A collection of posts from my original weblog...or the inscrutable rantings of a madman...could be both...

Friday, March 26, 2004

I've been broadening my knowledge and listening habits to include some 80s neo-prog lately. I initially gave the genre the short shrift (as I mistakenly do sometimes, case in point being Orbital..whom I dismissed as sub-par before really giving them a chance--and now they are among my favourite artists). You can't mention "80s neo-prog" without one band automatically popping to mind. That's right...Marillion. Formed out of a few regularly gigging pub bands in London in the late-70s--they were originally Silmarillion, after J.R.R. Tolkien's history of the elves...can't get much more prog than that, can you? You can, because they shortened their name and forged their musical alliance based on a mutual love of early Genesis.

They did the usual club circuit, eventually landing a prestigious spot at the famed Marquee Club in London (which also sponsored The Who, The Move and a nascent King Crimson). They were spotted by an EMI A&R guy and signed in 1982, releasing the Market Square Heroes and He Knows You Know singles. Script For A Jester's Tear, their debut full-length, appeared in 1983, and was an immediate hit with the die-hard proggers, thanks in a large part to Scottish lead vocalist Fish (nee Derek Dick) and his near slavish Peter Gabriel-isms--as well as guitarist Steve Rothery's pseudo-Hackett/Howe riffing. Add to that Mark Wilkinson's cryptic full-colour cover art--and a neo-progressive trend was born. Still, despite the "name that Genesis tune" quality of the music, "Script For..." hasn't dated *that* badly..especially when compared to the chart stuff at that time (Kajagoogoo and Duran Duran, please stand up). The Web and Garden Party have become classics to Marillion fans..intricate and melodic, hell, they were more creative than Genesis were in 1983, even if they were doing their best to meld 1973 with 1983. Fish does remind everyone that it's the early 80s with the closing track, Forgotten Sons, a lament to "the troubles" engulfing Northern Ireland. "...Searchlight...Armalite.." are the opening lyrics, so you get the picture right quick. A credible debut in any musical climate, though I'm sure the critics at the time (in England anyway) ripped the record apart for daring to show some bold freeky prog colours in the post-punk greyness and New Romantic pastels and heavy metal black. Rolling Stone probably awarded it their compulsory "three stars".

They followed "Script For.." up with Fugazi in 1984. Sticking a bit to the lines laid down by "Script.." and cranking up the melodrama a notch or two..it's not exactly a holding pattern, but not that much of an advance either..still, they sold out venues in England and The Continent, the punters bought the record..and they even gained a cult following in the U.S.A. Mark Wilkinson had duly turned in the album artwork, and the jester from the debut became Marillion's visual symbol. For the next album, Fish decided to completely bring the lyrics up to date. Misplaced Childhood was released in 1985, and the clues to the change in direction are right on the sleeve itself. A boy wearing a drum major's uniform, holding a magpie is the centerpiece of the front cover..while the jester escapes from a window on the back cover. The lyrics concern themselves with lost love, loneliness and "wide boys" on the streets--far more initmate than his previous observations. The band also hit the mainstream in a big way with the surprise chart success of the Kayleigh single and it's follow-up, Lavender. I remember hearing "Kayleigh" on the radio, but it had little impact on me at the time. When I heard it again a couple of weeks ago, for the first time since then--I recognized the melody, but didn't have any sort of nostalgic flashbacks or anything. The album is the best of the bunch, with nice segues between the tunes..and they update the 70s prog habit of naming multiple sections of longer tunes, like Bitter Suite: divided into i. Brief Encounter ii. Lost Weekend iii. Blue Angel--gotta get those extra royalties somehow ;)

By 1987, after touring extensively, Fish was ready to leave Marillion. He stayed and recorded their fourth full-length, Clutching At Straws, and toured to support it--then announced he was departing for a solo venture. "Clutching..." moved in even more of a pop direction but with ol' Derek still there, retains at least of some of the progressive features of the first three albums. After a double-live album which chronicled the '87 tour, called The Thieving Magpie, Marillion re-grouped to find a new singer and lyricist. Steve Hogarth was the result of the search and they recorded Season's End, which was released in 1989, the first new studio album in two years. Hogarth slowly brought the band away from Fish's prog influence to a more mainstream hard rock sound, though "Season's End" is more of a bridge between the two. They continued on into the 90s (with albums like "Brave" and the horribly-titled "Marillion.com") and are still active today~though their fan-base has dwindled to the hard-core punters. They dropped by EMI in the early 90s and released the subsequent records through a few indie labels. They have set up their own small label now, and are releasing live shows through their website--a bit like King Crimson's Collector's Club series--unfortunately, they aren't offering any Fish-era shows.

Fish also released his first solo album in 1989..and has contuned to do so, setting up his own label as well--and he took Mark Wilkinson's cover art talent with him. I don't own any of his records yet, but I'm hoping to score a few and check them out. The man himself appeared on a hilarious episode of the British muso-quiz show Never Mind The Buzzcocks just recently and took the piss out of a lame Bryan Adams video...big ups to him for that!! HMV has been offering a few older Marillion re-issue titles (just the single-disc versions from 2000--not the double discs with all of the 12" singles, B-sides, etc.) in their bargain section..so I've been snapping up a few here and there--can't beat it for £5!!! See ya soon!!