While the U.K.'s Marillion aren't the best-known rock band in the 21st century, they've influenced many acts that followed in their wake, directly or indirectly, from Porcupine Tree and Radiohead to the Pineapple Thief and Gazpacho. They are rightfully credited with having established the neo-prog subgenre, and have explored many types of music over the decades that, thanks to their expert musicianship, have celebrated their long, inventive passages for electric guitars and keyboards. Though they landed as an outlier on the U.K. post-punk music scene during the early '80s as throwbacks to the Peter Gabriel-era Genesis sound -- thanks in no small part to their flamboyant original lead vocalist Fish (Derek Dick) -- by the time they released their sophomore outing, Fugazi, in 1984 they were a Top Five-charting, gold-certified act, and Fugazi's follow-up, Misplaced Childhood, went straight to number one on the pop charts, much to the chagrin of the British music press. After Fish left the band in the late '80s and was replaced by Steve Hogarth -- himself a unique and imposing song stylist and lyricist -- they became an enduring international recording and touring phenomenon who have sold more than 15 million albums and host fan clubs in ten nations. Leaving EMI after 1995's concept album Brave, the band helped pioneer the development of fan-funded music via their own labels Intact, Racket Records, and their fan club imprint Front Row. Touring resumed in 1997. Though Fish left the group, Marillion's music has remained on the progressive, artful side of rock, and has evolved to embrace post-punk pop, indie, experimental rock, and even funk and electronica, as evidenced by 2017's FEAR. Each album is different from its predecessor. Despite their success, they regard themselves as a "best-kept secret."
The group formed in Aylesbury, England in 1979 and adopted its original name, Silmarillion, from the title of a J.R.R. Tolkien novel. Initially, Marillion comprised guitarist Steve Rothery, bassist Doug Irvine, keyboardist Brian Jelliman, and drummer Mick Pointer, but after recording "The Web," an instrumental demo, they recruited vocalist Fish (born Derek Dick) and bassist Diz Minnitt. Prior to recording their debut single, "Market Square Heroes," keyboardist Mark Kelly and bassist Pete Trewavas replaced Jelliman and Minnitt.
Marillion issued their debut album, Script for a Jester's Tear, in 1983, and on the strength of a relentless touring schedule they won a loyal following. With new drummer Ian Mosley (formerly of Curved Air) firmly in place, they returned to the studio for 1984's Fugazi, which streamlined the intricacies of the group's prog rock leanings in favor of a more straight-ahead hard rock identity; the refinements paid off, and both "Assassin" and "Punch and Judy" became British hits. With 1985's Misplaced Childhood, an elaborate conceptual album reflecting Fish's formative experiences, Marillion earned their greatest success to date: the lush ballad "Kayleigh" reached the number two position on the U.K. charts, 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. After 1987's Clutching at Straws (and the 1988 live effort The Thieving Magpie), Fish left the band for a solo career.
The initial release of post-Fish Marillion did not substantially alter the sound the band had displayed on Misplaced Childhood and Clutching at Straws. The addition of lyricist John Helmer and lyricist/vocalist Steve Hogarth came after the band had developed much of the musical material for Season's End, and few alterations in style were made. The follow-up, Holidays in Eden, was intended as a more mainstream rock album but failed to attract a wider audience. Marillion's record label, EMI, gave the band a higher budget for the next album and the result of 15 months of labor was Brave, a concept album that mixed classic symphonic progressive rock with standard rock. The following release, Afraid of Sunlight, considerably altered the band's approach with great success -- it is the most consistent Marillion release to date.
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 in 1997, Marillion's style changed again to a softer sound.
After the release of This Strange Engine, Marillion scheduled a European tour, but keyboardist Kelly posted an online message stating that the band would not tour the United States due to a lack of record company support. Fans worldwide joined forces to raise over $60,000 to underwrite the tour, and the group undertook its largest North American tour since Holidays in Eden. In 1998, they returned to the studio to record their tenth album, Radiation. Again changing styles, the effort showed the influences of the Beatles and Radiohead, specifically OK Computer. Marillion.com followed in 1999, and the early part of the new century saw the release of two additional studio albums, 2001's Anoraknophobia and 2004's Marbles, the latter displaying the influences of both U2 and Pink Floyd. While both of these albums were closely followed by themed live releases, the second of these -- 2005's Marbles Live -- featured on-stage renditions that were arguably stronger than their comparative studio takes.
Breaking away from the meticulous approach to production offered by longtime collaborator Dave Meegan, Marillion employed Michael Hunter in 2007 to oversee the recording of their 14th studio album, Somewhere Else. In terms of sales, it was their most successful release in almost a decade and featured the U.K. hit single "Thank You Whoever You Are." In 2008, Hunter also produced their ambitious two-volume work, Happiness Is the Road, before a back-to-basics, self-recorded acoustic album -- Less Is More -- was issued the following year, featuring pared-down versions of post-1994 Marillion material. Their next full-blown studio album was 2012's politically motivated Sounds That Can't Be Made, which included the sprawling 17-minute "Gaza." The following year a live performance from their 2013 bi-annual weekend festival in Port Zelande, Netherlands, was recorded. Titled A Sunday Night Above the Rain, the album was expected to be released in 2014. The band's provocatively titled 18th studio album FEAR (Fuck Everyone and Run) would arrive in 2016, coinciding with a world tour throughout the second half of the year to promote its release. Early in 2017, Marillion delivered the live Marbles in the Park, a double-disc performance of the complete album during the 2015 Marillion Weekend at Center Parcs, Port Zelande, Netherlands. Later that year, they put out the four-track live EP Living in FEAR ahead of their first-ever performance at the Royal Albert Hall. In 2017, Marillion issued a deluxe multi-disc audio/video version of Misplaced Childhood remixed by Steven Wilson, followed by the catalog titles Brave (also Wilson) and Clutching at Straws (remixed by Andy Bradfield & Avril Mackintosh) in 2018. The following year saw the band issue With Friends from the Orchestra, a nine-track studio set of re-imagined Marillion classics accompanied by the In Praise of Folly String Quartet with Sam Morris (French horn) and Emma Halnan (flute). ~ Jason Ankeny & Dale Jensen