In addition to two songs each from the first two albums, Script for a Jester's Tear (1983) and Fugazi (1984), the original LP version[nb 1] contained two tracks previously not available on any albums, the A-side of the band's 1982 debut single "Market Square Heroes" and "Cinderella Search", the B-side of "Assassing". Recorded at the Spectrum, "Emerald Lies" from Fugazi was originally a bonus track on the CD[nb 2] and cassette versions.
Writing for AllMusic, Eduardo Rivadavia praised Real to Reel in a three-out-of-five star retrospective review. He called the album "an excellent live document of Marillion" and "a strong case for the many fans who actually prefer the band's more refined live versions over their rather flat studio counterparts". Rivadavia also claimed 10-minute antiwar "Forgotten Sons" to be the pinnacle of the album.
No singles from the album were released, but nevertheless Real to Reel managed to reach number 8 in the UK Albums Chart and linger there for 22 weeks. It was certified Gold by the BPI on 9 July 1985 for sales in excess of 100.000 copies.
In 1997, the album was re-released as a two-disc set bundled with Brief Encounter, an extended-play originally made by EMI's American label Capitol Records to promote the band's 1986 US tour. This edition was not part of the remastered series of Marillion's first eight studio albums that EMI released in 1997–1998. However, it was digitally remastered at Abbey Road Studios by Brian Fifield.
In 2005, a Japanese mini-LP replica CD edition[nb 3] came out. This version included two additional bonus tracks, "Margaret" and "Charting the Single", both originally from the 1983 "Garden Party" single.