“Melded with a complex and subtle musical tapestry,” WK “Marillion emerged from the short-lived progressive rock revival of the early ‘80s” AJ known as “neo-progressive,” WK “to become one of the most enduring cult acts of the era.” AJ
“Marillion was initially formed as an instrumental band in 1979 by guitarist Steve Rothery…, drummer Mick Pointer, bassist Doug Irvine, and keyboard player Brian Jelliman.” JB The band took their name from J.R.R. Tolkien’s book The Silmarillion, shortening it “to Marillion in 1980, following the threat of legal action from the Tolkien estate.” WK “Due to heavy rotation in the first years, Steve Rothery is the only remaining original member.” WK
“Irvine began singing in 1980 on the group’s first demos, but a year later Marillion invited Fish to join as vocalist.” JB Fish gave the band its identity with his “poetic and introspective lyrics” WK and “strong Peter Gabriel-inspired vocals,” JB which, along with elaborate stage costuming and makeup, “enforced critics’ accusations that Marillion owed more than just a heavy debt to Genesis.” JB
“The combination of imaginative, enthralling music and image filled lyrics soon found favour amongst their expanding fan base and journalists who had tired of some of the more formulaic music that dogged the live scene of the time. Several sold out nights at the legendary Marquee club forced the record labels to recognise the impact of their music and a deal with EMI was quickly signed.” MC
Script and Fugazi
Fish & Co. released their first single, Market Square Heroes, in 1982 and their debut album, Script for a Jester’s Tear, which “ranks as one of the most accomplished debut albums of any progressive rock bands” WK followed in 1983.
By this time, the band had gone through a couple more shake ups. Doug Irvine left the group and, after a brief stint by bassist Diz Minnett, was replaced by Pete Trewavas. In addition, Mark Kelly signed on as the new keyboardist after Brian Jelliman departed. After a series of short-lived drummers, the band also settled in on Ian Mosley, who, along with Trewavas and Kelly became mainstays in the group from then on.
“Fugazi, the second album, was not of the same quality (mostly because of apparently ridiculous production circumstances), but contained sophisticated song material” WK and “streamlined the intricacies of the group's prog rock leanings in favor of a more straight-ahead hard rock identity.” AJ The album’s singles, “Assassing and Punch and Judy became British hits.” AJ
Marillion’s “third and commercially most successful album, Misplaced Childhood, was quite possibly their most cohesive work.” WK Although “considered hideously unfashionable at the time,” WK the band undertook “the brave decision to create a concept album” WK “reflecting Fish's formative experiences.” AJ The gamble “paid off, with great success both for the album (which was number one in the UK) and for the singles spawned from the album. One of these, Kayleigh, charted at #2 in the United Kingdom” WK “and became a hit in the U.S. as well. The follow-up, Lavender, was also a smash, but the group began crumbling: Fish developed alcohol and drug problems, and egos ran rampant.” AJ
Clutching at Straws
“The fourth album, Clutching at Straws, also followed a concept,” WK delving into Fish’s substance abuse issues. The album “did not quite achieve the same popularity [but] the lyrics remained as clever as ever, with the song Warm Wet Circles arguably representing the most carefully crafted piece of poetry in the entire genre.” WK
Fish Replaced by Hogarth
“Musical difficulties between Fish and the band caused him to leave after 1988’s [double live album] Thieving Magpie (La Gazza Ladra).” JB Marillion had “already recorded demos of the next studio album.” WK Those “demo sessions…with Fish vocals and lyrics [are] on the bonus disc of the remastered version of Clutching at Straws…the lyrics [also] found their way into various Fish solo albums such as his first solo album, Vigil In a Wilderness of Mirrors, some snippets on his second, Internal Exile and even a line or two [on] his third album, Suits.” WK
Meanwhile Fish’s former bandmates “turned to [Steve] Hogarth, the former keyboardist and sometimes vocalist of The Europeans.” WK He was “quite similar in sound and style to Fish himself.” JB “Hogarth set to work, crafting new lyrics to existing songs with lyricist and author John Helmer.” WK
Seasons and Holidays
The subsequent album became Seasons End and, like its four Fish-predecessors, landed Marillion in the top 10 album charts in the U.K. The next album, Holidays in Eden, would do the same, but then Marillion were in for a long commercial drought. The latter, “considered to be Marillion’s most commercial and mainstream album” WK featured songs Hogarth “wrote in partnership with the band [as well as] the song Dry Land which Hogarth had written and recorded in a previous project with the band How We Live.
Another Concept Album
“Marillion's record label, EMI, gave the band a higher budget for the next album and the result of 15 months labor was Brave, a concept album that mixed classic symphonic progressive rock with standard rock.” AJ The album “marked the start of the band's long time relationship with producer Dave Meegan. An independent film based on the album, which featured the band, was also released. While critically acclaimed, it did poorly commercially, but it is now considered to be one of the best progressive rock albums to come out of the ‘90s.” WK
Sunlight, Solo Efforts, and a Softer Sound
The next album, Afraid of Sunlight, “considerably altered the band's approach with great success – it is the most consistent Marillion release to date.” AJ Still, “it became the band's last album with record label EMI.” WK “One track of note…is Out of This World, a song about Donald Campbell, who died while trying to set a speed record on water. The song, in turn, inspired an effort to recover both Campbell and the Bluebird K7, the boat which Campbell crashed in…The recovery was realized in 2001, and…Hogarth and Steve Rothery were invited to the occasion.” WK
“Following Afraid of Sunlight, the bandmembers split up briefly to record side projects. Hogarth released Ice Cream Genius under the name H, Rothery formed the Wishing Tree (which produced Carnival of Souls), and Mosley and Trewavas joined Iris for Crossing the Desert. The Rothery and Hogarth projects were both very acoustic in nature, and when the band re-formed for This Strange Engine…Marillion's style changed again to a softer sound.” AJ
“What follows is a string of albums and events that saw Marillion struggling to find their place in the music business. This Strange Engine was released in 1997 with little promotion from their new label.” WK “Marillion scheduled a European tour, but keyboardist Kelly posted an Internet message stating that the band would not tour the United States due to a lack of record company support. Fans of the band worldwide joined forces to raise over $60,000 to underwrite the tour, and the band undertook its largest North American tour since Holidays in Eden.” AJ “The band's loyal fanbase, combined with the Internet, would eventually become vital to the band's existence.” WK
“Tenth album Radiation saw the band taking a drastically different approach in an effort to sound more modern and reflect the influence of more modern bands like Radiohead,” WK “specifically OK Computer.” AJ “The album was received by fans with mixed reactions.” WK Marillion.com the following year “flagged their newly launched web-site and record label” MC “and showed some progression in the new direction.” WK
”The band, still unhappy with their record label situation, decided that it would be worth tapping into their loyal fanbase” WK again. “The revolutionary concept of asking their fans to pre-order and pay for the recording costs an album some 12 months in advance of its release…hit the headlines in 2001.” MC “Over 12,000…fans pre-ordered and an additional deal was struck with EMI to market the resulting Anoraknophobia album.” MC “This allowed Marillion to retain all the rights to their music while enjoying commercial distribution.” WK
Their First Double Album
“The success of Anoraknophobia allowed the band to start recording their next album, but they decided to leverage their fanbase once again to help raise money towards marketing and promotion of a new album. The band put up the album for pre-order in mid-production, and the fans once again responded overwhelmingly.” WK “Displaying the influences of both U2 and Pink Floyd,” AJ Marillion’s thirteenth album, Marbles, was “intense…musically rewarding” MC and “packed full of atmospheric and stirring songs.” MC It “was released in 2004 with a 2-CD version…only available at Marillion’s website. As a thank-you gesture to the 17,000 fans who pre-ordered Marbles, their names were credited in the sleeve notes.” WK
The fan-funded marketing campaign met with astonishing success, landing “the singles You're Gone and Don't Hurt Yourself [on] the UK Chart in the Top 10 and Top 20 respectively…Following this, they released a download-only single, The Damage (live), recorded at the band’s sell-out gig at the London Astoria. It was the highest new entry in the new download chart at number 2. All this has succeeded in putting the band back in the public consciousness, making the campaign a success.” WK
2007 saw the release of Marillion’s 14th studio album, Somewhere Else. Once again, Marillion went to the fans to promote the album, offering them a first-week-only promo DVD with three live songs from the album. Marillion also hit up fans to buy digital downloads of lead single See It Like a Baby. Now that digital downloads counted toward singles sales on the UK chart, the hope was to do even better than the last time out and land a #1 song. Alas, the song peaked at a mere #45 in its first week out with many of Marillion’s fans saying they didn’t buy downloads.
Another Double Album
Marillion went back to the studio quickly after Somewhere Else and went to work on their second double album. Released as two separate albums, known as Essence and The Hard Shoulder, the set focused on a disc’s worth of more introspective material and a disc of more straightforward fare respectively. Once again, Marillion proved their grasp of the digital age with an official release of the album through a P2P site that let people download the album for free. They also posted a free download of the song Whatever Is Wrong with You and let people create videos for the song and upload them on to YouTube for a contest to see which video would get the most viewings.
Revisiting Old Material
In 2009, the band released Less Is More. The album was a collection of newly recorded versions of some of their songs in a more acoustic setting.