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!

To Repel Ghosts

To Repel Ghosts: 4/Great

Another terrific song from Lifeblood which expertly welds together the guitar based rock sound of yore and the more experimental electronic sound (of more?). Filled with glorious harmonic touches which feel at once Christmasy, ghostly, and warm, the chorus is one which soars effortlessly and is served by yearning, haunting verses. Again the melodies hide the lack of lyrical depth, meaning we latch onto the strong lines rather than the repeated ones or uneventful ones. With wonderful production filled with lots of lovely little moments, it raises the tempo and energy of the album and hides a multitude of treats which are only uncovered on repeated listens.

Misheard Lyrics: And unsire Bamford’s lies (?)/ and run, sigh, and run for lives (?)/ and outside blindfold lies

Actual Lyrics: And untie our blindfold eyes

Australia

Australia: 4/Great

The band at their most shamelessly commercial, their most joy-filled musically, and sounding like they love every minute of it. Quite where songs like this came from after The Holy Bible remains a mystery – perhaps the only way was up, in desperate need of some light, some poppy, peppy melodies that could crack apart the darkest thought. One of the band’s finest, most recognisable riffs, a stadium-tearing chorus, and brilliant verse melodies and simple lyrics for even the most distant fan to latch on to, the song’s content may sound joyous but of course there is a darker core, with Wire writing the song not as an ode to the spider-filled, murderous continent, but as a desire to escape his home and the memories it had become infected with – simply to get away, to be free from everything, and live a kind of non-life for a while. Meaning behind, it remains a wonderful song to bounce around too, filled with warm harmonies and immediately infectious.

Misheard Lyrics: I don’t know if I’m tired. I don’t know if I’m air.

2. I’ve been before much too long/I’ve been defiled much too long.

3. I want to fight and run.

4. Slip for a while.

Actual Lyrics: I don’t know if I’m tired. I don’t know if I’m ill.

2: I’ve been here for much too long.

3. I want to fly and run.

4. Sleep for a while.

Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayitsworldwouldfallapart

Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayitsworldwouldfallapart: 4/great

It’s always been a mystery to me why the band never quite hit it off in America, at least from a purely musical perspective. The band released their first albums at the height of grunge and shared many similarities with the leading US guitar bands of the period. They were angry, introspective, sensitive, knew how to shred, and had a political and moral stance. Of course much of their politics was anti-american in some ways, or even (horror or horrors) Communist leaning. When you look back at what bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Rage Against The Machine were saying at their peak – they too were rallying against the right leaning US policies of the time, and their fans were loyal to the cause – all the more reason for a band like the Manics to be popular. But no singles were released, they rarely toured, and received little to no exposure. This second track from The Holy Bible is a lyrical mass of politics and morality, a literal barrage of words and references and name-checking that even the most ardent student will struggle to keep up with. Musically it has the militaristic core that runs through The Holy Bible, with machine gun drumming, off centre robotic guitars, vocals that sound like they’re screamed through a megaphone, and a shifting structure that feels like a chaotic, absurd blend of blues rock riffage and heavy metal thrashing.

Misheard Lyrics: 1. A messenger from Santander and napalm.

2. Grenade, a heetee (?), pole in Nick a rock you are!

3. Big Mac, smack, fix our knees

4. Killer Mexico

5. Yeah I do speak so much of the abyss

6. Come down Harlem

7. Morning fine groovy first coffee of the day

Actual Lyrics: 1.Images of perfection, suntan, and napalm

2. Grenada, Haiti, Poland, Nicuragua

3. Big Mac, Smack, Phoenix R

4. Cuba Mexica

5. Your idols speak so much of the abyss

6. Compton Harlem

7. Morning fine serve your first coffee of the day

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.

Of Walking Abortion

I knew that someday I was gonna die, and I knew before I died two things would happen to me; that number one I would regret my entire life, and number two I would want to live my life over again‘.

The first song from The Holy Bible to offer an industrial tone, the savage guitars crunch and throb, drums smash down like hammers on steel, all manner of filters make the instruments sound mechanical and condensed while Bradfield sounds like a cyborg spinning out of control. This is heavy, dark stuff, unsurprisingly, with a chaotic mixture of lyrical brilliance with lyrical weirdness. It’s the first song that sounds evil on the album, as if it has taken on a life of its own and is coming after you, stalking, hunting. Opening with the above haunting quote (Hubert Selby Jr) about life, death, and regret, futility, apathy, the lyrics and music follow without looking back. The finger-pointing ending, which I believe was added by Nicky, has become a Manics moment – meme -mement? The band seemingly taking aim at, well, all of us, the monstrous humans we are, being responsible for all of the terrible shit in the world. Again Bradfield pulls every once of hatred and despair from the words, pumps them back through the music and unleashes a terrifying vocal performance, screaming to the pit of his soul with unfettered anguish and rage.

Misheard Lyrics:

  1. Obsidian’s blackest hole/a city is blackest hole/a city’s blackest hole
  2. The nation’s mouth wraps you inside
  3. Fucked up don’t know why you put it away
  4. Shut up! Shut up!
  5. Open black ground with tomorrow’s compass (?)
  6. So watch out girl and you expect your chores/so watch our car and you’ll expect no choice

Actual Lyrics:

  1. Acedia’s blackest hole
  2. The nation’s moral suicide
  3. Fucked up don’t know why you poor little boy
  4. Shalom! Shalom!
  5. Open black ruins a moral conscience
  6. So wash your car in your ‘x’ baseball shoes

Of Walking Abortion: 4/Great

Never Want Again

Generic Ratings: 1: Crap. 2: Okay. 3: Good. 4: Great

One of the earliest acoustic (semi) stylings from the band, this has always been a firm personal favourite, ever since I first stumbled upon it in my early downloading days.  It’s one you’ll never hear any other fans talk about but I loved it from my first listen. Opening with a comedy mis-start, followed by lovely, tender guitar riff, it gives way to a stomping beat, and a simply extraordinary Bradfield vocal. It’s all about the melodies, the ability of Bradfield and possibly no other singer alive to sing them, and some quite lovely harmonies too. The lyrics are fine, taking a break from the politics, but they remain firmly in the style of anthems with a rebellious stance. It’s not too clear what the band are angry about, but they sound so happy and comfortable being angry that you get swept along with the emotion and feel free to use the chorus in your own personal tirade. The brilliant guitar solo at the end isn’t really necessary, but I’m never going to turn down a guitar solo.

Never Want Again: 4/Great

Misheard Lyrics: 1. Burn ’em by our side

2. I saw the rain bleaching my whale

3. My dog gets sick of all its lice

4. Thrown a bone way outside

Actual Lyrics: 1. Burn on by our side

2. I saw the rain bleaching my way

3. My gut gets sick of all its lies

4. Thrown all hope way outside

Heydey Of The Blood

This B-Side from Indian Summer has some nice Beatles style call and repeat vocals, not something the band have really done before, but it’s all incredibly plain and plastic. Musically there is nothing of note in the first half and melodically it’s as uninspired as the band has ever been. There is an interesting, brief little guitar interlude in the second half, but rather than continue to something new, the song simply reverts to its original form and ends. Generic B Side pap.

Heyday Of The Blood: 2/Okay

Misheard Lyrics: Seek the opposition, for the misfits.

2. In armies they’re so time sure, they’re out in the end.

3. We built them all with fear.

Actual Lyrics: 1. Seek the opposition, for they are your best friends.

2. Enemies they sometimes go way out in the end.

3. We filled them all with fear.

I’m Not Working

Generic Ratings: 1: Crap. 2: Okay. 3: Good. 4: Great

I drift between liking this one slightly more than it sounds like I do, but it’s not one I can truly like. By the time TIMTTMY was released, I believed I had found my new Nirvana – a band that both rocked fiercely, but were also intelligent and sensitive. Everything Must Go was the first album I bought from them, and had since gone back to buy their previous albums by the time the fifth was released. I can’t remember everything about my first listen, but I do remember quite a few of the songs feeling weak and lifeless, this being one of those. Now, I can see what the band are going for here, but it still doesn’t make for an interesting listen in most cases, and is deathly dreary. I think the lyrics are best part, but musically it is as slow as mud and while Bradfield gives his all, he can’t save it from being a descent into stupor. I appreciate the band going for a new, experimental sound, and for perfectly encapsulating what it sounds like to be aimless in thought and energy, but it’s still a chore to get through.

I’m Not Working: 2/Okay

Misheard Lyrics: N/A