Marillion – Script For A Jester’s Tear: Album Review

So here we are once more. The 1983 debut album from infamous prog-rockers Marillion gets re-issued with all the trimmings almost forty years after the initial release. Flaming shrouds, edgy eggs and prayers with bloodstained hands at the feet of our pagan gods. Pull back the curtain and let the show commence.

Release Date:  17th April 2020

Label:  Parlophone

Formats:  4cd/bluray mediabook / 4LP / streaming

The splendid job done on four of Marillion’s existing back catalogue continues (check our Afraid Of Sunlight piece here) with their landmark debut release. The climate back in the early Eighties saw Prog Rock revival as a going concern. Pallas, IQ, Pendragon and Twelfth Night led the charge of the antipunk antichrists, vying for position especially in the hotbed of London’s Marquee club. Always the spot to find out which bands were happening, it provides the location for the live set in this package, but that’s another story.

“So you thought that your bolts and your locks would keep me out”

Marillion themselves emerged as leaders of the pack with the major label signing and release of the Market Square Heroes EP in late ’82.

Those three tracks that preceded the album release plus the Charting the Single b-side are on the second disc of this package, in remixed/remastered form. They show two sides of the same coin with the poppier Market Square Heroes that still revs the fans up today in riotous encores vying with the very prog Grendel. The latter was both a blessing and a curse. Notorious at both extremes. A lengthy track that established their prog credentials, it also owed more than a debt the Genesis’ Supper’s Ready especially in ‘that’ blatant section that we all know about. The section that starts around seven minutes (“silken membranes…”) is particularly effective. It served a purpose and soon became a millstone around their necks that soon fell from favour.

Maybe you’ll grimace at a few falsetto yelps from Fish here and there and it’s an authentic period piece but for a fledgling effort not one of those that evokes embarrassment. A debut release that certainly takes me back in time.

“Too much, too soon, too far, to go, too late, to play”

Heading back to the playground of the broken hearts, the subsequent album gathered six songs of which five had been well trained in the live set. The title track was the surprise package and showed how much the band had progressed even within this short space of time. A glorious piece of work, it possibly remains the ultimate statement of their early years and in a career context, a defining piece. Fish may have gone on to write wordier pieces (on the Fugazi album in particular) and more straightforward love songs (cough…Kayleigh) but never has he combined both better than on Script.

The new mix sounds great. It may simply be that I haven’t listened to the album for a while and that my first version was the gatefold vinyl (CDs were still on the drawing board in those days) with its iconic Mark Wilkinson squalid bedsit art and Fish’s lyrics to pore over. It feels really punchy, where the original was notoriously thin, with the instruments now clearly separated particularly Pete Trewavas’ bass and the Steve Rothery solo on Chelsea Monday perhaps his ‘moment’ of the album.

Mick Pointer’s workmanlike drumming led to his departure as the musicianship came on in leaps and bounds over the following years. Listening now as I write to Forgotten Sons and with the benefit of hindsight you can hear appreciate where the band was coming from.

“You take the acid, I’ll take the dope”

The final two discs are a live show from their home from home, The Marquee, recorded in December ’82. A well-honed set that would make up the album plus “a new song.” The days also, when two songs vied for attention in the theatrical presentation stakes.

Grendel makes an early appearance leaving Forgotten Sons to become the dramatic showpiece event of the set along with the Market Square Heroes / Margaret frenzy to close the set. Like U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday (“this is not a rebel song“) Forgotten Sons gets the “this was never ever meant as a political song” intro. Despite the obvious lyrical content, the thrust is on how disagreements can escalate into blood being spilled in the streets. Delivered with a fierce soundtrack and no punches pulled as Fish (presumably) gunned down the audience with the mic stand dressed in helmet and flak jacket.

Market Square Heroes sees Fish’s voice show the strain as he gets rust on his hands from the padlocked factory gates and the higher register (and the audience – not for the first time at The Marquee) come to the rescue. A sign of things to come…? And that’s before all hell lets loose with the jam on Margaret where they briefly become Big Country. Happy days.

The bluray contains everything in the CDs plus an interesting documentary – Sackcloth And Greasepaint – where Mick Pointer and Diz Minnit from the early incarnations of the band make appearances. Fish dominates proceedings and remains stoically serious while fortunately Mark Kelly and Pete Trewavas crack a few smiles. What is apparent though is the fondness they all have for the period and the album in which all state a genuine pride. Of all the Marillion reissues documentaries, this one is getting a thumbs up from many fans. There’s even mention of Bangor University which features in our Time Tunnel article.

“Auditioning for the leading role on the silver screen”

The film of Recital Of The Script from Hammersmith 1983 is included when they even did Grendel after refusing to play the track (I think they did it in Edinburgh though) on the first major tour that took in the bigger concert halls of the UK. More souvenir than the definitive statement from the days when a rock concert on film often disappointed, it captures a moment in time. A period piece of the days when Steve Rothery stood at the back between the drum and keyboard risers. Young girls with big perms mouth the words to the songs as they gaze at an intensely serious Fish who sports the ragged look recently favoured by Gary Numan. Worth it if only to witness them do Grendel and see what the fuss was about.

PROG mag Editor Jerry Ewing then provides an essay that tracks the fledgling days of Marillion and the personnel changes that were almost inevitable as the band strove to make their mark and more crucially, kept making musical progress.

As my old school song went, Forty Years On; time flies and all that. “Job for life,” as Steve Rothery once said to me when I cornered him about first seeing the band pre-Script on one of their university tours. A lot of water has passed under the bridge but it’s hard to forget the thing known as Script For A Jester’s Tear.

Listen to the live version of the title track from the set here:

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