Into the Pit: 128: Marion – Live at Islington – 12-April 2012

From various conversations over the years, it certainly isn’t just me that associates particular bands, songs or albums with particular times of life. Funnily enough, for me mainly it is periods where things were not so good – and during the late 90s, in other words my unhappy time at university in London, Marion were that band.

I wouldn’t call it an obsession so much – I never saw them live “back in the day”, despite seeing most of the other, similar indie bands of the day, even the long-forgotten Octopus. But I listened to This World and Body an awful lot, to the point of knowing most of it off-by-heart even now, many years on, and I was dedicated enough to pick up The Program on a Japanese import at some point.

Exit Calm
Live @ O2 Academy Islington, London N1
12 April 2012

So when Marion finally imploded as Jamie Harding’s drug problems got worse and worse, I wrote off my chances of ever seeing the band live. And frankly, while other bands of the time trudged on, and others reformed to great acclaim in recent years, I can’t say I ever expected to hear that Marion would return.

Well, I’m certainly not right on every count, and in this case it was marvellous to be proven wrong. Even if I did totally miss any mention of this gig until the morning of it, at which point tickets were picked up immediately, and I even made a point of seeing the support band. Another northern band, Exit Calm are into a different point of 90s indie than Marion, reminding one particularly of early Verve material. So, spaced-out, rolling rhythms, guitars drenched in effects…but rather stymied by a poor sound that at points was actually far too loud. A band nearly giving up on their closing song after apparent problems with equipment is never a good sign, either. But they did manage it in the end, and it wasn’t bad, either. But…well, it was difficult to find much originality in their set, so while it was a nice reminder of the past, I think I’d rather stick with my Verve albums.

Marion, on the other hand, were something of a revelation. The years off, the recovery, and now the return, and while the band look somewhat older, and Jamie perhaps isn’t the skinny indie boy he used to be, the band sounded fantastic. And particularly, Jamie still has that voice.

Marion setlist:
Fallen Through
I Stopped Dancing
Oh Lord
I Won’t Pretend
Violent Men
Changed My Mind
Let’s All Go Together
The Biggest Painkiller In The World

The Only Way
The Vines
The Collector

Which meant that from the first note of Fallen Through, we were transported back in time, to that era in the nineties when every band were seemingly given a chance, and many more than you might expect made at least a minor breakthrough…and bands like Marion gained a pretty devoted following. And it appeared that many of them were at the gig, judging on how many of us knew all the words to the old songs.

First, obvious stuff. The old favourites, with added crowd chorus, were sodding wonderful. Time had the hairs on the back of my neck prickling, as it reminded me of my younger self, and for three or four minutes I was lost in my own world with the song. I surprised myself by still knowing all the words to Violent Men (and recognising it instantly), despite not having heard it since the nineties, and Let’s All Go Together must remain the most triumphant-sounding song about mass suicide.

One down mark from me was the almost total avoidance of anything from The Program. Just Sparkle – seriously? I know it has some pretty dark history, I guess, but it still seemed an odd omission. But the big surprise of the night was just how great the new songs are. Ok, so there has been a bit of a stylistic shift – the new songs are a bit, well, chunkier and meatier – but Jamie’s vocals still pull the same tricks, and it didn’t take long to be singing along with some of them, particularly main set closer The Biggest Painkiller In The World, a big, brash rock freak-out that was by far the standout.

The encore brought a few more old favourites (and another seriously obscure old B-side), before what was perhaps the expected closer in the form of Sleep. Probably the best-known Marion song, and by a long chalk their most immediate and catchy single, it appeared the band loved it as much as the crowd.

Indeed, that was one thing about the gig. The band seemed to be loving every minute, with Jamie taken aback at various moments at the hugely enthusiastic response to songs both old and new. A rare case of an overlooked band coming back fighting, bringing their old fans back to fight their corner with them, and keeping them onside all the way. In these days of dull, uninspiring indie rock, Marion still stand out, even now. So here’s hoping they get that one more chance to make a splash – after all they’ve been through, they deserve it.

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