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.