Iamthemorning / Steve Rothery Band

Band on the Wall, Manchester

9 June 2023

It's no secret that I'm here to see the support band. Much as I love Marillion's music, I wouldn't have come to Manchester for a weekend of Steve Rothery. But some bands have something special that make them worth following wherever they go. And I think I've mentioned before that Iamthemorning are one of those bands. I've seen them twice this year already, but twice isn't enough.

They only get 40 minutes to play, and it's just the duo of Marjana (vocal) and Gleb (piano), and the set list is fairly predictable, but it's all good. They start 15 minutes after the doors open, but the venue feels packed already, which isn't always true for support bands, and a good portion of the crowd seem to know them, giving them a really good reception, again not always true for support bands.

By the end of their set, I've got exactly what I wanted from the trip, and I'm already looking forward to their second set tomorrow night. But I've written hundreds of words about how good this duo is, how amazing their songs are, so I'm not going to repeat myself with a long-winded review here. I need to say a little bit about Steve Rothery instead.

No wait, I'm going to talk about Iamthemorning, because I need the whole world to understand how amazing this band is. Gleb Kolyadin is a marvel: with a single piano keyboard he's the only instrumentalist, playing songs scored for rock band and/or chamber orchestra, and fills out the arrangements so perfectly that you wouldn't know anything is missing. You don't feel that you're listening to the clichéd "stripped back acoustic" versions of these songs that some bands would give you, you feel like you're listening to complete, fully-orchestrated arrangements. As an example, one of my favourite songs, Touching II, has a string quartet on the album. Tonight they play it, and it takes me a while to realise what it is, because the intro Gleb is playing should be on a violin. But he reproduces the violin part perfectly on piano, and also covers the second violin, cello, and viola, and I don't know how, I'm pretty sure he doesn't actually have four hands, but he must be superhuman in some way.

But the songs wouldn't be songs without Marjana Semkina, and Marjana is, well, Marjana is two people. One person is consistently smiling and happy, cracking bad jokes with the audience ("We don't have train tickets home yet so please buy our merch"), revelling in the fact that she has room to dance on the stage in her new floaty dress, and joyfully introducing "happy" songs about burning people's houses down. The other person writes these incredibly dark lyrics about death, suffering, and mental illness. You don't know how this outwardly happy person can pour out all this emotion in her words. Or how these dark themes can be so beautiful. And her voice just gets stronger every time I see her. Stand-out piece tonight is Chalk and Coal, which shows the full range of what she can do (while Gleb is playing the trumpet solo—yes, trumpet solo—on the piano).

Iamthemorning have been my best discovery of the millennium, and I wish the rest of the world would catch on. By the cheers, and the chatter in the crowd after their set, I think it's inevitable that they will.

So, Steve Rothery. He walks on quietly with his band, to thunderous cheers, and announces that he's going to play three things from his solo album, then some older stuff. I don't know the solo material, but it's all good. Instrumental compositions, obviously dominated by guitars, and superbly played (and with Rothery often stepping back to allow the second guitar player, who is quite astonishing, to take the solos). But good as the music is, I don't feel an emotional connection to it the way I did during Iamthemorning's set.

Then he brings a singer on, and says "We've only had one day of rehearsal, but we're going to play all of ... Misplaced Childhood.

Misplaced Childhood has been a favourite for many, many years. From beginning to end it's just a perfect piece of music. I never heard Marillion play any of it live, and I never expected to hear the whole thing live. I have reservations tonight, because Fish is such an overpowering presence on the album that I can't imagine it without him, but tonight's singer is astonishing. He doesn't have the anger and bitterness of Fish's delivery, but he absolutely nails the tone and the phrasing. And of course the soaring guitar lines are all there, perfectly reproduced by the man who played them originally. The whole performance is magnificent, and unexpectedly emotional for me, and that includes the crowd's performance, because the singer invites plenty of interaction, and most of the crowd is singing literally the whole album from end to end. In all my years of concert going, I've rarely stood in an audience with an atmosphere as powerful as this one.

It's quite clear that the crowd worships not just Steve Rothery but this whole band he's put together, and it's not hard to see why. Their interaction with the audience is warm and friendly, and you can just see and feel how much they love playing this music together. At the end of a remarkable vocal performance on Summer's End, the band members are literally hugging the singer, and you feel that most of the crowd wants to do it too.

Simply amazing.