StillMarillion Level III Swindon, 12th February 2022

It’s said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. While that may well be the case, that sincerity has to come from a genuine place deep within and not just from a wish to be something else. Within the realms of tribute bands (of which there are a plethora), StillMarillion sit high in any list. They have steadily built a loyal following over the past 14 years and while Martin Jakubski’s work with a certain Mr Rothery can’t have done them any harm, make no mistake, this band were on the rise well before the Marillion guitarist came knocking. StillMarillion are a tribute band to be reckoned with.

Marillion themselves have never been the most fashionable of bands but have a core following who love all eras of their music. Conversely, there are other fans who departed themselves along with Fish. Consequently, within both parties, there are some who long to hear the songs that Marillion (or indeed Fish) rarely or never play in a live arena. StillMarillion slotted perfectly into the gap in the market square and have themselves become heroes.

Fast-forward to early 2022 and it is again time for StillMarillion to march! By the time they reach Swindon (only their third post-COVID gig) the gathered fans are more than ready to hear the band again. The familiar tones of The Muppet Show theme tune meld into La Gazza Ladra and the stage is set…
Stillmarillion Considering the events of the past two years, Incommunicado is an energetic and suitably apt opener. The band clearly want to create a party atmosphere from the off and from the selection we are offered tonight (all tracks are taken from the Fish era), they couldn’t have chosen any better. Martin encourages everyone to join in immediately and the audience respond admirably. Two minutes in and the band are already grinning at each other – relishing being back on stage.

Assassing has featured first or second in StillMarillion’s setlist for quite some time and tonight is no different. However, there is a slight change due to Incommunicado occupying the opening slot as the band segue straight into the 7” opening to Assassing. It’s a clever strategy, which keeps energy levels high and hands in the air. The audience would never have known that drummer 'Big' Mark had recently recovered from an injury and had not been able to rehearse before this weekend’s shows (having played in Derby the night before).

Bearing in mind it’s only the band’s third gig in two years, they are incredibly tight. The sound in the Level III (for a relatively small and strangely shaped venue) is excellent. Every member has his chance to sparkle and this is the real strength of the band. They each bring something special to the table but the band are even more than the sum of their parts. It is clear that they not only work well as a band but as friends.

Assassing is delivered with the necessary venom by Martin and the crowd respond with hands raised and a healthy and enthusiastic amount of singing.

It would be easy to underestimate StillMarillion when they walk on stage. They enter with no fuss, almost ambling on and taking their places. The moment the first notes hit the audience however, is a different matter. All five members of the band are themselves huge fans of Marillion and this is far more than a tribute band. This is a celebration and they invite us all along for the ride. StillMarillion put everything they have into every show determined to do the music justice whether they played to five or five hundred people.
Stillmarillion The opening two songs bring the crowd to life, and we are quickly hit with the next salvo. Two songs (He Knows You Know and Chelsea Monday) from Marillion debut’s album are next and Martin handles the pointed delivery necessary for the former with ease. At the culmination of Chelsea Monday, there is hearty applause for guitarist Mark Mitchell as there will be many times throughout the night. Martin comments during the set that it is a guitar solo heavy setlist and although Mark states after the gig he barely picked up his guitar during the lockdowns, it as if he has never had a day away. It is easy to close your eyes during one of his solos and be totally immersed in the splendour of his playing. Later in the set, he handles my favourite Rothery solo (Jigsaw) with assurance, composure and skill – his guitar tone perfect. It is a sublime moment amongst many across the evening.

While there isn’t an advertised theme for tonight’s gig, we are treated to a big slice of Clutching At Straws (an album celebrating its 35th anniversary later this year). White Russian (as lyrically apt as it ever was) and the Warm Wet Circles trilogy are separated by a typically fast and barbed Punch And Judy. Keyboardist Stuart Clyde shines throughout the trilogy, particularly during the opening to Hotel Hobbies and the transition from Warm Wet Circles to That Time of the Night.

B Sides were always an important part of the early Marillion discography and StillMarillion always add one or two to the setlist. Tux On (a song worthy of being on the album itself) is often requested by StillMarillion fans and tonight the band deliver it faultlessly.

Of all the tracks written by Marillion across those first four albums, Incubus is one cited as a favourite by almost all fans. The opening drum pattern is handled impeccably by Big Mark and it is a song in which every member has their moment. Barrie’s bass carries the band and together the rhythm section make a formidable pair. Steve Rothery rates the solo as one of his favourites and by now even Mark is lost in the moment; eyes closed, fingers finding the notes with accuracy and power. It’s a lyrically spell-binding song and it receives one of the loudest receptions of the night.

Before we know it, we are in the home stretch and the band launch into Marillion’s biggest hit Kayleigh, which itself segues into the other two singles from Misplaced Childhood (with a segment from Bitter Suite- Blue Angel) to link them perfectly together. Heart Of Lothian is always a chance to put hands in the air and sing your heart out and an appreciative audience endlessly encouraged by Martin, do just that.

Sugar Mice quickly follows and not for the first time this evening the guitar solo is achingly exquisite. If it were possible, the song raises emotions even higher and proves why it remains one of Marillion’s most popular songs.

Rounding off the main set, is one of the best songs from the entire Fish era - The Last Straw. The track builds and builds to its incredible crescendo and for those who have not seen the end section delivered by Martin before, it is a moment of wonder. For those who have, we marvel that he manages it with such precision every time.
Stillmarillion The band have played for just shy of two hours as they leave the stage but we have yet more to come. Fugazi has lost none of its barbed savagery over the years and Martin spits out the lyrics with a fiery vehemence. We question the location of the prophets and visionaries together at the end of the song – hands raised, voices in unison. It’s one of the best moments of the night.

It has long been a tradition (as it once was for Marillion themselves) for StillMarillion to end with Garden Party and Market Square Heroes and tonight will be no different. The crowd are determined to enjoy every last second – they’ve waited a long time to see this band again and don’t want to let them go. Market Square Heroes sees a venue and a band in unison. There are extra loud cheers during the solo sections of the song as we prepare to say goodbye.

As the final note of the evening dies away, the gathered fans know they have witnessed another amazing StillMarillion performance and we hope it won’t be another two years before we see them again.

Words Stuart Ball, photos Luke Harman

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