Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Script For A Jester’s Tear (Side A)

Cover Art By Mark Wilkinson

Greetings, Glancers! I hope whoever reads this nonsense has been enjoying it so far, because there is plenty more to come. In this post, I find myself finally delving into the first Marillion album, the ludicrously titled Script For A Jester’s Tear. Why is it a single tear? Or is it tear, as in ‘hark! The jester has a tear in his codpiece, and I can see his fiddle’?

As I mentioned last time around, that title conjures up a hundred images and songs that I’ve already seen and heard – everything from Blind Guardian’s Script For My Requiem to CITV’s Knightmare. I don’t think Paul and Sanja have suggested in their previous episodes that this album is an extension of the sound of the four songs we’ve covered so far, but that seems like an educated guess. Paul has mentioned that the Pre-album songs and the first album form some sort of mini phase for the band, a phase which doesn’t continue beyond this album, so I can only assume it’s more of the same. Not that the four songs I’ve heard have had too many blatant common threads running through them. Beyond a couple of their biggest hits I don’t know what other sounds and styles to expect from the band, but I’ll gamble that this isn’t their Viking Metal Deathcore album.

The podcast is split into two episodes, one for each side of the album – meaning either (or both) that there is much to talk about or that the album is very long. Wikipedia tells me that… it’s only 46 minutes long, which is about bang average. It also tells me that the album went Platinum, charted at seven in the UK, and features two Top 40 Singles, neither of which I believe I’ve heard. In today’s post, I’ll cover Side A, which is the title track, He Knows You Know, and The Web. Maybe it will be a shorter post…

If you’re new to all this, my process is that I listen to the songs a few times before checking out the lyrics and writing my thoughts. Then I listen to the related episode of Between You And Me to hear what Paul and Sanja think of it all, before returning with final thoughts. Maybe what they say will make me re-evaluate whatever my initial opinions are. Or maybe I’m too stubborn to be changed. First up, is the almost nine minute title track.

Spoiler alert – my first thought halfway through my first listen of the opening number was ‘I think this is my favourite Marillion song yet’, quickly followed by ‘I hope the rest of the album is as good as this’. It really is a wonderful little mini-epic. It has as many tonal and melodic shifts as Grendel but it pinched me on a greater emotional level. Some of the slower sections didn’t do as much for me, but they didn’t bring down my enjoyment of the song as much as the slower equivalent pieces did on Grendel (which wasn’t a great deal to be fair). I’ll call it out now – I have absolutely nothing against slow sections of songs, I’m not some sort of jacked up speed freak, just in these two songs in particular those pieces weren’t as delicious as the rest. Like the chocolate on a Toffee Pop is the least delicious part – if that was Lindt, I’d be a five pack a day guy.

I’ll touch more on lyrics once I read those later, but the first time I listened to the song through my Echo Dot, the vocals were clearer – except for the one line I picked up in my initial listens ‘I’m losing on the swings/I’m losing on the roundabouts’ instead sounded like ‘I’m losing all my swings/I’m losing all my underpants’. Which is clearly the better line.

The song’s subdued, yearning opening is reminiscent of quite a few Prog album opening tracks – a quiet opening which expands to something greater. Fish’s vocals in the opening have a touch of Dave Gilmour, but without the rasp. It’s mainly Fish accompanied by piano, and he seems to be singing of the past, and maybe by extent, regret? Some sort of flute type instrument (which is probably keyboard) comes through to accompany a more forceful vocal before the underpants section begins. I had a minor shock at the initial transition to a louder dynamic when I first listened, because I thought the song was heading towards some faux-reggae/Madness sound. Instead though, the fingerless leather gloves come out and we dive headlong into a full blown 80s anthemic, fist pumping section. A younger me would have been throwing the cushions from the sofas to the ground and leaping across them playing a rock star version of The Floor Is Lava if I’d heard this when I was a kid. Before Mummy came with the wooden spoon. That’s the sort of nonsense I got up to.

The quiet section already mentioned is fine – I enjoy the tingling guitar and the woo-eee-woo-ee sounds which intersect these moments, but the transition out of this part is a little odd, with an off-kilter change of note in the vocal. I can live with that, as it moves into a mournful yet inspirational final minute or so where I feel like the truth of the lyric comes out, the repeated refrain of ‘Do you love me’ shedding light on the song and album title.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the opening track, or the album – was it going to be similar to the songs I’d heard so far, was it going to be a concept album of mood and music, or more socially investigative like Queensryche. From the opener at least, it’s very much its own thing. Fish’s vocals feel stronger, more mature, more controlled here and musically the band seems brimming with ideas and confidence. Lyrically, it’s another tome. By my third or fourth listen I felt like I had a fair understanding of the song from what lyrics I could discern – a loss of innocence, of childhood, a tirade of missed opportunities, the fear of aging and forgetting and letting go, the anguish of growth all sticky taped to colourful medieval imagery.

I didn’t notice that the lyrics repeat, not until I checked them on Google, so clearly I wasn’t paying that much attention. I like when bands do this sort of thing – repeat not only a single line or word, but an entire verse or two, but with an entirely different musical and vocal approach. That has always been an experiment I’ve wanted to conduct – giving different groups or individuals the same set of lyrics and ask them each to write a song – then see how wildly different the songs and genres are.

Most of the lyrics follow the poetic leanings I’ve come to expect, although not every line hits – ‘to bleed the lyric’ is the sort of 6th form goth nonsense everyone used to write, but that’s a tiny handful of a great big flurry of fists which mostly land and produce a knockout. Towards the end, the character, taking on the literal or metaphorical image of a jester seems to be accepting the loss of his love, but if anything it’s the delivery of the vocal which elevates the words – feeling pours through to the extent that I don’t always care what is being said and I get the gist of it via the emotion produced. It’s a less theatrical, or more restrained, approach, which generates a more raw result.

cover art for Script For A Jester's Tear - Side 1

Listen, I’m trying to be succinct with this, but I have a tendency to allow my fingers to ramble. Lets move onto the second song, which has been teasing me for a number of days because I kept hearing the opening few seconds after the opening track would end. My first impressions of this song were that it was a night driving song. I’ve mentioned it before on the blog, but the cassettes I used to listen to while my parents were driving use home after visiting relatives hours away from my house – there must have been some instrumental or tonal quality to those songs as I continue to equate songs with a similar quality to those night driving sessions. He Knows You Know fits the bill.

It’s not as impactful as the opener and certainly not as complex – it’s a solid atmospheric rock song. The opening guitar riff and vocals reminded me of Somewhere In Time era Maiden, that feeling heightened once the synth pounces. The verses further the moody vibe, though I was disappointed when the drums kicked in with a slower pace than I was expecting. The synth shifts close to the halfway point, this time sparking thoughts of 80s horror movies, and then the groovy instrumental middle pours tumbling, looping guitar and synth riffs which dance off each other. At various points the drum and bass punctuate more harmoniously and create an interesting time signature.

From my various listens, the main lyric which stands out is, of course, ‘problems. Problems problems. This word pops up again and again, and even recurs in the spoken outro. I’m not the biggest fan of spoken word pieces in songs – the few times I’ve felt like it improved the song or the album are in The Wall and various Alice Cooper efforts. I cringed somewhat when I first heard the ending, less so on further listens, but I still got the feeling that it wasn’t necessary. I don’t know if this plays a larger role in linking the song to the next, or if it’s part of a wider recurring motif, but as a standalone I could live without it.

Scanning the lyrics, there’s a lot of obvious drug allusions employed – from paraphernalia to feelings – it all appears to revolve around guilt and self-disgust and the futile trust/distrust of the authority figures who are supposed to help but are fallible humans too, possibly with their own motives. Songs about addiction are a dime a dozen in rock music but at least there’s a unique artistic flourish to the words and images poured out in this one.

Onto the final song for today. The Web is another nine minute beast, so be prepared for another twelve paragraphs. My opinions on music are largely governed by feeling – how a song makes me feel is more important to me than how original or innovative it is, how popular it is, how influential etc. Everything comes after the way it makes me feel and how successful the song is at making me feel the way it is designed to. The Web didn’t make me feel much of anything. I can’t say the song bored me, but a good example of how I felt is, after my third listen Grendel came on and I wanted to listen to it rather than refresh and start The Web over again. Another example – I’ve already listened to a cover version of Script For A Jester’s Tear and a Fish live version – The Web I can’t see me listening to much again, never mind going down the Fishhole. Incidentally, that Fish live version needed a second guitarist.

The Web does begin in a way which suggests it will be a similar trip to the first songs – a lot of synth blasts and then a time and tone shift inside the opening 30 seconds. The whispered and near-spoken vocals are characteristic of what I’ve heard thus far – unsurprisingly it appears to be another verbose tale. There is a beast of a guitar solo somewhere in the middle which scratches and hastens and steadies, bypassing a drum section which seems like a call back to Achilles Last Stand. Elsewhere, I enjoy some of the bippy boppy synth laser sounds and at times I sense moments from the Rocky score dipping in and out.

As I was left a little isolated by the music I didn’t heed the lyrics on most of my listens, so I’ve no clue what the song is about. As I read the lyrics – which again elevate the song thanks to their off-beat poetic musings – the song could be about loneliness and depression. ‘The Web’ seems like a metaphor both for being trapped, and for the cyclical nature of things, particularly the feelings of being unable to progress, and that these feelings only grow the longer you remain trapped. The narrator does come to a realisation and seems able or prepared finally move on by the end of the song. Self-explanatory, but done with a more sublime touch. It’s always better to write ‘interesting’ (something I have always ignored – Ed).

Onto the podcast. I see in the blurb for the episode he mentions Homer’s Odyssey – which just happens to be one of my favourite books of all time. Long time Glancers to the blog will now that I was obsessed with myths and legends as a child, and I’d read The Odyssey by the time I was ten. I studied Latin for seven years in school because of this (yes, I’m aware The Odyssey was Greek but it, and The Trojan War as a whole overlapped with much of the Roman Literature which I studied – namely The Illiad), and in my first year at University I added Classical Studies to my Major as a bonus – just so that I could spend more time arsing about in Toga Town. Whether or not I mapped out a massive plan for a screenplay aimed at bringing the Trojan Trilogy to the big screen, with hundreds of characters and their intertwining backstories, I’ll leave up to you to decide.

I didn’t pick up many references to The Odyssey in these three songs, but then I wasn’t looking out for those. There was something about a Cyclops in The Web, but I’m sure there’s a lot more I skimmed over. Let’s have a listen. March 1983, eh? One month before I was ‘released’. Paul says the band was the big boy of British Prog in the 80s. I always (prematurely) called The Wall the logical closing point for Prog. Sanja likes the first song and gets sucked in by some of the earworms – which I can attest to having listened to the song about 20 times now. The song was ‘inspired’ by Fish’s breakup with Kayleigh, who I didn’t know was a real person – that’s maybe the only Marillion song I defo knew before starting this journey. Fish writes the song, admitting the breakup was his fault – cool. The lyrics are ‘up themselves’, but yeah it’s difficult to do that when you’re emotional and dealing with such a personal issue. I assume kids still write poetry – I certainly did at that age, but I wasn’t cool enough to have had a girlfriend to have broken up with.

Have you been on a roundabout these days? They’re so safe. They’re locked to only go a certain speed – when I was young it wasn’t a roundabout unless you were hitting G-forces and could feel your tongue slithering back down your throat as you hit 500 rotations a minute. Plus there’s all that spongy stuff on the ground now, rather than gravel and broken bottles of Buckfast of my youth. Fish does seem like an emotional chap, so I can understand the difficulty of singing certain songs. I can’t make it through singing Shock To My System by Gemma Hayes without my voice breaking – no idea why. Sia breaking down in her live performances of Titanium is wonderful – not a dry eye in the house. It’s cool that the band still play the song live today – I know Fish isn’t still with the band, but presumably other original writers and players are. A lot of bands who have been around the block for multiple decades don’t touch their early material in the live setting.

He Knows You Know may or may not be autobiographical, but I didn’t know it referred to not telling the person that they have a problem – he knows. That may be the worst sentence ever written. They don’t talk much about the song and Paul then tells us that he’s not a huge fan. I prefer it to the third song. I certainly haven’t listened to it as much as the first. This transforms into a chat about Prog and Marillion’s relationship to the genre – I get the sense I have similar feelings to Prog as Biffo – albeit he sounds like he has listened to a lot more than I have – I want to like Prog but I prefer bands with progressive elements, bands known for pushing themselves because that’s what they want to do rather than fit a particular convention. If diehard music fans have any rights (we don’t) it’s that we can hate or give zero fucks about whichever songs by our favourite bands that we please.

Final track comments – I was going to write that The Web didn’t need to be so long, but Sanja got there first. I agree. The song morphed from an older track – as I haven’t plugged The Manics in today’s post – they would frequently write a lot of crap songs, discard them, but then take the best parts and jumble those together into a new form to make a good song. I imagine many prog bands do that, with epics coming from extended jam sessions. They mention the song being better live – yeah, I’ve seen that happen but I tend to prefer live songs when I’m actually there and elsewhere stick to the studio versions. Yes, I can hear some ice cream tones there – mine still comes on Thursday nights – right up to Christmas week, Lockdown or no. Okay, I see a loose Penelope reference from what Paul is saying, but I never would have picked that up from the lyrics. Don’t worry, Penelope and Odysseus did get back together in the end, having watched every single one of his men massacred, drowned, and/or eaten by a Cyclops/turned into swine. Of course Odysseus goes on to have an ironic and tragic end when killed by his son (not Telemachus), conceived during an infidelity with Circe. Of course Telemachus would go on to marry Circe, so everybody’s brother turns out to be their dad, or possibly son…. Greek mythology families get complicated. Anyway, Paul likes this better than I do. Nah, He Knows You Know is better – I think I’ve proven I’m the bigger fan now.

I used to like Oasis, but that wore thin fairly quickly – I gave them a good four years. Paul proceeds to have some sort of stroke. I’m away to Google Taylor Parkes, then maybe listen to Side Two.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Side A of Script For A Jester’s Tear!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Grendel!

cover art for Grendel!

Greetings, Glancers! Last time I belly-flopped for the first time into the music and mind of the painted loon known as Fish, and his band Marillion and their first single. Did you know, I went to University with a young woman called Marillion (Mary Ellen Lynn)?

In Episode 2 of Paul Rose’s (AKA Mr Biffo) Podcast Between You And Me, he and wife Sanja listen to a few of the B-Sides which were released around the time of Mary Ellen Lynn’s first album – Script For A Jester’s Tear. That album title immediately makes me think of the sometimes great Blind Guardian – Power Metal pioneers – and any number of more embarrassing acts. Power Metal was ostensibly born out of Prog, and many of the European bands not only took the musical cues of Prog to the next logical (extreme) conclusion, but much of the imagery and literary/historical references too.

One observation I’ve made as a life-long Metal fan is that many of the more territorial Metal fans view Prog as ridiculous, weak, watered down, and would be ashamed to admit to liking it, while many of the more territorial Prog fans view metal as ridiculous, uncultured, over the top, and juvenile. I prefer to squat down betwixt the twain, like a goblin gathering and hording precious arcane items, and drag as much as I can from both sides to store beneath my thighs for future fingering. I can appreciate the arguments both sides make even if they come from a closed off and silly perspective, but both genres are more similar than some fans would like to admit.

Before we get to that first album, the B-Sides I need to listen to are Three Boats Down From The Candy, Charting The Single, and Grendel – the last of which is apparently some sort of big deal. Knowing now that the band took their name from one classic of fantasy literature (The Silmarillion) and that they have a song named after a character from another (Beowulf), I have a better idea of what to expect thematically from the band. Lots of epic tales of heroism and quests, elves and dragons, and other annoying pubescent rites of passage. Hey, I love all that stuff too! Also, I’m almost certainly going to be proven entirely wrong on this assumption. I haven’t read either of those particular tomes, but I have read LOTR and am aware Beowulf exists, so that’s something.

Did you know, when I was at University with Marillion, we had a Professor in Old English Studies who was obsessed with Beowulf and was some sort of authority on the subject. He was quite an odd, bespoke character – he conversed in an indescribable lilt which in no way fit his gargantuan physical frame – it was like he had swallowed a Childe, and said Childe subsisted on a meal of helium and jelly tots. I’m fairly certain he wrote ‘child’ as ‘Childe’ and I am convinced the whole thing was an act that he tried on for a laugh at one point, but has been forced to keep up the charade for 30 years because nobody has pulled him on it. He looked exactly like what you think an Olde English Professor would look like, but crossed with Ed Kemper.

Back to the point. I’m going to listen to these three songs over the next few days, slap a few thoughts together here, then go off and listen to Between You And Me, then return and summarize. How does that suit you? Good? Good.

Photo Courtesy of... unknown?

Starting with Three Boats Down From The Candy; I’m listening to this on Youtube so I’ve no idea if the one I’ve picked is the definitive version. There’s a bunch of 90s Remasters of this song, but the one I’ve gone for is from a B-Sides Album called Themselves. I chose this because it has a cool, terrifying, album cover – the artist or the band seems to have a thing for mouths based on the artwork I’ve seen so far.

It’s another song with a bombastic intro, synth driven, which then wriggles and remoulds into a totally different aura for the verse. The verse is ominous, smooth. Whispered vocals, still theatrical. I do get a distinct Dickinson/Maiden impression from these verses – that combination of the eerie arpeggio and theatrical, high pitched vocals. I like the quiet/loud dynamic, noticeable when the tumbling synth returns for the ‘chorus’. The whole song sees each instrument playing that sinister tumbling piece – the synth in the intro, the guitar in the verse, the piano in the middle – other guitar parts too. Much of the second portion of the track consists of a cool instrumental coda where the tumbling riffs change subtly and feel more purposeful and epic – this is probably my favourite part of the song, but it doesn’t last long (enough) and fades out. This seems like a cop out, a bit of an anti-climax, ending as if they either ran out of ideas, didn’t know how else to close it out, or originally intended for the song to run into the next piece of a larger whole.

In my first listens to these songs I don’t pay attention to the lyrics; For Three Boats, none of them stood out initially aside from the title, which is repeated throughout the song but doesn’t give me any insight into what it’s all about. As a music fan, I tend to delve into lyrics after a first listen, especially the artists who are known to put genuine effort into their words. When there is lyrical artistry, most times the depth doesn’t become apparent until you sit down and read the thing. Simplistic songs, typically of the radio Pop variation, tend to have lyrics which are designed to be easy to discern and understand immediately, consequently they have little to say and are based around limited topics. This is clearly not the case with Marillion.

On subsequent listens, I follow with the lyrics. The progression of the song and the lyrics suggests to me a journey, lets say of a boat sloping down a river, and what is seen along the way. The three images in the opening verse seem unrelated besides being images you may see on a journey. I’m sure there’s more to it according to Fish, but it’s not clear to me. I don’t think it needs to be. Proceeding through the next verses, the lyrics take on a more personal hue – ‘you ask for my love on the strength of a kiss’ is a neat line, but the follow-up lyric makes the narrator sound like a bit of an exploitative dick. That notion follows through in later lines with the narrator seemingly looking for nothing more than a fleeting fling and not wanting to be tied down into the machinations of a relationship or hindered by feelings. I do love the rhythm of the ‘You’re a memory… flotsam in a silent void’ couplet – it runs off the tongue nicely. Wait a minute… is ‘the candy’ slang for some sexy naughty word? I’ll wait until I listen to the podcast and not bother reading any online interpretations.

It’s a good song – I like it more than Market Square Heroes – which I keep mistakenly calling Market Stall Heroes. It feels shorter than it is – it’s only four minutes, but it feels like there is a lot more packed in than those four minutes suggest. I’m still not entirely sold on the vocals, but the theatrical approach matches the poetry and mystery of the lyrics and music.

Next up, we have Charting The Single. Is it another travelogue song, or is it about the band watching their songs soar up (down?) the charts? It starts with 80s stilted drums, and potentially stadium rock guitar chords. For me though, the song doesn’t live up to the potential of this intro. The major key hints at a more positive and optimistic feel than the previous songs. I strongly feel the Johnny Rotten and David Bowie approach from the vocals here – I’m getting PIL in fact. The robotic, simplistic drum beat is symptomatic of a lot of 80s New Wave type music – not something I’m a fan of because it tends to reek of repetition and lack of invention. I wouldn’t say that this song lacks invention, more that’s what the drum beat generically makes me feel. A huge organ (matron) comes in towards the end, increasing that epic vibe. This is the weakest, or my least favourite of the three songs I’ve heard so far – maybe because it’s slower, maybe because it feels artificially drawn out without adding enough musical variance. It has another fade out ending, but here it feels more natural. The song does build as it progresses, but the beat never changes and the vocal melodies remain roughly the same throughout.

There’s a lot of ‘ay-eeeee!’ in the lyrics so I didn’t pick up much more beyond that. Reading the lyrics alongside the song, it does have an element of travel to it. ‘Plastered in Paris I’ve had an Eiffel (eye-full)’ is the sort of amusing wordplay I’d usually expect from a Rapper. There’s a lot of similar wordplay throughout, and absolutely none of that was apparent to me until I read the lyrics online. As a Manics fan, I’m more than familiar with indecipherable lyrics only becoming clear once you read the album notes. Not that these are indecipherable per se, 50% of this was due to my own lack of attention. The whole storytelling, Burroughs-esque narrative flow of the lyrics is reminiscent of Bowie. The lyrics clearly make the song more interesting, I’d say they are the best component, but I doubt I’d return to this song purely because of the lyrics – the music is too drab to engage me entirely. I get the impression that the lyrics are quips and observations Fish had been building up during his life, and it feels like the band struggled to build a song around them. There was a Pizza Takeaway on the street I used to live on in Belfast called ‘A Pizza The Action’, which was enough to make me always choose it over any other after a night out. What’s it all about though? Lets just say ‘love’ because I’m aware I haven’t even got to Grendel yet.

Because Grendel is so long, I’m going to type my random-first-impression-jotted-down-notes first, and work from there. Here’s what I came up with on my first listen:

‘Grendel begins. House Of The Rising Sun guitar. Paint It Black guitar. Images of a jester frolicking around a grand Court while a disinterested King ponders a coming attack on his borders. Nice falsetto. Slow and gentle opening. I assumed before listening that this would move through various phases and tones and styles. Of course it does. Dragonforce synth. I wonder what my old Professor would think of this. The second verse (if that’s what I can refer to them as) sees the vocals a little more unstable at the falsetto moments – the notes aren’t quite hit cleanly, not sure if that’s on purpose. Then it all goes buck nuts into a light-speed disco section with a rocket up its arse, while retaining the main chord progression. Great twiddly solo. I’m only vaguely aware of Beowulf, so I’ve no idea what a ‘shaper’ or a ‘rim walker’ is. This is the most Floyd song so far – I mean, there’s not a lot actually comparable to Pink Floyd here beyond the length and the ambition. Musically it’s more relatable to me with some of Alice Cooper or Iron Maiden’s more rambling, epic moments. The bass from around the 7 or 8 minute mark is almost identical to Cooper’s legendary Halo Of Flies. Look Mummy, another big organ. Look Around You synth. I’m only going to be able to listen to this a limited amount of times before I post this, so I’m only scratching the surface of what it’s all about and my feelings about it. But I’ll certainly listen to it in the future. It’s the sort of song I wish I knew in and out, every detail and lyric and inflection, but that would take a lifetime of listening, and there’s only so many epics I can keep in my skull.’

I’ve since listened to the song a few more times, and most of my original impressions remain. I’m more aware now of the twists and turns which the song takes but I still feel, like with most epics, there’s a lot more to uncover, and I haven’t mentioned the lyrics yet. Tonally, I don’t mind whether songs longer than six or seven minutes retain the same vibe throughout, or if they completely shift. As long as there is some meaning behind those shifts that’s more than purely artificial, and as long as there is some sort of progression in terms of additional production or instruments in the mix for those songs which don’t shift as much. If there’s an overall tone I get from the song as a whole, it’s one of manic melancholia, like a sadness in the midst of panic.

I think the slower, calm section which runs until just after the nine minute mark drags the whole down somewhat, it’s too much of a dirge and too uneventful, and rather than acting as a build-up for the faster or (what I feel are) the more emotional moments, it just has me skipping forwards to get to the good stuff. ‘Dirge’ feels like too much of an insult, it’s simply not as interesting to me as everything before and after it. The slower phase from after nine minutes to around 11 minutes is much more potent, especially when we factor in the way Fish belts out some of the lyrics. I can’t get past the synth making me think of Wish You Were Here and Look Around You. I’d be curious to know how this was all put together – that’s something I enjoy hearing about in songs in general, but particularly epics. It’s like Making Of Documentaries on DVDs and Blu Rays. I’m curious to know if this was always planned as a single song, how much of it came together in jam sessions, was it originally a series of other songs and ideas consolidated over time into a single piece. Maybe Biffo will go into this in his Podcast.

Onto Grendel’s lyrics. The first thing I should say is, like any great epic, the song has SECTIONS. Lyrics are partitioned in some sort of over-arching plot in that great pretentious way much of Prog and Progressively tinted Metal follows. Grendel is divided into Hereot’s Plea And Grendel’s Awakening, Grendel’s Journey, and Lurker At The Threshold. Having not read much of Beowulf, I’m not qualified to talk about what any of this means. The opening verse scans nicely and reads like a poem if spoken aloud. It’s a scene-setting introduction with an overt hint of threat. The second verse, or do I dare use ‘stanza’, is more simple, yet tells me less – the terminology being foreign to me. Musically, it’s the second and fourth simple stanzas which are the loud half of the quiet/loud dynamic, with the first and third verses filling the quiet quota, though whether or not that was intentional or has any greater creative meaning, I’ll leave to the experts. I’m assuming with all of the fear in the 3rd Stanza that Grendel is one of the monsters in the tale – was it a Dragon, or a Witch or something? It’s interesting that the funky disco part of the song comes in this first section of the song – reading the lyrics I would have expected this to come in Grendel’s Journey. 

Grendel’s Journey is mostly the dirge-like part I mentioned earlier. Lyrically, it’s still littered with image driven choices which would likely mean more to me if I knew the story in detail. Lurker At The Threshold sees the song building up again – the build up is drawn out and the many stanzas here mirror this increase in potency – the words coming and coming and coming while the music reaches a crescendo. The lyrics are at their most violent in this section, which (I’m assuming) makes sense as Grendel has arrived and started to eat legs and wear the skins of tavern wenches – again, I don’t know the story. Grendel does seem like more than a mere murderous creature from the lyrics, it questions and condescends and mocks those it attacks, and the final lyric of ‘Receive your punishment, expose your throats to my righteous claws, and let the blood flow, and let the blood flow’ is particularly evocative and gruesome. I don’t think the actual delivery of the line is as powerful as seeing it written – I read the lyrics and thought ‘is that what he really sings, I’d better pay more attention to that last line this time, because that’s a great ending’ but that delivery is an anti-climax, plus it’s followed by another minute or so of music rather being the dead stop such a line perhaps deserves.

If I’m ranking these songs, and I don’t think I’m going to continue to in the future, but it’s Three Boats, then Grendel, then Charting The Single. Market Square Heroes would be between Grendel and Charting The Single. So far, there isn’t anything I would switch off if it popped up on my, what do people listen to these days, my radio/Alexa/Shuffle, but I’m not yet feeling a tug to listening to any again. Three Boats is the one I’ve found myself singing most since I’ve started this, so possibly I’ll return to it. All that’s left is to hear what Paul and Sanja make of it all, so I’ll be back once I’ve listened to the podcast.

Aaand, I’m back. Paul tells me that the B-Sides were live staples pre the first album’s release. That’s fairly standard as bands go – sometimes bands get sick of their early stuff, or don’t feel it fits on their first official release, or feel… embarrassed? Other bands just translate their live sets on to record and then struggle with their sophomore effort. Sanja’s approach to the podcast is the same as mine – listen, then lyrics. Her impressions are of the first song being elegant, but then being befuddled by the lyrics, which is fair enough – musically it sounds sweeter than the lyrics suggest.

Don’t worry, Biffo, Geddy Lee’s voice annoys everyone. His timbre is more grating. I love falsetto in general but if it goes too nasal or screechy, then it’s like claws down your back. Fish doesn’t call a spade a spade – or himself by a human name. Fish says the song is about a one night stand, under a boat, which was three boats down from a boat called ‘The Candy’. That sort of makes sense, though my reading of the lyrics was more cynical. Everything Paul says fits with what I read. It sounds like Paul and Sanja cringe a little at the lyrics and how they fit with the band’s early persona – I don’t mind them, but I’m new.

Interesting that Paul says this phase of the band only lasts for the first album, so I’m already curious to hear what that new phase is – and I haven’t heard the first album yet. Sanja feels Charting The Single is likeable filler – that about sums it up, though given that it’s not my preferred style I’d say it’s more on the dislikeable side. The subject of the song is expanded from my ‘love’ to being a parody of rock stars shagging their way around the world. Good. Paul loves this one more that Three Boats. 

Paul’s Perverted Pranks should be an episodic bit. It sounds, I’m getting a slight sense, that they like Grendel. It was played at their wedding. They love the rolling rrrrs, as do I. I love when people are enthusiastic about songs, even more so when it’s a song I love too so we can all galivant around in our echo chamber. I don’t love Grendel, but I agree that it’s a good song. There are many more epics I enjoy more, and more epics I think are better, but then I’m much more familiar with those. And we’re not here to talk about those. It’s great that it has inspired Sanja to go back and read Beowulf. Double Hot Chocolate references!

Another good episode, I got more information about the band, but the best part is hearing the childlike glee as our hosts talk about something they love. Can’t say we don’t need more of that in the world these days. That’s about it from me, it’s a sunny day at the time of writing, and I want to go outside and play. And let the blood flow.

Let us know in the comments what you think of these early Marillion B-Sides!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Market Square Heroes!

cover art for Grendel!

Greetings, Glancers! In my introductory post, I neglected to mention that Wikipedia states there have been, what, 19 Marillion Studio Albums. Maaan, this is going to take a while. And Market Square Heroes is merely a non studio single. For those wondering – I’m taking Mr Biffo/Paul Roses’ lead on this and listening to whatever his episodes suggest. Episode 1 of his Podcast covers only this single – maybe the B-sides – I haven’t listened to the episode or the song as of writing this intro, but those are what I will be listening to before returning to this post and giving my thoughts.

But before any of that, I wanted to learn a little more about the band, their history, members, success etc. Is that cheating? Should I go in cold? Perhaps, but I like a little early context before doing these things. Given that I’m not an uber-nerd about the band, I’m not going to go hunting down books and interviews and forums, or do any sort of real research beyond the ever reliable Wikipedia – so if any of the following information is incorrect – forgiveness, please.

Marillion is a British Rock band. They were formed in Aylesbury in 1979, emerging from the Post Punk scene of the era. I’m never sure precisely what that ’emerged from’ phrase means – it can mean anything from ‘it was a reaction against’ to ‘it was an evolution of’ to ‘the members used to be in punk and post punk bands but decided to form something else’. I don’t know which, if any, of those statements are accurate. There seems to be two distinct phases of the band, following their frontmen, with the Fish era from beginning to 1988 and the Steve Hogarth (Hogwarts?) continuing to today from 1989. That seems like a good time to to check on the members of the band. Fish was the lead singer and lyricist, has been said to sound like Roger Daltry and Peter Gabriel, has been called one of the great frontmen, he was inspired by the more experimental artists of the 60s and 70s, and he joined Marillion in 1981. He has since gone on to make spoken word albums, which sounds terrible.

There are a bunch of ex-members with little info and I’m not going to go down that rabbit hole – Brian ‘Hartley’s Jelly’ Jelliman, Doug ‘Eddie’ Irvine, Diz ‘Innit’ Minnitt, John ‘I already have one of these funny names “Martyr”‘ Marter. There was also Jonathan ‘Sofa’ Mover who was a drummer who went on to form a Prog Supergroup and also worked with my mate Alice Cooper, there was Michael ‘No Sisters’ Pointer who was described as ‘awful’ by Fish. The current lineup features Hogwarts – he has worked with lots of people and been in other bands I’ve never heard of, Steve ‘Can’t think of one’ Rothary on guitar, Mark ‘Matthew’ Kelly on keyboards, Pete ‘Goldeneye’ Trewavas on bass and guitar and keyboards, and Ian ‘Bill’ Mosley on the sticks.

In spite of some early success, the band has never been fashionable or popular with the media, yet fans are loyal and they have managed to sell around 15 million albums. I’m seeing quite a few parallels with some of my favourite bands. If I take the Manic Street Preachers – their timeline can generally be split into two phases – Richey and Post-Richey, and while they have consistently courted the media to their own ends, beyond a specific era of success they haven’t been popular in the mainstream. They’ve sold around the same number of albums too.

Righteo, that’s about all I need to know about the band for now, but what about this song I’m about to listen to. It was their debut single, released in 1982, and it doesn’t appear in any subsequent album. Again – the Manics did this with Suicide Alley, Suicide Is Painless, and Motown Junk. Actually, let me just listen to the thing, then I’ll come back at some point in the future and give some more details and my thoughts.

INTERMISSION Stock Photo - Alamy

Alamy! Okay, I’m back. I’ve listened to the song a few times now, over a period of a few hours. Obviously that’s better than my usual one and done approach, but nowhere near on the level of association that a fan would have. The song is roughly four minutes long, and it reached 60 on the UK charts – not the best performance, but enough presumably to get them some recognition. The title ‘Market Square Heroes’ evoked a series of images in my scattered brain before I listened to the song – images of folks like Mark from Eastenders forking over pennies for change from a blue pouched straddling his navel; of bearded, red-cheeked men screaming what sounds at once like ‘five pears for a pipe’ and ‘comb your hair around’ but was actually ‘three lighters for a pound’, and Preachers handing out ‘Ye Must Be Born Again’ tracts to folks trying to get their Saturday shopping done before Football Focus started. I grew up in a Northern Ireland town which had a town square and which would have a Saturday market with all of your usual stores, but also those additional Northern Ireland Only variants where paramilitary regalia was freely bought and sold, alongside posters of King Billy. Unfortunately, those particular stalls had all the best stuff – so my friends and I would buy fireworks and rude and obscene material while the seller probably eyed us up as potential recruits into whatever shady jingoistic business he was involved in.

According to Wikipedia, Aylesbury town square was a little different. The song was inspired by a bloke named Brick, because in Aylesbury around this time nobody had a normal name, who must have been some… Manic Street Preacher type. I’m sure this drawn out analogy will end at some point. In any case, the song is about an outspoken, charismatic leader, a revolutionary but someone without any clear direction or purpose to their vociferations and anger. It is also quoted as the band trying to write a commercial song without losing the entire sense of their more progressive, expansive leanings. I have nothing else to compare it to yet, and I don’t know what other songs they had written or performed until this point. I will say this; I quite like it.

What do I like? I giggled a little at the fake out intro; it begins with a series of slow, fat chords, and descending bass lines. Then the vocals join and the song goes off in a completely different direction. I laughed because it made me think like Slade or some other 70s glam rock band, prancing about in flares with general disregard for facial hair grooming. There’s a synth/guitar piece running through the verses which is quite jolly, and the repeated calls of ‘the day’ match the sudden shift of the drum beat. This is all amusing to me. The vocals… my first thoughts were that it reminded me of some of the more deliberately theatrical moments on The Wall, and also a cross between Bowie and Johnny Rotten and that dude from Talking Heads. With each listen, those comparisons fell away. I can’t get away from the fact that musically it reminds me of Slade, but as the song progresses a definite streak of NWOBHM emerges. It sounds like early Iron Maiden – maybe it’s the general production, maybe it’s the guitar tone, but it has a very similar vibe.

It’s all very theatrical too – apologies (not really) for the constant mirroring to Metal or other artists, but it’s not quite in line with the vocal shenanigans of a Dio or Dickinson or Kursch, where it can often feel like a Play is being recited rather than a song being sung. But certain words do have additional inflections or are sung with a whispered lilt or a subtle shriek – it’s those little dramatic flourishes which you tend not to hear in mainstream music. There’s a middle section which didn’t do a lot for me, apart from remind me about Johnny Rotten (I am your Antichrist), but some of the guitar is both nifty and groovy – grifty? It does end in a fade out, which I’m rarely a fan of.

Lyrically, I can see what Fish was describing when we spoke of the charismatic leader. It’s difficult to get such notions over in a single four minute song. I like the opening line – ‘finding smog at the end of a rainbow’ suggests that you’ve been following a lie, or that your purpose was meaningless, which then makes the rest of the song somewhat ironic as the narrator asks others to follow him, given we know his track record of failure. There’s religious stuff in their – suffer the little children to come onto me – as a whole it is a poetic approach, if a little scattered and unfocused. At least to me. The song moves from images of industrialism to rebellion and protest, though there are plenty of notable juxtapositions if you’re into that – golden handshake/rust upon my hands, peace signs/war in the disco etc.

Now, I wonder what Paul and Sanja have to say about it. At this point, I’m going to go off and listen to Episode 1, then I’ll be back to finish off this long-winded post ABOUT A SINGLE SONG.

That was a fun opening episode – mostly what I was expecting given that I’ve watched Paul and Sanja’s Lockdown Youtube content. They spar well off one another, and the whole Knight/Padawan thing is always interesting. Does it need a third party to intercede and make jokes about Marillion being crap, or someone who actively dislikes the band, like a certain Ghostbusters fan? Nah, I think we’re good.

I only took some scattershot, very basic notes as I listened. Well, I say ‘took notes’, but it was more accurately me telling my brain ‘ooh, that’s worth bringing up when I go back to the blog post’.  So here is what my brain thought was worth bringing up – blame it, not me. Paul calls the song ‘A proper pop rock song’. So it’s obviously one he enjoys. I liked it too, and I did find myself humming parts over the weekend, but I don’t think it’s amazing. It’s their first song so I can only assume they’ll get better. Paul resorts to looking at Wikipedia at one point- what sort of fan are you? Grewcock. We all know that Paul loves his artwork, and I didn’t pay attention at all to the cover when I was listening to the song. After checking out the single artwork – it’s fine, I guess. It makes me think of Twin Peaks The Return, when various characters begin peeling their faces open like a swinging door. It doesn’t spring out and seize my attention, and I’m sure by the time I post this I’ll have forgotten most of the detail. They talk about Brick. There’s a nice explanation of the lyrics and ‘plot’. Apparently the style, the overwrought lyrics, combined with Fish and his stage antics meant the band had plenty of detractors yet gained a cult following.

That’s about it then. God help us when we get to covering an entire album. Do you like Marillion? Why not go listen to the Podcast and follow Paul and Sanja on the Twitbox and Insta-thing, @BYAMPOD? Next time round, I’ll be listening to three songs so you can expect even more rambling from me and by the time we get to the first album I’ll have given up. See ya there and then!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion (and Mr Biffo’s Between You And Me Podcast)!

cover art for Market Square Heroes

Greetings, Glancers! As I have said to my wife on many a saucy occasion – ‘I’m not sure how long I can last’. What has this embarrassing revelation to do with Marillion, you may be asking. You see, the always busy, always brilliant Mr Biffo (Paul Rose) – creator of Digitser and somewhat of an inspiration for many folks of a certain age – has launched a new Podcast. In this Podcast – Between You And Me – Paul and his wife, Sanja, are trawling through every major Marillion release together, with Paul acting as wizened mentor and Sanja the enthusiastic student. Presumably. I haven’t listened to anything beyond the trailer yet.

Rose is a diehard, lifelong Marillion fan, while Sanja is something of a newb. I assume some of their songs will have filtered through to her via Paul playing them around the house, in the car, or possibly on the long walks down to the local Chippie I imagine they take. It’s the type of Podcast format I enjoy listening to, in my limited Podcast experience. Regular Glancers will know that I listen to the Shockwaves Horror podcast (or did until it all collapsed due to those allegations), and the Mick Garris (Horror writer and director) Podcast. If Joe Rogan has one someone interesting – one of those UFO guys or someone from WWE, I’ll give him a ear or two.

As a thirty something white male, starting a Podcast of my own is a source of daydreaming increasingly. I had thought of doing something similar where I grab a bunch of friends, each of us picking a movie or an album to focus on in one episode – preferably one which the friends have either not seen or not enjoyed – and try to convince them to like it via insults and profuse fanboying. Recently, I’ve been listening to the Do You Love Us Podcast – a Podcast which takes this format but uses it to go through the entire Discography of the Manic Street Preachers, who will know as maybe my favourite band of all time. From humble beginnings, the three lads – one super fan, one casual, and one newb, have discussed the cultural impact of the band and their thoughts on the music, the lyrics, the surrounding fluff, and have grown to having legitimate guests on the show including Greg Haver (Producer of Manic Street Preachers albums) and Michael Sheen (Welsh and Hollywood legend).

Sadly, as someone too busy and/or lazy to have friends these days, such a podcast of my own is a mere pipedream – and the old Northern Irish accent would most likely be like being forced to wear someone else’s facemask to a Floridian Trump fan. Via that verbal detour, we return to Marillion and me. I.. don’t know much about the band. I know they exist, and I’ve heard a few of their biggest songs, but that’s about it. If asked, I would call them a Prog band but that answer is more borne out of saying their name on the cover of Prog music magazines or mentioned in the same breath as Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Rush, rather than any practical experience of their music I have personally had. Regular Glancers will know that I have a number of regular music features on my blog – I’m currently finishing off my Bowie, Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams, and Madonna discographies, and I’ve kicked off the same for The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys, as well as working my way through the Top 1000 Albums Of All Time, the Top 500 Metal Albums Ever, the Post Beatles release of each Beatles member, and the Non Iron Maiden releases by each Iron Maiden member. It’s a lot. But given that I want to listen to everything ever made, and then tell you why I didn’t like any of it, I’m willing to give Marillion a go too.

Being a big Pink Floyd fan, Prog is a genre I enjoy but have never fully embraced in terms of going through the back catalogues of the other big players. For the Marillion posts though, rather than use the same format of my other posts, which are not insightful in the slightest and end of reading as repetitive nonsense (I basically listen to the album and type my thoughts wile listening, with no edits or planning), I’m going to do the Marillion thing properly; Multiple listens, let the music absorb, follow up by listening to Paul’s associated Podcast episode for the particular release, listen again, then post my thoughts on it all. OR SOMETHING.

But as I say, I get bored easily and may give up long before I get past the Fish era, whatever that means. I’ll probably still listen to the albums, even if I don’t write about them. I’ll probably still listen to the Podcast, even if I don’t listen to the albums. You probably won’t care about any of it. But if you do – if you’re a Marillion fan, maybe you’ll get something out of whatever I type. You’ll have more luck listening to Paul’s Podcast (I don’t really know how Podcasts work so I tend to just Google and click on the first safe looking link which pops up and listen via that site – so here’s the link I’m using). At the very least, I hope I’ll enjoy the music and find another band so enrich my life.