In 1982 we were told by the music press that guitar-based rock bands were dead, their position usurped by synth-pop driven by lone computer operators. The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal demonstrated there was still some mileage left in so called “dinosaur rock”, but by the early 80s, only Maiden and Leppard showed any signs of longevity. Kids reared on The Tygers Of Pan Tang and Angel Witch wanted something a little more demanding for their ears. Just like heavy metal, progressive (or prog) rock had become a dirty word, but despite little or no coverage from the music media outside of the monthly Kerrang! or weekly Sounds, the early 80′s proved to be something of a revival for prog acts, with bands such as Pallas, Pendragon and Solstice building strong live reputations. Marillion were certainly the best band from this crop of acts that could be described as “progressive”. Comparisons to Peter Gabriel-era Genesis were levelled at Marillion, but any young kid who had never heard Selling England By The Pound or Foxtrot wouldn’t care when they were hearing this music for the first time. And just as guitar-driven, “authentic” rock is now enjoying a renaissance, so the prog inspired noodlings of bands such as Radiohead show that there is nothing wrong with pushing the boundaries of experimentation within popular music.
Marillion received their first national exposure in the pages of Kerrang! magazine. Based in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, the band that featured in that early issue of Kerrang!, featured Diz Minnit on bass, Fish (born Derek Dick) on vocals, Mark Kelly on keyboards, guitarist Steve Rothery and drummer Mick Pointer. It was the drummer who had originally formed the band Silmarillion in 1979, named after the J.R.R. Tolkien story, later dropping the “Sil” from the group’s name.
Another important piece of exposure for a rock group before MTV reached these shores was recording for the BBC. A three track session for Tommy Vance’s Friday Rock show was recorded shortly before bassist Diz left to be replaced by Pete Trewavas. The band were soon signed to EMI Records, releasing their vinyl debut, ‘Market Square Heroes’ in October 1982, and continuing a seemingly endless cycle of touring and recording. The band issued Script For A Jester’s Tear, their first album and a Top 10 best seller, the following year. The tour to support Script For A Jester’s Tear ended with a triumphant show at the hallowed Hammersmith Odeon on 18th April 1983. At the age of 13, I was too young to attend the gig, but eagerly awaited the release of the filmed concert footage, issued later that year as Recital Of The Script. It was founder member Mick Pointer’s last show with the band, as the rest of the group felt they needed fresh blood behind the drum stool if they were going to fully capitalize on the successes they had worked hard to achieve. Although Pointer had played on ‘Garden Party’, the second single to be issued from that first LP, it is former Camel drummer Andy Ward who appeared in the video, a rather light-hearted affair in comparison to much of the band’s material. The lyric had been written a few years before Fish had joined Marillion, inspired by a party at the Cambridge campus where Fish’s then girlfriend studied, and at which the imposing Scotsman, accompanied by Diz, had attended in full face make-up. After an appearance on BBC2’s Old Grey Whistle Test, performing ‘Forgotten Sons’, the band made their first visit to the States, where Ward quit half way through the tour. He was replaced by John Martyr, himself swiftly replaced by Jonathan Mover only to give way to former Steve Hackett drummer Ian Mosley; a revolving drum stool to make Spinal Tap proud!
Premiered at 1983’s Glastonbury, ‘Assassing’, a taster from the all important, “difficult” second LP, Fugazi, focused lyrically on the slightly mercenary treatment of former group members, especially band founder Mick Pointer. The musical core of Trewavas, Kelly, Rothery and Mosley has remained constant to the present day.
The band’s repertoire to date had often featured long, conceptual pieces, but at the end of 1984, the band debuted fresh material from an album that they proudly announced would be a concept album, with only two tracks; side one and side two! In April 1985, ‘Kayleigh’, a worldwide smash, climbed to number two in the UK charts. A bona-fide hit, the concept album Misplaced Childhood reached the top of the charts. Written in Barwell Court in Chessington, ‘Lavender’ was originally only intended as a musical segue on the album, but issued as a single it made a perfect follow up to ‘Kayleigh’, peaking at number five. With the birth of MTV in the US in 1981, the early 80’s saw the growing importance of the music video, an invaluable marketing tool to the growing number of music-based televison channels and programming, even for a band who had toured so relentlessly as Marillion. Promos were made for all three of the singles from Misplaced Childhood, ‘Heart Of Lothian’ being the last song from the album to be issued as a single, and reaching the Top 30. At this point the band should have probably taken a break to take stock and recharge their collective batteries, but instead commenced on the protracted recording of what would become Clutching At Straws in 1987, their final album with singer Fish. One only has to read the lyrics to album cut ‘That Time Of The Night (The Short Straw)’ to realise that all was not well between the singer and the rest of the band. Using the jester as a continuing theme, the band used their record covers to demonstrate their mind set at the time; the fiddle-playing jester alone in his garret on the debut, or Fugazi’s wasted, decadent rock star. Clutching At Straws featured a bar filled with dead stars, kept company by the members of Marillion. The rock and roll lifestyle was catching up with the band to various degrees, certainly not least the singer, who in many ways had grown, personality wise, too big to be contained by the band. Another number one album, it spawned a further three hit singles, first of which was ‘Incommunicado’, promoted by a video filmed at Wardour Street’s old Marquee club, the scene of many of the band’s early triumphs. Alcohol seems to play a major theme for this period in the band’s history, with ‘Sugar Mice’ and ‘Warm Wet Circles’ rather less upbeat affairs in comparison to the driving ‘Incommunicado’. Another problem Fish had was his perception of their (mis)management. It was their manager or him, and as the band had been convinced they could carry on as a stronger unit without him, Fish left for a solo career, taking sleeve illustrator Mark Wilkinson with him. La Gaza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie), a double live record issued at the end of 1988, was Fish’s last released appearance with the band.
MARILLION 1989-Present: The Hogarth Years
The singer/frontman in any band is not easily replaced; hard won fan bases can quickly grow disillusioned if the new singer is seen to alter their favourite band’s direction to suit their own ends. The towering figure of Fish would not be easily replaced – it’s not always a wise move to replace your singer with a virtual clone, hoping nobody notices. Rehearsals/auditions with former Europeans vocalist Steve Hogarth were held at The Music Farm near Brighton, and it soon became clear that this was the man for the job when he quickly gelled with the revitalised Marillion. One nice piece of public relations that served to cement the new line-up was inviting the fan club to appear in the audience for their new video at London’s Brixton Academy. ‘Hooks In You’, Steve (h) Hogarth’s debut with the band, was quite a departure for the new look Marillion. Marillion music had always dealt with melody and tunes, but here was a sleeker, more refined beast, with radio friendly choruses and one eye on the still unconquered, but highly lucrative American market. Another major change was the sleeve artwork. Although initially retaining their classic logo, gone were the detailed paintings of jesters, magpies and Pre-Raphaelite ladies to be replaced with something a little more contemporary. The subsequent album, Seasons End, was issued a month after the first single, reaching number 7 in the charts. ‘Easter’, a track developed at The Music Farm and recorded at Hook End Manor in Oxfordshire, was issued as the third single from the album. In comparison to the comparatively swift recording of Seasons End, follow up Holidays In Eden was somewhat longer in gestation than its predecessor. Four songs, ‘Cover My Eyes’, ‘No One Can’, ‘Dry Land’ and ‘Sympathy’ were released as singles from the album, demonstrating that that Hogarth had brought an element of soul to the band.
The musical landscape had shifted in the 10 years that Marillion had been a recording act, as the rock scene was now dominated by grunge and the charts littered with disposable dance acts. Marillion took the longest break of their career, re-emerging in 1994 with Brave. Although the Hogarth-fronted band carried a generally sleeker, more refined sound, 1994′s Brave, and the Richard Stanley (director of Hardware and Dust Devil, as well as various pop promos) directed film, showed that Marillion were still happy to trade in concepts, but with an emotional depth equal to the classic Misplaced Childhood. Three tracks from Brave were issued as singles, ‘Alone Again In The Lap Of Luxury’ the only song from Brave featured here, featured a promo video culled from the film. The song was all but ignored by radio, hence its relatively poor chart placing, but despite this, the mid-90s onwards was a prolific and fertile period for the band. The anthemic ‘Beautiful’ was taken from 1995’s Afraid Of Sunlight opus, reaching the UK Top 30. Made Again, named after a track from the Brave album, was the 1996 live album that served to collate the best of the Steve Hogarth-fronted band. It was their last album for EMI (for a while) in the UK, but their first (internationally) for their new label, Castle Communications. They were already working on a studio album for their new label, issued in 1997 as This Strange Engine. The lead track and first single, ‘Man Of A Thousand Faces’, was released in May 1997, with lyrics co-written by long time collaborator John Helmer. The band seemed invigorated by the independence granted by recording for an “indie” label, with the album’s title track being their longest number since the 18 minute ‘Grendel’ had appeared on the flipside of their first 12″ single. Although the live Made Again had featured hits from the Fish era, the live shows to support This Strange Engine were noticeable for being the first to feature an exclusively post-1988 set. The band did have five studio albums under their belt that featured their “new” singer. In the meantime, Racket Records, named after the Racket Club, Marillion’s personal recording studio and rehearsal space, was set up in order to release rarities, limited editions and fan club exclusives aimed squarely at the hardcore followers and collectors. Marillion recorded two more albums for Castle before returning to EMI for Anoraknophobia in 2001, a good naturedly self-deprecating title acknowledging the band and fans alike were cool for being uncool, and featuring the single ‘Between You And Me’. When recording for the album had commenced, they had no deal in place to release new material, so the band hit upon the revolutionary tactic of inviting fans via the website marillion.com, to pre-order the new CD in advance, which in turn allowed Marillion to completely own the rights to their music and recordings outright, and sell their music directly to their fans in limited edition formats as well as licensing the rights to an outside label to distribute the material afterwards, in this case original label EMI. The album was their best selling in years, and quite possibly set a trend for how music is made and distributed, certainly in the Marillion camp.
In 2003 the band entered the Guiness Book Of Records. They are holders of ‘The fastest time for a music DVD to be filmed and then released’ : 63 hr 29 min. The DVD was recorded at the MarillionConvention at Butlins, Minehead, Somerset UK on 14th March 2003, before going on sale to the public on 17 March 2003.’
“New” boy, Steve Hogarth, has now been Marillion’s vocalist for approaching fourteen years, twice as long as Fish was the singer! Marillion plan to make their next recording a whole double album, and quite possibly recorded and released in the same way as their last outing. With a career that has lasted 24 years, spanning four decades, the band has become something of an institution. For more information and regular updates, log onto www.marillion.com, but in the meantime, here’s 18 reminders of what made the band great in the first place.