Not your usual stadium blockbuster memoirs.
There was a point in the 1970s when the live album represented a band’s coming of age. It was something you earned the right to release, a wondrous artefact preferably recorded far from Britain’s shores in some exotically named hall and overdubbed to the point where it wasn’t really a live album at all, but what the hell.
These days a live album is far more likely to be a tour souvenir than a career landmark, and it’s just possible that Marillion, trailblazers as ever, may have been partly to blame for the format’s demise. For it was in 1984 that the band released Real To Reel, a budget makeweight that felt like a throwaway release when compared to the elaborate gatefold splendour of their studio output.
Cut to 2018 and they’re still at it. This year Marillion will re-release eight live albums (like clay pigeons, they’re being fired out in pairs), and these two follow hot in the footsteps of January’s duo of Holidays In Eden Live – recorded at the Marillion Weekend in Port Zélande, The
Netherlands, in 2011 – and Size Matters, from the same event in 2009.
Up first is Unplugged
At The Walls, a live acoustic album recorded at a restaurant in the Welsh border town of Owestry in 1998. Originally released by Racket Records the following year, it’s most notable for a trio of unlikely cover versions. There’s a lovely, wistful take on Radiohead’s Fake Plastic
Trees, a straightforward version of
The Beatles’ Blackbird featuring bassist Pete Trewavas on acoustic guitar, and a mournful run-through of Dion’s 1968 hit Abraham, Martin
And John. Beautifully recorded, it captures the band at a special moment, relaxed amid the cream teas and rattling cutlery.
For the second album, Tumbling Down The Years, we head back to
2009 and Center Parcs in Port Zélande. Another Racket original, it might not share the uniquely bucolic feel of Unplugged, but it’s solid enough, and This Train Is My Life and Slainte Mhath are outstanding.