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Marillion - Early Stages: The Official Bootlegs 1982-1987 CD (album) cover

EARLY STAGES: THE OFFICIAL BOOTLEGS 1982-1987

Marillion

 

Neo-Prog

4.45 | 73 ratings

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Jim Garten
Special Collaborator
Retired Admin & Razor Guru
4 stars First of all, I'd like to give a vote of thanks to EMI for supplying a copy of this set for review ahead of the 17th November release date - many thanks for the support guys.

+++++++

In 1982, British progressive rock as a genre was in the doldrums - the giants of the 1970s had lost their way with bands such as ELP lacking inspiration and trading on diminishing returns, Pink Floyd seemingly imploding after Roger Waters's overblown concept 'The Wall', Yes looking for a new direction (and with Trevor Horn in the producers chair, and Trevor Rabin on guitar duties, treading a more AOR path), even the previously mighty Genesis heading in an ever more radio-friendly direction. however, something was stirring in the underground.

Across Britain, musicians were coming out of the woodwork to play the pubs & clubs, revisiting the sounds & feel of progressive rock's heyday; bands such as Pallas, Twelfth Night, IQ, Pendragon & Solstice (even older bands such as Magnum and The Enid) began performing to ever increasing crowds of those disillusioned with technically proficient, visually spectacular, but ultimately soul-less gigs in huge arenas. and the standard bearers for the burgeoning New Wave Of British Progressive Rock were Aylesbury based Marillion.

This set of live CDs from the BBC's 'In Concert' vaults and EMI's own recordings, captures Marillion in the years from 1982 to 1987, a period which under the leadership of charismatic frontman/vocalist Fish (Derek Dick to his mum & dad.) saw them make the leap from the pubs & clubs, to major festivals & finally to arena headlining status in their own right. It is in the tracks repeated on various discs from this set where you see them growing and progressing (to coin a phrase): Garden Party (formerly known as The Garden Party Of The Giant Cucumber Massacre) appears in all but the 1987 recording, He Knows You Know in the first three concerts, together with anti war protest Forgotten Sons (just as relevant now as then), and early stage favourite, the 20 minute Grendel, a track they never in my opinion really nailed in the studio, appears in the 1982 Marquee set, and again in stupendous form on the Reading Festival recording from 1983 (ironically, the last time they played the piece on stage) - as an aside, She Chameleon is played in the 1982 Glasgow set, a full 2 years before it appeared on their second album Fugazi: slightly different lyrically & musically, but the same song nevertheless.

The first of these recordings, from Glasgow's Mayfair in September 1982 the week after the band had signed to EMI Records is a mixed affair; Marillion as a young band, having only just attained their first recording contract already had a strong and loyal fan base, and in addition had the bare bones of what would become future stage favourites. The versions recorded here, however suffer from a poor sound balance (Stephen Rothery's guitar being virtually inaudible throughout), and what appears a fairly nervous performance - far from being faster than the eventual studio recordings, as is usually the way, the versions here are slow and considered. Despite this, however, Fish's commanding stage presence & the early versions of the (at the time) unreleased first single Market Square Heroes & what would become the debut album closer 'Forgotten Sons' save the day.

In 1982, Marillion had a spiritual home - the Marquee in London's Wardour Street; it is on residencies here they honed their live reputation, and it is one of their final Marquee gigs which is represented in full here by the second and third discs of this set (recorded and mixed by their new best friends, EMI). One of three post Christmas gigs in December 1982 from which crowds had to be turned away due to Marillion's now huge popularity (at one point, Fish virtually apologises for having to play Hammersmith Odeon in future.) and one of their final stepping stones to the larger halls their as yet unreleased first album would guarantee them, these recordings, made only three months after the Glasgow gig, see Marillion as a far more confident & coherent force; the playing is tighter and more assured, the sound balance considerably better, the crowd, packed in like sardines as they were, hugely enthusiastic, and rightly so. The set list is very similar to the Glasgow CD, but here includes the epic Grendel (the confines of the Marquee being ideal for Fish as Grendel to pull a punter out of the front row & ritually dismember him) and the first recorded instance of their playing Script For A Jesters Tear; at the time a new track they had debuted on these three shows, this is recognisably a very early version, with Mellotron replacing piano in the opening & some of the lyrics still at a formative stage. As usual, the set is closed with the usual threesome of Forgotten Sons, Market Square Heroes and the playful if maybe a little over-long crowd favourite, Margaret.

By August 1983, the new progressive rock bands had been taken to the hearts of the rock press, and the Reading Festival, which at the time was the number one music festival for aspiring bands to play, was packed with the new breed, but pride of place again belonged to Marillion, who'd played there mid- Sunday afternoon the previous year, but here made a return on Saturday evening, second on the bill and direct support to an Ian Gillan led Black Sabbath. The year had been a good one for the band, with sold out shows across Britain & Europe, the debut album riding high in the charts, the only down point being the departure of Mick Pointer from the drum stool, temporarily replaced here by session men John Martyr (?) & Andy Wall on drums & percussion respectively. Playing to approximately 40/50,000 people in the open air, subtlety is a casualty, with Marillion having a whale of a time & playing full blown progressive ROCK. Opening with what is to my mind the strongest version now available of Grendel - ironic, as this is the last time it was played live - Marillion's popularity is immediately in evidence, with the crowd singing along to every word (something noticeable throughout this CD) and the band play off this enthusiasm throughout their 75 minute set. Grendel closes with a Mellotron and guitar swathed coda which bears more than a slight resemblance to Yes's Starship Trooper & then it's into yet another version of Garden Party with the Reading Festival choir lustily singing back during the call & response section (unsurprisingly strongest on their response to "I'm rucking."). Script For A Jesters Tear is followed by the first of the new songs here, an almost complete Assassing, soon to be the opening track of the second album, and Charting The Single, Marillion's arch swipe at the vagaries of the record industry, and also their next single. With these behind them, Marillion are back in familiar, but understandably populist territory, closing the main set with a storming rendition of Forgotten Sons featuring Fish on superb form, before returning for encores of He Knows You Know, and the predictable, but inescapable Market Square Heroes, which the crowd's singing and the band's evident enjoyment of the moment closes the set on a massive high. much to Black Sabbath's chagrin, as they had to endure much of the crowd still calling for Marillion's return as they took the stage themselves an hour later - I know - because I was there.

Speaking of being there, I was also at London's Hammersmith Odeon just over a year later when disc 5 of the set was recorded by the BBC for their 'In Concert' series. In the intervening period, the second album Fugazi had been released to a mixed reception, reaching number 5 in the UK charts and showing the band's starting to move away from the symphonic progressive rock of their original influences, to forging a sound more recognisably their own. The Hammersmith Odeon disc sees Marillion in confident rock band mode, with a much more focussed, cleaner and tighter sound (courtesy of Ian Mosley now being installed on drums/percussion), yet losing none of the warmth toward the fans they were known for. Overall, the new material sits happily alongside established favorites Garden Party and Chelsea Monday, which had been given a wash & brush up, but these older songs were already beginning to sound dated against the newer, more hard edged songs such as Assassing and the single Punch And Judy. The real gem of this disc though, and a prime example of Marillion's confidence at the time is their decision to showcase an entire side of their at the time unreleased album Misplaced Childhood. This is given an expansive introduction by Fish describing it as their new direction, and the direction many people wanted them to go in (read into that what you will); the selection chosen (which thankfully excluded the future single Lavender) is virtually unchanged from the version eventually released on album, with only a few lyrical differences and is received enthusiastically - although it could be said at that stage in Marillion's career any new material would be given a good reception, Part one of Misplaced Childhood showed this band at the peak of their creativity & this is reflected in the reaction of the Hammersmith audience. The set closes with the incisive Incubus - a high point from the Fugazi album - and a rousing version of Fugazi itself, with the audience in fine voice during the "where are the prophets..?" closing section.

The sixth and final disc of the series from November 1987, is recorded at London's cavernous Wembley Arena, the band playing a gig in aid of muscular dystrophy on the back of the commercial success of the Clutching At Straws album; this is also Marillion by royal appointment, the show being attended by Prince Edward (which Fish jokingly alludes to in the intro to Fugazi, stating if he explained what the title meant, he'd end up in the Tower Of London). By this time, the band were seasoned professionals, and the 10,000 seat venue must have seemed a long way from playing the confines of Glasgow's Mayfair, a mere 5 years previously. I have to admit I'm not wholly familiar with the Clutching At Straws album, my only knowledge based on the Gazza Ladra live album from the same tour, and the hit single Incommunicado (strangely missing from this gig), but the selections here highlight Marillion's sound becoming more guitar based, with Rothery playing well throughout, ably supported by Kelly's always fluid lines. If I had a criticism, it would be that the gig comes across as a little too workmanlike, with the previous connection to the crowd seeming to fray at the edges (Fish urging the singalong to Fugazi sounds a little forced); this could be down to the venue itself, Wembley Arena being notorious as a soul- less barn - similarly it could be the fact this gig was recorded just a few months prior to Fish's departure from the band, but whilst this is not Marillion merely going through the motions, the warmth of previous performances on this set is noticeably down by several degrees.

So there you have it, a six CD retrospective of Marillion live during the Fish years; from struggling band playing the clubs to multi million album selling international success story; if you're an established fan of the band, this is without a doubt a full five star release, a true essential purchase - seen overall, though, even given the sound problems & nervous performances on disc 1, and the usual warts & all qualities of any live album without overdubs, this set still stands up as a solid 4 star release - a good reminder of exactly how good they were in the early years.

Jim Garten | 4/5 |

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