“So here we are once more…”
Marillion’s debut album from 1983, Script for a Jester’s Tear, is the latest EMI-era album to get the deluxe edition re-reissue treatment. Many will look back very fondly at this album, which introduced a progressive rock band who unconventionally achieved great chart success in the UK and Europe, with a string of hit albums and singles. This edition allows us to consider how the album has stood the test of time. The majority of punters will probably be familiar with the album and wondering whether it is worth re-investing in it again. However, there may be some who are unfamiliar with it, coming to Marillion later, perhaps drawn by the success of their most recent album, 2016’s impressively zeitgeist F.E.A.R., and considering whether to delve this far back into the band’s history.
The answer for the newer fans is complicated – it often is with Marillion!
If you are a fan who loves the ‘new guy’ (for the last 32 years!) Steve Hogarth-era albums and have somehow not heard the Fish-era albums then this album may come as rather a surprise. It bears very little resemblance to the style of later albums, such as F.E.A.R. or 2004’s Marbles, therefore expectations may need to be adjusted – I find it sensible to think of Marillion as two different bands with the same name. The other thing to remember is that for those of us that were around in 1983, NONE of us are like we were in those days, so it would be strange indeed if the artists had not changed since then either.
Script for a Jester’s Tear needs to be understood in the context of its time. The late ’70s Punk explosion was meant to have blown away all the old Prog dinosaurs by the early ’80s. They were either extinct or on hiatus (like Pink Floyd) or re-inventing themselves as rock-pop acts (such as Yes and Genesis). New Wave and the New Romantics were on the rise amidst the usual froth of chart music. Progressive rock, especially in its long-form, was regarded as ‘yesterday’s news’. Nevertheless, there were still fans out there listening to that music, gazing in reverence at their old Prog rock albums, poring over the lyrics and sleeve notes, yearning for their old heroes to return or play a more progressive style of music – both forlorn hopes. Then along came Marillion in 1982 with a game-changing BBC Radio 1 session, with songs honed through a multitude of gigs, which helped secure a major record deal. In October they announced themselves with the anthemic Market Square Heroes 12” single, which for many contained the ‘Holy Grail’ B-side of the epic 17-minute Grendel! This whetted the appetite of a subculture of adolescents wanting Prog heroes for their own generation, and older rock fans wanting someone to return to those ‘Golden Days’ of the ’70s. That ambitious EP was virtually a mini-album in itself, and having stirred the ashes of Prog, Marillion swiftly fanned the flames with their assured debut album in March 1983, reaching an impressive Number Seven in the UK album charts – these releases were a remarkable statement of intent for a band driven to achieving success.
So, what was all the fuss about? We’ll start chronologically with the 1982 Market Square Heroes EP. The rousing title song was the obvious opening single with a lyric about a charismatic aspiring revolutionary. Played in countless early gigs, its galloping rhythm and rolling keyboard led into an anthemic singalong chorus. The original version sounded rather murky so it is good to hear this remix bringing out more clarity, especially the previously buried guitars. In truth, whilst this was a fave at gigs, it sounded less impressive on record. Nevertheless, it marked them out as a band with a striking live presence, and was certainly fun to bounce along to in encores!
Three Boats Down from the Candy remains, in my view, a greatly underrated Marillion gem, describing a sexual liaison under a nameless boat on Brighton Beach (three boats down from the candy floss stall, if anyone wonders what the title means). This song drips with cynical but strangely poetic lyrics, underlining Fish’s developing ‘Jester’ identity with echoing lines: “I’m a poet, (I’m a poet), I’m a minstrel (I’m a minstrel), I don’t need your chains, Romance lies in ruin, Let debauchery reign.”
This was the first song Mark Kelly had a hand in writing with the band and, inspired by the Mellotron he inherited from the original keyboard player Brian Jelliman, he came up with the swirling and rather uplifting march feel of the second half of the song. The combination of Fish’s distinctive voice and words with the band’s fluctuating music set the template for many an early Marillion song… which brings us all to the ‘G’ word – Grendel.
Based on John Gardner’s 1971 book Grendel, which inverted the Beowulf saga from the perspective of the Monster, this song has always been a double-edged sword, loved and hated to almost equal degrees. An epic B-side on their first release gained a lot of attention at the time, but it also identified them very much as ‘heirs apparent’ of the old Prog giants of the early ’70s with its uncanny resemblance to Genesis’s Supper’s Ready. In the interesting accompanying Blu-Ray documentary Sackcloth and Greasepaint, Mark Kelly shares that when the manager of Genesis heard it many years later he said, “If I’d heard it at the time I would have sued them!”… and he would have had a point. Fish admits that by the time they got to the end of the 1983 Script tour it was already sounding dated, and they never played it again after their triumphant Reading Festival appearance in August.
But is it any good? Well, as a late teenager I thought it was a masterpiece, bowled over by its epic length and ominous atmosphere. However, looking back now I view it more with affection than awe. Grendel grew out of the very early Silmarillion instrumental The Tower, onto which Fish moulded lyrics befitting a horror story with a twist. Steve Rothery added that distinctive guitar intro over which Fish tremulously quivers his ornate words. Camel’s influence on Rothery can be heard with his fluid guitar lines, weaving with Kelly’s synth swoops. Meanwhile, Mick Pointer is pounding away solidly, but listening back now one can see why the band eventually felt this was one department that needed an upgrade – it’s competent but does not match the virtuosity in the rest of the band. The piece climaxes with the dramatic and infamous drum and keyboard ‘7/8’ finale –infamous because the comparisons with Supper’s Ready are all too readily obvious. Rothery’s triumphant guitar solo brings proceedings to a satisfying conclusion. Great fun and resonant in the memories of many older fans, bewitched at the time by this slab of old school ‘epic Prog’… but in hindsight, this is the sound of a young band all too obviously drawing upon their Prog influences. Genesis producer David Hitchcock’s work on the EP helped underline those influences. Fish acknowledged reservations about the Genesis comparisons, but he has also stated, “it all flowed and the fans loved it”… and many still do, despite all its naïvety and obvious homage or outright mimicry.
Charting the Single is a much more simple, straightforward piece, with some admittedly rather painful wordplay: “Plastered in Paris I’ve had an Eiffel”… yes, really! It bounces along on an insistent drum beat and chiming guitars, but this is very much lightweight B-side material.
So that’s just the opening EP – how about the album itself?
Marillion entered the studio with four of the six songs already virtually written and well tested on the road. An exhausted David Hitchcock had crashed his car after his Grendel efforts, but that may well have been a blessing in disguise for the band. Nick Tauber, with the help of Simon Hanhart, was drafted in to produce, and their experience in working with Punk and New Wave acts Stiff Little Fingers and Toyah Wilcox was a breath of fresh air, giving the album more of an edge and attitude. The title song established Fish’s iconic ‘Jester’ alter ego. Script for a Jester’s Tear is still one of their best songs, oozing with regret, anger and heartbreak, set against a beautifully fluctuating musical backing, perfectly conveying those emotions with delicacy or power. The stark opening line, “So here I am once more in the playground of the broken hearts”, virtually copies lines from one of Fish’s heroes, Peter Hammill of Van der Graaf Generator. This confessional, heartfelt opening lyric captured fans, who sang the evocative and intricate lines word perfectly at gigs, like a choir. Mark Kelly’s minimally and sensitively supports Fish on grand piano in a truly captivating introduction, and yet strangely it was one of the last things they recorded for the album. Kelly’s undulating and playful synth takes us into the perversely more ‘sing-song’ section: “I’m losing on the swings, I’m losing on the roundabouts…”, surprisingly revealed by Kelly as being influenced by the Music Hall “Wouldn’t it be nice” opening section to the ’60s classic Lazy Sunday by The Small Faces. After Fish intones “The Game is Over”, the song erupts powerfully with the band in splendid synchronicity, Fish passionately recapitulating the opening lyrics before Rothery lets fly with a brief but scintillating solo. Kelly has recently revealed in a TPA interview that Rothery in hindsight was not overly pleased with the rather ‘spiky’ sound of his guitars on the album, and hearing them now one can hear that even in full flight they have a curiously ‘dirty’ sound. However, that gives them a brittle, edgy feel perfect for a tale of bitter regret. The anguished “Promised wedding now a wake” shout shifts us into the emotive “The Fool escaped from Paradise” finale. Mark Kelly carries this conclusion on an elegiac sounding harpsichord. Rothery adds some melancholic guitar bursts and as Fish repeatedly singing “Can you still say you love me”, this outstanding opening song wistfully fades away. It’s one of the great opening tracks from a debut album and announced this band as a class act.
He Knows, You Know was inspired by Fish’s painful drug-induced stomach cramps whilst working in an unemployment benefit office. Somewhat perversely chosen as the first single, it’s hard to imagine mainstream radio playlisting a song which starts with lyrics about vomiting into a toilet – “Singing psychedelic praises to the depths of a china bowl” – and other drug references… and yet it is a testament to the growing interest in the band that even such grim subject matter got them to a respectable number 35 in the UK charts! Fish is at his most lyrically descriptive and vocally manic. Pointer has revealed that this is one of his favourite songs and it inspired one of his better drum performances, switching between metronomic underpinning rhythm to more percussive, powerful passages. However, this song is mainly a showcase for Fish’s acidic words and voice, vacillating between spat out snarl and sinister whisper. There is a real sense of venom in an almost punk vibe on this track. Any comparisons with early ’70s Prog would be impossible for this seething song of self -destruction. Mark Kelly wanted to stamp his identity on a song written with Jelliman before his arrival, and it was Nick Tauber’s idea for Kelly to play a majestic Mellotron solo in the bridge leading up to and writhing around Rothery’s brief but evocative squealing, pain-drenched solo. Before the next piece, we are treated to Fish calling up a poor unsuspecting EMI secretary in the early hours and shouting “Don’t give me your problems!”, which always feels like the intro to one their earliest (and one of my favourite Marillion) songs, The Web.
Fish’s first-ever lyric, written long before the band, was about the death of Keith Moon and featured the memorable line “Even jester’s cry” which found a home in this wonderfully Gothic – and definitely most ‘Prog’ – number on the album. One really could imagine Genesis cranking this out in the early ’70s. Based on a very early Simarillion song, Fish had turned up for his audition with the lyrics already written, which were then grafted on to the Camel-like Close. By the time they were finished with it the Camel had left the room and they had created a piece of grandiosity, fabulously over the top lyrically and musically, drenched in Prog tropes and dripping with drama. Fish now states that he feels it is rather “stilted” and that he was “trying too hard to be too clever” with wordplay. If Fish is acknowledging that then you know you’re in for a great slab of elaborate verbiage and florid swathes of imagery:
“The rain auditions at my window, its symphony echoes in my womb,
My gaze scans the walls of this apartment to rectify the confines of my tomb.”
What a way to start a song! Excessive and self-indulgent, of course… and yet gloriously evocative. It spoke to many young fans, yearning for something a little more poetic and less prosaic with which to identify. Needless to say, the words are wrapped in great swathes of ornate progressive rock.
Fish embarks on a grandiloquent opening soliloquy, combining Greek legend with images of modern decay “I’m the Cyclops in the tenement…”, about the end of a relationship, possibly Fish’s old girlfriend ‘Kay Lee’, of later song fame. The apotheosis of this epic piece comes after the iconic line “but even Jester’s cry”. A turning point has been reached and with a roll of drums and bass, Kelly’s synths weaving their own web, we are taken into one of the best guitar solos that Steve Rothery has ever played with Marillion. It’s utterly scintillating and even now it still gives me a thrill to hear it. The guitar ascends higher and higher, soaring and coruscating brilliantly. When you think they’ve reached a pinnacle, amidst a cascade of Pointer’s drums, Rothery goes even further with a gloriously sweeping solo which then somehow soulfully floats earthwards. Over twinkling keys and bubbling bass, Fish states his self-realisation that “I hold the key to freedom…”. The piece ends powerfully with Pointer and Pete Trewavas pounding out an emphatic conclusion. Derivative of the early ’70s? Undoubtedly, but still gloriously baroque and dramatic. As a live piece, it was a show stopper… and I love it!
The importance and impact of Garden Party cannot be overestimated for Marillion. This was the song which projected them into the Top 30 of the UK charts (reaching number 16) and was the song which led to their debut on BBC TV’s Top of the Pops. Their idiosyncratic TV performance, with Fish mischievously zipping his lips for the line “I’m miming” (replacing the definitely non-radio playline, “I’m Fucking”), projected them into the national consciousness in the UK and further afield. What is curious is that this first hit single for Marillion is also such a peculiar song, railing at the class system. Sound effects and spoken word clips by the band, mimicking guests at a posh garden party, introduce us to an undulating keyboard riff which Kelly has acknowledged was largely unchanged from the work of original keyboardist Brian Jelliman. Thudding pulses of drums and crunchy bass provide a peculiarly spasmodic backing for Fish’s sarcastic lyrics, recalling a short period visiting an old girlfriend at Cambridge University, where Fish (and original bassist Diz Minnitt) encountered a rather privileged and rarefied atmosphere. The spasmodic, percussive theme alternates with more restrained passages with Fish performing lyrical and vocal gymnastics, having to somehow shoehorn in some intricate wordplay and vocal characterisation… “may I be so bold as to perhaps suggest Othello?” indeed. Guitars and keyboards trade off licks as the band really rock in the bridge section before they get to the comical “I’m punting… I’m fucking” refrain so beloved of fans at gigs. One final percussive and bitter verse feels like a parting two-finger gesture for this acerbic class war anthem. One has to wonder quite how such a subversive song reached so high in the UK charts – but Marillion were proving they could do it just the way they wanted.
Chelsea Monday was inspired by late-night walks Fish took in the area of the studio, seeing “so many wannabees and couldbees, and I wrapped them all up in a females character drowning in romanticism, unable to cope with reality”. Pete Trewavas came up with a characteristically fluid bass riff, supported by simple drums and drops of tinkling keyboards and eerie guitar notes. Mark Kelly has recently shared, “The thing I see now about those songs is how simple they are. For example, Chelsea Monday has got four chords that just go round and round, and then we move the key with the same four chords around and round and round – guitar solo, and then we drop back down again. It’s literally the same four chords with a modulation in the middle.” I could not have put it better, even if this description does not really do justice to Rothery’s lithe, emotional guitar solo, reflecting the melancholy of the piece.
Much of the final anti-war epic number, Forgotten Sons, dates back to an old Silmarillion track, Alice. In essence, it is a protest song about the situation in Northern Ireland and remains one of the highlights of their career, perfectly fusing caustic lyrics with evocative progressive rock, redolent with the atmosphere of fear and wasted lives described so graphically in Fish’s vivid imagery. Starting with a rather too obviously Floyd-like tuning radio (including a snatch from Market Square Heroes), rolling drums, bass and keys under Fish’s snatched couplets plunge us into the experience of squaddies fearfully patrolling the streets of Belfast… “death in the shadows”. Rothery’s wailing guitar writhes above the almost Scottish jig, darkly ploughing on under Fish’s manic vocals. His dirty rock guitar riff is the sole accompaniment to a newsreader coldly intoning about ‘Troubles’, echoing the scenes seen on a nightly basis on British TV screens… “crawling behind a Saracen’s hull from the safety of his living room chair”. Pete Trewavas thrusts to the fore with a groove-laden rhythmic bass, supported with a thumping military beat by Pointer, driving along a chilling section as Rothery’s guitar swoops and twists eerily, like some sort of wraith. The bass alone ominously processes us into a bitter pastiche of the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 accompanied by a thumping staccato riff which bears an uncanny but apt resemblance to Mars, Bringer of War by Gustav Holst. The chilling voice of Death welcomes in the powerful, biting finale with a band in full flight… but this concluding section fully demonstrated that Fish was developing into a poetic and evocative lyricist of a high order:
“From the dole queue to the regiment in a flash,
But remember Monday signings when from door to door you dash,
On the news a nation mourns you, unknown soldier count the cost,
For a second you’ll be famous but labelled posthumous.”
Forgotten Sons is clearly indebted to Prog predecessors, but it’s hard to imagine their forbears releasing something quite so visceral and caustic. It remains simply one of the best songs to emerge from the new wave of early ’80s progressive rock, and more pertinently it actually said something of depth and importance – a bitter condemnation of the wasted lives of young men in a pointless conflict in a graphic song which absolutely pulled no punches politically.
So how does Script stand up as an album nearly 40 years later?
Mark Kelly recently told TPA, “I think looking back now it’s hard to listen with fresh ears, but it sounds ‘of its time’, as you would expect. For me it’s got an atmosphere and cohesiveness about it. It sounds like a complete work. At the time we were REALLY happy with it – very proud of it”, whilst Pete Trewavas economically but accurately in the documentary describes the album as “Rocky in a quirky English way”. Fish also recently said, in an interview with Prog magazine, “We were holding onto the skirts of our influences, trying to find the confidence to break away from it.”
Those views encapsulate Script for a Jester’s Tear. It is clearly a product of its time, capturing a talented young band confidently debuting with a well-written and polished release. They clearly displayed the influences of some of their favourite artists, but presented their own musical vision through the prism of the attitude and edge of young British men who had also grown up through the emergence of Punk and New Wave.
So I would unequivocally recommend this re-release to ‘newer’ fans, but they need to understand the context. Nevertheless, strangely the bite, insight and attitude of something like New Kings from F.E.A.R. is not so far away from the spirit of forerunners like Forgotten Sons or He Knows, You Know – just remember, none of us are the same as we were in 1983!
For the older fans, this must be a bit of a ‘no-brainer’ to get – but just in case they are wondering whether it is worth shelling out for this album (again), perhaps they need to hear about the all-round package. Firstly, as with all the Marillion deluxe edition re-releases, it is presented in a classy book style format, filled with interesting contemporary photos and an insightful essay from Prog editor Jerry Ewing. The iconic artwork from Mark Wilkinson adorns the sleeve and booklet.
All the album and EP songs (plus the romping encore jig of Margaret) are presented in an additional and electrifying previously unreleased live double CD set from what had become their ‘second home’, the legendary Marquee Club, on 29th December 1982. The atmosphere is palpable – you can almost hear the sweat dripping off the walls of the packed venue. Highlights include the gleeful crowd singing the “I’m Fucking!” refrain in an ebullient Garden Party, a blistering solo from Rothery on The Web, and the extended instrumental section in Forgotten Sons (when Fish ‘bayonets’ the crowd) in which the band, particularly Trewavas, locks into a great groove and Rothery improvises funkily with wah-wah pedals and other effects. Indeed, on such inspirational live form, one can now see why Rothery felt a little disappointed with his guitar sounds on the album, which do not capture this sort of live incandescence. This set confirms that Marillion were a truly formidable live act right from their early days, and also includes some of the witty badinage from Fish in between songs. Marillion have already released an identical live set from the following night in 1982 at the same venue on their Early Stages – The Official Bootleg Box Set, 1982-1987, released in 2008. That set is now unavailable so this is still a very welcome addition to this deluxe edition for the many fans who may not have the Early Stages box set.
Andy Bradfield and Avril Mackintosh have greatly improved the sound balance and quality with a sensitive remix, particularly on Three Boats Down from the Candy and Grendel from the debut EP, which did sound rather flat on previously released versions. The remix for the album itself is similarly enlightening. For instance, the stark resonance of the opening section of the title song stands out in almost crystalline splendour and the harpsichord infused end section is majestic in clarity. The revelation in sound comes with the Blu-ray/DVD version in 5.1 audio with far clearer separation and sonic quality for the instrumentation, making the 5.1 version alone worth getting this deluxe edition. Most interesting is the 93-minute Sackcloth and Greasepaint documentary, with interesting contributions from all band members, including the very engaging early member Diz Minnitt. The fact that Mick Pointer only ever refers to Fish acerbically as ‘Derek Dick’ says all we need to know about how he feels about what happened to him shortly after the album was released.
The first time on Blu-Ray, the Recital of the Script live video of their triumphant show at Hammersmith Odeon in April 1983 is also a welcome addition. The limitations of the original video quality are evident but that seems inconsequential when you see a great live band on remarkable theatrical form, with Fish memorably shredding a massive plant in The Web and hauling a surprised youngster out of the crowd to be ritually ‘slaughtered’ during the finale of Grendel. The ‘Extras’ comprise the promo videos for their first three singles, including a truly disturbing nightmarish He Knows, You Know and a comically perverse Garden Party, curiously featuring short-term drummer Andy Ward of Camel fame, who did not even feature playing on the song. A short 11-minute video Live at the Marquee, 1982 is a curious ‘short’ with a couple of songs, in all their sweaty, visceral glory, and some rather stilted interview footage with Fish. It conveys some of the excitement surrounding the band in those early days, but it was clearly ‘of its time’!
Script for a Jester’s Tear is a truly remarkable debut album, brimming with musical imagination and poetic lyrics, showcasing a confident, driven young band desperate to make an impact. So here we are once more…” indeed. Count me in!
[You can read Leo Trimmings’s recent interview with Mark Kelly HERE.]
CD One: Script for a Jester’s Tear (2020 Remix)
01. Script for a Jester’s Tear (8:42)
02. He Knows, You Know (5:23)
03. The Web (8:50)
04. Garden Party (7:20)
05. Chelsea Monday (8:17)
06. Forgotten Sons (8:23)
Time – 46:55
CD Two: Market Square Heroes EP (2020 Remix)
01. Market Square Heroes (4:17)
02. Three Boats Down From The Candy (4:30)
03. Grendel (17:17)
04. Charting the Single (2020 Remaster) (4:45)
Time – 30:49
CD Three: Live at the The Marquee Club – 29the December, 1982 (Part 1)
01. Garden Party (8:46)
02. Three Boats Down From The Candy (5:24)
03. Grendel (19:24)
04. Chelsea Monday (9:14)
05. He Knows, You Know (5:47)
Time – 48:35
CD Four: Live at the The Marquee Club – 29the December, 1982 (Part 2)
01. The Web (10:58)
02. Script for a Jester’s Tear (9:35)
03. Forgotten Sons (11:25)
04. Market Square Heroes (5:27)
05. Margaret (6:43)
Time – 44:08
Script for a Jester’s Tear (2020 Remix) – 5.1 Audio Version [same tracklisting as CD One]
Market Square Heroes EP (2020 Remix) – Audio: 96/24 Stereo LPCM Version [same tracklisting as CD Two]
Live at the Marquee Club – 29the December 1982 [same tracklisting as CDs Three & Four]
Sackcloth and Greasepaint – The Story of Script for a Jester’s Tear documentary (93 Mins)
Recital of the Script (Audio: 48/16 Stereo LPCM) – Live at the Hammersmith Odeon – 18th April 1983 (81 Minutes)
Market Square Heroes
He Knows, You Know
Live at the Marquee Club 1982 (29th December 1982), including He Knows, You Know, interview and excerpt from Market Square Heroes – (11 Minutes)
Fish – Voice
Steve Rothery – Electric & Acoustic Guitars
Pete Trewavas – Bass & Fretless Bass
Mark Kelly – Grand Piano, Harpsichord, Mini Moog, Synths, Organ
Mick Pointer – Drums, Percussion
Record Label: Parlophone Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 3rd April 2020 (Originally released 1982 (Market Square Heroes) / 1983 (Script for a Jester’s Tear)
Marillion – Website | Facebook | Twitter
Fish – Website | Facebook | Twitter
The Progressive Aspect would like to thank Fraser Marshall of the Marillion – Explanations of Song Elements website for his permission to refer to his blog about some of the background to the songs.