Marillion emerged from the short-lived progressive rock revival of the early '80s to become one of the most enduring cult acts of the era.
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 were comprised of 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 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 of the band worldwide joined forces to raise over $60,000 to underwrite the tour, and the band undertook its largest North American tour since Holidays in Eden. In 1998, the band returned to the studio to record its 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 long-time collaborator Dave Meegan, in 2007 Marillion employed Michael Hunter 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 biannual weekend festival in Port Zelande, Netherlands, was recorded. Titled A Sunday Night Above the Rain, the album was expected to be released in 2014. ~ Jason Ankeny & Dale Jensen, Rovi