Marillion - 'Unconventional' Documentary // DVD review - 9.5/10

Imagine a world where your favourite band played a three day festival. Not only an hour and a half on a Friday night slotted in-between bands you wouldn’t normally pay to see, but the whole three nights, all in one venue. Well for fans of Marillion, that world exists; and then some. The legendary proggers are now in their 35th year and these ‘Weekends’ have become part of their international biannual touring calendar.

In March and April 2015 they ran this musical marathon in Canada, UK and in the Netherlands, the latter being the focus of ‘Unconventional’, a Tim Sidwell film which documents exactly what it takes to rehearse, prepare for and perform such an event. Let’s be clear, three gigs over three nights is nothing out of the ordinary; what is mightily impressive is that each set is different (there is no repetition) and it charts their incredible career to date. Unconventional is a word that can easily be attributed to Marillion as they are often credited as spearheading the crowd-funding phenomenon and are now the only band who offers this kind of event to their lucky followers.

Marillion fans have been pretty well served over the years when it comes to live DVD’s and a documentary film is a welcome addition to their videography. There are sporadic interjects of live and rehearsal footage but this is principally a behinds the scenes look at the band and how they put such a massive production together. The film itself is beautifully shot, at times quite atmospheric and interviews with the band members feel very intimate as a result. They discuss everything from nerves to money and everything else in-between. It follows a natural progression describing how the concept emerged in 2002 and how it has grown to what it is now in 2015. The band members discuss rehearsals and describe what is involved in learning an incredible seven hour set.

Aside from the music, what’s screamingly obvious here is the band’s devotion to the Marillion fan base and clear understanding of just who they are. This is perfectly demonstrated as during the weekends the band has a Q+A session with their disciples and are willing to answer anything. They then invite the most knowledgeable attendees to challenge them to a Marillion quiz, which the band on this occasion loses in spectacular fashion, thus proving that the fans know more about them and their music than they do. Incredibly the band also invite musically gifted audience members on stage to ‘replace the band’ one by one which is very humbling to witness, it clearly shows the massive lack of ego amongst the seasoned pros who make up Marillion. More surprising however is the fun run which some members of the band take part in along with willing fans.

A film like this works on many levels. Marillion fans will love the intimacy and accessibility of the band members; they talk so candidly and honestly about who they are, what they do and why they do it. All musicians will love the behind the scenes and rehearsal footage which while formulaic (time lapse video of stages and backline being erected), remains fascinating to anyone in the business of live music production. Finally, non-fans of Marillion (of which I used count myself) can’t fail to be impressed by the personalities, musicianship and sheer nice blokeness of the bands protagonists and makes you wish that every band would partake in such a project thus allowing immediate and intimate access to your heroes. Watching this genuinely made me envious of Marillion fans. It really is a pleasurable way of spending one hour and thirty eight minutes and whilst the main benefactors of such a production will no doubt be hardcore Marillion fans who let’s face it, were probably at one of these weekends, it is still a fascinating documentary of one of the top bands of the genre. I would recommend this without hesitation; unconventional it maybe, but very, very enjoyable none the less.

 


review by: Ian Dunbar