At low mass flow rates, axial compressors suffer from flow instabilities leading to stall and surge. The inception process of these instabilities has been widely researched in the past---primarily with the aim of predicting or averting stall onset. In recent times, attention has shifted to conditions well before stall and has focused on the level of irregularity in the blade passing signature in the rotor tip region. In general, the irregularity increases in intensity as the flow rate through the compressor is reduced. Attempts have been made to develop stall warning/avoidance procedures based on the level of flow irregularity, but little effort has been made to characterize the irregularity itself, or to understand its underlying cause. Work on this project has revealed for the first time that the increase in irregularity in the blade passing signature is highly dependent on both tip-clearance size and eccentricity. In a compressor with small, uniform, tip-clearance, the increase in blade passing irregularity that accompanies a reduction in flow rate will be modest. If the tip-clearance is enlarged, however, there will be a sharp rise in irregularity at all circumferential locations. In a compressor with eccentric tip-clearance, the increase in irregularity will only occur in the part of the annulus where the tip-clearance is largest, regardless of the average clearance level. In this paper, some attention is also given to the question of whether the irregularity observed in the prestall flow field is due to random turbulence or to some form of coherent flow structure. Detailed flow measurements reveal that the latter is the case. From these findings, it is clear that a stall warning system based on blade passing signature irregularity would be difficult to implement in an aero-engine where tip-clearance size and eccentricity change during each flight cycle and over the life of the compressor.