Marillion – Early Stages: The Official Bootleg Box Set 1982-1987 (EMI)

There’s no doubt what the biggest release of the rock week will be. And no, it’s not Nickelback’s newie…

Instead we’re turning back the clock more than 20 years to a time when a progressive rock band from north of the Border had the world at their feet with a back catalogue boasting gems like Garden Party, Market Square Heroes, Sugar Mice and the classic Kayleigh.

Yes, the Fish-era Marillion may be an increasingly distant memory due to Steve Hogarth’s unnerving ability to take this ever-changing band to new creative heights but it’s impossible to forget the band’s formative years.

A sumptuous six-CD package could be accused of replication for replication’s sake – does even the biggest Fish fan need four live versions of Garden Party – but this carefully collated collection really is the definitive live record of mid-80s Marillion.

From the raw and vibrant Mayfair set, gleaned from a landmark Glasgow gig in 1982, to the polished Wembley Arena set five years later, it’s possible to chart the incredible rise of a band which remained fashionably unfashionable even when charting with hits like Kayleigh and Sugar Mice

In this age of live DVDs it’s almost a relief to be able to sit back and imagine yourself immersed in a heaving Marillion crowd, gently coaxed be Fish’s famously relaxed banter, and enjoying one of the best live bands in the business. Of course it’s easy to become overly sentimental and hark back to the original line-up but then you only need to hear Happiness Is The Road to understand the value of Hogarth.

With full sleevenotes by Fish and artwork commissioned by Mark Wilkinson, the man responsible for the most recognisable Marillion covers, it’s difficult to imagine a better Christmas present for the prog rocker in your family. And if we had to pick out the best of the five live sets on offer we’d plump for the 1983 Reading Festival show when even headliners Black Sabbath were rocked back on their heels by the sheer musical magnetism of the super confident Anglo-Scots (with an Irish keyboard player).