Clutching At Straws

Original release by EMI Records, 22nd June 1987
Remastered 2CD, released by EMI Records, 7243 4 98611 2 1 (UK), 22nd March 1999

01. Hotel Hobbies (03:35)
02. Warm Wet Circles (04:25)
03. That Time of The Night (The Short Straw) (05:57)
04. Going Under (02:46)
05. Just For The Record (03:09)
06. White Russian (06:26)
07. Incommunicado (05:16)
08. Torch Song (04:04)
09. Slainte Mhath (04:42)
10. Sugar Mice (05:45)
11. The Last Straw (05:58)
Total Time: 52:21

01. Incommunicado (05:57) (Alternative version)
02. Tux on (05:13) (Single version)
03. Going Under (02:48) (Extended version)
04. Beaujolais Day (04:51) (Previously unreleased)
05. Story from a Thin Wall (06:47) (Previously unreleased)
06. Shadows on the Barley (02:07) (Previously unreleased)
07. Sunset Hill (04:21) (Previously unreleased)
08. Tic-Tac-Toe (02:59) (Previously unreleased)
09. Voice in the Crowd (03:29) (Previously unreleased)
10. Exile on Princes Street (05:29) (Previously unreleased)
11. White Russian (06:15) (Previously unreleased demo)
12. Sugar Mice in the Rain (05:56) (Previously unreleased)
13. Warm Wet Circles (02:20) (Hidden track, enhanced Multimedia section. This part also contains a presentation of all released remasters and a Quicktime movie with a slide-show of some B&W photos.)

Lyrics by Derek W Dick
Music composed and arranged by Steve Rothery/Mark Kelly/Peter Trewavas/Ian Mosley

Produced by Chris Kimsey
Recorded by Nick Davis
Assisted by Richard Sullivan
Mixed by David Jacob
Assisted by Avril Mackintosh
Backing vocals on Warm Wet Circles and The Last Straw - Tessa Niles
Backing vocals on Incommunicado - Christopher 'Robbin' Kimsey
Dr. Finlay (Torch Song) - John Cavanaugh

I'm a Marquee veteran, a multi media bonafide celebrity/I've got an allergy to Perrier, daylight and responsibility, declares Fish in Incommunicado, the latest of a string of hit singles for Marillion. Leaving aside the fact that couplets like that have the syntactic ring of a 1975 rock paper profile of Steve Gibbons or some such, the question is, is he boasting or apologising? In the age of the ascetic, carrot-munching, self-denying rock star, Fish's clear relish for the trappings of fame is difficult to take. Are we being invited to envy his all-night all-right lifestyle or not?
Maybe he doesn't know himself. With that flair for self-dramatisation that marks all Boys' Music from Led Zeppelin to U2 to Slayer, Fish credits each of the eleven songs on this, Marillion's fifth album, with the precise site of its composition or inspiration. Thus the close parallels between a rock band's world tour and a lavishly subsidised piss-up are accentuated. Many of these tunes were scribbled in hotel rooms in Berwick or Milwaukee, and none of them were born without the anaesthetic assistance of a bottle of something from room service. Indeed most of them are in one way or another about booze.
Were it not for the swirling curlicues of the arrangements against which he explores his relationship with the demon drink this could almost be Fish's country and western record, so conspicuously soaked is it in the self-pity that follows straight on the heels of self-indulgence. There's Warm Wet Circles, which is straight barfly melodrama, Torch Song, which features the voice of a doctor warning if you maintain this lifestyle you won't reach thirty, while Sugar Mice concerns the only recreation available to the travelling musician on a wet Sunday in Milwaukee-i.e. drinking. This is further explored in the opening track, Hotel Hobbies, which talks about slug-like fingers purveying lines of cocaine. This number, it's encouraging to note, was dreamed up during a short break at Champney's Health Farm in Hertfordshire.
Musically, Clutching At Straws doesn't depart far from the educated arrangements of previous albums. However somebody has been applying a stop watch to the individual songs and to the solos within them; thus we have eleven distinct songs, each with its own melodic virtues and most with quite acceptable hook lines barked out by Fish in his by now familiar conflation of Roger Daltrey and Peter Gabriel. The irony of Marillion's increasingly secure standing in Britain is that the passing years find them staying where they are and watching many other bands slowly but surely edging their way towards the territory that has been their own for a number of years. As Bono's hair gets longer theirs gets slightly shorter. Exactly the same can be said of their respective songs. There are tracks here that could have snuck into Sting's live act quite easily. The punk roots of bands like Simple Minds, U2 and The Mission are no longer an issue for the majority of people; Marillion may represent the inelegant, unglamorous, public bar end of the current Rock Renaissance but they are no less part of it for that. Clutching At Straws suggests that they may be finally coming in from the cold. Star rating *** Good. Not for everyone, but fine within its field.
David Hepworth (Q Magazine), July 1987

A few words about the CaS remaster, especially the "new" songs.
- Beaujolais Day.
Why didn't that song make it to the album? It's brilliant! It's a bit strange to hear the solo from Warm Wet Circles at the end, but it gives a nice insight on how my musical heroes used to work. The same goes for all the lyrics of the "new" songs. I like the Fish's comment at the end of the track in that familiar tone of voice: What about... Well, it didn't happen.
- Story from the Thin Wall.
Family Business and Berlin in one song. In an interview just after the release of Vigil, Fish claimed that only this song had any potential of all the material they had made before splitting up. I must disagree. Too many words... The music is fantastic and I like the "dark" passage in middle which is a strong reminder of the "spider" section on Misplaced Childhood. All in all, very weird...
- Shadow on the Barley.
To me this would have had WORLDWIDE HIT written all over it. The music, Fish's voice, the melody of the of the lyrics all blend together to make that fantastic magical sound I fell in love with so many years ago. Unfortunatly it's unfinished... Just two more verses and a guitar-solo, if only! (sigh)
- Sunset Hill.
This brought tears in my eyes and the hairs in the back of my neck were pulled away by an invisible force. It's breathtakingly beautiful. The words later turn up as View from the Hill on Vigil, with some Fortunes of War. Musically, it's all familiar. (The drums are fantastic!) This was the stuff we were supposed to listen too in 1990! (notwithstanding that Vigil is one of my favourite albums, and View from the Hill my favourite track).
- Tic-Tac-Toe
State of Mind and The Release (B-side of Easter). I found myself humming and whistling it all this week... Therefore: great song. Still, I'm glad that State of Mind was made the way it was, but the music probably deserved better than The Release.
- Voice in the Crowd
The birthplace of Vigil (the song), the infancy of the lyrics. As a song itself I don't think it would have made it
- Exile on Princess Street
The words: A very rough Internal Exile... "A strong sense of national pride..." No wonder the rest of group were complaining about the lyrics ;-)
The Music: A bit too "edgy" for my taste.
The bonus CD also has a brilliant demo-version of White Russian, with Fish still juggling to the get the words right. I love it!
All in all, it was the best musical experience I have had so far this year (anxiously awaiting RWZ) if only to re-affirm my conviction that combination of Marillion's music, Fish's voice and lyrics was magical indeed. H just doesn't do it for me (though Brave was brilliant), and these songs again gave me the reasons why... I have never been one of the people shouting for Grendel at Fish concerts, and I have always been a faithful Fish-head ever since he left Marillion, loving almost everything he did (Well... Suits was crap - for Fish - for anyone else it would have been a good album), but... if anyone knows the entrance to the parallel universe that Mark Kelly writes about in his part of the sleeve notes: Take me there!
Rolf Swart, 1 Apr 1999

The end of an era came to me this morning in the form of the final 2 remasters.
I decided that I would play the demo disc of CAS and read the liner notes from Fish.
As the tracks played, and as I read, I got to feel the true meanings behind the songs. Reading about the toile and turmoil between band members. The music was like a drug inside my head, giving me all these pictures like TV screens in my head, visualising what was going on. It was like an epic Movie, where the good guy would finally be killed off at the end. This was Fish's final moments with the band. Listening to the demos, picking out the Seasons End material and Fish's Solo stuff was like entering a parallel universe of what could have been. IF Fish had taken a break and done a solo project.....IF the band were to have taken a year out from touring... IF John were to have been sacked....... IF! If you never understood the meanings behind the characters in this album... You will once you read and listen. I will always hold Clutching At Straws as the best ever Marillion album. Now Marillion have left the so-called Prog Rock era and gone "indie". We will never know what would have been. We can now only look forward to the new material from both camps, and hopefully (for me) Marillions new album will contain a bit of musical style from the past with fresh lyrics with that Indie touch. And Fish's music grows from strength to strength.
As the CD closed and I put the liner notes back in its case I felt quite sad. It was as if reality had set in and I had finally realised that Fish has left the band! That old friend of a lump grew in my throat.
To end my sentimental journey, If any of you have not got the remaster series for reasons of your own be it that you don't want to part with your cash for something you already own on CD, then you are truly missing out.
This album has to be Marillions Finest moments captured on CD. I have to thank Lucy Jordache and all at EMI for all the remasters and to Marillion and Fish for the Music.
Glenn Kelly, 20 Mar 1999

In went Disc 1, and I was momentarily returned to 1987 for the best part of an hour. Sound improvements were readily and clearly obvious right from the start - the opening of "Hotel Hobbies" was virtually inaudible on my old CD, whereas here everything was not only audible but crystal clear. The bass end, again, has been boosted quite dramtically (though not so much it distorts, eh, Bruno? ;-)), and the vocals have much more 'presence'... The ending of "Hotel Hobbies", which always sounded somewhat muffled as all the instrumentation crashed in, now sounds like the impressive wall of sound it is (it really is fascinating to hear Ian's little touches clearly for the first time here).
The same goes for the opening of "White Russian" and "Torch Song", where little effects and very quiet speech suddenly can be heard without turning the amplifier up to 11!
The various sonic improvements just added to the magic of hearing this again - I'd held off listening to it since Christmas because I thought it might be fun to come to the remaster with little memory of the (poor) quality original CD issue. The opening trilogy was as thrilling as ever, the goosebumps being well and truly raised, as ever, by "That Time Of The Night": the ending had my jaw on the floor. "Going Under"... well, let's just say I'm glad this was included in it's rightful place, instead of being relegated to the bonus disc as some had suggested. As someone said (sorry, I can't remember who it was), reading the sleeve notes about the creation of this song, then hearing it, really brought it home how reflective of the times this song was. And as someone else said, I doubt after reading Fish's sleeve notes, that I'll ever see the lyric to "That Time Of The Night" in quite the same way ever again!
"White Russian" kicks major arse as usual - only more so now - and the ending was as emotional as I remembered. One of the nicest surprises of recent times was seeing H sing this on the "Afraid Of Sunlight" tour; one of my favourite songs that I'd given up all hope of hearing the band play. Miracles can happen... :-)
Of the rest... well, not many albums can boast closing tracks as strong as this one, that's for sure! "Slainte Mhath" (a firm hippy favourite) and "Sugar Mice" (ditto) sounded revitalised, and I guess they were, at that! The power that had been stripped from the former on the original CD was back - listening to the CD at some serious volume, this really leaps from the speakers, as it should be. Almost like seeing it done live, really (except of course, it'd be taken a lot faster, eh guys?)! "The Last Straw" brings things to a suitably dramatic conclusion, and I was so impressed at hearing those "little things" in the mix that I mentioned before that I will confess to playing that track again before moving onto Disc 2...
Dispensing with the familiar alternative versions of "Incommunicado" and "Going Under" (nice solo in the alternative "Going Under"... Mmmm!) , suddenly we're confronted with the hybrid songs...
"Beaujolais Day" is one of the tracks that works best: the beautiful yet subtly different treatment of the "Seasons End" guitarwork is at once sad and beautiful, as it ended up being when finally used. The lyric is also affecting, and I feel that this could well have been a classic had it been sufficiently knocked into shape. One comment: the "Warm Wet Circles" solo sounds out of place here, amazing though it is - I'm glad it ended up elsewhere! Spotting the "Fortunes Of War" lyric was interesting!
"Story From A Thin Wall"... This still does my head in! As I've said before, to me the component parts (ie the lyrics & the music) sound great when separated from each other, but the whole thing together simply sounds like a very bad idea. It's a bit like Led Zeppelin putting the lyrics to "The Rain Song" or "Ten Years Gone" to the music of "Heartbreaker" or "The Immigrant Song". Both sides found something far better to marry up their respective pieces to: Fish found more appropriate music, and Marillion much more appropriate lyrics. Hearing this, in fact, just makes me appreciate the two "final products" all the more.
"Shadows On The Barley" rocks, as they say, a fat one! Is it "The Bell In The Sea"? Or is it actually "Nightwater"? Who knows? Who cares? It just sounds great. The lyric here is great too, and here we have my runaway favourite of the "lost" songs. I still think we got the best version of this with "The Bell In The Sea", though... :-) One complaint here: it's not long enough! Not that that's anyone's fault...
"Sunset Hill" is another track that would have been a classic; the music although seemingly all over the place the first time you hear it, works well, and the lyric is very effective.
"Tic-Tac-Toe"... Again, this works quite well. The upbeat music (from "The Release", for the two people that don't know yet!) fits well with the fighting talk that Fish supplies us with, although once again, I feel both sides found better partners for their contributions! "State Of Mind" and "The Release" are both far superior.
"Voice In The Crowd"... Hmmm. Another interesting one, but I think the same applies here too. This also had the makings of a great song, though, don't get me wrong. The way the chorus works is great air-punching stuff! My feeling is this just needed more work to give it that final nudge.
Finally, of the new songs, we have "Exile On Princes Street". This is great! The eventual home of the lyrics you can guess pretty much from the title, but the music is the treat here, simple as it is, it remains effective, and this can almost be regarded as the "ambient" version of "Internal Exile" should you choose to. The Rothery guitar is a definite highlight here - it really helps with the atmosphere...
Although the nostalgia value is unmistakeably high, I can't quite see the "classic" follow-up amongst these lost songs that some seem able to. In my humble opinion, both sides provided us with better albums after the split, and ultimately, despite the occasionally difficult times both camps have had since (and I wouldn't wish Fish's experiences with EMI or Polydor on my worst enemy), I personally feel we've come out of this with two fantastic bands rather than one, which surely is good for everyone. Andy Sanderson thought he might get flamed off the list for expressing his similar feeling. I sincerely hope not, or I'll be following him soon! ;-) I say the split worked in everyone's favour in the end, however painful it was (for all of us!) at the time...
The demos of "White Russian" and "Sugar Mice" are both interesting too, if only for the lyrical variations that can be spotted during the former.
The quality of these bonus tracks, considering where they were found (a biscuit tin? Jeez!), is unbelievable. I know I've mentioned Peter Mew's wonderful work before, but the guy really deserves the medal of all medals for what he has accomplished here; the warning about the lack of quality in the booklet is almost redundant! All I can say is, if he can make these old demos sound this good: can we please send him over to Kate Bush's house RIGHT NOW and put him to work? I know there are plenty of ancient demos under lock and key that La Bush has refused to release that could use the magical Mew touch... ;-)
And finally... the booklet. What can I say that wouldn't be hopelessly inadequate? Simply put, this is required reading for any Marillion fan. Fish leaves nothing out in his tale of events, that had me repeatedly gulping down the huge lump that kept appearing in my throat throughout my reading. Avril MacIntosh's revelations are also well worth the admission fee. And the photos are simply a scream!
Once again... Lucy, Peter & company: I salute you. I owe you all a drink. So does everyone else. Just think how drunk you could all be!
Dave The Hippy, 27 Mar 1999

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