Clutching at Straws sleeve notes

In 1985 we went into Hyper-Space. 'Misplaced Childhood's success kept us on the road until the Summer of 86 and as the dates dwindled to a stop the realisation that we had to write and record a follow up crept in and the white panic of responsibility clawed away inside my stomach.
That entire era was a blur of travelling, performing and endless interviews combined with the excesses of a touring rock band with their first worldwide hit. I was wasted physically and spiritually at the end of that road. The band had been well tested on the recent tour in every conceivable way. Relationships had been strained to the limit as we all tried to escape the surrealism of touring in our individual ways and find some private space to hide in. I didn't deal with it at all well and the availability of all manner of temptations proved too much for a hedonistic soul like my own.
All my experiences in the last 2 years had been on the road so I turned there to hitch a creative lift into the concept of the new album. I was wary of the title as were the others. A substandard album and we'd have written our own reviews. The concept was maybe too close to home and once again I had to tread carefully as the story of 'Torch' drilled home as a badly disguised alter ego. A writer with 'block' turning to the bottle once again for inspiration was very close to the truth.
By this point in my life I'd fallen in love with Tamara, my future wife to be and was dealing with a relationship that was new and demanding as we both tried to deal with the endless touring. I couldn't find enough space for my own life and coping with responsibility wasn't my forte. The problem was that even though the tour had finished I couldn't. The excesses stayed on for the ride. This as you'd expect caused problems at home and in the band. I knew I was heading for the wall but I also knew that I wouldn't feel much when I hit it.
The first writing sessions are pretty much lost in the haze and I don't remember anything about Barwell Court apart from some wild nights. In the Summer we played some shows with Queen in Germany which not only retarded my rehabilitation but the close contact with Freddie and the boys even taught me some new methods of debauchery. We returned to Brey studios and the writing. I was positively glowing but not with enthusiasm for the work rather the pleasures of being in a Hotel on the Thames at Maidenhead for a while with the road crew. I remember one night after getting wasted in the nightclub next door, eating a full meal provided by a very stoned Moroccan chef at midnight, jumping in the river fully clothed and cutting my feet ragged on broken glass on the river bed, ingesting enough illicit substances to floor a large mammal and indulging in a full water battle in the bedrooms. I soaked the crew room and went to bed with a locked door and a smile. In the morning I was woken by a turning key before a bucket of iced water was thrown by a still pissed 'Privet' Hedge the sound guy. The maid had allowed him his revenge. I got up with a raging hangover to a glorious day and decided to finish my sleep on the hotel owner's boat moored at the bottom of the garden. Just as the dreams were getting good another icy deluge hit me. It was the owner repaying me for the damaged rooms. He was still pissed as well.
Brey studios was also the home of Gerry Anderson the creator of 'Thunderbirds' and 'Terra Hawks', animated puppet shows that we'd all grown up with as kids. He still had the puppets and showed us around the store rooms. He was well impressed that we were fans and allowed us to use the 'Thunderbird' characters photos as laminated passes and pseudonyms on the 87 tour. I was Scott Tracy.
For those of us in the band and crew who were of the more decadent nature we also had another laminate. It was in Brey that the 'Zelda club' was formed. Zelda was the witch on 'Terrahawks' and was extremely wrinkled, old and ugly with white hair. You started to look like that after a few weeks in the 'Zelda Club'. Only those willing to go the full distance were admitted. Andy Field, Privet and I were founding members.
The Brey sessions were getting together as we demoed the material so far. There was a brilliant version of 'Sugar Mice' recorded on 2 track which at one point during the proper recording we seriously considered using on the album. It was coming together but the strain between us all was causing deeper problems. This was the first time I would seriously consider leaving the band.
By the Autumn we were holed up in a residential rehearsal room somewhere on the Brighton Road. It was hellish. An old farm with outbuildings one of which was a cottage for the crew and another a huge damp floor to ceiling carpeted cave which was the rehearsal room. This is where I remember most of the material coming together but not without a high degree of confrontation.
We'd all banned powders from the farm and were doing well with our limited amounts of alcohol until John Arnison, our manager arrived for a night out with the boys. After the usual arguments and sorting out all our problems, both existent and non-existent, into the early hours of the morning I headed for bed and spent the rest of the night staring at the ceiling unable to sleep and considering my options. I wanted to go. I wanted a life. I was so tired of the touring and felt trapped by the machine we'd created. It was 'That Time of the Night', a lyric that still reads like my resignation statement.
Chris Kimsey had been nominated for producer again which after the success of Misplaced was an obvious move. He arrived with Hugh Stanley Clarke to hear the new material one night and we duly sat back and played him the meagre scraps of the sessions so far. They were unimpressed until I suggested we play him the jam piece we reserved for playing when we came back pissed from the pub. Most of the others hated it as they felt it was too like the Who (which it was) and the opening lyrics ripped of the Stones 'Sympathy for the Devil' (which they didn't). Grudgingly we played it live. Chris loved it and Hugh nominated it as a potential single. That was 'Incommunicado'.
All the songs were drawn from inspiration on the road or from bars. 'Sugar Mice' was born in a hotel room in Milwaukee after a bad phone call home to a very upset girlfriend. 'Warm Wet Circles' was inspired during a visit to see my parents in North Berwick and spending a night watching the regulars at the Quarterdeck bar in the High Street. I could have been watching Derek Dick at 18 years old. 'White Russian' was the epic on the album. While on tour in Austria I became aware of the growth of a new generation of Neo Nazis in Europe. We'd been there around the elections and an American DJ at one of the stations who was Jewish told me about the practises of some parties during the campaigns. He'd been told not to mention his feelings on air and had duly resigned. An afternoon spent in his company and walking around the Jewish quarter in Vienna led to the first of many beer mats and menus acting as impromptu lyric books throughout the tour.
Before the recording there was the statutory Christmas tour where we played a couple of the numbers live. I can remember the first performance of Russians and Incommunicado at Aylesbury Civic. I knew then by the reaction to the new material we had a great album.
The tour was booked before we even went into the studio in early '87. The pressure was tremendous and we still had to tidy up some of the songs. Westside Studios near White City in London was the designated residence of the Zelda Club and a more dangerous venue could not have been found, minutes from the West End and Hammersmith Odeon, a taxi ride from home and discreetly tucked away in the back streets. We took full advantage and the sessions were intense and riddled with outrageous over the top consummation of substances and 120 mile an hour table tennis games. I still have outtakes which would make your blood run cold and would not be at all acceptable on a commercially released CD!

The 'throne room' others will tell you about I'm sure but I still remember John Arnison totally off his head talking to himself and giggling insanely as we all sat in the control room listening to him on an open mike, laughing nervously at the man in charge of our careers.
'Going Under' happened on a wild night when Chris suggested that Steve and I should just go in and jam around this motif that Steve had been playing with during the recording. We were still light on material. The lyric was made up on the spot and although some of it is a bit gobbledegook we decided to keep the guide rather than redo the vocal and lose the vibe. To this day I don't know how I managed to conjure that lyric and I firmly remember playing it back to Tammi after we'd recorded it. She said 'What am I doing wrong?' 'Slainthe Mhath' (I had to get the spelling from someone back in Scotland) meaning 'cheers' as a rough translation was the first hint of the return of my national awareness and I was in tears the first time I played it to my Father at home in our new house in Gerrards Cross. Tamara and I were now engaged to be married and had moved from the small house in Aylesbury to a far larger and more expensive house near Ian's. It was a big jump and only made after assurances from John Arnison that '87 would be bringing in enough revenue to cover the loans I was taking out. We sold the Aylesbury house but couldn't move into the Gerrard's Cross home for a few months. Our stuff was put in storage and Tamara and I stayed with Ian and his wife till the present owners moved out.
When we were recording I was still living out of boxes as we tried to get the house together. All this and the tension from delivering the album on time didn't help matters and my relationship at home was affecting my attitude in the band. It culminated at the mixing sessions at Advision Studios in the West End of London. It had become more dangerous and after Mark's Birthday party at a Soho restaurant a major fallout occurred when a disagreement on a mix led to Chris Kimsey openly criticising Steve's guitar playing. Everyone was wired and wasted and the explosion was glorious. I was screaming at Steve, trashed a Rubber plant and threw a whisky tumbler at him, narrowly missing his head as everyone else was locked in their own private bawling matches in the control room. Steve stormed out telling us all to go to hell. Pete drove home and managed to smash up his car near Wendover a fact that didn't arise until next day when there was a band meeting scheduled for my house.
Ian and I stared at each other over coffee and a smoke firmly believing that the band was over. It was the closest we had ever come to a split. Needs must and soon we were all back in the studio arguing over grace notes and vocal lines. I hated the atmosphere but the end result was justifying the friction. At the end of the day with an album in the can and a tour in the trucks we were ready for another slog. I was glad to be getting back to the real world! 'Incommunicado' went Top 10 in May 87 and we were back on a roll. The tour kicked off in Poland, our first visit and the start of a life long love affair with the country (and its vodka!).
The video for 'Incommunicado' was everywhere and sometimes like the album subject matter it was a bit too real to laugh at! The sleeve had been taken from a photo shoot outside the Marquee club and was by far the worst we'd done so far in our careers. The 'Angel' looked 'stuck-on' and didn't bode well for the album cover which was a second choice as the band rejected the original idea which ended up as the inside back cover of the CD booklet. I still don't like the 'Clutching' cover and will always prefer the glass design. The cover was shot in Colchester's Baker's Arms and was supposed to be the 'Great bar in the sky' populated with various artists, writers and poets who had a reputation for 'liking a wee dram!'. It looked crap and I hope when I finally toddle off the planet that there's better bar's where I'm going and no cardboard cut outs in the corner. Problem was not enough budget and not enough time for Mark Wilkinson to design the sleeve we all wanted. There wasn't the computer technology available then that would have made the job a relatively simple and effective exercise as it is now. It was too dark and the new logo added to the sleeve's lacklustre. Even a limited edition vinyl sleeve with the logo 'raised' didn't add to the appeal of the worst Marillion sleeve which also in my opinion housed our best album to date.
The tour ground on remorselessly through the Summer stopping only after an astounding show at Lorelei in Germany to around 35,000 people for my Wedding on the 25th July in Haddington, Scotland. Ian and Privet were my 'Best men' and the party was as expected of the Zelda club.
America was high on the list of priorities and although I was extremely pissed off I 'volunteered' to go on my Honeymoon to take care of promo duties in Los Angeles. Tamara and I stayed at Rod Smallwood's house just at the back of the Rainbow Rooms off Sunset Strip. Rod was Iron Maiden's manager and our USA management consultant as well as a good friend and gave us his house and Mercedes Sports car to make up for the cancelled Honeymoon (not to keep BTW! He's not that generous!!! J) Tamara and I had a great time, wasted at every opportunity as we delved into the LA Noir and waited on the promo call. It never came and Rod eventually told me the USA tour was postponed. Capitol Records didn't think the album was right for the US market. They passed soon after 'Incommunicado' didn't achieve the desired effect at radio.
My wife and I were sent home after being turned down after offering to drive coast to coast in a Rent-a-Wreck, Kerouac style, dropping into radio stations on the way. Capitol didn't want the expense and refused to deal with hotels and expenses next time the band were in New York City even though ironically enough they were running a promo campaign around the single where fans could win an all expense weekend locked away in a 5 star hotel, all expenses paid after being picked up in a limo!!! That kind of summed up our relationship with capitol!
A few weeks later I was back in the USA again holed up in California waiting on a tour to start. Dates were cancelled and we rehearsed and lounged about hotel rooms watching porn movies and getting trashed. The manager was arriving soon. I'd had enough. For all the drugs and booze flying around I did my gig. I never cancelled a show due to being out of it and went on stage in control and in charge. I expected no less from our manager but I personally felt the partying was intruding and affecting judgement. I had had enough. I approached the band and crew and after much discussion we decided to get rid of John and had set plans in motion that would place Andy Field in charge of the US tour while back in London lawyers and accountants were put on standby to deal with the fallout and the setup that would enable us to continue touring while we searched for a new manager. It wouldn't be hard to find one.
John arrived while I was in town and immediately sussed the situation. By the time I had returned John had talked to the rest and convinced them to give him another chance. This would be the beginning of the end for me as I knew my days were numbered. I either had to bow to John's authority and accept his decisions or leave. The rest of the tour was to be the worst in my living memory. I was alienated from the band by their decision and my cards were marked by the manager who now knew of my intentions and realised it was him or me. We were working for the management as far as I was concerned not the other way around. It could only get worse.
I dissolved myself in hotel bars and days off on the road were an excuse to get severely wasted. I hadn't seen my wife for months and my new marriage was in danger of collapsing as the tour raged on and Torch blazed away.
The Clutching tour finally staggered top a halt in Italy. I'd fallen out with the band who'd lost trust in me as my escapes became more extreme. My voice finally gave out in Modena and I was advised to take a long break from touring or face losing my voice completely as my chords were ravaged by the stress and abuse from the previous 8 months on the road. The tour fell apart and I headed home to a relationship that was on the rocks with a head unfit to deal with the future.
Tamara and I went on our first holiday to the Caribbean and spent 3 weeks scuba diving and drinking Rum punches. I had to come back to a unit I didn't really want to be part of and a lifestyle that was threatening to kill me.
We had to go straight into writing the next album. A Christmas tour had been booked and the record company were anxious for new product with an American bent in order to break the only territory that so far had eluded us. Clutching had held the ground but hadn't topped Misplaced. Everyone was nervous. The writing started badly as we divided up into 2 separate camps. Eventually I suggested a retreat to Scotland to a 'castle', in fact a Victorian folly at Dalnaglar in the edge of the Highlands that had been suggested by Robbie the Pict, a new found friend and Scottish political activist.
As before all my experiences had been on the road and I needed something new to focus on. The return to Scotland albeit for a residential writing session gave it to me. The lyrics started to follow a more political lean with a distinctly Scottish nationalist tone. The band weren't happy and the plan to bring the band together in the retreat came unstuck. I'd planned to write a book with Mark Wilkinson about the artwork and John had set up a deal for publishing. I told him he had to deal with the band on this and left it to him to announce the project. He didn't and when the cover of the book arrived at the castle the results were as imagined. It was confrontation after confrontation and rather than bring us together again we separated. I was in the tower with the drugs and the crew while the band was downstairs with their stash, both parties slagging off the other.
We'd played a gig in June in the then East Berlin to 200, 000 people but the final show was to be a remarkable disaster called Fife Aid near St Andrews. A Scottish Live Aid it was not and the promise of World Wide TV coverage disappeared as fast as the Mixing towers in the sea fog that rushed in when the rain stopped pouring. The bill was wonderful and I've met so many musicians who were there and remember the shambles on the day. Bjork was there with the Sugar Cubes, Van Morrisson, John Martyn, Steve Hackett, Tam White, Phil Manzanera with John Wetton and many more respected musos. Our gig was tired and angry and the hotel après show was a cauldron of hate as everyone blamed me for the decision to play. I can remember talking to Jackie Leven on the day asking him what I should do. I wanted to leave so badly. He agreed with me.
The castle provided a number of 'bits' but no finished songs. We left in disarray and headed back down South but only after a night out in Edinburgh on a 'bonding session' ended up with us all separating and me getting a kicking off a bouncer while being drunk in charge of a human being. I arrived back at the castle covered in blood and with a nasty gash in my head. It was all over the papers. Great night out!
Bob Ezrin was up for producing the album and to hopefully give the album more 'credibility' in the USA. I was sent to meet him at Dave Gilmour's house in Maida vale as he'd just finished the Floyd tour. I was supposed to be put on the straight and narrow and to get this 'political nonsense' out of my head. The meeting went great and he was into the lyrics I had. He sent me away to write a drinking song. I wrote 'The Company'. He agreed to come and hear the band's material and when he arrived I sat in the back of the small studio in Oxfordshire (I went there once) and pronounced that these were only 'bits of songs' and nowhere near ready to consider recording. It didn't go down well and after he left the silence was awesome. Soon it was back to normal and the 'bits' were being joined onto other 'bits' again. We were getting nowhere very fast.
I wanted to write more 'songs' but wasn't expressing myself well. I was tired. I wanted to get away from the Marillion machine for a while. I had a personal life to get sorted out and finances to straighten out as the promised windfall hadn't arrived. John had got it wrong again.
There was a meeting arranged at my house. The band met with John at Ian's before and arrived with what seemed a pre-determined agenda. I was furious and that night I drank a 40 ounce bottle of Jim Beam on my own while at my cousin's house. I woke up that afternoon and wrote my resignation letter. The Christmas tour was cancelled.
I've thought a lot about that time and where it went wrong. I recently met up with the other guys in Oxford and we talked about the break up. We all felt the same way. However it's easy to deal in retrospect. I now understand a lot more and I'm not as bullish and stubborn as I was in '88. We've all changed and age has done us all proud. 5 family guys sat round a table and we discussed the affair as adults and most importantly as good friends. All in all there was one element which we All agreed created the biggest problem and that was the management.
We toured far too much and always in the same areas to the point of overexposure. We should have taken a year off. I should have made my solo album and got it out my system while the others followed their projects and we could have come back in '89 with a new and fresh Marillion album. We all needed a break from each other and to recapture our private and personal lives away from the band. We needed to grow as people not as a band. The management wouldn't have had the income though and my offer to resign was readily accepted. It was John who phoned me and said the band wouldn't accept my terms for remaining in the band, one of which was John's removal from office.
We were all immature in how we dealt with the situation and I honestly believe that stronger management would not have allowed this self destruction to occur.
Yes as reported at the time I had been over indulging on all levels but there was never a problem. It didn't help. I recognised that it would become a problem as another tour could have ruined me and my marriage. I made the decision then and I'd do it again if given the same set of circumstances. I listened to the Dalnaglar tapes for the first time the other day and I was surprised at how good the material was. It is rough but the promise was there. A year of fermentation would have provided a heady brew.
I left the band after 7 years and 4 great studio albums with no regrets and a sense of pride and accomplishment. People are always on about a reunion tour and no doubt they'll not be quietened by the release of the 'missing tapes'. In answer to those who still hold a torch for that era and a reformation of the 81-88 line up I can only say that I'm sure as individuals we'll work together somewhere in the future but as for anything else you would be clutching at straws.

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