The Marquee Club - A tribute site dedicated to the history of the legendary Marquee club at London's 90 Wardour street.

Neo Prog 82-83 by Ian Oakley

"I suppose it all started about 1977 with the Sex Pistols' 'God Save the Queen', a great record that really turned the music world upside down. However, it was all about image. Four guys up on stage that couldn't give a flying toss about anything. And what is more they encouraged everyone to join them. You don't need to play an instrument - just get up there, look good, act angry and swear a lot - it's hip, it's cool. As for anyone that actually cares about what's being played - well f*** off you boring old hippie has-beens. The Press just loved it and the (until that moment) hip album-buying public were dismissed to the corridor of shame.

The UK progressive rock scene was just about dead and buried. There were some very honourable exceptions such as The Enid and a great flash of brilliant light with UK that was soon extinguished. But in the main, nothing really new happened with prog for about five years.

In 1982 things began to change. After half a decade people were rediscovering their love of progressive rock and were unashamed of going against the current fashions ('New Romantic' at that time). The bands soon found a home at the Marquee Club in Wardour Street, London where for the next two years twice a week or so one or other of the leading bands of the movement played host.

If you look at the progressive Marquee house bands of the time the hierarchy was:
Headliners: Marillion / Solstice / Twelfth Night / Pallas
Support bands: IQ / Quasar / Pendragon.
Also-rans: Citizen Cain / Liaison (who were actually very good) / Trilogy / La Host

The Marquee crowd (Fish's 'Marquee veterans') all knew each other and even had their own well-defined viewing areas in the Marquee. With my friends and myself it was always to the right of the stage, left of the first column. Yep, clique-y it was!

One of the main topics of conversion after any gig was who was going to be the biggest - who was going to make that breakthrough first out of the big four? These were our personal impressions at the time:

Marillion - At that stage we really couldn't understand why they were so popular. 'Grendel' just made us laugh you just wanted to go up to the nearest Marillion fan and say, "listen to this - hear the real thing", thrust a pair of headphones on him and play 'Foxtrot'. However, their singer did have a lot of charisma. Solstice - They were our party and stoners band. You knew at once that they really didn't have what it took to become a major act (and probably didn't want to anyway). Their gigs were great in that confined atmosphere but they were really the last of the great Hippie bands.

Twelfth Night - Very arty. Had an underground, dark, punk-like sensibility, but somehow seemed always in danger of disappearing up their own backsides and becoming that generation's Van De Graaf Generator. Deep, meaningful, very 'heavy' and completely 'cult'. However they are a band I've grown incresaingly fond of over the years with their 'Live and Let Live', recorded at the Marquee in November 1983, being a fantasic audio document of the time.

Pallas - South of the border the first thing we heard of this Scottish band was a self-produced live album, 'Arrive Alive', recorded in Scotland in 1981. Pallas were quite well-known in Scotland as their first real home grown Prog band, starting life as a cover band known for a great rendition of Genesis' 'Supper's Ready' and Pink Floyd's 'Echoes'. By the time the live album was recorded Pallas were developing their very own distinctive style. This was 'Shock Prog' or, as the band described it, 'Symphonic Punk'!

The lead vocalist Euan Lawson modeled himself more on Alice Cooper than Peter Gabriel. Euan's style was totally theatrical, introducing a new character for each number. Having no real personal connection with the audience as Euan - just the various characters acting out the parts. One of the unique things about the band was that in essence they had two lead vocalists. The second was the constant on-stage presence of bassist Graeme Murray. It was Graeme more than Euan who took on more of the traditional front man jobs (such as actually talking to the audience). When Euan was acting out his various personas, Graeme provided the linking vocal narration.

A highlight of their set at that time and also a highlight of the early Marquee shows (until the Marquee threatened to ban the band if they did not stop playing it) was a track called 'The Ripper'. A fifteen-minute epic about child abuse, insanity and rape and murder. The climax of 'The Ripper' featured Euan dressed half as an old man, half as a woman, acting out a chilling rape on stage (it should be remembered that the infamous 'Yorkshire Ripper' case was still, at the time, a relatively fresh news item). The onstage blood-curdling screams still haunt me to this day as, in my mind, I replay the memory of that performance. On 'Paris is Burning' Euan played the ghost of a WW2 pilot. 'Crown of Thorns' featured Euan acting out a crucifixion complete with blood capsules.

The music was, put very simply, a cross between classic-period Genesis and Rush, with some Hawkwind, Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper thrown in for good measure. Other than the theatrics, the one trick that really set the band apart from the opposition was a natural understanding of the use of musical power and atmosphere - when to hold back and build the piece, and when to introduce the power chords / riff for maximum climactic and dramatic effect.

Throughout late 1982 and 1983 Pallas regularly made the 1000-mile round-trip journey to play the Marquee. First introducing us to the tracks to be found on the 'Arrive Alive' album - by then almost three years old - then gradually introducing us to 'The Atlantis Suite', later known as 'The Sentinel'. By early 1983 Marillion had signed their contract with EMI. Pallas were being courted for the next big signing and being more business-minded than Marillion, held out longer for the best possible deal. It's rumored that their eventual signing fee to EMI was a lot more than Marillion's.

Looking back from this two-decade distance, I have to revise my thoughts of then. Marillion went on to make two outstanding monuments of modern prog, 'Misplaced Childhood' and 'Clutching at Straws', survived the departure of their front man, and still produce interesting music to this day. Listening to 'The Sentinel' now in its remixed glory (not as good as the live memories, but a hell of a lot better than the Offord production), the album is definitely a product of its Cold War paranoia time. The drum sound especially roots it in the early 80s. Marillion's 'Script for a Jesters Tear' has weathered time a lot better."

Ian Oakley, Rayleigh, UK, October 2006.