Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Seasons End (Side B)!

Seasons End - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! Today I continue with the second half of the Fishless Seasons End. Side A was good, not great, not exactly what I was expecting (though I don’t know what I was expecting), but ended on a high. Lets hope the highs continue with Side B.

Holloway Girl is the sober sore-head comedown after the debauched highs of Seasons End. By comparison to the end of Side A, this is a mundane restart. The slappy, warbling bass intro, atmospheric instrumental, and ominous verse is promising, but once we pass the first minute it begins to ape some stadium rock anthem. A bit U2 lite, a bit generic. I know they’re reaching for the anthemic fist-pumping chorus, and I have no doubt that’s precisely what this will be for some fans, but I’d be the one in the crowd nodding along saying ‘yeah, this one’s okay’ while hoping to not get mobbed by the diehards. I have softened on it after multiple listens, but I suspect that in another album or two’s time I won’t remember much about it. Not bad by any means, but I equally wouldn’t be keen on hearing it again. Average all around for me, beyond the promising introduction. 

I cheated a little when reading the lyrics for this one – by mistake. I was googling the lyrics and I accidentally saw a post explaining it was based on a real person. It’s not a case I am familiar with but it looks like another sad case of miscarried justice and a lack of understanding or respect for mental health issues. The lyrics are certainly evocative of the story its inherent tragedy. I suspect the… I don’t want to say simplicity as that isn’t correct… but the lack of unique creativity within the words and phrases chosen will take some getting used to. The lyrics tell a story in an honest and plaintive manner, but you know Fish would have given the lyrics that extra twist, a different angle, a smattering of tongue-puzzling that only he could have spun. I have no issue with these lyrics beyond this fact – that they are in the aftermath of Fish and his wordsmithery. 

Berlin’s crisp opening is encouraging, as we get another dose of the delayed, shadowy guitar tone I enjoy so much – a chef’s kiss all round. The verse builds a wall of sound, brick by brick, line by line, peaking with some harmonic voices and brass. Is this the first instance of saxophone or brass use in a Marillion song? I’ve probably overlooked or forgotten already, but I feel like this is the first prominent use of the instrument. Anticipating the sax would merely pop in with a snippet here and there, I was surprised that it continues throughout the song and pulls off little runs which the guitar typically would. Saxophone does have the unfortunate misfortune of only ever making me think of softcore sex movies usually seen in the early days of Channel 5, or steamy late night US Detective TV shows like Midnight Caller. Berlin is presumably therefore a song about a renegade late-night Krautrock DJ who tracks down Germany’s underworld crime lords in her spare time.

There’s a mini departure around the 3 minute mark, scrammed forwards by a whispered vocal and military march. Once more – not the direction I was expecting the song to take. When the first half dropped away I was gearing up for a slow keyboard led ending. Instead it picks up for a harsher climax where the words are spat in punctuated phrases and increasingly torn up vocals, and where the guitars grow in intensity while losing their connection to the rest of the music. It’s calculated chaos, finally fading out with a softer outro similar to what I originally predicted.

One of the first things I noticed about the lyrics on Side B was the amount of songs which, on the surface at least, seemed to be about women – little stories focused on a specific woman. This is a departure from the very self-focused lyrics of many of the Fish lyrics. Berlin follows Holloway Girl in this respect, and features lyrics with a position of ‘she’ rather than ‘I’. From the opening couple of verses it looks like the song speaks about a sex worker, stumbling, sad, and lonely, but it becomes a little more vague as it moves on to give allusions about the separation of the city with war time imagery of checkpoints, ditches, no man’s land. It’s like a lyric spreading out in its scope from a single woman to a man who may have known her to various groups inhabiting the city – soldiers, skinheads and punks, bakers, butchers, dancers – everyone. A snapshot of a city lost. 

After Me – rather nice, no? Quite a similar sound and vibe to Easter. I could be cynical again and say that as it reaches its highest point it sounds like its aiming for that U2 stadium sound – not a full blown anthem, but a song which rises to a fist-pumping climax. Honestly, it feels more like when Radiohead mimic U2 on Pablo Honey. Regardless of whether any of this was intentional or not – there’s nothing wrong with incorporating music or styles from other artists or influences into your own music. Regardless of the intent, it still sounds good. While I’m by no means a big U2 fan, and I enjoy Radiohead’s early mimicry more than U2’s own efforts, this doesn’t quite reach the same potency or power of either for me. But. Still. Good.

I don’t know if this suggests the direction the band will continue to move towards – more ballads, a more commercial streamlined sound, more short palette cleansing songs between the larger, expansive, experimental tracks. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, sometimes my favourite song on a complex album is the simple one, sometimes my favourite on the most grim album is the one sliver of light, and maybe those same songs only work so well because of everything surrounding them.

This is a pleasant, gentle song that I don’t have much to say about. And that’s fine, I could happily have this in the background and be content. It’s the third song in a row (since I started counting) which appears to feature a woman as the protagonist. If there’s a twist in the song it’s that while the details concern the life of one woman, the writer turns the focal point back upon themselves – ‘she named it/him after me’ – but then one more twist in the final line that the writer is going to name this feeling, this special dream after her. I quite enjoyed the idea and narrative of this lyric – nothing within the semantics or turn of phrase is too imaginative, but the idea holds significant weight. The song title – another play on words – ‘After You’ suggests a break-up and a continuation, but also obviously connects to the ‘named after you’ portions of the lyrics. So from the outset you’re prepared for a possible tear-jerker break-up song, and it’s written from a place of tender sadness. 

Hooks In You is the second short track in a row. It’s not an Iron Maiden cover – nor did Iron Maiden cover this as it looks like Marillion got there with the name first. This is a surprisingly straight forward bit of riffing to the extent that it feels like a single. It’s not quite the poodle hair rock we heard at the time, but it’s not far away from that sound. It is very commercial pop rock and I could see this being lumped in with all of the other hits of the day. I’d be tempted to say this is the most conventional they’ve ever been? 

Interestingly (or perhaps not for anyone who isn’t me), I have a similar opinion to this as I do to Maiden’s song of the same name – it’s just another song the band wrote. It’s not going to be anyone’s favourite, it fills a space on an album – it just so happens that the Maiden song appears on a pretty crappy album and therefore stands out as one of the okay songs. Where Marillion is concerned – this appears on a middling album and get lost between all of the other middling songs. The ‘hook’ before the chorus is the strong melodic point, with the chorus a rather bland recital of the song title and the verses a standard pop rock frolic. I get the impression that the band needed another ‘hit’ and slapped this one together purely for that precious air time. Or maybe it’s symbolic of a new found sense of fun and levity in the band, departing from some of the pressure and turbulence of the past? 

The lyric is darker than what the music suggests – going in the opposite direction from the previous tracks placing women in a positive light, and instead talking about a woman as having her hooks in this person, not letting go, and causing pain and ruin. If we’re being literal. There’s the temptation to say the ‘she’ is actually a drug or some other metaphorical device. Still, the metaphor is given a gender. The specific lyrics aren’t impressive and seem to me like they were thrown together as quickly as the music.

The Space is all about build up. The strings/synth lets us know we’re in for an epic album closer. It’s leisurely – which comes across to me as confidence – and is comfortable in not being excessive. While it has an epic vibe, it’s not shouting ‘look how epic I am’ like some attention seeking content creator. Rather, it knows it’s good and accepts that people will see that goodness. Vocally it’s a strange one – it features some of my favourite vocal moments on the album, with H sounding like Jan Jamte from Swedish band Khoma in his smoothest moments, but then suddenly turning into Sting in the second half. 

It’s a strong end to the album, at least to my tastes. From a technical perspective, it strikes me that this one had more attention paid to its structure and creation than the previous track. The darkness and smoothness of the chorus, the main melody of the chorus, the long-held vocal notes, the coming together of the string/synth – all to my tastes. I would have been happy if the middle instrumental was edited down to a shorter length – it feels a little like it’s delaying the ending rather than bridging the two halves of the song, but it’s fine. The song then ends as if it’s the closure of a live show. If anything, the song is a showcase for H’s versatility – comparing those highs to the low notes of Seasons End almost feels like two different singers. I don’t think it’s as strong as the title track, but I’d be content calling it my second favourite on the album.

Lyrically, it feels like another snapshot song – a story about someone drifting through uncertainty and dealing with love and tragedy, with the final verses equating this to what we all go through. It reminded me of one of my favourite Buffy quotes – ‘every single person is ignoring your pain because they’re too busy dealing with their own; the beautiful ones, the popular ones, the guys who pick on you. Everyone. If you could hear what they were feeling, the loneliness, the confusion. It looks quiet down there. It’s not. It’s deafening’. Aah, out of context quotes. Certain words and phrases seem to lend specificity to certain events – the bit about cars and trams in Amsterdam, while the use of ‘he’ feels personal. I found myself feeling like ‘everybody in the whole of the world’ should really have read ‘everybody in the hole of the world’, as in the world is one big empty space and we’re all sucked in. 

cover art for Script For A Jester's Tear - Side 1

Before I move on to the podcast, The Bell In The Sea came on as I was typing some thoughts about The Space. Usually when the B-Sides or demos come on I pause or flick back to the previous song. However, I quite enjoyed the intro of this one so I let it play. It’s a groovy song – it feels more like the meeting place of prog and rock – just interesting enough to fall into the Prog genre, just approachable enough to be considered rock. I liked it – I won’t say much more but I’d have been more happy with the album if this had replaced something like Holloway Girl. 

Returning to the podcast – Holloway Girl was another grower for Sanja. Sometimes I wonder if you come to enjoy any song if you listen the right number of times. Of course you can grow sick of a song, but maybe the key to unlocking some enjoyment is just listening enough. Paul doesn’t like it and goes as far as saying he would replace this with The Bell In The Sea which is exactly what I said in the previous paragraph. All around lower tier for the band – I’m curious if there is anyone who has this as a favourite. Sanja’s not a fan of Berlin – I was half expecting another comparison to 80s TV and movies, but alas. Is there a trend that Sanja doesn’t like longer, slower songs? Or at least longer songs which don’t feature too many tonal or musical shifts. I think my ‘snapshot of a city lost’ comment sums up the lyric fittingly. Paul likes it, at least to a middling extent, but feels like it was the band trying to write a Fish type song. Oi, I said you were wrong about Chelsea Monday, which was of course a tongue in cheek comment. I do like that one though.

Paul and Sanja both love After You, with Paul explaining it is an H lyric. It gives Sanja cosy, homely feelings due to its tender nature. It was quite clear to me that it’s a love song, just written in an interesting way, from an interesting perspective. Like I mentioned somewhere, the lyrics can be vague enough to be universal, allowing us all to fill in the gaps with our own stories. Is Fish at the door? I’d be more concerned if it were Grotbags. My cat refuses to wear his collar, bell or not, and their remnants are scattered underneath the obligatory trampoline in the back garden.

Hooks In You was a divisive track within the band, with H pushing for it and everyone else saying ‘wtf’. We all admit it’s silly, short, and fun – it’s not going to hurt you in the grand scheme of things. Did I call this one a palette cleanser? That about sums it up. Seems a bit odd you would release a bit of tongue in cheek nonsense as your lead single – this is you’re bit of flag waving to let people know what the album is all about. It’s not too unusual for bands to release a single which isn’t truly representative of the album, but it feels odd when this happens. The Space has been called out as Sanja’s favourite. 2nd place for me, but it makes my playlist too. Paul’s only picky point is the synth strings – of course it’s always better to have the real thing – but he doesn’t get as far as loving it. He does admit it’s a great closer.

Hey listen, I’m happy being the third, fourth, or 50th member of the podcast. Maybe not the 69th, as that would be weird and uncomfortable. Naturally I can’t compete with Fraiser (Frazer? Phrazyer?) Marshall (Marshell? Martial?) and his Marillion website, but I will endeavour to continue to give my ill informed thoughts as we go along. We still have 40 minutes left in this episode and we’ve finished the album, so presumably there is going to be more cat talk? I’d better go off and listen to The Release after I’m done here. Ah ha, its a letters section. I sent a mail. Can’t remember what I asked… something about what the future plans were. Maybe I’ll answer these now:

First Impressions Of H: It’s all very new – I’m still keen to see what direction the band will move in and I have no awareness of any future facts or fun. So far, I’m guessing I’ll prefer his vocals to Fish, but not his lyrics. Of course both can improve or get worse. It’s a weird one when you’ve seen a band in a stadium at the peak of their success, then years later in a smaller venue. I’ve seen the Manics at huge festivals and in Northern Ireland’s largest indoor venues, and then have seen them in the much smaller 1-2000 people spots, though in those instances there are so many diehard fans that the atmosphere was still ripping. 

Turns out it was just the one question then. As a newb, I still prefer Clutching At Straws to this, but give me twenty years and maybe I’ll feel differently. There you go – another one in the can. Does this now class me as in the second half of Marillion’s career, even though there are more years to catch up with than I’ve already covered? Second phase? In any case we are in a new era and I’ve no idea what’s coming up next. Don’t forget to check out the podcast if you want to follow along as a new or existing fan, and feel free to add any comments below!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Clutching At Straws (Side B)!

Marillion - Clutching At Straws (1987, Vinyl) | Discogs

Look at this – no intro whatsoever! Straight into Side B, which opens with Incommunicado. Audible sigh. I hinted in my first post on this album that, as long as nothing went disastrously wrong in Side B that this was shaping up to be my favourite Marillion album so far. Did I jump the gun on that? This song… this song is pure Rock Opera. It’s pure Quadrophenia. There are melodic moments here, there are certain musical phrases, chord choices, and rhythmic choices which feel like they were copied and pasted from Quadrophenia. Make no mistake, that’s my favourite album by The Who but this is so similar to certain songs it’s almost like listening to that album’s title track. The famous Townsend three chord attack, the keyboard twiddling moments… I don’t know if this was intentional but it’s absolutely brazen and I can’t accept it was a coincidence. I’m not criticizing the band for doing this, rather giving my most immediate thoughts.

I’ve softened on the song a tad since my first listen – I went from being too busy laughing at the similarities, moved to to dismissing the song as being Marillion’s equivalent of Zep’s Carouselambra, to appreciating it for whatever the hell it is. It starts nicely enough – it’s not until the 50 second mark that it goes full Quadrophenia. The whole thing feels like a bit of silly throwaway fun. I can’t fully get on board with the vocals – it’s the most Fishy vocal yet; he’s doing the uppy downy thing on almost every line, and when he’s not he seems to be channelling Roger Daltry. If it had a longer running time I’m not sure I could have had many redeeming comments to make, but as it is I’ll accept it as a bouncy little throwaway pop song. It was the 80s man, everybody fucked up. It has its catchy moments, it has its good moments, but in the scope of the album so far it feels out of place.

The lyrics seem conflicted, or show the lead character as conflicted. He’s tongue in cheek joking about memory loss, which could explain things, but he’s uncertain of whether he wants fame or not. He doesn’t want to be the huge star, but equally doesn’t want to be a nobody. Actually… I misread the lyrics in the second verse – he DOES want the fame. I’m assuming Fish is poking fun at the fame game with some of the lines here – credit once again for fitting ‘rootin tootin’ into a song, and most of the lyrics are suitably comic and expressive. On the whole, it seems to describe someone who is so famous and successful to the point that they can entirely withdraw from the public eye yet still be spoken about while hiding their true selves. I don’t know – my original thoughts on the song were based on my misreading of the lyrics and I’m too lazy to reassess. 

Torch Song gets us back on track in terms of the dark tone of Side A. Much of that is created by the guitar tone itself, with the bass burrowing through the space in the background. It does feel like a mid album track – robust, well made, though in danger of being lost amidst the more notable songs. What is notable is the very Fishy vocal where most lines follow the uppy downy vocal approach, and there is a lot more repetition in the lyrics to the extent that this must have been an artistic choice… repetition highlighting the burnt out nature of the main character, potentially writer’s block, possibly the inability to get out of a funk or way of thinking. The song does a good job – the whole album does – at crafting atmosphere again. Maybe it’s the drinking sound effects and the spoken pieces, those certainly add to it, but I think it’s the drowsy, loose instrumentation (mingled with the guitar tone) which imbues the song with the bar floor atmosphere. The song feels wasted – strewn on the ground, struggling to wake, or even stoned. As I’ve said, I don’t like the uppy downy Fish approach, but here it serves the atmosphere as he sounds like a drunk swaying back and forth.

I don’t need to go into much detail with the lyrical content beyond saying that it’s neat that Fish has managed to fill a whole album with boozy metaphors and songs about being drunk, without those feeling stale or monotonous. 

Slainte Mhath (you too) takes us back into Quadrophenia territory – I can’t help but want to shout ‘Looooovveee, reign o’er meeeeee’ during the piano intro. Is there a touch of Queen in there too? The guitars crash in like a Queen anthem, though that’s most likely a case of me hearing things that aren’t there. It’s a groovy start to a song, little Edge flickers of guitars, single static bass roots, dynamic drums only blasting off on a loose whim. It’s a song that feels like it, to use an inappropriate sexual term, is edging you. It wants to peak, but doesn’t ever give it to you. It teases and any peak is momentary. Taking that to a more logical, less sexual place, maybe it’s commenting on the all to brief highs of the addict.

I don’t know how I feel about some of the vocal decisions – I assume he’s being theatrical but some of the wails don’t land true. I give him the benefit of the doubt and assume this was deliberate to accentuate the manic nature of the lead character but it’s more likely I’m being picky. Given the song’s name, I gather that it’s another drinking song. Lyrically, it attempts to get to the core, or a core, of the drunken creative. I get the sense of a character with enough creative spark still fizzling among the embers, and a sprinkle of the lounging Dandy of eras past. The lyrics move from bar talk to comparisons with soldiers and generals – I’m sure there’s more of a story here than a simple battle/battle scar comparison, but I don’t have enough context to eek that out. 

Is Sugar Mice a term related to booze? It sounds like a dodgy club in Essex. I’m taking it more literally and thinking of sweety mice. It nails the dark tone and atmosphere, but it sounds happier. Not as foreboding. The opening riff is all smiles and calm, and as the verse progresses the melodies unveil themselves as sweet and sunny. There’s little or no musical comparison, but tonally I got the same vibe from this as something like Screamadelica – waking up in or from a stoned haze. Or alternatively, drifting away from a life and not giving much of a fuck about it. It’s soothing; there is a slight synth (I’m guessing) backing which is made to sound like a swelling of strings (would have been great to have actual strings) and the eventual swell accompanies the euphoric guitar solo. It feels like this might be a bit of an anthem for fans – a good one for the live setting? I would have been happy if the song had ended or faded out after the solo (and after the great ‘know what I want know what I feel’ vocal) – the last verse felt a little tacked on. That’s  too negative, but personally they felt like an unnecessary come down. A minor gripe. 

At this point in the narrative, if there is one, before looking at the lyrics I would have guessed this was the wake up song, the realisation point. That may be the direction the lyrics are supposed to be taken – in which case it feels like a similar journey as what Misplaced Childhood conveyed. There is introspection, guilt, acceptance. It’s all very sad, even as the music sounds quite happy, so possibly this time the story diverges from Misplaced Childhood with the characters realising that it’s too late to change or save  himself? Metaphors are left aside for simple statements and truths – blame it on me, the toughest thing I ever did was talk to the kids on the phone, when it comes right down to it – but that’s the sort of matter of fact approach you would expect at this point in the story.

The Last Straw feels like a single. That was my first note upon hearing the opening bars, but turns out it wasn’t a single. It’s in a similar vein of proggy pop rock as other songs of the era – it even feels somewhat similar to Kayleigh. Sure it’s near six minutes and it does feature longer instrumental sections – not the most ideal choice for radio listening – but those could be shaved to make a four minute hit. You would definitely lose a lot by cutting those pieces as they serve both as natural bridges and transitions, and in building or easing tension and atmosphere. The first instrumental section (around the two minute mark) leading into a low bass driven march and set of sombre melodies is my favourite part of this one. That instrumental absolutely nails the shadowy tone I’m harping on about, as well as keeping in step with the rest of the album. Near the end there’s some female vocals – I’m not going to hazard a guess at who this is, but there’s that gruff pop rock quality of a Stevie Nicks or, laughing as I type it, Lulu. Naturally I’m reminded of The Great Gig In The Sky and Gimme Shelter. I’d be curious to know if it’s someone other than a random session vocalist. It’s a terrific ending song, though it does leave me wanting something else – a shorter song to act as a resolution point. I’m not sure what it is I want after this – certainly not the actual final track – but as good as song as The Last Straw Is, I was anticipating… something else to close the album.

The lyrics feature further call-backs to other moments in the album and it feels like a summary and conclusion of everything that has happened, with the bleak final admission that even after it all we’re still drowning, clutching at straws. Yet it feels defiant. Or celebratory. I’m not sure they’re going for a celebration of going down in flames as much as a ‘well, if we’re going to go down we may as well have fun doing it vibe’. I know enough about the history of the band now to draw obvious parallels between the lyrics and Fish’s stance. Like any good lyric, you can understand the writer’s intent but also choose to ignore that and apply your own meaning and circumstance. Actually, that’s probably not an example of good writing, but I wouldn’t say anything here is vague or misleading or contradictory. In this instance, as a listener who is not currently part of a successful band that I want to be rid of, I can instead read this as general frustration with some part of my life – a career, a friendship, something deeper. I don’t know at what point Fish did leave the group – if it was a few months or a year after the release of the album then the listeners at the time may have interpreted the lyrics differently, or applied the frustrations to the character of the piece instead of the bloke behind it. 

Happy Ending is someone laughing.

cover art for Script For A Jester's Tear - Side 1

Before I get on to the podcast, I’ll lock in my own opinion. This is my favourite Marillion album so far. Much of that is down to the atmosphere – it’s a little dark, a little grimy, it takes the listener to depressing places, and while it doesn’t have the big, obvious, hooky singles, most of the songs have prominent vocal melodies and cultured riffs which work their magic on you post-listen. I took a break from listening to this album over the Christmas break, but little pieces would often float out of me as I was making breakfast for the kids, playing with the cat, or indeed pouring myself a rum. Coming back to the second half of the album to write this post, those pieces fell together and all of the nuances I’d missed began to bubble up. Now when I’m pouring the cat a rum while eating my kids for breakfast, I sing the songs with that little bit more detail and oomph. Even the earlier songs on the album which I wasn’t overly impressed by in my first listens I am more positive about.  

I strap myself in for the 90 minute-ish episode and anticipate what the guys are going to say about this one. We begin with a couple of B-Sides and a discussion on what Marillion fans call themselves. ‘Freaks’ isn’t the best name – it sounds to commonplace, like it could be assigned to any group. Marillionacs? Members Of The Shoal? I haven’t listened to these songs – maybe in the future. I have a feeling one of them came on after listening to an album track – remembering I’m listening on Youtube so any old crap automatically comes on after, including conspiracy theory adverts and people prompting me to purchase Grammarly. Which I willn’t. 

Marillion missed out on the Highlander soundtrack – there can only be one, after all – and had a variety of management mishaps which pissed them off. When you have a taste of success and want more, but see your managers (in retrospect) making the wrong calls, it’s going to have a bit of an impact. Plus touring, plus addiction, plus existing turbulence – these all fed into the product we’re discussing today. What is it, Biffo – there’s always a wasp in your stories/Digi bits. Man, I miss giving songs and albums the time of day. I mean, look at all of the ‘reviews’ of Bowie and other critical darlings – of course I’m not going to love them after a single listen. When I was young, spending my hard earned pennies on a new single or even a big boy (album) you could be damn sure I was going to drain every millisecond out of the thing. Two listens of a new album every day was probably a minimum. 

But onto the album – Paul talks about the album being a Concept album (is someone going to mention Rock Opera) with Fish hiding his problems behind a character. At least he called the dude ‘Torch’ – he could have called him, ah balls, Paul got to the joke first. I was going to type Fash, but that made me think of Gladiators. Awooga.

Incommunicado seems like a bizarre choice as first single. Or a single at all, but there you go. What maniac made that decision. I did have some bands that I would listen to with friends – yeah, sometimes on my first listen. Kyle and I would have listened to Nirvana and G’n’R songs for the first time together. Biffo’s not a fan of the album cover – saying it was rushed and miserable. I don’t hate it – it’s not good, but it does concisely alert you to what you’re getting in the album. What would the alternative been – a lion with a pint in each paw, soaring over the sun being ridden by a jester? Seems like young Biffo (and Fish) loved the album, at least back then. 

Sanja admits to struggling a little with the album – maybe because of the distance between listens, maybe because it is in the unfortunate position of coming after Misplaced Childhood. Admittedly, I did have several gaps in my listens of this. Certain songs I did instantly like, and those only grew. Even the few I wasn’t so keen on I have softer opinions on. What can I say – I’m instinctively drawn to darker material – not just dark in lyric and content, but in sound. Look at two of what have in my personal favourite albums – The Holy Bible and The Wall – you don’t get much darker than those, in both respects. 

Sanja and Paul both mention a lack of cohesion between the lyrics and music, which is interesting as this felt like one of the biggest and most obvious positives to me. The lyrics and the tone of the music – it’s all right in the pit for me, it’s all touching those dark places. I’m aware the band weren’t in sync behind the scenes, but none of that came across to me in the music. It feels more like an example of a band using that tension and forcing that into the music in a solid, creative, cohesive manner. It sounds like the album is a fan favourite in any case. 

Sanja picks up on the 80s TV feels of the intro to the first track _ think I pegged it as an 80s action movie, but apples and pears. Sanja is not much of a fan of the sound of this one – like most of the songs on the album it’s fairly obvious what it’s all about. I still find this song somewhat bland, but it’s still that solo which sticks out. Paul calls it a scene setter and an admission that Fish is not enjoying things anymore. Paul and Sanja both agree about Warm Wet Circles being a weird choice as single. Those ‘warm wet circles’ are any number of things – still sounds filthy regardless. Onto That Time Of That Night – Fish sees the song as him being scared of being trapped in a ‘normal world’ while Paul sees it more as a loss of innocence. As always, the truth is somewhere in between. Fannies.

Sanja again didn’t like the song at first – seeing it as a No Man’s Land – which it turns out is what it is exactly supposed to be. Fish apparently made the lyrics up on the fly, explaining the brevity and oddness. It’s another cry for help. They don’t spend much time on this one, straight into Just For The Record which Paul got a Police vibe from. That was actually one of my first notes before I changed my thoughts from Sting to Phil Collins. I have a feeling I’ve made a white reggae comparison before when talking about Marillion – but I’ve been writing so much about 80s music recently that I could be mixing up posts, songs, and artists. White Russian – anti-Semitism as I correctly picked up on. Again, not sure of the context of the time it was written in – we had out own problems over here during the 80s to worry about. Sanja saw it more as a continuation of the story and the metaphor but it seems more outward looking even if Fish did explain the lyric as a character piece. They’re not huge fans of the song, bar the outro, but appreciate the sentiment. Apparently it sounds a little like a song on the next album.

Onto Incommunicado and Paul instantly mentioning the The Who comparison. It’s not merely the vocals – the vocals are probably the least obvious thing about it for me – the whole thing could have been lifted off Quadrophenia the similarities are so amusingly glaring. They both seem to love it – it’s fun and playful and silly, but it feels to me like a bit of a shark jump. Sanja does not like Torch Song – maybe it’s because it’s downbeat and worn out. Again, that can be my sort of jam if it’s done right. Paul makes a totally, wholly, unfathomably unforgiveable faux pas by stating that Johnny Depp played Jack Kerouac in Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, when of course he was playing a fictionalized version of Hunter S Thompson. I assume by the time I post this someone on Twitter will have picked him up on this. Both blokes were known for their writing and ‘intake’, of course. Paul says ‘the whistle’ is the whistle of the factory, which makes perfect sense. I don’t think I even considered this due to checking out on the lyrics as they mostly covered the same subject. It’s Sanja’s favourite on the album, while Paul’s is Sugar Mice. It’s interesting to hear the lyrical discussion given that I wasn’t really investing much effort into breaking those down for a change. 

Sanja doesn’t like The Last Straw. I’m surprised by this and by the fact that Paul doesn’t love it. Maybe it’s not a good Marillion song but it is a good rock song. I’d say it’s one of my favourite songs on the album but I don’t mind when any random band does a rock song, or when a band does anything outside of their meat and veg. I don’t think Incommunicado is anywhere near a standard rock song. The Last Straw is, it’s not prog, but it’s good, regardless. I take the point though, as a non-Marillion super fan it’s not an issue for me. I agree about this as an ending which varies from Misplaced Childhood – I originally expected the album to finish in a similar way, with the hero escaping – but it doesn’t. I stand by the sense of defiance though, dark and depressing as it may be.

Oh God, they’ve just shouted me out on the blog. Um… shucks, thanks for that… apologies for not keeping up with these as much as I had been! Next time we’re onto Marillion without Fish. There may be other episodes which talk about the in between antics without actually speaking about specific albums – I’ll listen to those but probably won’t write about them. 

Let us know as always what you guys think of Clutching At Straws!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Script For A Jester’s Tear (Side A)

Cover Art By Mark Wilkinson

Greetings, Glancers! I hope whoever reads this nonsense has been enjoying it so far, because there is plenty more to come. In this post, I find myself finally delving into the first Marillion album, the ludicrously titled Script For A Jester’s Tear. Why is it a single tear? Or is it tear, as in ‘hark! The jester has a tear in his codpiece, and I can see his fiddle’?

As I mentioned last time around, that title conjures up a hundred images and songs that I’ve already seen and heard – everything from Blind Guardian’s Script For My Requiem to CITV’s Knightmare. I don’t think Paul and Sanja have suggested in their previous episodes that this album is an extension of the sound of the four songs we’ve covered so far, but that seems like an educated guess. Paul has mentioned that the Pre-album songs and the first album form some sort of mini phase for the band, a phase which doesn’t continue beyond this album, so I can only assume it’s more of the same. Not that the four songs I’ve heard have had too many blatant common threads running through them. Beyond a couple of their biggest hits I don’t know what other sounds and styles to expect from the band, but I’ll gamble that this isn’t their Viking Metal Deathcore album.

The podcast is split into two episodes, one for each side of the album – meaning either (or both) that there is much to talk about or that the album is very long. Wikipedia tells me that… it’s only 46 minutes long, which is about bang average. It also tells me that the album went Platinum, charted at seven in the UK, and features two Top 40 Singles, neither of which I believe I’ve heard. In today’s post, I’ll cover Side A, which is the title track, He Knows You Know, and The Web. Maybe it will be a shorter post…

If you’re new to all this, my process is that I listen to the songs a few times before checking out the lyrics and writing my thoughts. Then I listen to the related episode of Between You And Me to hear what Paul and Sanja think of it all, before returning with final thoughts. Maybe what they say will make me re-evaluate whatever my initial opinions are. Or maybe I’m too stubborn to be changed. First up, is the almost nine minute title track.

Spoiler alert – my first thought halfway through my first listen of the opening number was ‘I think this is my favourite Marillion song yet’, quickly followed by ‘I hope the rest of the album is as good as this’. It really is a wonderful little mini-epic. It has as many tonal and melodic shifts as Grendel but it pinched me on a greater emotional level. Some of the slower sections didn’t do as much for me, but they didn’t bring down my enjoyment of the song as much as the slower equivalent pieces did on Grendel (which wasn’t a great deal to be fair). I’ll call it out now – I have absolutely nothing against slow sections of songs, I’m not some sort of jacked up speed freak, just in these two songs in particular those pieces weren’t as delicious as the rest. Like the chocolate on a Toffee Pop is the least delicious part – if that was Lindt, I’d be a five pack a day guy.

I’ll touch more on lyrics once I read those later, but the first time I listened to the song through my Echo Dot, the vocals were clearer – except for the one line I picked up in my initial listens ‘I’m losing on the swings/I’m losing on the roundabouts’ instead sounded like ‘I’m losing all my swings/I’m losing all my underpants’. Which is clearly the better line.

The song’s subdued, yearning opening is reminiscent of quite a few Prog album opening tracks – a quiet opening which expands to something greater. Fish’s vocals in the opening have a touch of Dave Gilmour, but without the rasp. It’s mainly Fish accompanied by piano, and he seems to be singing of the past, and maybe by extent, regret? Some sort of flute type instrument (which is probably keyboard) comes through to accompany a more forceful vocal before the underpants section begins. I had a minor shock at the initial transition to a louder dynamic when I first listened, because I thought the song was heading towards some faux-reggae/Madness sound. Instead though, the fingerless leather gloves come out and we dive headlong into a full blown 80s anthemic, fist pumping section. A younger me would have been throwing the cushions from the sofas to the ground and leaping across them playing a rock star version of The Floor Is Lava if I’d heard this when I was a kid. Before Mummy came with the wooden spoon. That’s the sort of nonsense I got up to.

The quiet section already mentioned is fine – I enjoy the tingling guitar and the woo-eee-woo-ee sounds which intersect these moments, but the transition out of this part is a little odd, with an off-kilter change of note in the vocal. I can live with that, as it moves into a mournful yet inspirational final minute or so where I feel like the truth of the lyric comes out, the repeated refrain of ‘Do you love me’ shedding light on the song and album title.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the opening track, or the album – was it going to be similar to the songs I’d heard so far, was it going to be a concept album of mood and music, or more socially investigative like Queensryche. From the opener at least, it’s very much its own thing. Fish’s vocals feel stronger, more mature, more controlled here and musically the band seems brimming with ideas and confidence. Lyrically, it’s another tome. By my third or fourth listen I felt like I had a fair understanding of the song from what lyrics I could discern – a loss of innocence, of childhood, a tirade of missed opportunities, the fear of aging and forgetting and letting go, the anguish of growth all sticky taped to colourful medieval imagery.

I didn’t notice that the lyrics repeat, not until I checked them on Google, so clearly I wasn’t paying that much attention. I like when bands do this sort of thing – repeat not only a single line or word, but an entire verse or two, but with an entirely different musical and vocal approach. That has always been an experiment I’ve wanted to conduct – giving different groups or individuals the same set of lyrics and ask them each to write a song – then see how wildly different the songs and genres are.

Most of the lyrics follow the poetic leanings I’ve come to expect, although not every line hits – ‘to bleed the lyric’ is the sort of 6th form goth nonsense everyone used to write, but that’s a tiny handful of a great big flurry of fists which mostly land and produce a knockout. Towards the end, the character, taking on the literal or metaphorical image of a jester seems to be accepting the loss of his love, but if anything it’s the delivery of the vocal which elevates the words – feeling pours through to the extent that I don’t always care what is being said and I get the gist of it via the emotion produced. It’s a less theatrical, or more restrained, approach, which generates a more raw result.

cover art for Script For A Jester's Tear - Side 1

Listen, I’m trying to be succinct with this, but I have a tendency to allow my fingers to ramble. Lets move onto the second song, which has been teasing me for a number of days because I kept hearing the opening few seconds after the opening track would end. My first impressions of this song were that it was a night driving song. I’ve mentioned it before on the blog, but the cassettes I used to listen to while my parents were driving use home after visiting relatives hours away from my house – there must have been some instrumental or tonal quality to those songs as I continue to equate songs with a similar quality to those night driving sessions. He Knows You Know fits the bill.

It’s not as impactful as the opener and certainly not as complex – it’s a solid atmospheric rock song. The opening guitar riff and vocals reminded me of Somewhere In Time era Maiden, that feeling heightened once the synth pounces. The verses further the moody vibe, though I was disappointed when the drums kicked in with a slower pace than I was expecting. The synth shifts close to the halfway point, this time sparking thoughts of 80s horror movies, and then the groovy instrumental middle pours tumbling, looping guitar and synth riffs which dance off each other. At various points the drum and bass punctuate more harmoniously and create an interesting time signature.

From my various listens, the main lyric which stands out is, of course, ‘problems. Problems problems. This word pops up again and again, and even recurs in the spoken outro. I’m not the biggest fan of spoken word pieces in songs – the few times I’ve felt like it improved the song or the album are in The Wall and various Alice Cooper efforts. I cringed somewhat when I first heard the ending, less so on further listens, but I still got the feeling that it wasn’t necessary. I don’t know if this plays a larger role in linking the song to the next, or if it’s part of a wider recurring motif, but as a standalone I could live without it.

Scanning the lyrics, there’s a lot of obvious drug allusions employed – from paraphernalia to feelings – it all appears to revolve around guilt and self-disgust and the futile trust/distrust of the authority figures who are supposed to help but are fallible humans too, possibly with their own motives. Songs about addiction are a dime a dozen in rock music but at least there’s a unique artistic flourish to the words and images poured out in this one.

Onto the final song for today. The Web is another nine minute beast, so be prepared for another twelve paragraphs. My opinions on music are largely governed by feeling – how a song makes me feel is more important to me than how original or innovative it is, how popular it is, how influential etc. Everything comes after the way it makes me feel and how successful the song is at making me feel the way it is designed to. The Web didn’t make me feel much of anything. I can’t say the song bored me, but a good example of how I felt is, after my third listen Grendel came on and I wanted to listen to it rather than refresh and start The Web over again. Another example – I’ve already listened to a cover version of Script For A Jester’s Tear and a Fish live version – The Web I can’t see me listening to much again, never mind going down the Fishhole. Incidentally, that Fish live version needed a second guitarist.

The Web does begin in a way which suggests it will be a similar trip to the first songs – a lot of synth blasts and then a time and tone shift inside the opening 30 seconds. The whispered and near-spoken vocals are characteristic of what I’ve heard thus far – unsurprisingly it appears to be another verbose tale. There is a beast of a guitar solo somewhere in the middle which scratches and hastens and steadies, bypassing a drum section which seems like a call back to Achilles Last Stand. Elsewhere, I enjoy some of the bippy boppy synth laser sounds and at times I sense moments from the Rocky score dipping in and out.

As I was left a little isolated by the music I didn’t heed the lyrics on most of my listens, so I’ve no clue what the song is about. As I read the lyrics – which again elevate the song thanks to their off-beat poetic musings – the song could be about loneliness and depression. ‘The Web’ seems like a metaphor both for being trapped, and for the cyclical nature of things, particularly the feelings of being unable to progress, and that these feelings only grow the longer you remain trapped. The narrator does come to a realisation and seems able or prepared finally move on by the end of the song. Self-explanatory, but done with a more sublime touch. It’s always better to write ‘interesting’ (something I have always ignored – Ed).

Onto the podcast. I see in the blurb for the episode he mentions Homer’s Odyssey – which just happens to be one of my favourite books of all time. Long time Glancers to the blog will now that I was obsessed with myths and legends as a child, and I’d read The Odyssey by the time I was ten. I studied Latin for seven years in school because of this (yes, I’m aware The Odyssey was Greek but it, and The Trojan War as a whole overlapped with much of the Roman Literature which I studied – namely The Illiad), and in my first year at University I added Classical Studies to my Major as a bonus – just so that I could spend more time arsing about in Toga Town. Whether or not I mapped out a massive plan for a screenplay aimed at bringing the Trojan Trilogy to the big screen, with hundreds of characters and their intertwining backstories, I’ll leave up to you to decide.

I didn’t pick up many references to The Odyssey in these three songs, but then I wasn’t looking out for those. There was something about a Cyclops in The Web, but I’m sure there’s a lot more I skimmed over. Let’s have a listen. March 1983, eh? One month before I was ‘released’. Paul says the band was the big boy of British Prog in the 80s. I always (prematurely) called The Wall the logical closing point for Prog. Sanja likes the first song and gets sucked in by some of the earworms – which I can attest to having listened to the song about 20 times now. The song was ‘inspired’ by Fish’s breakup with Kayleigh, who I didn’t know was a real person – that’s maybe the only Marillion song I defo knew before starting this journey. Fish writes the song, admitting the breakup was his fault – cool. The lyrics are ‘up themselves’, but yeah it’s difficult to do that when you’re emotional and dealing with such a personal issue. I assume kids still write poetry – I certainly did at that age, but I wasn’t cool enough to have had a girlfriend to have broken up with.

Have you been on a roundabout these days? They’re so safe. They’re locked to only go a certain speed – when I was young it wasn’t a roundabout unless you were hitting G-forces and could feel your tongue slithering back down your throat as you hit 500 rotations a minute. Plus there’s all that spongy stuff on the ground now, rather than gravel and broken bottles of Buckfast of my youth. Fish does seem like an emotional chap, so I can understand the difficulty of singing certain songs. I can’t make it through singing Shock To My System by Gemma Hayes without my voice breaking – no idea why. Sia breaking down in her live performances of Titanium is wonderful – not a dry eye in the house. It’s cool that the band still play the song live today – I know Fish isn’t still with the band, but presumably other original writers and players are. A lot of bands who have been around the block for multiple decades don’t touch their early material in the live setting.

He Knows You Know may or may not be autobiographical, but I didn’t know it referred to not telling the person that they have a problem – he knows. That may be the worst sentence ever written. They don’t talk much about the song and Paul then tells us that he’s not a huge fan. I prefer it to the third song. I certainly haven’t listened to it as much as the first. This transforms into a chat about Prog and Marillion’s relationship to the genre – I get the sense I have similar feelings to Prog as Biffo – albeit he sounds like he has listened to a lot more than I have – I want to like Prog but I prefer bands with progressive elements, bands known for pushing themselves because that’s what they want to do rather than fit a particular convention. If diehard music fans have any rights (we don’t) it’s that we can hate or give zero fucks about whichever songs by our favourite bands that we please.

Final track comments – I was going to write that The Web didn’t need to be so long, but Sanja got there first. I agree. The song morphed from an older track – as I haven’t plugged The Manics in today’s post – they would frequently write a lot of crap songs, discard them, but then take the best parts and jumble those together into a new form to make a good song. I imagine many prog bands do that, with epics coming from extended jam sessions. They mention the song being better live – yeah, I’ve seen that happen but I tend to prefer live songs when I’m actually there and elsewhere stick to the studio versions. Yes, I can hear some ice cream tones there – mine still comes on Thursday nights – right up to Christmas week, Lockdown or no. Okay, I see a loose Penelope reference from what Paul is saying, but I never would have picked that up from the lyrics. Don’t worry, Penelope and Odysseus did get back together in the end, having watched every single one of his men massacred, drowned, and/or eaten by a Cyclops/turned into swine. Of course Odysseus goes on to have an ironic and tragic end when killed by his son (not Telemachus), conceived during an infidelity with Circe. Of course Telemachus would go on to marry Circe, so everybody’s brother turns out to be their dad, or possibly son…. Greek mythology families get complicated. Anyway, Paul likes this better than I do. Nah, He Knows You Know is better – I think I’ve proven I’m the bigger fan now.

I used to like Oasis, but that wore thin fairly quickly – I gave them a good four years. Paul proceeds to have some sort of stroke. I’m away to Google Taylor Parkes, then maybe listen to Side Two.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Side A of Script For A Jester’s Tear!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Grendel!

cover art for Grendel!

Greetings, Glancers! Last time I belly-flopped for the first time into the music and mind of the painted loon known as Fish, and his band Marillion and their first single. Did you know, I went to University with a young woman called Marillion (Mary Ellen Lynn)?

In Episode 2 of Paul Rose’s (AKA Mr Biffo) Podcast Between You And Me, he and wife Sanja listen to a few of the B-Sides which were released around the time of Mary Ellen Lynn’s first album – Script For A Jester’s Tear. That album title immediately makes me think of the sometimes great Blind Guardian – Power Metal pioneers – and any number of more embarrassing acts. Power Metal was ostensibly born out of Prog, and many of the European bands not only took the musical cues of Prog to the next logical (extreme) conclusion, but much of the imagery and literary/historical references too.

One observation I’ve made as a life-long Metal fan is that many of the more territorial Metal fans view Prog as ridiculous, weak, watered down, and would be ashamed to admit to liking it, while many of the more territorial Prog fans view metal as ridiculous, uncultured, over the top, and juvenile. I prefer to squat down betwixt the twain, like a goblin gathering and hording precious arcane items, and drag as much as I can from both sides to store beneath my thighs for future fingering. I can appreciate the arguments both sides make even if they come from a closed off and silly perspective, but both genres are more similar than some fans would like to admit.

Before we get to that first album, the B-Sides I need to listen to are Three Boats Down From The Candy, Charting The Single, and Grendel – the last of which is apparently some sort of big deal. Knowing now that the band took their name from one classic of fantasy literature (The Silmarillion) and that they have a song named after a character from another (Beowulf), I have a better idea of what to expect thematically from the band. Lots of epic tales of heroism and quests, elves and dragons, and other annoying pubescent rites of passage. Hey, I love all that stuff too! Also, I’m almost certainly going to be proven entirely wrong on this assumption. I haven’t read either of those particular tomes, but I have read LOTR and am aware Beowulf exists, so that’s something.

Did you know, when I was at University with Marillion, we had a Professor in Old English Studies who was obsessed with Beowulf and was some sort of authority on the subject. He was quite an odd, bespoke character – he conversed in an indescribable lilt which in no way fit his gargantuan physical frame – it was like he had swallowed a Childe, and said Childe subsisted on a meal of helium and jelly tots. I’m fairly certain he wrote ‘child’ as ‘Childe’ and I am convinced the whole thing was an act that he tried on for a laugh at one point, but has been forced to keep up the charade for 30 years because nobody has pulled him on it. He looked exactly like what you think an Olde English Professor would look like, but crossed with Ed Kemper.

Back to the point. I’m going to listen to these three songs over the next few days, slap a few thoughts together here, then go off and listen to Between You And Me, then return and summarize. How does that suit you? Good? Good.

Photo Courtesy of... unknown?

Starting with Three Boats Down From The Candy; I’m listening to this on Youtube so I’ve no idea if the one I’ve picked is the definitive version. There’s a bunch of 90s Remasters of this song, but the one I’ve gone for is from a B-Sides Album called Themselves. I chose this because it has a cool, terrifying, album cover – the artist or the band seems to have a thing for mouths based on the artwork I’ve seen so far.

It’s another song with a bombastic intro, synth driven, which then wriggles and remoulds into a totally different aura for the verse. The verse is ominous, smooth. Whispered vocals, still theatrical. I do get a distinct Dickinson/Maiden impression from these verses – that combination of the eerie arpeggio and theatrical, high pitched vocals. I like the quiet/loud dynamic, noticeable when the tumbling synth returns for the ‘chorus’. The whole song sees each instrument playing that sinister tumbling piece – the synth in the intro, the guitar in the verse, the piano in the middle – other guitar parts too. Much of the second portion of the track consists of a cool instrumental coda where the tumbling riffs change subtly and feel more purposeful and epic – this is probably my favourite part of the song, but it doesn’t last long (enough) and fades out. This seems like a cop out, a bit of an anti-climax, ending as if they either ran out of ideas, didn’t know how else to close it out, or originally intended for the song to run into the next piece of a larger whole.

In my first listens to these songs I don’t pay attention to the lyrics; For Three Boats, none of them stood out initially aside from the title, which is repeated throughout the song but doesn’t give me any insight into what it’s all about. As a music fan, I tend to delve into lyrics after a first listen, especially the artists who are known to put genuine effort into their words. When there is lyrical artistry, most times the depth doesn’t become apparent until you sit down and read the thing. Simplistic songs, typically of the radio Pop variation, tend to have lyrics which are designed to be easy to discern and understand immediately, consequently they have little to say and are based around limited topics. This is clearly not the case with Marillion.

On subsequent listens, I follow with the lyrics. The progression of the song and the lyrics suggests to me a journey, lets say of a boat sloping down a river, and what is seen along the way. The three images in the opening verse seem unrelated besides being images you may see on a journey. I’m sure there’s more to it according to Fish, but it’s not clear to me. I don’t think it needs to be. Proceeding through the next verses, the lyrics take on a more personal hue – ‘you ask for my love on the strength of a kiss’ is a neat line, but the follow-up lyric makes the narrator sound like a bit of an exploitative dick. That notion follows through in later lines with the narrator seemingly looking for nothing more than a fleeting fling and not wanting to be tied down into the machinations of a relationship or hindered by feelings. I do love the rhythm of the ‘You’re a memory… flotsam in a silent void’ couplet – it runs off the tongue nicely. Wait a minute… is ‘the candy’ slang for some sexy naughty word? I’ll wait until I listen to the podcast and not bother reading any online interpretations.

It’s a good song – I like it more than Market Square Heroes – which I keep mistakenly calling Market Stall Heroes. It feels shorter than it is – it’s only four minutes, but it feels like there is a lot more packed in than those four minutes suggest. I’m still not entirely sold on the vocals, but the theatrical approach matches the poetry and mystery of the lyrics and music.

Next up, we have Charting The Single. Is it another travelogue song, or is it about the band watching their songs soar up (down?) the charts? It starts with 80s stilted drums, and potentially stadium rock guitar chords. For me though, the song doesn’t live up to the potential of this intro. The major key hints at a more positive and optimistic feel than the previous songs. I strongly feel the Johnny Rotten and David Bowie approach from the vocals here – I’m getting PIL in fact. The robotic, simplistic drum beat is symptomatic of a lot of 80s New Wave type music – not something I’m a fan of because it tends to reek of repetition and lack of invention. I wouldn’t say that this song lacks invention, more that’s what the drum beat generically makes me feel. A huge organ (matron) comes in towards the end, increasing that epic vibe. This is the weakest, or my least favourite of the three songs I’ve heard so far – maybe because it’s slower, maybe because it feels artificially drawn out without adding enough musical variance. It has another fade out ending, but here it feels more natural. The song does build as it progresses, but the beat never changes and the vocal melodies remain roughly the same throughout.

There’s a lot of ‘ay-eeeee!’ in the lyrics so I didn’t pick up much more beyond that. Reading the lyrics alongside the song, it does have an element of travel to it. ‘Plastered in Paris I’ve had an Eiffel (eye-full)’ is the sort of amusing wordplay I’d usually expect from a Rapper. There’s a lot of similar wordplay throughout, and absolutely none of that was apparent to me until I read the lyrics online. As a Manics fan, I’m more than familiar with indecipherable lyrics only becoming clear once you read the album notes. Not that these are indecipherable per se, 50% of this was due to my own lack of attention. The whole storytelling, Burroughs-esque narrative flow of the lyrics is reminiscent of Bowie. The lyrics clearly make the song more interesting, I’d say they are the best component, but I doubt I’d return to this song purely because of the lyrics – the music is too drab to engage me entirely. I get the impression that the lyrics are quips and observations Fish had been building up during his life, and it feels like the band struggled to build a song around them. There was a Pizza Takeaway on the street I used to live on in Belfast called ‘A Pizza The Action’, which was enough to make me always choose it over any other after a night out. What’s it all about though? Lets just say ‘love’ because I’m aware I haven’t even got to Grendel yet.

Because Grendel is so long, I’m going to type my random-first-impression-jotted-down-notes first, and work from there. Here’s what I came up with on my first listen:

‘Grendel begins. House Of The Rising Sun guitar. Paint It Black guitar. Images of a jester frolicking around a grand Court while a disinterested King ponders a coming attack on his borders. Nice falsetto. Slow and gentle opening. I assumed before listening that this would move through various phases and tones and styles. Of course it does. Dragonforce synth. I wonder what my old Professor would think of this. The second verse (if that’s what I can refer to them as) sees the vocals a little more unstable at the falsetto moments – the notes aren’t quite hit cleanly, not sure if that’s on purpose. Then it all goes buck nuts into a light-speed disco section with a rocket up its arse, while retaining the main chord progression. Great twiddly solo. I’m only vaguely aware of Beowulf, so I’ve no idea what a ‘shaper’ or a ‘rim walker’ is. This is the most Floyd song so far – I mean, there’s not a lot actually comparable to Pink Floyd here beyond the length and the ambition. Musically it’s more relatable to me with some of Alice Cooper or Iron Maiden’s more rambling, epic moments. The bass from around the 7 or 8 minute mark is almost identical to Cooper’s legendary Halo Of Flies. Look Mummy, another big organ. Look Around You synth. I’m only going to be able to listen to this a limited amount of times before I post this, so I’m only scratching the surface of what it’s all about and my feelings about it. But I’ll certainly listen to it in the future. It’s the sort of song I wish I knew in and out, every detail and lyric and inflection, but that would take a lifetime of listening, and there’s only so many epics I can keep in my skull.’

I’ve since listened to the song a few more times, and most of my original impressions remain. I’m more aware now of the twists and turns which the song takes but I still feel, like with most epics, there’s a lot more to uncover, and I haven’t mentioned the lyrics yet. Tonally, I don’t mind whether songs longer than six or seven minutes retain the same vibe throughout, or if they completely shift. As long as there is some meaning behind those shifts that’s more than purely artificial, and as long as there is some sort of progression in terms of additional production or instruments in the mix for those songs which don’t shift as much. If there’s an overall tone I get from the song as a whole, it’s one of manic melancholia, like a sadness in the midst of panic.

I think the slower, calm section which runs until just after the nine minute mark drags the whole down somewhat, it’s too much of a dirge and too uneventful, and rather than acting as a build-up for the faster or (what I feel are) the more emotional moments, it just has me skipping forwards to get to the good stuff. ‘Dirge’ feels like too much of an insult, it’s simply not as interesting to me as everything before and after it. The slower phase from after nine minutes to around 11 minutes is much more potent, especially when we factor in the way Fish belts out some of the lyrics. I can’t get past the synth making me think of Wish You Were Here and Look Around You. I’d be curious to know how this was all put together – that’s something I enjoy hearing about in songs in general, but particularly epics. It’s like Making Of Documentaries on DVDs and Blu Rays. I’m curious to know if this was always planned as a single song, how much of it came together in jam sessions, was it originally a series of other songs and ideas consolidated over time into a single piece. Maybe Biffo will go into this in his Podcast.

Onto Grendel’s lyrics. The first thing I should say is, like any great epic, the song has SECTIONS. Lyrics are partitioned in some sort of over-arching plot in that great pretentious way much of Prog and Progressively tinted Metal follows. Grendel is divided into Hereot’s Plea And Grendel’s Awakening, Grendel’s Journey, and Lurker At The Threshold. Having not read much of Beowulf, I’m not qualified to talk about what any of this means. The opening verse scans nicely and reads like a poem if spoken aloud. It’s a scene-setting introduction with an overt hint of threat. The second verse, or do I dare use ‘stanza’, is more simple, yet tells me less – the terminology being foreign to me. Musically, it’s the second and fourth simple stanzas which are the loud half of the quiet/loud dynamic, with the first and third verses filling the quiet quota, though whether or not that was intentional or has any greater creative meaning, I’ll leave to the experts. I’m assuming with all of the fear in the 3rd Stanza that Grendel is one of the monsters in the tale – was it a Dragon, or a Witch or something? It’s interesting that the funky disco part of the song comes in this first section of the song – reading the lyrics I would have expected this to come in Grendel’s Journey. 

Grendel’s Journey is mostly the dirge-like part I mentioned earlier. Lyrically, it’s still littered with image driven choices which would likely mean more to me if I knew the story in detail. Lurker At The Threshold sees the song building up again – the build up is drawn out and the many stanzas here mirror this increase in potency – the words coming and coming and coming while the music reaches a crescendo. The lyrics are at their most violent in this section, which (I’m assuming) makes sense as Grendel has arrived and started to eat legs and wear the skins of tavern wenches – again, I don’t know the story. Grendel does seem like more than a mere murderous creature from the lyrics, it questions and condescends and mocks those it attacks, and the final lyric of ‘Receive your punishment, expose your throats to my righteous claws, and let the blood flow, and let the blood flow’ is particularly evocative and gruesome. I don’t think the actual delivery of the line is as powerful as seeing it written – I read the lyrics and thought ‘is that what he really sings, I’d better pay more attention to that last line this time, because that’s a great ending’ but that delivery is an anti-climax, plus it’s followed by another minute or so of music rather being the dead stop such a line perhaps deserves.

If I’m ranking these songs, and I don’t think I’m going to continue to in the future, but it’s Three Boats, then Grendel, then Charting The Single. Market Square Heroes would be between Grendel and Charting The Single. So far, there isn’t anything I would switch off if it popped up on my, what do people listen to these days, my radio/Alexa/Shuffle, but I’m not yet feeling a tug to listening to any again. Three Boats is the one I’ve found myself singing most since I’ve started this, so possibly I’ll return to it. All that’s left is to hear what Paul and Sanja make of it all, so I’ll be back once I’ve listened to the podcast.

Aaand, I’m back. Paul tells me that the B-Sides were live staples pre the first album’s release. That’s fairly standard as bands go – sometimes bands get sick of their early stuff, or don’t feel it fits on their first official release, or feel… embarrassed? Other bands just translate their live sets on to record and then struggle with their sophomore effort. Sanja’s approach to the podcast is the same as mine – listen, then lyrics. Her impressions are of the first song being elegant, but then being befuddled by the lyrics, which is fair enough – musically it sounds sweeter than the lyrics suggest.

Don’t worry, Biffo, Geddy Lee’s voice annoys everyone. His timbre is more grating. I love falsetto in general but if it goes too nasal or screechy, then it’s like claws down your back. Fish doesn’t call a spade a spade – or himself by a human name. Fish says the song is about a one night stand, under a boat, which was three boats down from a boat called ‘The Candy’. That sort of makes sense, though my reading of the lyrics was more cynical. Everything Paul says fits with what I read. It sounds like Paul and Sanja cringe a little at the lyrics and how they fit with the band’s early persona – I don’t mind them, but I’m new.

Interesting that Paul says this phase of the band only lasts for the first album, so I’m already curious to hear what that new phase is – and I haven’t heard the first album yet. Sanja feels Charting The Single is likeable filler – that about sums it up, though given that it’s not my preferred style I’d say it’s more on the dislikeable side. The subject of the song is expanded from my ‘love’ to being a parody of rock stars shagging their way around the world. Good. Paul loves this one more that Three Boats. 

Paul’s Perverted Pranks should be an episodic bit. It sounds, I’m getting a slight sense, that they like Grendel. It was played at their wedding. They love the rolling rrrrs, as do I. I love when people are enthusiastic about songs, even more so when it’s a song I love too so we can all galivant around in our echo chamber. I don’t love Grendel, but I agree that it’s a good song. There are many more epics I enjoy more, and more epics I think are better, but then I’m much more familiar with those. And we’re not here to talk about those. It’s great that it has inspired Sanja to go back and read Beowulf. Double Hot Chocolate references!

Another good episode, I got more information about the band, but the best part is hearing the childlike glee as our hosts talk about something they love. Can’t say we don’t need more of that in the world these days. That’s about it from me, it’s a sunny day at the time of writing, and I want to go outside and play. And let the blood flow.

Let us know in the comments what you think of these early Marillion B-Sides!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Market Square Heroes!

cover art for Grendel!

Greetings, Glancers! In my introductory post, I neglected to mention that Wikipedia states there have been, what, 19 Marillion Studio Albums. Maaan, this is going to take a while. And Market Square Heroes is merely a non studio single. For those wondering – I’m taking Mr Biffo/Paul Roses’ lead on this and listening to whatever his episodes suggest. Episode 1 of his Podcast covers only this single – maybe the B-sides – I haven’t listened to the episode or the song as of writing this intro, but those are what I will be listening to before returning to this post and giving my thoughts.

But before any of that, I wanted to learn a little more about the band, their history, members, success etc. Is that cheating? Should I go in cold? Perhaps, but I like a little early context before doing these things. Given that I’m not an uber-nerd about the band, I’m not going to go hunting down books and interviews and forums, or do any sort of real research beyond the ever reliable Wikipedia – so if any of the following information is incorrect – forgiveness, please.

Marillion is a British Rock band. They were formed in Aylesbury in 1979, emerging from the Post Punk scene of the era. I’m never sure precisely what that ’emerged from’ phrase means – it can mean anything from ‘it was a reaction against’ to ‘it was an evolution of’ to ‘the members used to be in punk and post punk bands but decided to form something else’. I don’t know which, if any, of those statements are accurate. There seems to be two distinct phases of the band, following their frontmen, with the Fish era from beginning to 1988 and the Steve Hogarth (Hogwarts?) continuing to today from 1989. That seems like a good time to to check on the members of the band. Fish was the lead singer and lyricist, has been said to sound like Roger Daltry and Peter Gabriel, has been called one of the great frontmen, he was inspired by the more experimental artists of the 60s and 70s, and he joined Marillion in 1981. He has since gone on to make spoken word albums, which sounds terrible.

There are a bunch of ex-members with little info and I’m not going to go down that rabbit hole – Brian ‘Hartley’s Jelly’ Jelliman, Doug ‘Eddie’ Irvine, Diz ‘Innit’ Minnitt, John ‘I already have one of these funny names “Martyr”‘ Marter. There was also Jonathan ‘Sofa’ Mover who was a drummer who went on to form a Prog Supergroup and also worked with my mate Alice Cooper, there was Michael ‘No Sisters’ Pointer who was described as ‘awful’ by Fish. The current lineup features Hogwarts – he has worked with lots of people and been in other bands I’ve never heard of, Steve ‘Can’t think of one’ Rothary on guitar, Mark ‘Matthew’ Kelly on keyboards, Pete ‘Goldeneye’ Trewavas on bass and guitar and keyboards, and Ian ‘Bill’ Mosley on the sticks.

In spite of some early success, the band has never been fashionable or popular with the media, yet fans are loyal and they have managed to sell around 15 million albums. I’m seeing quite a few parallels with some of my favourite bands. If I take the Manic Street Preachers – their timeline can generally be split into two phases – Richey and Post-Richey, and while they have consistently courted the media to their own ends, beyond a specific era of success they haven’t been popular in the mainstream. They’ve sold around the same number of albums too.

Righteo, that’s about all I need to know about the band for now, but what about this song I’m about to listen to. It was their debut single, released in 1982, and it doesn’t appear in any subsequent album. Again – the Manics did this with Suicide Alley, Suicide Is Painless, and Motown Junk. Actually, let me just listen to the thing, then I’ll come back at some point in the future and give some more details and my thoughts.

INTERMISSION Stock Photo - Alamy

Alamy! Okay, I’m back. I’ve listened to the song a few times now, over a period of a few hours. Obviously that’s better than my usual one and done approach, but nowhere near on the level of association that a fan would have. The song is roughly four minutes long, and it reached 60 on the UK charts – not the best performance, but enough presumably to get them some recognition. The title ‘Market Square Heroes’ evoked a series of images in my scattered brain before I listened to the song – images of folks like Mark from Eastenders forking over pennies for change from a blue pouched straddling his navel; of bearded, red-cheeked men screaming what sounds at once like ‘five pears for a pipe’ and ‘comb your hair around’ but was actually ‘three lighters for a pound’, and Preachers handing out ‘Ye Must Be Born Again’ tracts to folks trying to get their Saturday shopping done before Football Focus started. I grew up in a Northern Ireland town which had a town square and which would have a Saturday market with all of your usual stores, but also those additional Northern Ireland Only variants where paramilitary regalia was freely bought and sold, alongside posters of King Billy. Unfortunately, those particular stalls had all the best stuff – so my friends and I would buy fireworks and rude and obscene material while the seller probably eyed us up as potential recruits into whatever shady jingoistic business he was involved in.

According to Wikipedia, Aylesbury town square was a little different. The song was inspired by a bloke named Brick, because in Aylesbury around this time nobody had a normal name, who must have been some… Manic Street Preacher type. I’m sure this drawn out analogy will end at some point. In any case, the song is about an outspoken, charismatic leader, a revolutionary but someone without any clear direction or purpose to their vociferations and anger. It is also quoted as the band trying to write a commercial song without losing the entire sense of their more progressive, expansive leanings. I have nothing else to compare it to yet, and I don’t know what other songs they had written or performed until this point. I will say this; I quite like it.

What do I like? I giggled a little at the fake out intro; it begins with a series of slow, fat chords, and descending bass lines. Then the vocals join and the song goes off in a completely different direction. I laughed because it made me think like Slade or some other 70s glam rock band, prancing about in flares with general disregard for facial hair grooming. There’s a synth/guitar piece running through the verses which is quite jolly, and the repeated calls of ‘the day’ match the sudden shift of the drum beat. This is all amusing to me. The vocals… my first thoughts were that it reminded me of some of the more deliberately theatrical moments on The Wall, and also a cross between Bowie and Johnny Rotten and that dude from Talking Heads. With each listen, those comparisons fell away. I can’t get away from the fact that musically it reminds me of Slade, but as the song progresses a definite streak of NWOBHM emerges. It sounds like early Iron Maiden – maybe it’s the general production, maybe it’s the guitar tone, but it has a very similar vibe.

It’s all very theatrical too – apologies (not really) for the constant mirroring to Metal or other artists, but it’s not quite in line with the vocal shenanigans of a Dio or Dickinson or Kursch, where it can often feel like a Play is being recited rather than a song being sung. But certain words do have additional inflections or are sung with a whispered lilt or a subtle shriek – it’s those little dramatic flourishes which you tend not to hear in mainstream music. There’s a middle section which didn’t do a lot for me, apart from remind me about Johnny Rotten (I am your Antichrist), but some of the guitar is both nifty and groovy – grifty? It does end in a fade out, which I’m rarely a fan of.

Lyrically, I can see what Fish was describing when we spoke of the charismatic leader. It’s difficult to get such notions over in a single four minute song. I like the opening line – ‘finding smog at the end of a rainbow’ suggests that you’ve been following a lie, or that your purpose was meaningless, which then makes the rest of the song somewhat ironic as the narrator asks others to follow him, given we know his track record of failure. There’s religious stuff in their – suffer the little children to come onto me – as a whole it is a poetic approach, if a little scattered and unfocused. At least to me. The song moves from images of industrialism to rebellion and protest, though there are plenty of notable juxtapositions if you’re into that – golden handshake/rust upon my hands, peace signs/war in the disco etc.

Now, I wonder what Paul and Sanja have to say about it. At this point, I’m going to go off and listen to Episode 1, then I’ll be back to finish off this long-winded post ABOUT A SINGLE SONG.

That was a fun opening episode – mostly what I was expecting given that I’ve watched Paul and Sanja’s Lockdown Youtube content. They spar well off one another, and the whole Knight/Padawan thing is always interesting. Does it need a third party to intercede and make jokes about Marillion being crap, or someone who actively dislikes the band, like a certain Ghostbusters fan? Nah, I think we’re good.

I only took some scattershot, very basic notes as I listened. Well, I say ‘took notes’, but it was more accurately me telling my brain ‘ooh, that’s worth bringing up when I go back to the blog post’.  So here is what my brain thought was worth bringing up – blame it, not me. Paul calls the song ‘A proper pop rock song’. So it’s obviously one he enjoys. I liked it too, and I did find myself humming parts over the weekend, but I don’t think it’s amazing. It’s their first song so I can only assume they’ll get better. Paul resorts to looking at Wikipedia at one point- what sort of fan are you? Grewcock. We all know that Paul loves his artwork, and I didn’t pay attention at all to the cover when I was listening to the song. After checking out the single artwork – it’s fine, I guess. It makes me think of Twin Peaks The Return, when various characters begin peeling their faces open like a swinging door. It doesn’t spring out and seize my attention, and I’m sure by the time I post this I’ll have forgotten most of the detail. They talk about Brick. There’s a nice explanation of the lyrics and ‘plot’. Apparently the style, the overwrought lyrics, combined with Fish and his stage antics meant the band had plenty of detractors yet gained a cult following.

That’s about it then. God help us when we get to covering an entire album. Do you like Marillion? Why not go listen to the Podcast and follow Paul and Sanja on the Twitbox and Insta-thing, @BYAMPOD? Next time round, I’ll be listening to three songs so you can expect even more rambling from me and by the time we get to the first album I’ll have given up. See ya there and then!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion (and Mr Biffo’s Between You And Me Podcast)!

cover art for Market Square Heroes

Greetings, Glancers! As I have said to my wife on many a saucy occasion – ‘I’m not sure how long I can last’. What has this embarrassing revelation to do with Marillion, you may be asking. You see, the always busy, always brilliant Mr Biffo (Paul Rose) – creator of Digitser and somewhat of an inspiration for many folks of a certain age – has launched a new Podcast. In this Podcast – Between You And Me – Paul and his wife, Sanja, are trawling through every major Marillion release together, with Paul acting as wizened mentor and Sanja the enthusiastic student. Presumably. I haven’t listened to anything beyond the trailer yet.

Rose is a diehard, lifelong Marillion fan, while Sanja is something of a newb. I assume some of their songs will have filtered through to her via Paul playing them around the house, in the car, or possibly on the long walks down to the local Chippie I imagine they take. It’s the type of Podcast format I enjoy listening to, in my limited Podcast experience. Regular Glancers will know that I listen to the Shockwaves Horror podcast (or did until it all collapsed due to those allegations), and the Mick Garris (Horror writer and director) Podcast. If Joe Rogan has one someone interesting – one of those UFO guys or someone from WWE, I’ll give him a ear or two.

As a thirty something white male, starting a Podcast of my own is a source of daydreaming increasingly. I had thought of doing something similar where I grab a bunch of friends, each of us picking a movie or an album to focus on in one episode – preferably one which the friends have either not seen or not enjoyed – and try to convince them to like it via insults and profuse fanboying. Recently, I’ve been listening to the Do You Love Us Podcast – a Podcast which takes this format but uses it to go through the entire Discography of the Manic Street Preachers, who will know as maybe my favourite band of all time. From humble beginnings, the three lads – one super fan, one casual, and one newb, have discussed the cultural impact of the band and their thoughts on the music, the lyrics, the surrounding fluff, and have grown to having legitimate guests on the show including Greg Haver (Producer of Manic Street Preachers albums) and Michael Sheen (Welsh and Hollywood legend).

Sadly, as someone too busy and/or lazy to have friends these days, such a podcast of my own is a mere pipedream – and the old Northern Irish accent would most likely be like being forced to wear someone else’s facemask to a Floridian Trump fan. Via that verbal detour, we return to Marillion and me. I.. don’t know much about the band. I know they exist, and I’ve heard a few of their biggest songs, but that’s about it. If asked, I would call them a Prog band but that answer is more borne out of saying their name on the cover of Prog music magazines or mentioned in the same breath as Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Rush, rather than any practical experience of their music I have personally had. Regular Glancers will know that I have a number of regular music features on my blog – I’m currently finishing off my Bowie, Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams, and Madonna discographies, and I’ve kicked off the same for The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys, as well as working my way through the Top 1000 Albums Of All Time, the Top 500 Metal Albums Ever, the Post Beatles release of each Beatles member, and the Non Iron Maiden releases by each Iron Maiden member. It’s a lot. But given that I want to listen to everything ever made, and then tell you why I didn’t like any of it, I’m willing to give Marillion a go too.

Being a big Pink Floyd fan, Prog is a genre I enjoy but have never fully embraced in terms of going through the back catalogues of the other big players. For the Marillion posts though, rather than use the same format of my other posts, which are not insightful in the slightest and end of reading as repetitive nonsense (I basically listen to the album and type my thoughts wile listening, with no edits or planning), I’m going to do the Marillion thing properly; Multiple listens, let the music absorb, follow up by listening to Paul’s associated Podcast episode for the particular release, listen again, then post my thoughts on it all. OR SOMETHING.

But as I say, I get bored easily and may give up long before I get past the Fish era, whatever that means. I’ll probably still listen to the albums, even if I don’t write about them. I’ll probably still listen to the Podcast, even if I don’t listen to the albums. You probably won’t care about any of it. But if you do – if you’re a Marillion fan, maybe you’ll get something out of whatever I type. You’ll have more luck listening to Paul’s Podcast (I don’t really know how Podcasts work so I tend to just Google and click on the first safe looking link which pops up and listen via that site – so here’s the link I’m using). At the very least, I hope I’ll enjoy the music and find another band so enrich my life.

Horror Anthologies You May Have Missed

Greetings, Glancers! Here in The Spac Hole, a place of ambiguous terror and self-disgust, Halloween is our favourite time of the year. What could be better than lighting fireworks inside your neighbour’s house, waiting for them to run outside, and launching a live Alligator at them? It’s all in the festive spirit I’m sure you’ll agree. I admit it’s getting tiresome trying to think of interesting things to post about at this time of the year, beyond the usual lists I’ve already published and more and more horror movie reviews. I was listening to an old episode of the Shock Waves Podcast recently (it’s a podcast by four mega horror fans within the movie industry and features regular special guests) in which they discussed building the perfect horror anthology from existing movies. Each presenter picked five segments and a wraparound, and hijinks were had. At the end of the episode, they talked about possibly doing the same, but with Horror TV instead of movies.

That got me thinking about may of the shows I used to watch and continue to watch. The anthology series, even ones concerning scares, have been around since the 1950s and continue to this day. We all have our favourites, and there are many obvious ones – The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Masters Of Horror, Are You Afraid Of The Dark, Goosebumps etc. Many of these are excellent introductions to the wider genre for kids or newbs, while others are surely catered towards the hardcore fan. Today, we have the likes of The TerrorBlack Mirror, Channel Zero, and (if you’re stretching the terminology) American Horror Story, but what about the shows which may have escaped your clutches? Us horror fans are always looking for the next thrill, the next scare, and it shouldn’t matter if this involves looking across the oceans, or back in time.

As a non-American, I have been exposed to some shows which many of my readers may not be aware of, but all that is about to change. Check out the list below, or even better, find and watch the shows. Then tell your friends. Spread the disease. There’s something here for everyone – for kids and newbs, for hardcore fans, for those who love the supernatural, those who prefer their horror with a touch of realism, and those looking for something more… out there. Give them a shot.

Out There (2001-2002)

See what I did there? Almost certainly no-one outside of Britain will be aware of this, and almost certainly only about twelve people watched it – myself included (religiously). I’m cheating considerably with this entry, but it’s nevertheless a show I’d love more people to see. It is essentially a 30 minute clip show, showcasing snippets of gore, sex, and weirdness from movies and TV shows from around the world, all hosted in a non-narrative by the gorgeous animal lover Anneka Svenska and later, all round horror bad-ass Emily Booth. It was a British Elvira, but much much weirder. It was one of those shows that had me grabbing the pen and paper, taking notes of all the weird shit I had seen, then trying to hunt done the source material online the next day. There’s sadly very little of the show to be found online now, but those of us who saw it can consider ourselves both very very lucky, and quite badly scarred.

Beyond The Walls (2015)

Over to France now, for a nifty little show I believe you can catch now on Shudder. I’m being loose with the definition of Anthology again, but there you have it. It’s really a Haunted House mini-series – three episodes, meaning you can get through the whole thing in no time. And it would be a good use of your time, because aside from the interesting story (which follows Lisa – a lonely woman who inherits a house from a man who she has never met, and who has been dead for thirty years), it looks stunning and packs in a lot of ideas in its short running time.

Chiller (1995)

One of the first British anthology shows I remember watching, Chiller ran for a single series and featured a mere five episodes. Luckily, each of them is strong and feature the likes of ghost babies, curses, not so imaginary friends, and serial killers. My memories of the first two episodes – Prophecy and Toby are the strongest – not bad for shows I haven’t seen in over twenty years. In Prophecy, a group of friends perform a seance and each receive a prophecy, which then start coming true in deadly fashion, while in Toby a woman loses her unborn son in a car accident but continues to display signs of a phantom pregnancy, all the way up to birth. The show features British stalwarts like Martin Clunes (Men Behaving Badly), Nigel Havers (Chariots Of Fire), Sophie Ward (Return To Oz), John Simm (Life On Mars), and Peter Egan (Downton Abbey). You can buy the series on DVD and catch some of them on Youtube. Incidentally, the BBC had a similar show around the same time called Ghosts, but I don’t recall it and will have to track it down.

Dr Terrible’s House Of Horrible (2001)

Once you get past the horrible, terrible name, this is a decent show. Obviously, the name is a spoof and once you realise that this is a Steve Coogan vehicle, you’ll understand we’re firmly in the comedy realm. It’s another show which only ran for one series, starring Steve Coogan as Dr Terrible (and others) who presents each tale in the vein of the Cryptkeeper. Each episode is a loving, spoofing riff on British anthology classics from the likes of Hammer and Amicus and each features actors from those classic productions, as well as modern fans like Mark Gatiss and Simon Pegg. It’s a who’s who of the last 100 years of British Cult Cinema. While it rarely gets scary or disturbing, it’s a must for horror fans – especially of those films being spoofed – the love is authentic, and the laughs are hearty.

Eerie, Indiana (1991-1992)

So, I’m guessing most of you know this. It’s ostensibly a show for kids – I watched it upon release and have loved it ever since – but there are enough knowing nods to classics for adults and experienced horror fans to enjoy. For my money, it was one of the first kids shows to also appeal to adults. Look at Cinema and TV now – almost everything is catered to such a wide audience. It’s a shame the original series didn’t run for more series – you know the writers were setting things up for future shows – recurring guest stars, expanding mythology, but sadly it was all abandoned for an ill-advised follow up series a few years later. Joe Dante’s creative touch is all over it, there are a myriad of in-jokes and guest stars you’ll recognise, but most importantly – the stories are unique, varied, entertaining, and spooky enough for kids without treating kids like idiots. We have kids being sucked into TVs, dogs trying to take over the world, sentient cash machines, other dimensions, commercialist zombies, tornado chasers, lonely artistic kids, and ghost organ transplants. Great performances all around too – a rarity for a show like this.

Fear Itself (2008)

Masters Of Horror is one of the modern titans of the Anthology with a terrific idea – take some of the world’s most renowned directors within the genre and give them free reign to create their own mini-movie. It lasted for two seasons and the DVD boxsets are some of the finest examples of the craft. It was unfortunate when the show ended (it’s surely time for a revamp now that horror on TV is more prevalent and we have a new crop of young Masters to get involved), but series creator and horror icon Mick Garris wasn’t ready to let it die yet. Fear Itself is basically the third Season of Masters Of Horror, with returning and new masters contributing again. While the quality isn’t as strong, it’s still a damn good show, pushing the envelope with what can be done with the medium and showcasing a tonne of gore and scares. For whatever reason, it wasn’t as successful as its older brother and only lasted for thirteen episodes – five of which ended up not being shown in the US. Luckily you can buy the boxset on DVD and dive back in. It’s a lot of fun, some episodes are more comedy based, some are psychological, while others go right for the jugular.

Hammer House Of Horror (1980)

Hammer is one of the most renowned producers of Horror in film history and at the end of the peak of their powers they branched into Television. It’s another show which only lasted 1 Season – thirteen episodes (what is it about that number?) – but those episodes are exactly what you would expect from the Company – sex and violence and creepy old mansions. A lot of British stars of the time show up in stories concerning time-travelling witches, Nazi experiments, upper class cannibals, human sacrifice, Pierce Brosnan, and of course, staples (Satan – one for older readers, that wee joke). There have been various DVD and Blu Ray releases, the Horror Channel in the UK shows them every so often, and a few episodes can be found lurking on Youtube, so there’s no excuse not to indulge in some classic creaky horror.

Inside No. 9 (2014 -)

I’ve spoken about this one before (in this best Christmas episodes post) but it’s a show that is still not widely seen. It’s always something which has irked me when inferior British shows get widespread publicity across the seas and stuff like this is overlooked. It’s a thirty minute anthology show – different stories each episode but with some overlapping cast members, with a focus on intelligent writing, horror, humour, and an interesting setting. The set up is that each story should be set in or based around the Number 9 – as in House #9, or train carriage #9 etc. So far there have been four seasons, and there is an upcoming Halloween Special this year – given the writers’ and performers’ love of horror and skill within the genre, it’s one to look forward to. Guest stars include – Gemma Arterton, Sheridan Smith, Jack Whitehall, Tamsin Greig, David Warner, Rory Kinnear, Kevin Eldon, Jane Horrocks, Danny Baker, Peter Kay, and many many more. While most of the stories are heavily influenced by the macabre – a dying child’s last wish, a silent episode featuring bungling burglars and murder, child abuse exposed during a game of sardines, crumbling relationships – it’s the overt horror stories which horror fans will be most interested. Here you will find stories based around snuff movies, witch trials, devil worship, suicide support lines, seance, torture rooms, and Final Destination esque games of fate. If you like your humour dark and your horror original, then you have no excuse to not watch these now.

Mr Biffo’s Found Footage (2017)

You may not be prepared for this. In fact, I know for a fact that you are not. I’m going to give a link to the first one – they’re all on YouTube – and you can decide for yourself if it’s for you. It’s definitely for me, but unfortunately that means only about twelve other people will find it ‘suitable’. No spoilers – just watch.

Night Gallery (1969 – 1973)

I’ll again assume that most people reading this actually know this one, but it’s still not as well or widely known as The Twilight Zone, even though it’s essentially a sequel to that grandest of shows. While it wasn’t as successful or as culturally significant, it still lasted for three seasons and featured Rod Serling presenting more stories to keep you awake at night. While still morality and twist based, Night Gallery tended towards a horror slant while The Twilight Zone’s scary episodes were sporadic. As you would expect, the prolific Serling wrote many of the stories but it also featured adaptations of Lovecraft, Bloch, and Matheson. There’s a great selection of tales here, expertly acted out by many familiar faces like Edward G Robinson, Carl Reiner, John Carradine, Leslie Nielsen, David McCallum, Adam West, and other big names of the time. While time has proven that the stories may not be as immediately terrifying as they once were, they’re perfect for cuddling up on the sofa for family viewing to introduce a younger audience to the genre’s classics.

Shockers (1999-2000)

Full disclosure – this entry is the main reason for writing this post. As I was listening to the Shock Waves podcast earlier (along with others, and blogs, and discussions) I remembered this show – and one episode in particular. I think when it comes to anthologies, we all have that one entry which sucks us in and makes us lifelong fans of the format, whether that be Burgess Meredith breaking his glasses in The Twilight Zone, Karen Black being terrorized by a dummy in Trilogy Of Terror, or even the monkey’s paw from The Simpsons. I was a fan of the format long before I saw Shockers, but it was the episode named Parent’s Night which has stayed with me perhaps more than any other segment I’ve ever seen. If there’s any purpose to this post, it’s a hope that someone will go online and watch this episode – consider it my seal of approval, but also beware that it may fuck you up.

Shockers is a show you never hear of or read about in any anthology discussions. While none of the episodes are on par with Parent’s Night, a few of them are very good and all are watchable. There isn’t any linking or central theme or premise behind the stories, aside from them all being set in a modern, realistic Britain and them being presented as written by future stars. As for the cast – you’ll recognise a few of them – Daniel Craig, Lennie James, Kerry Fox, Ashley Walters, and a host of other British familar faces. As far as I can tell, there were only six episodes – if you live in the UK you can catch them all on Demand 4, if you’re outside of the UK some of them are on YouTube, including (most importantly) Parent’s Night. As there’s only six, I can give a a rundown of each:

In Cyclops, a prisoner has a camera implanted in his eye upon release to watch his every move. In The Visitor, a charismatic stranger turns up at the house of a couple and their friend, while in The Dance a widower falls for a younger woman at a dance class who may not be what she seems. Deja Vu is about a husband and wife who lost their son in a car crash, but then another car crash changes things, while Ibiza sees a typical lads holiday to the island turn to a deadly game of mystery and murder. Yet it is Parent’s Night that I want everyone who reads this to watch. It’s…. I don’t want to give too much away, but it was released when I was still in school and when certain recent school shootings were still in the public eye. It’s a vital piece of art which is sadly all the more powerful now, especially in the US. Although the climates and cultures of our two nations are very different, bullying and anger are universal. In my country, we have several groups who have no issue, at least historically, in blowing each other to hell yet thankfully guns in schools are not really a problem. We may live in a warzone, but at least we don’t go that far. Still, when I watched Parent’s Night, I was blown away and it remains the only time I’ve ever stood up and applauded something I’ve seen on TV. I hadn’t seen it in 17 or 18 years – since it was released, but in preparation for this post I watched it again, and it is still as haunting, stomach-churning, horrible, and sadly realistic as ever. It’s a near perfect view of what School could sometimes be like. I should stop prattling on about it – if you’ve ever valued my opinion on TV or Movies, then when I say it’s one of the best things I’ve ever seen, you should know to check it out. Click right here to watch on YouTube.

The Nightmare Room/The Haunting Hour (2001 – 2014)

We need something to calm us down after that. When I was a kid in the 90s we had Goosebumps and Are You Afraid Of The Dark? It turns out R.L Stine kept ’em coming, and in The Nightmare Room he made a follow-up series. It only lasted one season, but its thirteen (of course) episodes feature many a big name – Shia Labeouf, Frankie Muniz, Robert Englund, Angus Scrimm, Ken Foree, Josh Zuckerman, Amanda Bynes, and um… Allison Mack. Not content, Stine returned with The Haunting Hour which was more successful and ran for four seasons. The cool thing about The Haunting Hour is that it is much darker and graphic than the other two – it’s still for kids, older kids, but it definitely has an edge. Once again, a bunch of pretty teens who have gone on, or are currently on the hunt for greater fame, make an appearance, but I’m not as au fais with this bunch.

Thriller (US and UK 1960s and 1970s)

Two unrelated shows here, and neither have anything to do with Michael Jackson prancing his way up into yo’ bidness. The US show was a response to The Twilight Zone and saw Boris Karloff in the Serling role. While it’s not as strong as TTZ, it thankfully does feature stories written on directed by Ida Lupino, Robert Bloch, Arthur Hiller, Richard Matheson, and has many of the biggest stars of the time and the future (past) such as Shatner and other TTZ stalwarts. The British show came around a decade later and ran for six seasons. As with almost all these shows, it has a semi-iconic intro theme and title sequence. This show focused less on the supernatural and more on murder and mystery with people such as Robert Powell, Dennis Waterman, Helen Mirren, Haley Mills, Jenny Agutter, Francesca Annis, Stephen Rea, Denholm Elliot, Bob Hoskins, and many many others popping up.

Urban Gothic (2000)

My final choice popped up around the same time as Shockers – this being Channel 5’s attempt at late night anthology horror. The problem with the show was always that the running time didn’t allow the ideas to be fully fleshed – some ideas seemed ripe for either better writing or a 60 minute show instead of the 30 given. The cool thing about some of the stories though was that they had sequels or featured overlapping characters – it would have been nice to see this expanded beyond the two seasons which we ended up with. Once again you can catch these on DVD or some on YouTube to find out for yourself. Some highlights include Ingrid Pitt playing herself, Dirty Den essentially playing himself, necromancy, vampires, gangsters, zombies, serial killers in reality shows, all set in a by and large realistic view of British City life. My person favourite was always Be Movie, in which a group of school kids in detention find themselves stalked by a killer, yet if they try to leave the school… their heads explode. Just like my school then.

Which of these are you going to check out? Are there any forgotten anthology shows you want to raise awareness on? Which shows and episodes are your favourites? Let us know in the comments!

Calling All Gamers!!!

!!! I’m aware I only have about twelve readers (which is a shame because I always assumed there were more sadists in the world), and that most of you come here for my movie reviews (you should really have a hunt around at my other posts – music, TV – they’re all hilarious!) but sometimes I have the odd post about videogames. Most of my posts tend to be on the retro side, due to the following reasons – first, when a new game is released, every chump with a blog is talking about it and I have this thing about doing the opposite of what everyone else is doing, and second, I tend not to buy games as soon as they’re released anyway. With two kids and a wife and a job and a cat and a garden and various secret lives to consider, my gaming time is limited, meaning I watch the odd bit of Youtube coverage to scratch my bitch (itch). From comedy diversions such as Vanoss and his crew, to ma boi Dashie’s skits, scares, and screams, to watching all those city building games I’d love to have, it’s sometimes how I get to sleep. Wouldn’t it be great though if there were a dedicated videogame show on Youtube – one which scratches multiple itches (bitches) and caters towards my sense of humour and style of gaming? Yes…. that would be wonderful.

Enter Digitiser The Show? What is this, you may ask. It is thus, I may say. I will say it and it is thus – the brain child of one Paul Rose, aka Mr Biffo, aka, the finest videogame journo type boyo in the world. If you live anywhere outside of the UK you likely won’t know him, or his most famous previous work – Digitser. Back in the early Nineties, long before we had dial-up screeching through our phones, us pasty British and Irish types had a thing on our TVs called Teletext. BBC had Ceefax, ITV and Channel 4 had Teletext (Channel 5 had Shannon Tweed, but that’s another story). Both were essentially regularly ‘loading’ magazine pages – there were news and sports sections, holiday sections, TV guides etc. My dad especially loved the business and shares section where he would sit patiently, cracking walnuts, while page 16 of 42 rolled around so that he could see if his ‘footsy’ had gone ‘up a shilling’… I still don’t understand any of that stuff.

As has become the lore of many a thirty something Brit, a pre and indeed post school ritual was to check Digitiser for our daily Mario and Sonic info squirts. It was a videogame magazine consisting of news, reviews, charts, characters, and funnies. Ooh the characters and funnies. It was the world’s only daily gaming magazine, but it was written with an often bizarre humour which quickly enamoured readers into a cult following. A letters page helped this underground movement of weirdos to spread and soon Digitiser had an average daily readership of loads. For ten years it blazed a trail which many have emulated so varying degrees of success and copycatism. In 2003 it all ended – I was in the middle of University and failing to blaze my own trail, so it seemed fitting that all good things were coming to an end.

You can’t keep a good thing down (unless it’s pavlova – I could keep a whole one down every day) and Digitiser made a triumphant return online a few years ago. You can find it here – I implore you all to read, for non-biased gaming banter at its finest. While Biffo looks at everything from gaming ‘politics’ issues to the biggest triple ooh title, to the littlest Indie nips, he also indulges in a few helpings of retro pie. With twenty years of experience of writing on the subject, his knowledge is wide and it’s immediately clear he has a love for playing and talking about this lowliest form of entertainment. What I’m saying is that if you love gaming, you’ll enjoy Digitiser. If you enjoy humour in the vein of Reeves and Mortimer, Harry Hill, Monty Python, non-sequiturs, farce, and general nonsense, then you’ll love it.

While I would love it if his readership increased, and I hope he gets some new fans due to people stumbling on this post, what I really wanted to highlight was that Biffo has a Kickstarter set up for arguably the best thing ever. Yes, you guessed it, Biffo has taken it upon himself to create Digitiser The Show – an online series featuring some of your favourite gaming peeps – Biffo himself and a variety of his famous characters, Larry Bundy Jr, Ashens, Violet Berlin, Gameplay Jenny etc. In fact, do yourself a pleasure and read all about it in his own words at this link. The short version is that he wants to resurrect a gaming show similar to the good ones we used to have – Gamesmaster, Bad Influence, but that it will primarily deal with retro games. He has described it as like Top Gear but with games instead of cars and Clarksons. If this doesn’t sound like it’s right up your orifice, then I want nothing to do with you. If you’re intrigued, why not visit the Kickstarter page or the Digitiser2000 site and read some of his work. Even if you don’t like it… wouldn’t it be nice to have a professional, mid budget dedicated games show on Youtube? Shouldn’t we be supporting the things we love? While neither me, nor he, are begging for donations, it would be great if anyone reading this hops on over and gives some of their ill-gained moneys for the cause. The Digi shop has lots of cool stuff too (I’m writing this while wearing my Digi Sgt Pepper’s shirt), and there are a load of perks for getting involved. Any support, even if it’s just becoming a reader, would be great.

Two final spurts before I’m done; last year Biffo created another online series – not really related to gaming, but worth a watch for any fans of the aforementioned comedians – you can find Found Footage online here – you’ll get an idea of the talent involved, the cameos, and the content, though I imagine the complete buck nuts Biffo humour will be diluted, for lack of a better term, on the gaming show. Biffo raised over three times the amount he needed for his first goal within 24 hours, so it is happening – how much of it actually happens could be DOWN TO YOU! I think we all want to see a goujon being launched into Space, don’t we? Enjoy this launch trailer too. Ahoy!