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Live Albums Reissued Mark Eglinton , July 24th, 2009 08:49

When Chaucer conceived his Canterbury Tales back in the 14th Century he failed to mention that somewhere among the procession (between the Miller and the Shipman maybe) was a small group of unusual Scotsmen best known for fronting mad progressive rock bands. Ian Anderson was there of course; all crazy eyed while standing flute in hand and on one leg in a bucket, wearing a garland of rotting fish entrails. Tagging along close-by was one Derek Dick, aka Fish; a seemingly eight foot tall mulleted Frankenstein type figure lathered in garish greasepaint. Anderson was and is Jethro Tull, and Fish was Marillion. The problem is that the latter have continued for an amazing twenty years since the band’s undoubted talisman picked up his ball and went home.

The band were originally called Silmarillion after Tolkien’s novel of the same name, and their early work was characterised by Fish’s sometimes introspective, and always poetic lyrics, fused to an intricate musical style derived largely from bands like early Genesis, Pink Floyd and Yes. Though he was no vocal virtuoso and had a tendency to squawk, Fish more than made up for that with sheer presence, and as a live force his physical form simply demanded attention and respect. For many, Marillion started and finished with Fish; and these live re-issues are as good a document of that era as anything previously available.

Recorded at the then Hammersmith Odeon in April 1983 Recital of the Script is an excellent quality rendition of the band’s first album Script For a Jester’s Tear with a couple of B-sides from that era thrown in for good measure. Split into two discs due to the length of some tracks ' 'The Web’ alone accounting for twelve minutes - it’s the start of what would become the band’s heyday and Fish himself deems this to be one of their finest shows, according to interesting 'sleeve-notes’ updated for this release. What shone through too, even at this early stage, was the singer’s theatrical and almost mythical persona on stage, and fans of the band would soon be hanging on his every uttered word.

Live in Lorely; another two-disc affair, picks the band up in Germany in 1987 and features tracks from all the band’s studio albums to date, including chart invading cheese- ballad 'Kayleigh’. Seemingly, band animosity was at a high-point by now but you’d never know it because it’s another polished live show. The only possible gripe being that it sounds like no-one bothered to turn up. Lack of crowd noise is no bad thing, though, because between tracks Fish is more than keen to get his political point across in typically gruff brogue, giving particular attention to the Northern Ireland’s conflict on the classic 'Forgotten Sons’.

Pick of the three is The Thieving Magpie (La Gazza Ladra) originally released after Fish’s departure in 1988.This re-issue adds a live rendition of the second part of the studio album Misplaced Childhood to the second side, and from beginning to end it’s simply the ultimate live document of the Fish era. As such, it serves to reinforce the fact that this really is HIS band. Every facet of what made Marillion a powerful live force is there: Fish’s mesmerising presence amid a band sounding tighter than two coats of paint, led by Steve Rothery’s always underrated guitar work. Spanning all the early era’s studio albums, it’s the musical equivalent of Fish’s erect middle finger being raised to a band with whom he could no longer co-exist. Fans of Steve Hogarth-era Marillion may beg to differ but this ten or so year soundtrack to skint existences in many a seedy bedsit was the band’s creative zenith.