The second celebrationary album project, after the belated Pink Floyds Dark Side Of The Moon 40 year old birthday card, here’s a later prog classic done in bunting form.
‘History is written by the victors’ or at least some music journalists. In 1976-77, Britain was in the midst of the punk rock wars, moral panic had set in with fears of all out revolution and the dissolution of the monarchy from one swear word on TV and one play of ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’. On one side, disillusioned young people finding their voice, creating music which challenged but was easy and cheap to play. On the other a bunch of long haired middle age men, playing convoluted high brow music with ever increasing indulgences and stage props. ‘Punk changed the face of music and in turn destroyed the dinosaurs of progressive rock’….. or so we are led to believe on the various music documentaries. The otherwise excellent Prog Brittania on BBC4 came to a sudden halt at the first scowl of Johnny Rotten, as it proclaimed the end was nigh.
The wild growing plant of prog was getting out of hand. Inflatable pig escapes, individual ELP tour buses and Knights on Ice were the tip of the iceberg. The excessive overblown concepts had become more and more obtuse, where now musicianship and obliqueness was favoured over making a good record. When Punk arrived it was a watershed, the over entangled and out of control plant was pruned back but not destroyed. Some old groups disappeared but the majority changed tack. Genesis became more of a Phil Collins solo band. Yes became Buggled. Floyd would continue on their own path into disintergration with the Wall and an unexpected Christmas number one. Hawkwind became a little more New Wave. Rush would discover electronics and ELP would write an Olympic Anthem. As told previously, I got into prog in the 80’s and absorbed the back catalogues of the bands above. At the same time we started to see the development of a number of new british bands. IQ, Twelfth Night, Jadis, Pendragon and Pallis.
My favourite of these so-called Neo-progressive rock bands was Marillion. I heard their first single, Market Square Heroes on either the Friday Rock Show or The Hot and Heavy Express and I was hooked. Finding out later that the b-side was a 12 minute Prog Epic Grendel sealed the deal. I would listen to the debut album ‘Script for a Jesters Tear’ at a friends house, and I immediately loved its combination of sublime musicianship and heartfelt slightly angry lyrics about Lost Love (Script), Social Class (Garden Party), grief (Chelsea Monday), conflict (Forgotten Sons) and random drug use (He Knows you know). I especially loved the Web, with themes of bedsit living, loneliness and relationship management. Perfect fodder for the teenager I was. The album/single artwork by Mark Wilkinson added to the feeling. Album 2, Fugazi followed the same mould with a bit more polish and anger. Songs mainly about Revenge and strained relationships (Assassing, Incubis, She Chameleon, Punch and Judy, Emerald Lies). The epic title track is another manic performance listing so many world ills and pushing for cultural revolution, whilst the beautiful thoughtful Jigsaw gave an impression of what was to come. These two albums were a big part of the soundtrack to my teenage years. I started seeing them live, and its the closest I have ever been to being in a cult. Manic obsessive fans who knew every word, movement and call back to every track. The excellent live album ‘Real to Reel’ became the textbook for learning these.
In 1985, I eagerly awaited the next album and became ultra excited when I found out it would be a concept album. I queued outside a local record shop for the first single ‘Kayleigh’ and rushed home to play it. To be honest, I didn’t know what to make of it. It was a beautiful single that was bound to be a hit, but the lack of Progressive rock was disturbing. I grew into the single over the weeks and so did the country, with it reaching a lofty number 2 in the charts. So as June 17th arrived, I awaited in trepidation as the needle slowly moved into the synths of Pseudo silk kimono and the start of Misplaced Childhood.
Just before I get into the tracks, as this is the albums 30th birthday I have created some bunting. I have already done a prog birthday card and wanted to do something different. I have always thought bunting is a little bit eccentric. As I go through each track, I will also describe the corresponding piece and the lyric that inspired it. So where was I, lowering the needle back at the start of Misplaced Childhood.
Mark Kelly’s Keyboards herald the start of the album, building tension before Fish’s obscure verses give no indication of where we are going. Its a great introduction, especially the perfect keyboard segue way into Kayleigh with ‘Safe in the sanctuary, Safe…..’
‘Huddled in the safety of a pseudo silk kimono, Wearing bracelets of smoke, naked of understanding” – The first bit of bunting and very simple. Some ornate Japanese origami paper with a bracelet of smoke made out of some optical illusion opaque plastic sheeting.
As a very good single about young lost love, with simple effective lyrics painting scenes almost from a teenage photo album. I love the reflective Rothery guitar riffs at the start of verses. Deservedly a hit single, but it wasn’t really prog. The lead in from Pseudo Silk Kimono gave this song a different feel, making it part of a complete piece.
‘Do you remember chalk hearts melting on a playground wall’ – The playground wall, is a photograph of the actual wall in Herbert Street, that I played football against when I was a child. The hearts were to be pink chalk coloured but I preferred the simplicity of these ones that were simply cut from white card.
The complete piece effect, worked less of Lavender which I had taken an instant dislike to when I heard it. Far too much sugary pop, which probably suffered more with its proximity to the clever hit single before it. Good bits (as usual) is when Fish gets a little manic and shouty. Not even the flip chart Top of the Pops appearance made this better
‘When I am King, dilly dilly, you will be Queen’ – This should have been one of the easiest, but turned out to take the longest. I tried getting paper with lavenders in, then scented drawer lining and then tried to make paper lavender. I was even given some dried flaky lavender by family. All were good ideas but where difficult to source or work with. So ended up with a stock photograph with two gold card crowns held in place with Steph stitching.
Now it got really interesting with this suite of five songs that started moving along the concept and raising the prog threshold. Fish’s brilliant opening monologue of Brief Encounter accentuates his accent and in turn focuses the story onto him. Lost weekend throws the story real life with an almost Alan Bennet suburban drama territory, before tumbling drums and Rothery solo take us back to Lavenders motif and into the darker french set Blue Angel. The little interlude of Misplaced Rendezous is the first real sad reflective track, beautiful in lyrics and simplicity. Curtain call slowly builds lifting the pace and temperament before the final track of side 1.
This bunting piece is as complicated as this track. Five separate elements that fit together.
‘A spider wanders aimlessly within the warmth of a shadow’ – The picture used is of the toilet floor at the City Hall where I had retreated after being attacked by the attached Spider at a Steven Wilson gig (Long Story).
‘A train sleeps in a siding, The driver guzzles another can of lager’ – A Hipstamatic picture taken at Millfield Metro Station in the snow, with a stock picture of a crumpled can.
‘The sky was Bible black in Lyon…… Two hundred francs for sanctuary and she led me by the hand’ – simple black section (great for dividing images and a 200 Franc note.
‘It’s getting late, for scribbling and scratching on the paper….. The weekend career girl never boarded the plane’ – Hand wrote lyrics of the segment and a small drawn jumbo jet attached.
‘I’ll always take the roundabout way…. It started Raining’ – A cut out roundabout sign of a rainy picture of Berwick (it made sense considering where we are headed).
Rain on Me, heralds a build up in pace and emotion as the the Wide Boys element starts with a football like chant into Fish recollections of Edinburgh nightlife and a passionate show of heritage. It then crashes into another beautiful downbeat piece, Curtain Call, finishing side 1 perfectly.
“And anarchy smiles in the Royal Mile, And they’re waiting on the slyboys, flyboys, wide boys….” – I cheated a bit here by not setting out the separate elements as I did in the previous song and I didn’t have a picture of the Royal Mile. This initial image of Edinburgh was so good I didn’t want to spoil it with an additional element. I had taken this photo of the Scott Memorial on a bright sunny day, the app I used added a blue/purple tinge. The picture was printed onto dark purple card which gave a dark image but with still hidden detail. The monument was cut out alongside the side of Jenners. Of course it had to be a purple background.
With a Cascade of Xylophone and drumming, this track crashes in at the start of side 2. Great lyrics recounting nights of excess whilst nightclubbing and the exploits of the wide boys. The track has got a great pace and carries enough threat through more manic singing.
‘You had found true love, or so you believed, And the wideboys tattooed your hearts upon their sleeves’ – Here, an off pink background covers the triangle, and on each of the apexes, a fragment of a Celtic tattoo is drawn creating a partial view of a tattooed sleeve. The heart was hand drawn using a number of images from textbook pictures (Not sure it is anatomically correct). This is cut out and stuck down with spacers in the gap between the other tattoos.
This small bridge element has a disjointed prog rhythm running throughout, which along with Fish’s convoluted lyrics start the demise. The love story hits the rocks, as the main character explains their excuses with touring being held responsible. Before we know it, the first chord of Bitter Suite heralds the inevitable downfall.
‘A lonely stretch of headlight, diamonds trapped in black ice, A mirror cracked among the white lines’ – found it difficult to come up with a road like theme on this. So, a triangular piece of mirrored card was jaggedly cut creating a jigsaw effect. White paper covered the triangle and then the mirrored pieces placed on top.
The second five piece suite. The depressing crashing chord spreads into ‘Vocal Under a Bloodlight’, with a vocal keeping the same self sorry dejected tone, building slowly in intensity. The suite moves almost passing unnoticeably, into ‘Passing Strangers’ with juddering lines of lyrics depicting the missed opportunities. A trademark Rothery solo leads to ‘Mylo’, which I think is the highlight of the album and its key track. A beautifully dreamy soundtrack allows Fish to talk about loss, depression, self pity, the price of fame and dependency leading to the inevitable crash in Perimeter Walk. Haunting Celtic tribal bass, drums and floaty keyboards with Fish mystical talking increasing to full shouty mode. ‘Threshold’ takes Fish back to themes of Fugazi, with war imagery in clear concise anger leading to resignation. The last guitar riffs is a beautiful gateway to what should be the final track.
‘Last night you said I was cold, untouchable, A lonely piece of action from another town’ & ‘Strung out below a necklace of carnival lights‘ – As the songs merge so does the image. On one side a cold snowstorm envelopes a silhouetted town whilst from the right Carnival lights head into the same location.
‘Some of us go down in a blaze of obscurity, Some of us go down in a haze of publicity’… ‘And an interviewer threatened me with a microphone’ – A collage of headlines taken from newspapers on the days I was making this. Scanned then shrunk. A microphone is placed on top.
‘A childhood, that childhood, Oh please give it back to me.’ – another collage of my childhood photo’s. On this I didn’t want me to appear (I do in the top left corner), but wanted to show things from my childhood. A red cagoule, A grey stripy t-shirt, a pink cricket bat and my bear Benji. The bear is decoupaged.
‘She had medals pinned to a threadbare greatcoat’ – a simple cardboard medal is created and placed on grey card.
So the Jester goes and the child appears…. After all the depression this is genuinely an uplifting track, from the initial riffs of the guitar to the gently bass lead. Fish’s rebirth lyrics speak of the change in the character/himself (and me as a teenager). A gentle song with rousing lyrics that come straight from a self help manual. I love the way the guitar solo gives the impression we are heading to the end, only for another set of verses and rousing choruses to appear. A great track and a perfect end…. or it should be.
‘And I saw a magpie in the rainbow’ – I created a badge, with a rainbow background using the same layered technique as in the prism colours in the Pink Floyd card. This was cut out as a lozenge and stuck onto a gold surround. A magpie was made from black card with white card patches and stuck on using a spacer. the background reflects the childs uniform. A bright red card is cut to shape and gold card braiding is attached. Finally the badge is stuck on.
Don’t get me wrong, white feather is a good protest song about symbolism, nationalism and warfare, but I was never too sure why it was here. Feels like a throwaway b-side that goes hardly nowhere. It also takes the edge off the previous triumphantly rousing song.
‘We will wear your white feather, We will carry your white flag’ – For this a simple white background with a simple white card feather on top.
So there we have Misplaced Childhood. It is not my favourite Marillion album, infact it is my least favourite Fish fronted Marillion studio album. Please don’t get me wrong, I still think this is a great album, with accessible themes of love and loss. For a concept album its got a fairly easy storyline. It also has beautiful flowing music showing all the bands talents, which shows its prog routes whilst being as radio friendly as Marillion got back then. For me these were the issues that let it down but thats probably why the population loved it and sent it to number one in the album chart.
I saw them on this tour and when it was played in its entirety it was a thrill and pleasure to see. Especially at Milton Keynes Garden Party, which at the end of a long tour saw a band reach heights which they could only ever fall down from. One very good studio album later, Fish would leave and the reign of Hogarth would begin. But that triumphant story is for another time. Misplaced Childhoods place in prog history will go down as the album which brought modern progressive rock to the masses in the 80’s and opened the door for newer bands as well as some of the aforementioned dinosaurs. For that I will always be grateful.
Meanwhile in the bunting creation… As you have seen 10 bunting pieces were created by taking elements of the tracks and symbolising them in a 3D way on the triangles. These were a labour of love, with continuous listening to tracks as I created. Some elements took 10 minutes others a couple of hours. A little issue arose with getting some Harlequin ribbon to tie them onto. There was none in Newcastle, so we purchased a little oversized version over the web. Steph generously sewed the ribbon in half and the bunting elements are stuck on with sticky velcro pieces. The colours of the ribbon are excellent and add to the bunting pieces and imagery of Marillion. The whole bit of bunting is about 2 meters in length and represents the longest piece of work I have done.