Grendel by Marillion: Great B-Sides

Marillion were named after JRR Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, and were formed in 1979. Early Marillion were often compared to the progressive-rock era of Genesis – lead vocalist Fish’s theatricality was similar to Peter Gabriel. The core lineup of guitarist Steve Rothery, keyboardist Mark Kelly, bassist Pete Trevawas, and drummer Ian Mosley have been together since 1984. In 1989, Fish left the group and was replaced by Steve Hogarth in 1989, but Marillion have continued to release music. Marillion are also known for pioneering direct sales to fans in the internet era.

The seventeen minute ‘Grendel’ was released as a b-side to ‘Market Square Heroes’, a 1982 single that preceded their debut album Script For A Jester’s Tear. Later parts of the piece invited comparison to ‘Apocalypse in 9/8’ from Genesis’ ‘Supper Ready’; listen from 12:34. ‘Grendel’ is also compromised by the drumming of group founder Mick Pointer – less accomplished than the rest of the band, he was fired in 1984 and became a kitchen designer.

The group already had written the music for Grendel when Fish joined. Grendel is the monster from the ancient English poem Beowulf; Fish’s lyrics were based on John Gardner’s Grendel, which wrote about Beowulf from the monster’s point of view. The lyrics reflect Fish’s views on “the hypocrisy of religion in dealing with murder and war.” Fish’s lyrics and vocal are the most interesting parts of ‘Grendel’ – with the similarities to ‘Supper Ready’ and mediocre drumming, there’s not much happening musically.

It’s unusual for a band to create a big statement epic, then bury it on a b-side. ‘Grendel’ is divisive among Marillion fans – some consider it as a career pinnacle and clamour for it at gigs, while others dismiss it as a Genesis clone. For my money, it’s more a notable b-side than a great b-side.

‘Grendel’ was later released on the 1988 compilation B’Sides Themselves, which covers the Fish area. Marillion haven’t played ‘Grendel’ since 1983, but Fish performed it in 2012.

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  1. Interestingly Grendel is both a pinnacle and a Genesis clone simultaneously. Its similarities to Supper’s Ready are apparent, but if you’re going to steal something, steal a diamond. Marillion did that.

  2. I love Marillion and have never, I don’t think, maybe once listened to Grendel all the way through. It just has zero resonance for me.
    If I want to listen to something that sounds like Suppers ready I’ll listen to Suppers Ready.

    • I don’t own it and don’t know if I’ll ever revisit it, and it’s nowhere near my favourite Marillion song. But at the same time, it’s fascinating, like a false start to their career. It was wise to bury it as a b-side.

  3. I’ve bayed for this song at Marillion gigs. They released a particularly tasty RSD picture disc of it a few years back.
    I love the way it’s based on a novel telling Beowulf’s story from the monster’s point of view.

  4. I missed this band but yeah your comparisons fit. You know that I was into Genesis big time. I think I remember when this group came out but didn’t indulge. Interesting. Yeah no mistaking the influence. Almost a cover from 1230 on..That’s the second time in the last while you’ve had a vocalist similar to Gabriel.

      • I might try a listen. “Their own sound” is more appealing to me. The cut here’s a curiosity to me. There were so many bands back when Genesis/Yes/ELP etc were doing it. Some I really dug others didnt grab me. This cut was the closest I’ve heard to almost a cover thing. Triumvirate (German band who I liked) was a lot like ELP but not in the vocals. Influences are always going to come through. It would make for an interesting take. Bands or performers who are real close to the originals. Start with Bob and Woody.

  5. I am a big fan of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. Someone told me: “Oh, you should listen to Marillion,” and I went into a record store and picked up the album “B’Sides Themselves”. I went home and put it on my turntable, and Grendel started playing. It was the first song I heard by Marillion, and I was instantly blown away. I love every note of it.
    I bought the first five albums by Marillion, and listened to them quite a lot. I found “Script For a Jester’s Tear” and “Fugazi” to be really inspired and energetic, but from “Misplaced Childhood” and onwards, it started to sound a little too polished and clean for my liking. But they were so fantastic in the beginning!

  6. It is so interesting to read peoples comments and really illustrates how different opinions are from one to another. I listen to as much music as anyone in many genres owning literally an enormous collection of thousands of vinyl records and many more CDs. Collecting/listening is my everyday passion. Marillion is “my band”. I always land there and feel at home. I always cringe at the FISH v. H conversation. I like both but I am partial to H and there is much more to listen to. I love the Fish era and FISH solo material as well. It’s silly, the different singer/lyricist makes them a different band that simply share a name. Would this discussion even exist if they had changed their name? And why should they? Why not enjoy all Fish era, FISH solo and H era? We all reap the benefit of more music we gain nothing with a futile and silly comparison? One last comment, “Grendel” is fun and it was done by the band before their first album release. How many bands can boast that? Genesis didn’t put it out before their first album, right? Enjoy the music that people make and your life will be better.

    • Thanks for writing in! Lots of interesting points. I like H’s voice a lot, but I think the band peaked with the last two Fish albums. I do think analysis is part and parcel of having a music blog, but the more music you can find to enjoy the better.

  7. Hi
    I stumbled upon this page whilst searching for others’ views on Grendel. I have long considered it my favourite Fish era Marillion song but have recently sought clarification of that. I therefore randomly drew all Fish era Marillion songs along with all of the Fish solo stuff and populated a Wimbledon’FA Cup style draw of song vs song. Not completed yet but Grendel i the 7/4 favourite.

    • I was actually spinning some Marillion yesterday. I gravitate toward the last two albums with Fish – they got a really nice mix of prog and accessible pop songs on those two.

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