Interview conducted with Andy Rotherham April 2021
Andy has been an important member of the Marillion backroom team for many years and probably needs no introduction to most fans. He has worked at The Web UK amongst many other jobs detailed below.
MMM; Hi Andy, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. I'm sure many Marillion fans wil be familiar with you and your relationship with the band down the years, but we'll get to that in a while, I guess we should start at the beginning, when did you first discover Marillion?
ANDY; - I remember it vividly. It was in a pub in Kettering. My older brother was living there at the time. I rode up on my motorbike to visit him. We went to a town centre pub that evening for a beer and there was a video Jukebox. It was a good Rocker type pub so the music selection was very good. My Brother put on the video of Garden Party by Marillion. He had seen them shortly before at Nostell Priory and told me that they were interesting.
I thought it was one of the most amazing things I had ever seen. Loved the music and the humour in the video.
I bought Script as soon as I got back to where I was living and was determined to find out more.
I first got to see them at Reading Rock in August 1983.
MMM; I must say The Garden Party video also had a huge impact on me, its probably still my favourite video by any band.
So what was it about this new Prog band that appealed to you?
ANDY; - I really didn’t have much idea of what Prog was , so the Genesis comparisons that the music press were constantly mentioning at the time passed me by completely. What I heard was a very individual band who were describing my life at that time. I was living in a lodging room in a house in a strange town. Unsure of my where my future would take me but determined to win. All these elements from my own life I found reflected in the music and lyrics
MMM; Am I right in saying you were more a Punk rock fan back then?
ANDY; - I have always had very diverse tastes in music. When I was very young I was listening to bands like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Pink Floyd. My earliest musical like and influence was The Beatles.
Intellectual virtuoso prog bands like ELP and Yes left me completely cold. I could not connect with them at all.
They say that the music that is around when you are between 14 and 16 stays with you for the rest of your life. That is certainly true in my case. At that time I was reeling against everything. I wasn’t learning anything at school. I was constantly being told I was useless and stupid. Any chance of a future not underground, chiselling away at a coal face was seemingly impossible to attain.
Punk came along just at the right time to reflect the anger I was feeling. It was brutal, in your face and designed to shock your parents. Just what I needed!
The main bands I got into were The Stranglers, The Clash and Sex Pistols. I managed to see most of the punk bands at the time. Some of which really influenced my later musical choices.
MMM; I had a similar eclectic taste at that time, i' d say 77-82 was the most influential period on me until I discovered Marillion, I don't think i recognised genres as such until it was pointed out to me, that's probably still my favourite era for chart music.
You live in the band's home town of Aylesbury, has that always been the case?
Andy; - No, not at all. This is just the town we ended up settling in due to circumstances. I came home from serving in Germany and was sent to a base near High Wycombe. My new Wife had recently qualified as a Radiographer and left her job in London to join me. She found a job at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury so we bought a house and settled.
I was very much aware that Aylesbury was the hometown of Marillion. However this didn’t influence our decision to settle here, honest!
I was actually born within a few miles of where Steve Rothery was and near where h spent his childhood. How odd that we all ended up meeting in Buckinghamshire!
MMM; Did you see any of the bands iconic shows there?
A- I assume you are talking about the Friars shows in the early and mid 1980’s? No I was elsewhere when all that was going on. By the time we moved here in 1988 that phase of Friars was over.
However I did get to see many iconic Marillion shows like Lorelei, supporting Queen in Koln, the Wembley Arena Muscular Dystrophy gig and the Double O event at Hammersmith. I can’t tell you how huge Marillion were in Germany when I lived out there. I was there during that period of time around the releases of Misplaced Childhood and Clutching at Straws. I was also very lucky. Whenever I came home to see my future Wife in London Marillion happened to be playing Hammersmith…
MMM; As I said at the start many fans will know you from your work with the band, at The Web, at Racket, on the merch desk and occasionaly as Steve Rothery's guitar tech, can you give us a timeline as to how all this happened and how you got the job there.
ANDY; I need to start this reply by making a very important point; I am not, never have been and never will be Marillion’s Guitar Tech. That job is done by Pete Harwood. What I do is not the same and is hopefully a help to Pete in what he does. I have no ambitions to be a member of a big touring crew. That time window has passed for me while I was busy elsewhere. I am always happy to help out in any way I can, but touring on that scale is hard work that I just don’t need and it’s not something I am particularly suited to.
My involvement can be traced back to an eventful meeting at a Record Fair at Wembley Arena. Bonnie and Wayne, who ran The Web (as it was called then) had a stall at the fair. We got chatting. I was asked if I would be willing to help out occasionally. I was happy to do so and became part of the backroom team who would operate behind the scenes packing mags, merch and such. This was around the time that Holidays in Eden was released. The members of the backroom team didn’t really know each other. Little did I know for instance that Lucy was also involved.
I first met Lucy at The Web event for the screening of The Brave film in 1994. I later met my friend James , who was also part of the backroom team, at the AoS launch party in London. I was doing merch that night.
In 1997 I ran The Web coach trip to Germany to see the band. I also met Steve Rothery at the time that TSE was being released when I interviewed him about his guitars and equipment for The Web.
Then, around 1998 the band made a decision that The Web needed revamping and relaunching.
They asked around and brought in a team of people who they felt could bring it back to life. I am pretty sure that Lucy, who was now at EMI, had a real input into who could fit the bill. The team was Me, James, Simon Clarke, Vicki Harding, Rob and Alexis Crossland, Pete and Lynne Wells. Together we launched what we renamed as The Web UK.
Fast forward to about 10 years ago. When Colin Price left Racket for his dream job teching for Iron Maiden there was no one on hand to look after the band’s guitars and basses.
Steve Rothery found a Luthier in North West London and asked me to ferry his guitars between them. I was relaying the messages about Steve’s set-up etc.
I think Steve saw that I had also started playing music seriously myself and that I was servicing my own guitars and basses. I also started building them for fun. Steve asked me to take over servicing, repairing and setting up his guitars for him.
At this point I really should say what an amazing man Steve is. He has always been incredibly patient and encouraging to me. I was learning how to do all this as I went along. Consequently some jobs took me a long time. He never waivered from his belief in me. I am very grateful to him for that.
It is important to also state that I am not part of the team at Racket. That team consists of Lucy, Rich, Stephanie and Mark Kennedy.
I help out when they need me, whether it be packing, heavy lifting, clearing out the loft space, whatever they need.
When they need a guitar sorting I go in and work on it in the workshop I set up there. It’s much easier to do it there so I can get real time feedback on what I am doing. It’s very much a collaborative process. That said though I can set up a guitar for Steve pretty much by eye and be confident it will feel right for him.
MMM; Thanks for clearing all that up for us Andy! So how was your first day working with the band, I guess being a fan that must have somewhat scary?
ANDY;- I suppose the meeting when we were called to Racket to be introduced to each other and asked if we would be part of The Web UK Team was the most nervous point. But they are human and it would get pretty tiresome if I was all fan boy on them all the time
MMM; Can you tell us about a typical work day at Racket? and perhaps the pandemonium of getting ready for a new release?
A- Rich does all the logistical work and preparation. I might be called in to do some pre-packing of things like the signed prints etc. When the product arrives it is all hands on deck and Sheelagh, Alan and Lucy Jones from The Web UK also come in. It’s a well-oiled machine.
MMM; You're a musician too, are you still playing in your own band at the moment?
ANDY;- I am between bands at the moment. I have been blessed to have been in two pretty good bands. I left the last one just before the pandemic because I was becoming frustrated by our lack of forward momentum and the performances of one member was below the standard I felt we were capable of.
But, watch this space. Something else might come up soon. Post pandemic I am sure there will be exciting opportunities opening for me.
MMM; Those who know you from Facebook will have seen your daily updates of the guitars you build from scratch, they are very beautiful and very colourful, I remember the Yellow Submarine one being a particular favourite of mine, How and why did you start building your own?
A- It all stemmed from having a really bad time at work. My struggles led me to seek help and this led eventually to me being diagnosed as Autistic. My employers response was to try to bully me into quitting. I eventually took early retirement on my terms.
Following this I asked my Wife what I should do in terms of finding another job. She told me to put myself first and make myself happy. So that is what I did.
I had done lots of reading about Autism and I knew that I had an artistic side that had never had an outlet. I decided to explore that. I combined what I was learning about how guitars work with building my own.
The Yellow Submarine bass was my first ever build. It really seems to have captured people’s imagination.
Every guitar and bass I build is unique. Some are faithful copies of real guitars; like my Joe Strummer Tele, Paul Simonon bass and Paul Weller Whaam! guitar. I am currently working on a Wayne Kramer (MC5) Strat. Among these I also make them to my own design and try never to repeat myself. I love playing with colour and textures. I follow my muse, wherever it leads.
Although they are all very high quality instruments I think of them as individual works of art. Maybe one day I will exhibit them
MMM; I think we should address the issue of your autism, I think i'm right in saying, that you have done some speeches on the subject, I presume out of frustration with how those with Autism are treated or misunderstood?
ANDY; I came to terms with my Autism, learning how to manage the mote challenging aspects whilst being determined to find out and play to its strengths. This led me on to being an advocate and speaker for Autism. I got involved in Autism Training for people who come into contact with Autistic people in their jobs. I advise on course content etc from an Autistic perspective and I give a talk to each course. The organisation I work for has encouraged me to expand my role. I am currently studying for a teaching and training qualification that will allow me to teach the courses myself.
MMM; That sounds like very important work Andy, Bravo to you for doing it. You've also worked at the Marillion Weekends, you were involved with the initial ideas around the Marillion Museum at Port Zelande, sadly I never got to see that, can you firstly tell us about how that came about and what we may have missed?
ANDY; - In 1999 the Bucks County Museum here in Aylesbury were putting together an exhibition to celebrate the upcoming millennium. The idea was to highlight local people who had made a big contribution to the town. I contacted them and asked if I could help by providing a Marillion exhibit. They jumped at the idea. Marillion themselves were great. They loaned me some very precious items on trust. The exhibition was very popular and some Marillion fans travelled specifically to see the Marillion exhibit I had helped create.
I suppose that was the first Marillion Museum in essence. Then, when the first Marillion Weekend was planned at Brean Sands I asked if I could put on a full blown Marillion Museum. I made a large display in one of the smaller halls on site. I continued this for subsequent weekends at Minehead and then Port Zelande.
MMM; I presume each year there was a theme for the museum like album night or some such
ANDY;- I tried to make every Marillion Museum new and fresh. I would have at least a partial exhibition on the chosen album for that weekend, and let my imagination come up with the rest. The band were brilliantly supportive and again trusted me with many precious items.
Each Museum had its own character. One year I had got fed up of asking people not to touch the exhibits so the next time I made a tactile one. Where the fans could come in pick up and play the band’s actual instruments and try on the stage costumes.
Another favourite was the TSE themed Museum. H’s Mum, Elaine was so sweet and helpful. She found family photos that illustrated the lyrics to the song TSE. I copied, printed and framed all these. They were displayed along with the TSE model and other items. I gave that frame to h afterwards.
MMM; So how did the museum work in practical terms, I presume it was free entry too all fans? Was there a time limit or could you linger and browse through the items?
ANDY ; - There was nearly always a queue to get in but I didn’t put any time limits on how long people could linger. It was of course free for those attending the weekends.
MMM; Why was it discontinued?
ANDY; There is a finite amount of items that the band own or have saved. I got to the point where I was struggling to think of something new and exciting for the next one without me repeating what I had already shown.
MMM; Covid permitting is there a chance the band will revive the Museum at future weekends?
ANDY;- That depends if I am asked to be honest. Maybe, if the demand is there and Marillion/Racket would like me to revive it I would. I feel that maybe now there has been sufficient time since the last one that the items can be viewed afresh.
Plus there are many fans who attend the weekends now who weren’t around when I was curating the Museums before.
MMM; What's the best thing about working with the band?
ANDY; There are some wonderful people working for the band and the band members themselves have always treated me very well. It’s nice to be recognised by someone for the skills and knowledge I have.
MMM; I would presume you've seen the band hundreds of times, is it ever possible to enjoy the shows when you are working?
ANDY; - I haven’t worked a show for a few years now. The last one was helping out when they needed a merch person at short notice for a German leg of a tour.
Being Merch usually means that you are far removed from the show so don’t get to experience it.
What I do with the Steve Rothery Band is always fun. Although there is a certain amount of pressure making sure everything is working and ready for a guitar change or whatever the atmosphere and the mutual love and respect that the touring party all have for each other is wonderful. We have great fun together. I am sure that working a Marillion show in a tech role would be much higher pressure.
MMM; Getting back to the Racket Museum, what's your favourite item that was displayed?
ANDY; That’s a hard one to answer. I suppose the TSE exhibit I mentioned earlier and the original Holidays in Eden cover art painting.
MMM; As this is a collectors page, what are your favourite items from your own collection.
ANDY; This might surprise you but I don’t avidly collect Marillion. The Stranglers are the group that I obsessively collect. That said I do have some wonderful and some unique items.
I have some early and alternative mixes of tracks and albums that no one outside of the band will have. Some White Label Test Pressings. Though I auctioned off quite a bit of my Marillion collection a few years ago for charity.
I do enjoy owning the Brasil only release of Rich on CD single. That song means a lot to me and that item is hard to find.
MMM; AND FINALLY....What are your favourite songs, albums or gigs from any era of the band?
ANDY; Oh wow! You are not going to make this easy for me are you?
How about I tell you some of the songs that have connected with me emotionally and why?
I mentioned earlier about how Script was very much describing the life I was leading at the time.
The same happened again when I was living in Germany and Misplaced Childhood was released. We played that album to death in the barrack blocks and in our cars. The lyric that resonated was “I see Convoys kerb crawling West German Autobahns trying to pick up a war, they’re going to even the score.’
I sometimes wonder if one of the military convoys I was in was seen by the band and inspired that bit.
If I was to pick one song from the post 89 era it would be This Strange Engine. Everything about that song is perfect to my ears.
I think Brave is a classic album viewed as a whole, something they managed to achieve again with FEAR. The sentiments expressed in the songs on FEAR certainly reflect my view of the world.
MMM; Andy Rotherham, Thank you for being so being so open and available to chat, I enjoyed that.