misplaced childhood

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.

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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.

Part 66: The First Time I Heard Marillion

 

RECORD STORE TALES PART 66:   The First Time I Heard Marillion

Winter – spring, 1999.  The last couple of years had been a messy string of bad dates, break-ups, and bad music.  Heavy metal, at least in this town, spent most of the 90’s in a coma.  I had been stretching out and selectively buying different kinds of music, just due to the sheer lack of quality and selection in new metal music.  I don’t think that really changed until Iron Maiden roared back with Brave New World.  I noticed a seismic shift, a growing pulse, in metal at that time.

Working in the store, I got to try anything I wanted.  I had explored Brit-pop, Australian indi bands, a little electronica, and a lot of mainstream stuff, as long as it had some guitars or aggression to it.

One day, the same guy who sold me that rare Oasis live album  walked in.  He had a whole bunch of remastered albums for sale, among them three Marillion discs:  Script For A Jester’s Tear, Fugazi, and Misplaced Childhood.  These were the remastered versions with the bonus discs.  Absolutely impossible to find in town.  Even hard to get on the leading websites, such as HMV.com and CDnow.

Now, I had definitely heard of Marillion, but never heard Marillion.  I had read about them in M.E.A.T Magazine, and my buddy Tom had a dozen Marillion posters on the wall.  I thought they would be my kind of band, just I had never stumbled upon them before.

I called Tom.

“Tom!  I just got three Marillion remasters in.  Misplaced, Fugazi, and Script.  Do you want?”

“Oooh…he didn’t have Clutching at Straws, did he?” Tom asked.  I replied in the negative.

“Listen,” Tom said.  “You have three great albums there, but if you want to try some Marillion, go for Misplaced, before you try the other two.  You’ll like Misplaced.  The other two can be kind of dense at first.”

I took Tom’s advice, and bought Misplaced.  I brought it to the cottage with me that weekend, and listened to the whole thing on my boombox.

What an experience, immersed in the music at the lake, nobody around, hearing Fish’s smooth voice and sometimes jagged enunciation.  This Fish guy, I didn’t know what he was on about yet, but I was intrigued by three things:

  1. He looked cool.
  2. His lyrics were very poetic, unlike any I’d heard before.
  3. He was Scottish, just when I was starting to get interested in my own Scottish half-background.

“Kayleigh” jumped right out at me on the first listen, but soon “Heart of Lothian” followed.  Then “Lavender”, “White Feather”…the album really spoke to me!  I get it!  It’s about girls, right?

In the same Oasis article mentioned above, I talked about being an obsessive compulsive collector.  Well, after buying Fugazi and Seasons End in short order, I was off to the races.  I went to their website and bought everything.  Every friggin’ thing.

Everybody at work hated Marillion.  Everybody!  I remember being at a record store party once.  This guy named “German Mike” was there, he was somebody’s friend that had flown in.  From Germany.  Anyway, they were on the topic of whatever new bands were happening at the time.  I broke in, saying, “I’ve actually been going back to discover old bands.  I’m really into Marillion right now.”

“Fuck Marillion,” said German Mike.  He later puked potato chips all over his shirt.

Nah, sorry German Mike.  I’ll stick to Marillion, but maybe you should cut the chicken chips!

Pre-Marillion:  douche. 

Marillion is good for you!  

Girlfriend!  Thanks, Marillion!