There has never been anything close to a better way to own this album, and I very much doubt there ever will.
I have to open this review by stating clearly that this album was a hugely important one for me personally on its original release in March 1983, and remains a thing of fond memory to this day. Not so much the content of the album itself, excellent as that was, but in the full context of who Marillion were and what they represented at the time, both in terms of the music scene in general and my own perception in particular. Let me explain.
I first came across Marillion in a live setting at a show at the Marquee Club in London. It was the Spring of 1982, Pete Trewavas had just recently joined the band (not that I knew that at the time) and I was a 20 year old student, resplendent in an afghan coat, and hankering for the glory days of the prog rock scene, which seemed at the time to have fragmented for good some six years earlier. Come 1982, however, and the music papers were full of the ‘neo-prog’ movement – or even, as some called it initially, the New Wave Of British Prog Rock – and Marillion were in the vanguard of it, flanked by the likes of Pallas, Pendragon, IQ and Solstice. The day of that first Marquee show, I’d read about how the band were causing a real stir at their live shows, and that they ‘sounded a bit like Genesis’ (I know, I know!) so, seeing they were on that night, a friend and I headed down to check them out. It was respectably full, though there was no queue to get in, and from the moment they arrived on stage doing Garden Party I was fascinated. As the set went on, I moved from fascination to open mouthed disbelief. Steve Rothery’s guitar solo, over Fish’s spoken-word part, in Chelsea Monday sent shivers up and down my spine which seemed to go on and on for minutes. The 20-minute Grendel (which Fish had spent a lengthy intro informing us all, bizarrely, that it was in fact about a duck) saw an audience member plucked from the crowd and ‘attacked’ by the startlingly helmeted singer. Most of all, Forgotten Sons, with its climax of the band silhouetted against blinding lights, was one of the most stunning things I had ever witnessed – and still is. Without a word of a lie, grown men were openly in tears. Some four months later, I saw them again at the same venue, and the queue was around the block. 200 people must have been locked out. By the following April, only 12 months since that first Marquee show, they were doing two nights at Hammersmith Odeon. An astonishing ascent by any standards, and the buzz around the band was enormous.
Come March 1983, the debut album appeared, We had already had the first single, with its 12″ containing the whole Grendel on its B-side, but this was going to be the real deal. As I alluded to earlier, this was so big a thing because I, like I am sure many others present at those early gigs, felt as if Marillion were somehow ‘my’ band. I had spent twelve months singing their praises to anyone who would listen, and when the album appeared with its handsome, and properly ‘prog’, gatefold sleeve courtesy of Mark Wilkinson, the world had caught up. Fast forward an astonishing (and rather depressing) 37 years, and the album now gets its ultimate treatment. Just about everything you want from that period is here, on four CDs and one Blu-Ray disc, and it is finally what I was waiting for in my young and over-optimistic mind almost four decades ago. Because truth to tell, having witnessed the power of the band’s live shows, some of the album left me a little disappointed, as if some of the fire had been left on that Marquee stage and failed to translate into the vinyl grooves.
It isn’t, let me assure you, that Script For A Jester’s Tear was a poor album. It wasn’t. But one or two tracks did feel a little lacklustre in the confines of the studio. Forgotten Sons, for one, and also The Web to a lesser degree, dragged their heels a little where they should have soared. Some of the album managed to rise above this – Chelsea Monday is rendered magnificent by Steve Rothery’s sublime guitar, He Knows You Know drips with the same bile it always did, and Garden Party has the same spring in its step. There was also, of course, one new song which had not featured in any of the shows until the very end of 1982, as the title track itself was written in the studio as the album was being recorded, and it is one of the most successful things on the record, developing in classic early Marillion style from the delicate ‘so here I am once more’ opening, through the wistful swings and roundabouts through to the bitter recriminations of the finale. Not for the last time, Fish was putting his heart on his sleeve and offering up his raw emotion and life experience for our vicarious pleasure. It’s a stunning track, and would go on to open the band’s shows on the subsequent tour to the accompaniment of a word-perfect crowd. Some of the problem with the recording, along with the sterile studio environment of which so many great live bands have fallen foul, appears to lie with the production work of Nick Tauber, who replaced the unavailable David Hitchcock largely, so it is claimed, on the basis of how much the band admired his work on Toyah’s album Anthem. It is true that he brought a clarity to the sound, and a pleasing fullness, but somehow it all sounded a little as if the studio was lined with pink cotton wool. For this edition, the album has been remastered, and it does improve matters a little.
Disc Two brings up the rest of the studio material released at the time: all three tracks from that first single (Market Square Heroes, Three Boats Down From The Candy and Grendel) plus Charting The Single, which was the flip to He Knows You Know. All of these have also been remastered, and it’s a reminder of how much great material the band already had at their disposal. Until mid-1982 they were also including a song entitled She Chameleon in the live set, before discarding it and then resurrecting it with entirely different music for the second album Fugazi – a shame, as that initial version of the song was superb. In fact, the only track from the time not rounded up for this release is a live version of show-closer Margaret (a sort of Scotland The Brave rave-up), together with a live version of Charting The Single also, which appeared on the different formats of the Garden Party single.
For the third and fourth discs, we come to what, for me, is the real audio meat of this set: an entire show recorded in startlingly good quality at one of the band’s Christmas 1982 shows at the Marquee (shows I missed since, as a student, I was sadly home for Christmas)! This joins another show, recorded the following night, which has already appeared as part of the Early Stages set, but this is very much the superior recording. Less bootleg quality and more raw power, it captures the band at their early peak and honestly, is worth the price of admission here alone. It’s easy to shut your eyes and almost pretend you were there (and young again), except for the fact that you would be crammed like sardines, exhausted and bathed in sweat of course! This is what I wanted the album to sound like all of those years ago. And now, at last, it does.
But wait, that’s not all. In fact it’s far from all, as the Blu Ray disc contains an absolute embarrassment of riches. For the audiophiles the first four discs have all of their contents reproduced on here in crystal clear quality, with all of those specifications which make certain types of people with certain types of incredibly expensive equipment go all weak at the knees and have to have a lie down. The Script album itself is even in 5.1 Surround. But move past that, and there’s the video section of this Shop Of Delights, where we get the star on top of the whole Christmas Tree in the shape of the Recital Of The Script video, filmed at Hammersmith an the tour and released soon after, including Grendel and The Web which were originally released separately as a ‘video EP’, making the cost of this video material an eye-watering £30 in 1983 money, which would probably buy you a small car or something now. The footage is still rather grainy, indicating that it hasn’t been tidied up too much, but this is nevertheless an astonishing show. You get to see the kid being ‘attacked’ in Grendel, Fish brutally destroying a rubber plant in The Web and an incredible Forgotten Sons, musically and visually, which can still leave you breathless. As if those 80 minutes of video magic weren’t enough, you get a lengthy, and fascinating, documentary about the making of the album, three promo videos and finally footage of He Knows You Know at that Marquee show, along with a bit of Market Square Heroes and some backstage chat. This cropped up previously as bonus material on the Recital Of The Script DVD, and I sorely wish they could have found some more film to use, so good is it, but that really would be churlish to complain about.
Oh, and we’re still not done. All of this comes in a handsome ‘book’ format, with 60 pages containing lengthy info about the early days of the band, the original inner gatefold lyrics from the vinyl, and a whole host of rarely seen vintage photographs. There has never been anything close to a better way to own this album, and I very much doubt there ever will.
So here we are once more, with this landmark recording. But what we may have lost on the swings nearly four decades ago, we have very much gained on the roundabouts. You have to get this.