Early Stages

REVIEW: Marillion – The Official Bootleg Box Set Vol 2 (2010)

Part 2 of a 2 part series!  Missed Part 1?  Click here for Early Stages: the Official Bootleg Box Set from the Fish era.

MARILLION – The Official Bootleg Box Set Vol 2 (2010 EMI)

Spanning Seasons End through to Brave, Vol 2 of the Official Bootleg Box (Vol 1 is of course the Fish years) effectively captures what some believe to be the best years of Steve Hogarth’s tenure. You will, naturally, get some repeat within the 8 discs inside. You’ll hear “Easter” more than once. You’ll hear “Uninvited Guest” more than once. It is what it is.

Here’s a breakdown of the contents herein:

  • Discs 1 & 2:  Leicester, April 24 1990
  • Disc 3:  BBC Friday Rock Show, Workington, July 13 1991
  • Discs 4 & 5:  Wembley, London, September 5 1992
  • Discs 6 & 7:  Warsaw, June 15 1994
  • Disc 8:  BBC Sessions EP, 1992-1994

Obviously the BBC stuff has a higher fidelity than the other stuff. It’s called a bootleg box set for a reason! But the other discs still sound acceptably good. They are soundboard recordings, not audience recordings. Hogarth’s voice is a bit hoarse in Warsaw 1994, but that’s the reality of a live concert setting.  A reality that I love and embrace.

BOOT BOX 2_0003The highlights are many. “Sugar Mice” is always great, regardless of who sings it. It was also nice hearing “I Will Walk On Water” and “Sympathy” during the Wembley 1992 show; both are from the then-recent Six of One, Half-Dozen of the Other compilation album. Attentive listeners will even hear Marillion strumming away on an embrionic version of “Made Again”, a full two years before it was released! You will get to hear all of Brave performed live in 1994. I liked the moment in the Warsaw show when Hogarth asks security to go easy on the fans, “they are not animals”.

Some people bitched that it’s not a full length CD, but I dug the BBC Sessions EP.  It’s just a four song acoustic EP, but it sounds amazing. Today, Marillion have a ton of acoustic work (Less = More, Unplugged at the Walls, Los Trios Marillios to name some of many), but this is the earliest acoustic set that I think I’ve heard. The only problem is, it’s mastered way louder than the other 7 discs. Kind of jarring when you have them on continuous play and you have to jump for the volume knob!

The box set includes each CD in its own fully illustrated cardboard sleeve, as well as a booklet. The box itself is slim but sturdy.

If you’re a Marillion diehard, you will obviously want to somehow save enough pennies to add this to your collection. Even though I have already somewhere in the neighborhood of…God, I don’t know? Over 50 live albums from the Hogarth years alone? Many of them 2 and 3 disc sets? I’ve lost track of how many I have, and that doesn’t include their download-only instant live albums! But this is still a great package to own, especially because the older live Hogarth albums are getting harder to find. (Don’t know how you’d get a copy of Front Row Club #1 at this point, for example.)

4/5 stars

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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.

REVIEW: Marillion – Script For a Jester’s Tear (2 CD remaster)

Hey Uncle Meat! Who’s your favourite lyricist?

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MARILLION – Script For a Jester’s Tear (EMI 2 CD remaster, originally 1983)

“So here I am once more, in the playground of the broken hearts.”

So let it be written, the first words on the first full length album by the singer Fish and the band Marillion. Indeed, early Marillion is so heavily associated with their original singer that it is futile to try to separate them. Early Marillion, meaning the first four crucial albums, is revered for their lyrics as much or even more than their music. Layers upon layers of meanings, tongue-twisting words, symbolism galore, it’s all here for the poetry lover in you. I especially like Fish’s use of homophones for that extra touch of wonder.

Musically, early Marillion were very much in Genesis worship mode, even if they don’t like to talk about it. “Grendel” (appearing here in an awesome alternate take) is essentially “Supper’s Ready”. Many people in my own record store have confused Fish’s voice for Peter Gabriel’s and even Phil Collins from time to time. This is progressive rock for the dudes who love progressive rock. Do you like 8 minute songs with time changes, and ample keyboard & guitar solos? Early Marillion is the band for you.

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Highlights on this album include the broken-hearted and angry title track, and the drug-induced “He Knows You Know”. Part of the appeal of Fish’s lyrics is how he alternately caresses them and then spits them out at appropriate moments. “He Knows You Know” is a great example of this. From high pitched emphasis to mid-range melody, Fish knew how he wanted to express his words.  “Don’t give me your problems!”

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“Garden Party” is, of course, a wry stab at the English class system. These lyrics could only have come from the man known as Fish, and this is one of his most sarcastic and humourous achievements.  It is also one of Marillion’s bounciest songs, one that still creates euphoria in audiences today.

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The bonus disc here is loaded with greatness. Their first single “Market Square Heroes” is present in alternate versions. One of these is the “Battle Priest” version. Fish was forced to change the lyrics from “I am your antichrist,” to “I am your battle priest” (???) and that version is available here. Fear not, collectors, as the original is available on the singles box set, and other compilations as well. “Grendel”, all 20 minutes of it, is also present in an alternate take. It is simply stunning that an alternate take of a 20 minute song even exists. Again, the original is available on the box set as well as the album B’Sides Ourselves. The original take of “Three Boats Down From The Candy” is here, slightly different from the version that would turn up later. Here, there is a slight reggae vibe in the final verses. Fill out the bonus disc with some well fleshed out demos, and you have a very solid listening experience.

Liner notes, by Fish and the others, are of course essential, brilliant, and engrossing. Ample photos and artwork from Mark Wilkinson are also included.

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For the die hard collector who just can’t get enough, there were two singles (“He Knows You Know” and “Garden Party”) plus the debut  “Market Square Heroes” with additional material to enjoy.  As far as live material goes, the six CD box set Early Stages has four discs from this period alone, including not one but two live versions of “Grendel”!  Finally, the beautiful Curtain Call box set included a live album from October 1983 in Germany, featuring new (short tenured) drummer Jonathan Mover.

Script For a Jester’s Tear is an essential Marillion album, but it is not for beginners. Beginners may find such progressive fare as “Forgotten Sons” or “Chelsea Monday” to be a bit impenetrable on first listen. They would be advised to pick up the magnum opus Misplaced Childhood first. Once you are addicted to that music, come back here and feast of the bones of “Grendel”.

4.9/5 stars. A near-masterpiece for this band.