REVIEW: Marillion – Early Stages (Official Bootleg Box Set 1982-1987) / The Highlights

This review dedicated to the great Uncle Meat.  Part 1 of a 2 part series!

MARILLION – Early Stages (Official Bootleg Box Set 1982-1987) (EMI)

This is the first of two Marillion Official Bootleg box sets.  The second covers the Hogarth years 1990-1994.  Mine came with an autographed print!

I listened to this box again over the course of a week.  I chose the car as the setting.  I’ve spent a lot of time driving to Marillion in the past (lots of great memories) so this setting works for me.  I enjoy loading long box sets onto my car MP3 player.  I did that recently with the 12 CD Deep Purple Bootleg Series box set.  As soon as I was done with that one, I dove into Early Stages.

I also acquired the recent compilation Early Stages: The Highlights.  Why, you ask?  Well, like many “highlights” packages, they usually stick on one exclusive song to get you to buy the same thing twice.  The bait is “Market Square Heroes” Fife Aid 1988, the final song of the final show with Fish.  OK, I’ll bite.MARILLION_0009

I don’t have a lot to say specifically about any of the concerts included in this box set.  There are a lot of songs from periods before they were recorded on albums, and that’s cool.  There are four different drummers on this set*, representing the rarely documented transitional periods in Marillion’s lineup.  The discs are all of great sonic quality considering the years they were recorded.  Fish is a great frontman, usually funny but occasionally serious, and always entertaining.

Here are some observations about some of the set’s highlights.  From The Mayfair, Glasgow, 1982:  “He Knows You Know” is not quite as slick as we’re used to, a little tentative, but no less powerful.  An early version of “She Chameleon” is quite different musically from what it would become, although the lyrics are mostly in place.

When you get to the Marquee show (December of ’82), Fish is especially talkative and sentimental.  The gem here is obviously “Grendel”, a song which never ceases to amaze me.  Fish’s expressive voice has me hook, line and sinker.  You’ll be treated to the complete workout of “Grendel” again in 1983 (Reading).  The 1984 Hammersmith concert has emotional classics like “Jigsaw” and “Cinderella Search”.  The real treat is an early version of the first track for the forthcoming album Misplaced Childhood; a track Fish calls “Side One”.  It’s an early version, the lyrics still not all the way there, and it’s missing the entire “Lavender” section.  But you can hear the shape of things to come.

Hey Uncle Meat! Who’s your favourite lyricist?

The box set closes with a late period show, and a big one:  Wembley, 1987.  A good chunk of Misplaced Childhood (all of Side One) and Clutching at Straws are presented.  There are only a couple oldies:  “Fugazi” and “Incubus”.  This is a slicker, more commercial-sounding band, much more skilled at writing complicated yet catchy music.

Of note:  there are a whopping 15 pages full of liners notes by one Derek W. Dick, aka Fish, and new cover art by Mark Wilkinson!  If that doesn’t sell this set, then nothing will.

5/5 stars

* Mick Pointer, John Martyr, Andy Ward, and Ian Mosely.  Only Jonathan Mover is not heard on this, although he is on the 6 CD Curtain Call box set.



  1. Forgive my possible ignorance here, but wouldn’t “official bootleg” be oxymoronic? I mean, it’s an official release of live material. A ‘bootleg’ implies it was recorded without the band’s involvement. Yes I am splitting hairs, and yes I need another coffee this morning. But the thought did strike me…

    Anyway, this is another one of those bands I keep meaning to get into more, and now I have no excuse as LeBrain sent me the Crash Course. I’ve played a couple of songs but that was in the car, with both kids in the backseat and, well, there’s no actual paying attention to music when they are in the car. They like to sing along. Oh yes, they know ALL the words. To every song they’ve never heard before.

    Anyway, this sounds like a cool box. Knowing what I know of Marillion, and their vast discography, this would be something that fans would really love.


    1. Unless this is another one of those cases where a fan recorded it, the band got their hands on it, and released it themselves? But even then they probably do some studio work on it, so it ain’t really a bootleg anymore…


      1. I think these are probably desk mixes. But it’s also important to note that many classic bootleg recordings were also desk mixes. A soundman or roadie or whoever would sell the desk mix as a bootleg. I get your point, I guess there isn’t really an industry term for live albums like this. It’s stuff that wasn’t meant for release when they taped it, but it’s mixed and packaged for release now.

        The Crash Course will be a fun intro for you — but keep in mind that it represents the Hogarth years which is almost a completely different sounding band.


  2. This is a fantastic box set, and I love the way you can hear them progress (no pun intended) not just musically but also in confidence & command of the stage as their audience grew exponentially.

    I don’t have the Curtain Call box set, and I didn’t know that there were any recordings with Jonathan Mover on drums. That guy was a monster. I first saw his name on the GTR album, a sadly forgotten minor prog-pop classic from the ’80s, and then later with Joe Satriani & Stuart Hamm. Would love to hear what he brought to Marillion during his brief stint with the band.

    As always, a great write-up on a set that’s mostly for established fans but is good enough to work as an introduction to the Fish era.


    1. Well Rich I don’t know if you have read the Marillion biography — Fish had major issues with Jonathan Mover. Personally and style wise. They did not get along and he felt that Mover over-complicated the songs.

      Having said that I didn’t think the live stuff with Mover was bad at all. I’ll have to get around to reviewing Curtain Call. It occurred to me that if I were to review every album in my collection, one a day, it would take me over a decade.


  3. Don’t have the box but looks like a cool set. Can I ask about the “Highlights” CD? How do you rate its selections from the box set and what’s the booklet like in that one compared to the box?


    1. Booklet is good, lots of pictures and so on. But aside from the Fife Aid song I didn’t listen to it, so I really can’t comment on it as a listening experience. I don’t think I would enjoy it as much as full concerts.


        1. You get more out of a full show. And Fish talks a LOT. I think that is just as much a selling feature as the songs. You gotta have the chatter from each show!


  4. Ashamed to admit that Kayleigh (a fantastic song!) is the extent of my Marillion awareness. Are you willing to suggest a best introductory gateway? Looking at the whole history is overwhelming. Would a Marillion newbie be best served by narrowing down to just the Fish era?


    1. Yeah absolutely. In fact I’d suggest going in basically the order that I went in! Misplaced Childhood is definitely the place to start, it has Kayleigh on it, and a bunch of other great tunes. I recommend following that with the other three Fish albums, and two Steve Hogarth discs: Seasons End (the first without Fish) and the concept album Brave.

      I’m especially fond of Clutching at Straws. It’s a fantastic album. The cool thing about Clutching is that it comes with a bonus disc — what would have been the fifth Marillion album with Fish. But the band broke down after the demos were recorded. So basically it has the music that later made it on to Seasons End, and the lyrics that later ended up on Fish’s solo album! Very cool disc.


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