The Fish era
Formation and early years (1979–1982)
Marillion was formed in 1979 as Silmarillion, after J.R.R. Tolkien's book The Silmarillion, by Mick Pointer, Steve Rothery, Doug Irvine and Brian Jelliman. They played their first concert at Berkhamsted Civic Centre, Hertfordshire, on 1 March 1980.
The band name was shortened to Marillion in 1981 to avoid potential copyright conflicts, at the same time as Fish and bassist William 'Diz' Minnitt replaced original bassist/vocalist Doug Irvine following an audition at Leyland Farm Studios in Buckinghamshire on 2 January 1981. Rothery, drummer Mick Pointer, and keyboardist Brian Jelliman completed this line-up; the first gig with this line-up was at the Red Lion Pub in Hunningham, Warwickshire, on 14 March 1981. By the end of 1981, Kelly had replaced Jelliman, with Trewavas replacing Minnitt in 1982. Minnitt later formed Pride of Passion.
The early works of Marillion contained Fish's poetic, fantastical and introspective lyrics melded with music to create a sound that reflected the band's influences. Marillion's first recordings were two demos recorded in March and the summer of 1980, prior to Fish and Minnitt joining the band. Two versions of the Spring demo circulate amongst collectors; the first has four tracks; "The Haunting of Gill House", "Herne the Hunter", an untitled track known as "Scott's Porridge", and "Alice". The second version has an instrumental version of "Alice" in place of "Scott's Porridge". All tracks are instrumental apart from "Alice", with vocals by Doug Irvine. The summer demo has three tracks; "Close" (parts of which were later rewritten into "The Web", "He Knows You Know" and "Chelsea Monday"), "Lady Fantasy" (an original based on an earlier Electric Gypsy song), and another version of "Alice". Both were recorded at The Enid's studio in Hertfordshire. Following Irvine's departure and replacement by Fish and Minnitt, the band recorded another demo tape, produced by Les Payne, in July 1981 that included early versions of "He Knows You Know", "Garden Party", and "Charting the Single".
The group attracted attention with a three-track session for the Friday Rock Show (early versions of "The Web", "Three Boats Down from The Candy", and "Forgotten Sons") and were subsequently signed by EMI Records. They released their first single, "Market Square Heroes", in 1982, with the epic song "Grendel" on the B-side of the 12" version. Following the single, the band released their first full-length album in 1983.
Script for a Jester's Tear and Fugazi (1983–1984)
The music on their debut album, Script for a Jester's Tear, was born out of the intensive performances of the previous years. Although it had some progressive rock stylings, it also had a darker edge, suggested by the bedsit squalor on the album's cover. The album was a commercial success, peaking at number seven on the UK album chart and producing the Top 40 singles "He Knows You Know" and "Garden Party". Although they were accused of being Genesis soundalikes, the album reached the Platinum certification and has been credited with giving a second life to progressive rock.
Following the UK tour to promote Script for a Jester's Tear, Mick Pointer was dismissed due to Fish's dissatisfaction with what he later described as the drummer's "awful" timing and failure to develop as a musician with the rest of the band. Former Steve Hackett drummer Ian Mosley was eventually secured as Pointer's replacement after a series of other drummers, including Andy Ward and Jonathan Mover, proved short-lived and less than satisfactory. Despite the numerous production problems encountered during this period, the second album, Fugazi, built upon the success of the first album with a more streamlined hard rock sound. It improved on the chart placing of its predecessor by reaching the top five and produced the top 30 singles "Punch and Judy" and "Assassing".
In November 1984, Marillion then released their first live album, Real to Reel, featuring songs from Fugazi and Script for a Jester's Tear, as well as "Cinderella Search" (B-side to 'Assassing') and the debut single "Market Square Heroes", which had not been available on album until that point. The album entered the UK album charts at No. 8.
Misplaced Childhood and international success (1985-1986)
Marillion performing live in 1986
Their third and commercially most successful studio album was Misplaced Childhood. With the blessing of their record company, the band was free to depart stylistically from their previous albums, in the process developing a more mainstream sound. The lead single from the album, "Kayleigh", received major promotion by EMI and gained heavy rotation on BBC Radio 1 and Independent Local Radio stations as well as television appearances, bringing the band to the attention of a much wider audience. The band were able to showcase their ability to juxtapose easily accessible rock ballads ("Kayleigh", charting at No. 2 in the United Kingdom, behind charity fundraiser "You'll Never Walk Alone" by The Crowd, and "Lavender", which charted at No. 5) with darker subject matter on the album such as drug abuse ("Blind Curve"), alcoholism ("Waterhole") and prostitution ("Bitter Suite"), ultimately leading to rebirth and redemption, all inspired by Fish's life experiences. Following the exposure given to "Kayleigh" and its subsequent chart success, the album went to No. 1 in the United Kingdom, knocking Bryan Ferry's Boys and Girls off the top spot and holding off a challenge from Sting, who released his first solo album, The Dream of the Blue Turtles, in the same week. The third single from the album, "Heart of Lothian", became another top-thirty hit for the band, reaching No. 29. The album came sixth in Kerrang! magazine's "Albums of the Year" in 1985. "Kayleigh" also gave Marillion its sole entry on the Billboard Hot 100, reaching No. 74. In the summer of 1986, the band played to their biggest ever audience as special guests to Queen at a festival in Germany attended by a crowd of over 150,000 people. The band were also offered the Highlander soundtrack but turned it down because of their world tour, a missed opportunity which Rothery later claimed to regret.
Clutching at Straws and the departure of Fish (1987–1988)
The fourth studio album, Clutching at Straws, shed some of its predecessor's pop stylings and retreated into a darker exploration of excess, alcoholism, and life on the road, representing the strains of constant touring that would result in the departure of Fish to pursue a solo career. It did continue the group's commercial success, however; lead single "Incommunicado" charted at No. 6 in the UK charts gaining the band an appearance on Top of the Pops, and the album entered the UK album chart at No. 2, Marillion's second highest placing. "Sugar Mice" and "Warm Wet Circles" also became hit singles, both reaching No. 22. Fish has also stated in interviews since that he believes this was the best album he made with the band. The album came sixth in Kerrang! magazine's "Albums of the Year" in 1987, equalling the ranking given to Misplaced Childhood. It was also included in Q magazine's "50 Best Recordings of the Year". Fish explained his reasons for leaving in an interview in 2003:
"By 1987 we were over-playing live because the manager was on 20 per cent of the gross. He was making a fantastic amount of money while we were working our asses off. Then I found a bit of paper proposing an American tour. At the end of the day the band would have needed a £14,000 loan from EMI as tour support to do it. That was when I knew that, if I stayed with the band, I'd probably end up a raging alcoholic and be found overdosed and dying in a big house in Oxford with Irish wolfhounds at the bottom of my bed."
Fish gave the band a choice to continue with either him or the manager. The band sided with the manager and Fish left for a solo career. His last live performance with the band was at Craigtoun Country Park on 23 July 1988. Due to lengthy legal battles, informal contact between Fish and the other four band members apparently did not resume until 1999. Fish would later disclose in the liner notes to the 2-CD reissue of Clutching at Straws that he and his former bandmates had met up and discussed the demise of the band and renewed their friendship, and had come to the consensus that an excessive touring schedule and too much pressure from the band's management led to the rift.
Although reportedly now on good personal terms, both camps had always made it very clear that the oft-speculated-upon reunion would never happen. However, when Fish headlined the 'Hobble on the Cobbles' free concert in Aylesbury's Market Square on 26 August 2007, the attraction of playing their debut single in its spiritual home proved strong enough to overcome any lingering bad feeling between the former band members, and Kelly, Mosley, Rothery, and Trewavas replaced Fish's backing band for an emotional encore of "Market Square Heroes".
In a press interview following the event, Fish denied this would lead to a full reunion, saying that: "Hogarth does a great job with the band. We forged different paths over the 19 years."
The Steve Hogarth era
Seasons End and Holidays in Eden (1989–1991)
After the split, the band found Steve Hogarth, the former keyboardist and sometime vocalist of The Europeans. Hogarth stepped into a difficult situation, as the band had already recorded some demos of the next studio album, which eventually would have become Seasons End. Hogarth was a significant contrast to Fish, coming from a new wave musical background instead of progressive rock. He had also never owned a Marillion album before joining the band.
After Fish left the group (taking his lyrics with him), Hogarth set to work crafting new lyrics to existing songs with lyricist and author John Helmer. The demo sessions of the songs from Seasons End with Fish vocals and lyrics can be found on the bonus disc of the remastered version of Clutching at Straws, while the lyrics found their way into various Fish solo albums such as his first solo album, Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors, some snippets on his second, Internal Exile and even a line or two found its way to his third album, Suits.
Hogarth's second album with the band, Holidays in Eden, was the first he wrote in partnership with the band, and includes the song "Dry Land" which Hogarth had written and recorded in a previous project with the band How We Live. As quoted from Steve Hogarth, "Holidays in Eden was to become Marillion's "pop"est album ever, and was greeted with delight by many, and dismay by some of the hardcore fans". Despite its pop stylings, the album failed to crossover beyond the band's existing fanbase and produced no major hit singles.
Brave, Afraid of Sunlight and split with EMI Records (1992–1995)
Holidays in Eden was followed by Brave, a dark and richly complex concept album that took the band 18 months to release. The album also marked the start of the band's longtime relationship with producer Dave Meegan. An independent film based on the album, which featured the band, was also released.
The next album, Afraid of Sunlight, would be the band's last album with record label EMI Records. Once again, it received little promotion, no mainstream radio airplay and its sales were disappointing for the band. Despite this, it was one of their most critically acclaimed albums and was included in Q's 50 Best Albums of 1995. One track of note on the album is Out of This World, a song about Donald Campbell, who died while trying to set a speed record on water. The song inspired an effort to recover both Campbell's body and the "Bluebird K7," the boat which Campbell crashed in, from the water. The recovery was finally undertaken in 2001, and both Steve Hogarth and Steve Rothery were invited. In 1998, Steve Hogarth claimed this was the best album he had made with the band.
This Strange Engine, Radiation and marillion.com (1996–1999)
What followed was a string of albums and events that saw Marillion struggling to find their place in the music business. This Strange Engine was released in 1997 with little promotion from their new label Castle Records, and the band could not afford to make tour stops in the United States. Luckily, their dedicated US fan base decided to solve the problem by raising some $60,000 themselves online to give to the band to come to the US. The band's loyal fanbase (combined with the Internet) would eventually become vital to the band's existence.
The band's tenth album Radiation saw the band taking a different approach and was received by fans with mixed reactions.
marillion.com was released the following year and showed some progression in the new direction. The band were still unhappy with their record label situation.
Anoraknophobia and Marbles (2000–2006)
The band decided that they would try a radical experiment by asking their fans if they would help fund the recording of the next album by pre-ordering it before recording even started. The result was over 12,000 pre-orders which raised enough money to record and release Anoraknophobia in 2001. The band was able to strike a deal with EMI to also help distribute the album. This allowed Marillion to retain all the rights to their music while enjoying commercial distribution. By this time the band had also parted company with their long-time manager, saving 20 per cent of the band's income.
The success of Anoraknophobia allowed the band to start recording their next album, but they decided to leverage their fanbase once again to help raise money towards marketing and promotion of a new album. The band put up the album for pre-order in mid-production. This time fans responded by pre-ordering 18,000 copies.
Marbles was released in 2004 with a 2-CD version that is only available at Marillion's website – kind of a 'thank-you' gesture to the over 18,000 fans who pre-ordered it, and as even a further thanks to the fans, their names were credited in the sleeve notes (this 'thank you' to the fans also occurred with the previous album, Anoraknophobia).
Marillion in 2007, left to right: Steve Rothery, Steve Hogarth, Pete Trewavas (front row), Mark Kelly, Ian Mosley (back row)
The band's management organised the biggest promotional schedule since they had left EMI and Steve Hogarth secured interviews with prominent broadcasters on BBC Radio, including Matthew Wright, Bob Harris, Stuart Maconie, Simon Mayo and Mark Lawson. Marbles also became the band's most critically acclaimed album since Afraid of Sunlight, prompting many positive reviews in the press. The band released "You're Gone" as the lead single from the album. Aware that it was unlikely to gain much mainstream radio airplay, the band released the single in three separate formats and encouraged fans to buy a copy of each to get the single into the UK Top Ten. The single reached No. 7, making it the first Marillion song to reach the UK Top Ten since "Incommunicado" in 1987 and the band's first Top 40 entry since "Beautiful" in 1995. The second single from the album, "Don't Hurt Yourself", reached No. 16. Following this, they released a download-only single, "The Damage (live)", recorded at the band's sell-out gig at the London Astoria. All of this succeeded in putting the band back in the public consciousness, making the campaign a success. Marillion continued to tour throughout 2005 playing several summer festivals and embarking on acoustic tours of both Europe and the United States, followed up by the "Not Quite Christmas Tour" of Europe throughout the end of 2005.
A new DVD, Colours and Sound, was released in Feb 2006, documenting the creation, promotion, release, and subsequent European tour in support of the album Marbles.
Somewhere Else and Happiness is the Road (2007–2008)
April 2007 saw Marillion release their fourteenth studio album Somewhere Else, their first album in 10 years to make the UK Top No. 30. The success of the album was further underscored by that of the download-only single "See it Like a Baby", making UK No. 45 (March 2007) and the traditional CD release of "Thankyou Whoever You Are / Most Toys", which made UK No. 15 and No. 6 in the Netherlands during June 2007.
In July 2008 the band posted a contest for fans to create a music video for the soon-to-be released single "Whatever is Wrong with You", and post it on YouTube. The winner would win £5,000.
Happiness Is the Road, released in October 2008, again featured a pre-order "deluxe edition" with a list of the fans who bought in advance, and a more straightforward regular release. It is another double album, with one disc based on a concept and the second containing the other songs that aren't a part of the theme. Before the album's release, on 9 September 2008, Marillion pre-released their album via p2p networks themselves. Upon attempting to play the downloaded files, users were shown a video from the band explaining why they had taken this route. Downloaders were then able to opt to purchase the album at a user-defined price or select to receive DRM-free files for free, in exchange for an email address. The band explained that although they do not support piracy, they realised their music would inevitably be distributed online anyway, and wanted to attempt to engage with p2p users and make the best of the situation.
Less is More and Sounds That Can't Be Made (2009–2014)
The band's sixteenth studio album (released 2 October 2009) was an acoustic album featuring new arrangements of previously released tracks (except one, the new track: 'It's Not Your Fault') entitled Less Is More.
Their seventeenth studio album is titled Sounds That Can't Be Made and was released in September 2012. Two versions of the album were released: A 2-disc 'deluxe' version that included a DVD with 'making-of' features and sound-check recordings and a single CD jewel case version. The 'deluxe' version also included a 128-page book that incorporated lyrics, artwork and, as was the case with Anoraknophobia, Marbles and Happiness is the Road, the names of people who pre-ordered the album. Parts of the album were recorded at Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios in 2011.
Marillion were awarded "Band of the Year" at the annual Progressive Music Awards in 2013.
Fuck Everyone and Run (F E A R) (2015–present)
The band announced in September 2015 that they were working on a new album, provisionally titled M18 and later confirmed as Fuck Everyone and Run (F E A R). As with several of their previous releases, the recording of the album was to be funded by fan pre-orders, this time through direct-to-fan website PledgeMusic. The album was released on 23 September 2016  debuting at number 4 in the official UK charts of 30 September 2016, their highest placing since Clutching at Straws nearly three decades earlier. In November 2016, they announced their first ever show at the Royal Albert Hall in London, in October 2017. The gig sold out in just 4 minutes and was filmed for DVD release. They also won "UK Band of the Year" at the 2017 Progressive Music Awards. In March 2018, the film of the Royal Albert Hall gig was premiered at cinemas around the UK, before the DVD launch, with the band attending the showing in London. On April 6, the concert was released as
All One Tonight - Live at the Royal Albert Hall.
In March 2018, the band helped to unveil a memorial to David Bowie, which is situated close to Aylesbury's Market Square. The memorial was the inspiration of promoter David Stopps, who booked Bowie to appear at the Friars Club in Aylesbury where he debuted Ziggy Stardust. The bulk of the funds for the memorial were raised at a gig held at the Waterside Theatre in Aylesbury on the evening of the unveiling which Marillion headlined, alongside Howard Jones, John Otway and The Dung Beatles, all of whom have close association to Aylesbury and in particular, The Friars.