray, CD and vinyl and topped the charts in 5 countries. The November UK tour features the same guest musicians, the set list will feature Marillion music across the 30 year Hogarth era enhanced with orchestrations from band producer Mike Hunter.

We’ve potentially got a long list of songs that some we thought we could orchestrate and some we thought, that’d be interesting if we tried to orchestrate, at the end of the day we’ll see what works best. When we add the existing songs we’ve orchestrated we’ve got a long list of songs some of which we’ll revisit, some are completely new to this approach, so, there will be quite a lot of new (orchestral) material to choose from.

Does playing with orchestra change what or how you play your bass parts?)

Ah, good question! Essentially, they are the same songs but its quite nice sometimes to not feel you have to fill space. I do like these days to be able to let the parts breathe a bit more. Having said that there’s some quite frantic playing on F.E.A.R. When you’re working in a different environment, particularly with strings, there’s much more majesty, there’s much more gravitas to everything. So, although they are essentially the same bass parts, I don’t feel the need to overplay and so it’s quite nice, it’s a different skill set as well, to underplay. I learnt frantic fast bass playing and I’m very comfortable with filling out sound because I’ve always thought of myself as another musical instrument as well as the bass line so I would suggest musical movement in a song as well as just laying down the bass part. When there are other musical instruments doing that, I don’t feel the need to and that’s part of the discipline that is involved.

The light show at the Royal Albert Hall, and again at the recent Leicester UK Fan Club Gigs featuring a huge video screen, was spectacular. Will you be bringing similar production values out on tour this time?

I hope so, I’d take that around with me when I went shopping if I could (he jokes), we’re looking to have a very good experience for everybody so yes it will be a great visual experience as well.

The clip of “the Space” from the Royal Albert Hall gig will give the innocent a taste of what to expect: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=16&v=Nm_TcAAySbc

A special moment at the last two Leicester fan club shows has been when the fans surprised the band with the “finger lights”. What did that feel like from the stage?

That was just mind blowing, it really is the hairs on the back of your neck standing up moment, to get that much back from your audience, that much love. What surprised us is the way that everybody just sat still and didn’t mess about  with them until the moment . The moment that they were put on was a complete surprise for us.

The band seems to have a really special relationship with its fans? There is a moment on the “Unconventional” DVD when you seem quite overcome when you speak about this?

Quite simply the fans are amazing, they really are, and it’s a very special thing we have with our fans which is a very rare, beautiful thing to have.

From Marbles in 2004 through to F.E.A.R  in 2016, Marillion have been on a creative streak that shows a band at the top of their game. It is fantastic that at this stage in the bands career, rather than sit back on your laurels and just play the hits, you continue to push the musical boundaries and seek to create something uniquely fresh each time. How is the writing process going for the next album?

Well we are writing in 2020. We’ve started writing and we’ve also got a lot of ideas that we didn’t manage to explore from the last writing sessions because we simply didn’t have enough time to, we ran out of time, rather than running out of ideas, which is always nice. There seems to be a pattern actually, whenever we write. Mike (Hunter, producer) will say “we really have to stop now because there’s not going to be enough time to  develop the ideas we’ve got in the pot if we just carry on coming up with new ideas, so this is the last week”, and then there will be sudden rush of great idea’s pouring out and you’re thinking if only we had enough time to develop these as well”, so we’ve got a lot of ideas that never got round to  being developed from the last writing session plus a lot of ideas that we’ve been coming up with more recently.  We have a plan to do much more writing and then the arranging process will start in earnest next year with a view to having an album out sometime in 2021. In 2021 of course we will be looking at doing conventions again as well, so we haven’t slowed down, that’s for sure. People are wondering how long we are going to be going on for, I can’t see us stopping any time soon. That all stems from the fact that we are all particularly good friends and respect each other musically, so whenever somebody’s got something to say musically everybody else is listening. It’s a  very inspiring process.

As we wind up the interview, having overrun a few minutes because Pete was so generous with his time and the depth of his answers, I remind Pete to tell us the story from the Limit Club.

So, we played the Limit Club in Sheffield , (in August 1982) just after the Market Square Heroes single came out, and we had to use the loading bay lift as our dressing room. And while we were getting changed to get on stage somebody pressed the down button. Unbeknown to us it would only go down, it won’t go back up for security reasons until somebody comes along with a key to unlock the up button. So, there we were in our stage clothes at the back of the Limit Club and we had to walk all the way round to the front and get back in and persuade the people on the door that we’re the band that were going to be on stage that night and they really had to let us in. We had no money and no ID on us. A genuine Spinal Tap moment. There’s so much stuff that could be from Spinal Tap, lots of bands have lots of stories like that. Spinal Tap is the melting pot of all those stories that every band has.

Tickets available from https://myticket.co.uk/ and venue box offices.

For Nottingham: https://trch.co.uk/whats-on/marillion-19/

MARILLION are:

Steve Hogarth – lead vocals, lyrics, keyboards, guitars, percussion

Steve Rothery – electric guitars, acoustic guitars

Pete Trewavas – Bass, Guitar, Backing Vocals

Mark Kelly – keyboards, samples and effects, backing vocals, programming

Ian Mosley – drums, percussion

Editor
Editor of LLR since 2005

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