Follow the muse. It’s a musician’s mantra that’s easy to say, but often hard to do. Some bands continue kowtowing to corporate strategies that override their better creative impulses, while others—like veteran British progressive giants and crowdfunding pioneers Marillion—are able to call their own shots after spending years in the trenches.
“We’ve never been trendy or fashionable, even at the height of our commercial success,” observes founding Marillion guitarist Steve Rothery, “but the stability that independence gives you means you don’t have to play that game. You just make the music you have to make, and you know there’s an audience out there for you.”
These days, Marillion—who celebrated their 40th anniversary in 2019—release new music whenever they see fit. During their early-80s/mid-90s major-label heyday, Marillion were at the forefront of what could be called the neo-prog movement. Essentially, they singlehandedly chiseled out the next wave of British progressive music, one most decidedly post-punk and sprinkled with just a smattering of new-wave production sensibilities. March 1985’s mind-expanding Misplaced Childhood was an early Marillion benchmark, with the multi-movement lament of “Kayleigh” and the elegiac, anthemic “Lavender” setting the template for a recorded canon filled with impassioned lyrics, soundfield-engulfing guitar riffage, and banks of lush, cleverly composed keyboard runs.
Of late, Marillion have been revisiting their storied legacy via a deep-dive reissue campaign on Parlophone, which comprises their eight core studio recordings initially released through EMI between 1983 and 1995—the first four with original visionary/polarizing frontman Fish, the following four with current vocalist/songwriting oracle Steve Hogarth. Each album has been remastered and updated for this series of limited-edition deluxe box sets, each containing four CDs that house the original remastered albums plus rare tracks, outtakes, and of-era live recordings, as well as one Blu-ray with 24-bit/96kHz DTS-HD Master Audio and LPCM 5.1 mixes, along with comparable video content.
To date, a quartet of master mixers have tackled the remastering duties—namely, Andy Bradfield and Avril Mackintosh for May 1983’s Script for a Jester’s Tear and June 1987’s Clutching at Straws, Steven Wilson for March 1985’s aforementioned Misplaced Childhood and February 1994’s Brave, and Michael Hunter for June 1995’s Afraid of Sunlight. Still to come are as-yet-unscheduled updates for the remaining three titles—March 1984’s Fugazi, September 1989’s Seasons End (the first with Hogarth as lead vocalist), and June 1991’s Holidays in Eden.
“I think 5.1 is the obvious way to go, really,” Rothery acknowledges. “You can remix the records and improve them sonically, but for people to experience those classic albums in 5.1—that definitely adds a fascinating new dimension to them. You can change the emphasis or give the listener more choice of what they want to pick out in the surround mix, rather than just offer a straightforward stereo mix. It’s a very immersive way to experience some of your favorite music.”
That said, working with four distinct surround overseers brought forth different challenges. “When Steven Wilson did Brave, my only comment was to add a little more guitar EQ for some things,” Rothery clarifies. “Steven’s a good friend but also a huge fan of the music, so he approached the Brave and Misplaced mixes with a reverential frame of mind. Andy Bradfield and Avril Mackintosh have clear understanding of the dynamics and exactly what we were doing at the times of Script and Straws. It’s good to be able to trust people who are incredibly talented technically, but who also come at it from the viewpoint of a fan, and what they would like to hear.”
When asked to pinpoint his personal favorite 5.1 mixes from the two different eras of the band, Rothery instantly exclaimed, “That’s a very difficult question to answer!” Following only the slightest of pauses, the guitarist cited a pair of clear-cut gems—Clutching at Straws’ oppressive Cold War libation “White Russian,” and Brave’s uplifting denouement, “The Great Escape.”
Both of Rothery’s surround-sound choices show the power of Marillion’s adept aural adaptability through the ages. “That’s the magical thing about music,” Rothery concludes. “When you’re a musician writing out your ideas, you want them to resonate in a certain way. And as a listener, you tend to have albums by your favorite artists that represent a moment in your life—an age, or a relationship you’re in—and they all become intertwined. To sustain that level of connection over 40 years is pretty special.” Indeed, Marillion continue to revise a progressive script that only brings joy (and minimal tears) to all who heed their clarion call.