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Marillion - The Official Bootleg Box Set Vol. 2 CD (album) cover





4.04 | 52 ratings

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4 stars This boxed set is a sequel to the fantastic Early Stages box which documented the Fish era of Marillion, and is geared towards live shows from the H-fronted era of Marillion from before they left EMI. Providing the listener with an amazing 8 discs, the box gives you four different shows from this period of the band plus a brief EP of extremely short BBC sessions - which is alright, but isn't of such great quality that it feels necessary. I'd have greatly preferred it had they used disc 8 to cram on one more short show in the set, particularly if it were a show from the Afraid of Sunlight tour.

In fact, there's no material from Afraid of Sunlight in this entire set, which I feel is a rather glaring omission; it means that of the four H-fronted albums the band released before they and EMI parted ways, one of the absolute best ones isn't represented at all whereas one of the least well-received (Holidays In Eden) has two shows from its tour on here!

The more I think about it, the more I think that this is a very, very serious flaw of the set. It's fair enough for Anoraknophobia to not be represented, since it represented a brief return to EMI by Marillion separated from the era documented here by several years, and it already has a decent live album documenting its tour in the form of Anoraknophobia.

Indeed, thanks to Marillion's energetic use of their Racket Records label to put out live material, we're very, very well-served for live Marillion material from the era of This Strange Engine onwards to the present day; the main benefit of this box is that it provides an instant high-quality collection of Marillion shows from the 1990-1994 era which otherwise has been more patchily covered, or is the province of somewhat shakier releases (like the tentative Live In Glasgow).

Afraid of Sunlight, though, was the swansong of the band's main run at EMI, and yet you don't get anything from it. I point-blank refuse to believe that there are no Afraid of Sunlight era shows in the EMI vaults - in fact, we know damn well that there was at least one because it came out with the Afraid of Sunlight deluxe set - and whoever put this collection together has made a serious error of judgement in not including any of them.

Fine, dock the box a star for that. Setting Afraid of Sunlight-related grumpiness aside, what about the shows you *do* get? Well, the first show is an appearance at De Montfort University from 1990. One year into the Seasons End tour, Hogarth sounds extremely confident at the helm of the band, and the band themselves have clearly been working hard on refining and improving the Seasons End material whilst on the road. In particular, Mark Kelly's keyboard playing is significantly more adventurous here than on the album, to my ears, to the great improvement of most of the songs - even The Uninvited Guest and Hooks In You sound better than their studio equivalents, and the only tune from the Seasons End material which doesn't quite measure up to the studio release is After Me.

The other interesting aspect of this gig, of course, is that there's plenty of Fish-era material - unsurprisingly, since the Hogarth-era band hadn't yet released enough material to fit a set list this long by themselves! To my surprise and relief (along with that of the crowd), Steve proves to be more than capable of tackling the Fish-era songs even this early in his tenure, wisely avoiding trying to emulate Fish's delivery and instead presenting the songs in his own interpretation, which sheds new light on them. The heavy emphasis on Clutching at Straws material showcases just how much Seasons End is a continuation of the approach of that album, the songs from both pieces sounding perfectly natural when listened to side by side.

The major quibble I'd have with the show is that at this point H doesn't seem to have as much of an instinctive rapport with the fans as Fish had, but it would be a bit much to expect that when the audience is so used to Fish. The glimmerings of that sort of connection are there, but it would be a bit much to expect it to develop that quickly.

The next show finds the band at a rock festival in Cumbria, very shortly after the release of Holidays In Eden. This has undergone minor editing - there's one bit where H announces that they're going to play a song from Seasons End before the band launch into Warm Wet Circles from Clutching At Straws, and I've been able to confirm by checking set lists that Easter was supposed to be the song in question.

The show is sourced from a BBC radio recording of the concert, so the most likely explanation for the loss of Easter is that it wasn't available on the tapes provided by the Beeb (the encores are missing for the same reason). Still, there are absolutely tons of live renditions of Easter available out there - you get three decent shots at the song in this box, already, for crying out loud! - so losing one is no big deal. However, that isn't the only issue with the recording - the mix feels a little off, with the drums managing to somehow simultaneously sound too thin and weedy but also too prominent in the mix.

Still, the show evidences a dramatic improvement in Hogarth's capabilities as frontman - no longer nervous or unsure of himself, he's much more willing to engage with banter with the audience, and indeed he seems to be in an ebullient and playful mood. Though the crowd give the Fish-era material a warmer welcome than the H-era stuff, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that this is just because they were more familiar with the old stuff - because the band do a great job of performing both a few well-selected old songs (including a decent crack at Script For a Jester's Tear) and the cream of Holidays In Eden and Seasons End.

The third show is a Wembley Arena appearance (which, if I've worked it out right, has also been issued on Marillion's Front Row Club - though possibly this version is from a different audio source). It's 1992, a year or so into the Holidays In Eden tour, and the band have had plenty of time to refine the material - the This Town triptych is improved with some interesting embellishments to The Rakes Progress, for instance, whilst Waiting to Happen is presented in a more energetic and emotionally desperate format.

This is another gig which takes a while to get going, but it's pretty enjoyable once it builds up momentum; the main issue with it is that there's still a large reliance on Fish-era stuff, and the band still at that point hadn't settled on its Hogarth-era course. Still, there's hints of things to come embedded in here - for instance, before Waiting to Happen Steve Rothery plays a little acoustic guitar ditty which H hums along to, which Marillion fans will recognise as being an early version of Made Again from the forthcoming Brave. Compared to the Wembley Arena show on the Early Stages box, it does feel like Marillion without Fish just don't feel much like an arena band - the H-era material feels a bit more introverted, more emotionally fragile, something suited to a more intimate context.

The fourth show treats us to a show in Poland from the Brave tour. Whilst early on H's voice seems a little tired and the sound quality is a bit patchy, both improve markedly after we get through the opening numbers to take in the jewel in the crown: a complete performance of the Brave album from beginning to end. Although this is broken in the middle due to the constraints of CD running times and on the whole I'd say the Brave playthrough available on disc 2 of Made Again (or the deluxe edition of Brave) is a better performance (and has the advantage of not requiring you to switch CDs partway through), it's still a treat to hear the band give their all in performing these tracks, and the range of songs played for an encore - including plenty of classic Fish-era numbers - bring the show to a thunderous climax.

There's no denying that this set is great value for money, and it's certainly one of the first bits of live H-era Marillion you should look into picking up, if only for the fact that you get 4 shows and a live EP all in one package. That said, I wouldn't say it's quite as good as the Early Stages box. Aside from the occasionally patchy sound quality here and the bizarre decision to include no shows from the Afraid of Sunlight tour, the fact is that for about half the time period covered by this set (and for three of the four shows presented) Marillion were working through a period of transition, which they only manage to get through once they hit the safe haven of Brave. And it's not as though H-era Marillion hasn't completely spoiled us for live albums, though admittedly this set does seem to cover the best of the live material from this era.

On the whole, whilst Early Stages succeeds in capturing the entire Fish era, this box only shows a small slice of the H era, and the heavy emphasis on Holidays In Eden-era material may put off those who dislike that album - of whom admittedly there are more than a few. But since you can get it from some avenues for less than 20, that's a damn good deal however you shake it.

Warthur | 4/5 |


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