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





4.47 | 96 ratings

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5 stars Following on from the earlier Curtain Call boxed set of live Fish-era material which was released on Marillion's Front Row Club, it turns out that EMI got in touch with Fish and his ex-band and invited them to help them trawl through the EMI vaults and put together a lavish boxed set of Marillion concerts from the same period. What results is an incredible collection of Marillion rarities - and when they decided to call this one Early Stages, they weren't kidding. Of the five shows collected here, four of them are from before the release of Misplaced Childhood, three are from before Ian Mosley joined the band and the group entered the studio to record Fugazi, two are from before Script for a Jester's Tear was released and one show even predates the recording of the Market Square Heroes EP!

When it comes to that first disc, the existence of a high-quality recording of a Marillion show from before they even released their first single is explained when Fish alludes to the concert being recorded for broadcast by Radio Clyde. The setlist consists of the two shorter songs from the Market Square Heroes EP - Market Square Heroes itself and Three Boats Down From the Candy - plus four of the six songs from Script For a Jester's Tear (only Chelsea Monday and the title track are missing), plus a super-rare rendition of She Chameleon from Fugazi in a much earlier version of the track. The versions of Three Boats Down From the Candy and Market Square Heroes are extremely close to the versions on the EP - only to be expected since they'd be recording the studio versions within the month - whilst the Script songs are a little rougher around the edges - they're very close to the album versions, but there's spots where you can tell that later on the band would do some polishing and tightening up. Nothing major, mind - just a boost to a song's tempo here, a tweak to Fish's vocal performance there, a slightly less aggressive guitar tone from Steve Rothery over there.

The most startling difference is in the prototype version of She Chameleon, the lyrics of which are more or less exactly the same as the Fugazi one we're familiar with but the music is utterly different - an up-tempo, almost jaunty piece entirely inappropriate for the subject matter. To be honest, it's not one of the band's best compositions, so dropping the tune and doing a complete rewrite was probably the best call. But as for the rest of the disc captures a fine performance from the band, the sort of energetic effort which doubtless helped them snag a major label record deal.

Discs two and three document a very special concert - the last ever gig of Marillion's legendary run of concerts at London's Marquee Club, the spiritual home of the early neo- prog movement. As Fish mentions to the crowd, they performed something like 14 gigs there in the space of a year, but their increasing success meant they were forced to move to larger venues such as the Hammersmith Odeon. (The crowd are not pleased by this news, but Fish makes a good case for its necessity, pointing out the large numbers of people who were having to be turned away from the Marquee concerts as a result of the band's exploding popularity.) Of course, the group make sure their farewell concert is a cracking one, and Fish slyly lets slip that fans wishing to see them play the odd concert at the Marquee in future might want to look out for them under the name of the "Skyline Drifters" - a pseudonym the band used for secret gigs at the time.

The setlist for this concert consists of the entire Script For a Jester's Tear album - the recording of which was still not completed at this time - as well as the whole Market Square Heroes EP (and yes, this includes a rendition of Grendel). It's topped off with Margaret, a goof-off track based around a simple Highland song which the band often closed their early gigs with - it's nothing particularly musically compelling, being mainly an excuse to prompt the audience to dance like crazy and to end the gig on a feel-good note. In general, the sound quality of this concert is a bit patchy at first but is markedly improved on the second disc, and overall is on a par with the quality of the first disc; as far as the performances go, obviously the Market Square Heroes tracks are delivered more or less in the way they were on the EP whilst the album tracks are closer to their final forms than in the earlier set.

The third concert in the box is another special one in the history of the band - their legendary appearance at the 1983 Reading Festival. This was a particularly important gig in the history of the band for two reasons; firstly, it's the last time they ever performed Grendel onstage, and secondly it includes Andy Ward - from the classic Camel lineup - on drums, taking place as it did after the firing of Mick Pointer and before Ian Mosley joined the band. The band are on top form and bursting with energy on this high-quality sound recording; the vast Reading crowd is clearly pleased to see them, and Fish in turn is vocal about how thrilled he is to be playing to such a crowd. (I imagine the band were also excited to be playing with one of their musical heroes!) The result is a great gig with fantastic renditions of all the songs on offer - including an early appearance of Assassing, already more or less in the form it would take on Fugazi, and what I consider to be the definitive recording of Grendel.

Next up is a Hammersmith Odeon appearance from towards the end of the Fugazi tour. For the most part, the setlist leans a bit more towards Fugazi material, with only Garden Party and Chelsea Monday appearing from Script For a Jester's Tear - but what's really interesting is the preview of material from Misplaced Childhood, the studio recording of which hadn't even commenced yet! When Fish announces it he states that the album will consist of two tracks - Side One and Side Two - but obviously on the album we actually got the different sections of the composition got their own names in the track listing (though were still a continuous piece of music). What we get on here is the tracks from Pseudo-Silk Kimono to Heart of Lothian, mostly in the form we know and love from the album with a few mild differences to the lyrics here and there. (In particular, the chorus to Kayleigh is completely different). Aside from the lyrics, the most major difference is the absence of Lavender, which would be inserted to round out the side later on. The inclusion of this fascinating insight into the development of the album - and the enthusiastic reaction of the crowd to the preview - makes this a fascinating live document, and the high recording quality and the confident performance makes it on the whole a great listen. Another notable thing is the way the closing title track from Fugazi seems to have taken the place of Market Square Heroes and Margaret as Marillion's usual close-of-concert song at this point.

The final concert in this set is a Wembley Arena appearance from the Clutching At Straws tour. Recorded a few months after the release of the album (and about four months after the Live at Loreley set), it's interesting to note the crowd singing and clapping along to the new material - they embraced the Clutching songs quickly, it seems! As on Live at Loreley, which the set list closely resembles, the integration of female backing vocals into the older material is done with a deft hand and the band are at the peak of their powers. It does rather cut off suddenly at the end of the Misplaced Childhood portion of the show - usually on that tour there'd be an encore or two following on - but otherwise this is a fine way to round off the set, particularly since the set consists entirely of post-Script material - a nice rebalancing considering that four of the six discs on here consist of almost nothing but!

On the whole, this boxed set offers nothing less than the ultimate collection of live Fish-era material. Even better, so far as I can tell none of the material on it is replicated on any of the other live releases from this period - so if you want yet more live Marillion with Fish at the helm, Recital of the Script, Real to Reel, Live at Loreley, The Thieving Magpie and Curtain Call are all there for you to dip into. Even then, if you've collected all of those I still think this is worth it to round out the set, particularly if you are a fan of the Script for a Jester's Tear era since it is so well-represented here. Plus the price is very reasonable for an epic 6-CD boxed set like this. Nothing less than five stars is due.

Warthur | 5/5 |


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