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Marillion, 'Market Square Heroes'

Market Square Heroes EP  (1982,  26.08)  **/T

Market Square Heroes
Three Boats Down From the Candy
Grendel
V/A, 'Reading Rock Volume One'

Reading Rock Volume One  (1982)  ***/T½

[Marillion contribute]
He Knows You Know
Three Boats Down From the Candy

Current availability:

Mellotrons used:

I'm afraid to say that with Marillion, you're just run into my bête noir (along with Asia, that is). I saw the band several times between '82 and '86, and was never less than thoroughly unimpressed; simplistic song structures, dodgy musicianship and dodgier lyrics, and that's just for starters. They started off, of course, as the Tolkien-inspired Silmarillion, in 1979, replacing original bassist/vocalist Doug Irvine in late 1980, but not before recording a couple of demos at The Enid's studio in Hertfordshire, reviews below.

As I've ranted elsewhere, I feel that many of Marillion's contemporaries were far better bands, but of course, none of them had a vocalist with as much sheer charisma as Fish. Upon a recent playing of a live tape from mid-'82, it's amazing just what a great rapport he had with his audience; he frequently kept the crowd amused for several minutes between songs and was genuinely funny and engaging, not to mention obviously highly intelligent. Now, this is the crux of the matter; it seems to me that the vast majority of the ticket and record-buying audience is far more impressed with how well the singer comes across than any minor points regarding the quality of the music. If that makes me a snob, so be it, but on re-listening to the Market Square Heroes EP, the band's first professional recording, I was staggered by how awful it is. The title track is a jolly but slight 'let's all have a good leap around the dancefloor' type of thing; OK in its way, but nothing startling. Three Boats Down From The Candy, a tale of illicit sex, is overly simplistic, with only one halfway decent melodic idea, lacking any particular sophistication. Genesis it ain't.

Marillion with M400, 1981

However, both these songs are pure genius in comparison with the EP's near-18 minute b-side. Grendel is stunning in its awfulness. I've heard an awful lot of bad prog over the years, but rarely have I heard an 'epic' of this degree of ineptitude. It manages a whole two decent melodies this time, one of which is the opening guitar figure; perfectly pleasant, in a cod-medieval kind of way. Unfortunately, it quickly lurches into a clichéd descending riff, where it stays for what must be seven or eight minutes. Now, I'm sure I'll be told that I've completely missed the point here, and what I should be doing is dissecting the lyrics; basically, a retelling of a portion of the ancient Norse saga of Beowulf. That's all well and good, but a) they're sung quietly and not printed on the sleeve, and b) who gives a fuck anyway? Given the choice, I prefer good lyrics to bad, but especially with prog, the music always comes first.

If you thought it was bad up to this point, wait and see what happens. After a bit of messing about, the band stumble unevenly into one of the funniest moments in over thirty years of progressive rock history (and yes, that includes the 'concept' behind Yes' Tales From Topographic Oceans). A complete, UTTER rip-off of the Apocalypse In 9/8 (from Genesis' Supper's Ready, of course), played shockingly lumpenly in 4/4. Oh dear. The Apocalypse In 4/4, anyone? This is farcical; Fish himself has been known to remark that he couldn't believe they had the gall to do it. So why did he sing the bloody thing? Respect is due to him for leaving the band; no wonder he's expressed a keen desire never to sing this 'song' again. Anyway, after chundering through the riff for several geological epochs, they finally stumble across a second halfway decent melody, then proceed to bludgeon it to death. There's a nice key change somewhere around this point, but that's the nearest the 'piece' gets to sophistication.

Grendel has achieved mythic status among Marillion fans, being accorded the kind of respect that should be directed towards many far more deserving cases. Their vast fan-base would almost certainly come en masse were they ever to even vaguely hint at the possibility of playing it again, and I don't just mean go to the gig. You know, I tried to approach the track with an open mind, but it took less than two minutes for me to give up trying; it's appalling. The only 'epic' of theirs I feel even the slightest affinity with is Forgotten Sons from their first album, Script for a Jester's Tear (pretentious? US??!), but even that is deeply flawed, and not remotely in the same league as the bands they openly admired, specifically Genesis.

Oh, before I forget, this is meant to be a review of the EP's Mellotron content, isn't it? I was enjoying myself so much it had entirely slipped my mind. Three Boats featured some strings live, but all I can hear on the studio version are a few flute chords, and Grendel has (maybe) a few bars of strings, and some choirs here and there. All the 'Tron parts are badly recorded and I really wouldn't go out of your way unless you're a Marillion fan already, in which case you're bound to have these tracks anyway. Both tracks are apparently available on the recent three-disc The Singles: 1982-1988. Torture.

Well, that was a lot of writing for something I dislike so much, wasn't it? Please feel free to shoot me down in flames if you dislike this review; I remain unswervingly unapologetic. Go and listen to something good instead.

Oh, before I forget, the band contributed two tracks to 1982's Reading Rock Volume One (and only, as it happens). As I said in the album's review:

"...despite the shoddy drumming (poor old Mick); (he very noticeably speeds up on He Knows You Know)... ...Kelly, in probably one of the last times he used their Mellotron in anger, adds strings to He Knows You Know (replaced by synth on the following year's album version, of course) and the same string part to Three Boats Down From The Candy as on the Market Square Heroes EP".

None of which makes this an especially desirable period piece, frankly, although it does provide us with the only officially-released evidence of the band's Mellotron use; 2008's six-disc set, Early Stages (Official Bootleg Box Set 1982-1987), begins mere months after they stopped using it.

unreleased

Demo  (1979,  11.54)  **½/T

Lady Fantasy
Alice

Demo  (1980,  21.53)  **½/T

Close
Lady Fantasy
Alice

Mellotrons used:

Marillion's first and third demos both feature smatterings of their Mellotron and, since neither could be considered to've been 'released', in the usual sense of the word, here they are. Now, basic though they are, they're no worse than plenty of other demos made by bands at a similar level at the time, which is why they get not-too-awful ratings. Both tapes include Lady Fantasy (nothing to do with the Camel track) and Alice, a piece that eventually became the end section of their debut album's Forgotten Sons, while the second recording adds Close, later to become The Web. There's little to choose between the versions of the repeated tracks, although the later versions probably show slightly more energy; all concerned are a bit rough, to say the least. How did this band end up playing Wembley Arena?

On the Mellotron front, keys man Brian Jelliman (replaced by Mark Kelly in 1981) plays dodgo string synth and cheapy mono (Yamaha) throughout, with bursts of Mellotron choir towards the end of both versions of Alice and Lady Fantasy. Both demos are easily available on, er, the Web (also on bootlegs, of course: see below), although, unlike some bands, I can't see Marillion ever making their very early work available officially. There was another, more professional Marillion demo in '81, but the Mellotron's nowhere to be seen.

albums
Marillion, 'Brave'

Brave  (1994,  70.59)  **½

Bridge
Living With the Big Lie
Runaway
Goodbye to All That
  (I) Wave
  (II) Mad
  (III) The Opium Den
  (IV) The Slide
  (V) Standing in the Swing

Hard as Love
The Hollow Man
Alone Again in the Lap of Luxury
  Now Wash Your Hands
Paper Lies
Brave
The Great Escape
  (I) The Last of You
  (II) Falling From the Moon

Made Again
Marillion, 'This Strange Engine'

This Strange Engine  (1997,  56.47)  **½

A Man of a Thousand Faces
One Fine Day
80 Days
Estonia
Memory of Water
An Accidental Man
Hope for the Future
This Strange Engine
Marillion, 'Radiation'

Radiation  (1998,  47.50)  ***

Costa del Slough
Under the Sun
The Answering Machine
Three Minute Boy
Now She'll Never Know
These Chains
Born to Run
Cathedral Wall
A Few Words for the Dead

Current availability:

As you'll have gathered from my reviews above, I hold Marillion chiefly responsible for the wave of ugly neo-prog that vandalised European progressive rock in the '80s and '90s and for once, I believe they really are culpable, unlike many bands subsequently ripped off by lesser outfits. Pourquoi? Because they actually initiated a low form of prog, all style and little substance; a band who had heard plenty of prog, but had no idea how to write it. After our fishy friend departed the fold in the late '80s, the band regrouped with the vocally superior (though charismatically inferior) Steve Hogarth at the mic, re-inventing themselves as peddlers of a hideous kind of indie/prog crossover that should never have existed, trying to be Radiohead, but sounding more like an AOR Talk Talk. Nasty.

After two albums with Hogarth, the band took a slight breather, deciding to 'return to their roots' with 1994's Brave, a full-length concept effort about an amnesiac girl found wandering along the Severn Bridge (a fictional account of a true story). Brave effort, chaps, beats Clutching at Straws any day, which appears to be a concept album about getting pissed. Unfortunately, it's as dull as ditchwater; in fairness, it has its moments, mostly provided by 'Big' Steve Rothery, actually a fine guitarist when the mood takes him, but most of its seventy-minute length witters on to no great effect and no, I don't care how many people think it's 'one of the thirty greatest concept albums ever', or some such bollocks. Actually, it almost scraped three stars, as the bulk of the album doesn't actually offend, but the last ten or fifteen minutes drag so badly that it lost that all-important half star, the one that separates the 'tolerable' from the 'drab'. Mark Kelly apparently sampled a real Mellotron sometime in the early '90s, using the resulting samples on several tracks here, with obvious strings on Hard As Love, The Hollow Man, Alone Again In The Lap Of Luxury and a couple of other tracks, plus possible flutes and choir in places. Nothing to get too excited about, but nice to hear the sounds used properly by the band for once.

After 1995's shockingly bland (and samplotron-free) Afraid of Sunlight (**), '97's This Strange Engine was a bit of a comeback for the band, although for reasons known only to himself, Hogarth starts the album off by trying to sound like The Waterboys' Mike Scott. Actually, The Waterboys are an intermittent influence throughout, although the bulk of the album is safe, conformist, slightly proggy AOR: music for adults, but who wants to be an adult? Er... The guitar solo on the title track is one of the album's nicer moments, while the last minute of the lengthy closing title track is pretty full-on, but the better bits are few and far between, sadly. Samplotron strings on A Man Of A Thousand Faces and One Fine Day, but only just. Incidentally, the fourteen minutes of silence between the end of the title track and a minute or so of studio messing about have been removed from the above timing.

The following year's Radiation, while bland, is by no means terrible, material like the Hammond-heavy Under The Sun, the rocky The Answering Machine and the proggy Cathedral Wall raise the bar somewhat. Samplotron-wise, I'm not at all sure about the strings on a couple of tracks, but the flutes on Now She'll Never Know are a definite. Generally speaking, though, I can't honestly recommend any of these; even a compilation of the entire Hogarth era (what am I saying? Their entire career!) would be a pretty slim document.

bootlegs
Marillion, 'Early Demos & Sessions, 1979-1981'

Early Demos & Sessions, 1979-1981  (104.19)  **½/T

Lady Fantasy
Alice

The Haunting of Gill House
Herne the Hunter
Scott's Porridge
Close
Lady Fantasy
Alice
Close
The Web
Time for Sale
Skyline Drifter
He Knows You Know
Garden Party
Charting the Single
Marillion, 'Early Demos & Sessions, 1979-1981'

Sessions, Demo's & Outtakes  (recorded 1980-82, 77.50)  **½/T½

Close
Lady Fantasy
Alice

The Web
He Knows You Know
Garden Party
Charting the Single
Institution Waltz
I Know What I Like
The Web
Forgotten Sons
Market Square Heroes
Marillion, 'Fish's First Practise'

Fish's First Practise  (recorded February 1981,  83.07)  **/½

Time for Sale
Madcap's Embrace
Grendel
Snow Angel
Skyline Drifter
The Web
Herne the Hunter
Garden Party
Marillion, 'Kelly's Heroes'

Kelly's Heroes: Elgiva Hall, Chesham, 20th November 1981  (70.45)  **½/T

Garden Party
Forgotten Sons
Charting the Single
He Knows, You Know
Grendel
Intro

The Web
Margaret
Garden Party
Marillion, 'Aylesbury Friars, 20.2.82.'

Friars, Aylesbury, 20th February 1982  (50.25)  **½/TT

The Web
Garden Party
The Institution Waltz
Three Boats Down From the Candy
Forgotten Sons

Margaret
Charting the Single

Mellotrons used:

Of course, reviewing bootlegs for their Mellotronic content is not only a lengthy procedure, but a frequently futile one; exactly how many live recordings do you bother playing before realising you're merely covering familiar ground? Easy when you're talking about bands of the live consistency of, say, Led Zeppelin, but when a fledgling outfit plays songs differently almost night to night, never mind month to month, the situation becomes a little more nebulous. And as for bootleg compilations... Overlap, miscredits (deliberate and otherwise), even, occasionally, recordings by completely different artists, all muddy the waters to the point where slack-jawed dribbling seems like the only sensible option. As if anything could make matters worse, the subject in question is the lamentably untalented Marillion...

We begin this survey with one such, sometimes known as Early Demos & Sessions, 1979-1981, a two-disc set covering no fewer than six different demo sessions and two tracks pointlessly excerpted from Fish's First Practise (below), proving my point regarding overlap. It's the most easily-available source of the demos reviewed above, not to mention two less well-known ones (from March and November 1980) and what I believe is their first openly-available tape (and, by a long way, the best recording here), from July '81. Unfortunately, unless you're something of a mega-fan, multiple versions of the same pieces have a curiously soporific effect, as does much of the music, its simplistic arrangements drowned in cheap string synth and (at least pre-Fish) utterly characterless vocals. Mellotron? A mere four tracks, in fact, the same ones reviewed above. So why have I even bothered reviewing this? Fucked if I know. Because, as mentioned above, it's the easiest way to source the relevant tracks, for what it's worth.

Sessions, Demo's & Outtakes, from 1980-82, heavily overlaps the above, but has the advantage of only being a single-disc set and only repeating one song. Tracks one to seven have already been covered, eight and nine are supposedly from a (suspiciously hi-fidelity) rehearsal tape, ten and eleven are from their BBC Friday Rock Show session and twelve is an early (and inferior) version of their debut single. Of the 'new' material, Institution Waltz isn't a bad effort, adding Mellotron strings to the version the average fan will know, although their brave, yet foolhardy stab at Genesis' I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe) is terrible, all concerned getting it hilariously wrong in the chorus. Are you all fucking deaf? The only other Mellotronic incursion is some choirs towards the end of the BBC take on Forgotten Sons, a good version of one of the band's better tracks.

The aforementioned Fish's First Practise (also known as Fish's First Rehearsal) is, unsurprisingly, nothing of the sort, unless the estimable Mr Dick's talents extended to sounding like he'd been doing this for months on his first tryout. It's clearly a rehearsal from some way into his tenure (allegedly February or March '81), the band running through their current set, including fairly complete versions of Grendel, the Web and Garden Party, plus a new version of demo regular Alice, retitled Snow Angel (prior to becoming Forgotten Sons' end section) and a handful of others, familiar snippets rising out of the arrangements in places. Brian Jelliman barely touches the Mellotron, oddly, with naught but background strings around Grendel's mid-point and background choirs on Herne The Hunter, unless it's buried under the ubiquitous cheap string synth elsewhere.

The band played at Elgiva Hall, in Chesham, a small town to the north of London on 20th November 1981. The resulting audience recording has become known as Kelly's Heroes, in punning honour of the 1970 film, although it was actually Jelliman's last gig, Mark Kelly watching from the audience. The change in their setlist from the beginning of that year is startling, vastly more professional, every number played that night ultimately being released in one form or another, although He Knows, You Know, would be heavily rewritten. Given that the Mellotron isn't the most portable of keyboards, it's surprising just how little it's (obviously) used, Jelliman balancing the tape selector between the strings and choir at a couple of points in Grendel, with a few seconds of choir under Fish's intro to The Web, which is the only reason it's listed here as a separate track.

The band's set at their spiritual home, the legendary Aylesbury Friars, suffers from the usual Marillion-related problems, viz the ropey playing (honourable exception: Mr. Rothery) and a chronic lack of imagination in the arrangement dept. I know Kelly had a limited keyboard setup, but slathering block string synth/cheap organ chords over everything, not to mention wild overuse of that 'bap, bap, bapbapbap' bass rhythm simply sounds amateurish; did they ever go back to the previous decade's classic albums and actually LISTEN to what Genesis et al. were actually doing? Tiresomely dull, although the most Mellotron use on any boot I've heard: opener The Web kicks off with a slurry string part, with background string chords on The Institution Waltz, more upfront ones (as on its eventual recording) on Three Boats Down From The Candy and background choirs on Forgotten Sons.

I'm sure there's more Marillion bootleg Mellotron action, but whether or not there are any relevant tracks not covered here is a moot point. It doesn't sound like there's anything on a Glasgow Mayfair gig from May '82, although I'm not sure whether it had actually been officially retired at that point. Anyway, ploughing through six Marillion boots (including the unlisted Glasgow one) is definitely above and beyond the call of duty, I feel. If you like the band, you've probably got these, but if you feel more like I do regarding their musical 'qualities', you'd be advised to steer well clear.

links

Official site

See: Samples | Transatlantic | Reading Festival


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