Marion was always my wife's band. I knew very little about them to be honest: blew up on the UK indie scene in 1994, released promising debut album, lead singer develops major drug addiction, band disintegrates and all that's left is a few recordings and a lot of bitterness. The story has happened so many times, I figured this was just another. Every once in a while, my wife would put on a Marion album in the flat and go on about how great they were and lament the fact it all fell apart.
Neil Young said "every junkie is like a setting sun", but sometimes, the sun doesn't set. It just goes behind some clouds and comes back. At Night & Day in Manchester on Saturday the 16th of September, the sun peeked through some thinly veiled clouds for Marion and the 200 or so people fortunate enough to have tickets to the sold out show. Oh, and Alex James.
Before I go into that, I have to say this isn't the first gig back. The original glimpse of hope came back on the 1st of April, in, of all places, Bath. Word spread quickly amongst the still loyal base and the tiny Green Park Tavern was rammed with northern accents and a 30 something crowd; two things that successfully confused the usual teenage Bath crowd stood outside wondering why they couldn't get into their usual Friday night hangout.
Marion came bounding on the stage and blistered the audience for 45 minutes with a fresh batch of songs, along with some old favourites. There was the sign: Jamie Harding, the "setting sun" in question, was coming out from behind the clouds. With his drug habits behind him, he began writing songs with original Marion and now New Order guitarist Phil Cunningham. Much to everyone's surprise, rumblings of a return were fully realised that night; we knew there would be more.
But Manchester is a different deal. It's the hometown show (well, close, as Macclesfield is just two stops down the tracks). It would be the decider of whether this "comeback" was truly going to happen, or if Marion again might fade into an eternal grey. After all, they did wait five and a half months after the Bath gig to play this one.
The answer came in the first song, titled "Oh Lord," they made a declarative statement: WE'RE BACK. The new material seemed like a soundtrack of Harding's lost days over the last several years, most notably in "Hurricane" and the lovely "Crystal Blue" (which might be their best song to date, and wouldn't sound out of place on Ocean Rain). The emotions came across so clearly in his voice in "Sparkle," almost as if it were an apology to the fans for the last eight years. The reaction to the Stooges-esque "I Won't Pretend" was an acceptance of that apology. "Kill The Blues" looks to be an early bet to be the new fan favourite. Maybe he's lost a bit of swagger over the lost years; humility and maturity have a way of doing that. But what matters most is the voice...oh, that voice...was still there.
It should be noted that behind Harding is the tightest band I've seen in a long time: the aforementioned Cunningham, plus guitarist Jake Evans, bassist Che Hargreaves, and drummer Jack Mitchell. Every song was a wildly controlled barrage of arms flailing and feet shuffling, with "that voice" sailing over the top. And although Harding had a difficult time hearing himself at times, the audience didn't; they were hanging on every word, even on "Last Saw You," which was making its debut!
After the ten song set and a three song encore (including ferocious versions of "Fallen Through" and "Sleep," which sent the front of the crowd into a mini mosh pit), the smoke-covered, sweat-drenched punters filtered into the Manchester night, all with smiles of their faces and a spring in their step. My wife was one of them, dancing all the way back to our hotel. After all, they were her band, and they're back. As it turns out, the sun wasn't setting for Marion; it just went behind some clouds. And if you look behind you, you'll see your shadow.
"I Won't Pretend"
"Take My Time"
"Kill The Blues"
"Last Saw You"
-By James Reimer