Wembley Arena 5/11/87
I boarded the train at Gerard's Cross and picked up the underground train to Wembley Arena early evening, standing in a carriage with fans, some in the greasepaint faces of what seemed ancient history, others in an array of Tshirts bought across the years, each one a proclamation of loyalty and time served. I drew glances and stares. "Nah! It couldn't be!"
I'd decided to travel to the hallowed halls of Wembley arena on my own, forsaking the limo. I don't know why. Maybe it was the pilgrimage complete or maybe it was a desperate attempt to regain my roots.
I walked from the tube station to the venue. I didn't need a pass as the security guys knew me well. I entered the back stage area and headed to the dressing rooms where I sat down on my own and reflected.
With Wembley Arena we had reached the pinnacle of touring indoors in the UK but the climb had taken its toll. I was mentally exhausted by the incessant album/tour cycles and the demands of the road.
I'd only been married for just over 3 months and two of those had been spent in North America.
We had completed "Misplaced Childhood" in the Spring of '85 and by May we were back on the road. In June "Kayleigh" exploded and we went into hyperdrive on all fronts. I was inundated with promotion and being pinballed around Europe talking up the album which entered the UK charts at No. 1.
"Kayleigh" was stuck at No. 2 in the UK singles charts after the charity record for the Bradford fire disaster jumped us at the last moment.
We were playing festivals all over the shop but the one we missed was "Live Aid".
For some reason our manager thought it wasn't worth me flying back from Italy to sing on a charity record with the luminaries of the British pop and rock fraternity.
When it came to the bill for the concert we were passed over. If I had sung on the single we would have had a chance of performing on a World stage and who knows what would have happened especially in the States where we still couldn't get a look in.
We settled for the "Monsters of Rock" festival at Donnington where we played high up the bill and just before headliners "ZZ Top". We went down so well they flew their trademark red American car over the crowd strung under a helicopter during our encores in order to try and steal the crowd's attention. It didn't work!
A farcical festival in Tel Aviv in the football stadium which was scheduled for three days and was shut down after one as there were more people in the backstage area than out front. Most of the bands on the bill didn't even bother flying out to Israel. We did and spent 4 days with chronic diarrhoea in the 5 star King David hotel on the beach front!
We just toured and toured all over Europe and Scandinavia from September through till the end of December with another short trip to Japan squeezed in at the beginning of the last month.
I'd already been out earlier in the year for interviews and had come back without a voice due to the air pollution in Tokyo and general exhaustion of travelling. I was only back a day before we were in production rehearsals in Dublin. I did the 3 Irish shows and then basically collapsed resulting in the main tour being postponed for a couple of weeks.
That was when the infamous "Top of the Pops" performance of "Lavender" happened as I pointed at sheets of written out lyrics and didn't even attempt to mime the song in case some fans thought I really sang on the show and were pissed off that I had cancelled gigs for a TV appearance.
Once the tour got going for real it was scary. Gigs were being added right left and centre as the album continued to sell in numbers. In Germany we had originally booked town hall gigs but were being upgraded to arenas as demand outstripped tickets. It was a huge rollercoaster ride and difficult to keep a grip on reality sometimes.
When we came back to the UK we were booked in major arenas with the Birmingham NEC on the 20th December the jewel in the crown.
It had been a very tough year.
Just over two weeks after we concluded 1985 we were back on tour in the UK again.
A month of touring Britain including no less than 7 Hammersmith Odeons. 28 gigs in 36 days and every day off was more promotion and more interviews.
Happy New Year.
We had become hamsters on class A, trapped in the wheels of the bandwagon. We hadn't had a real break away or from each other for years.
Days after we finished the UK tour we were once again on a plane towards North America where we were losing money hand over fist and totally dependent on financial tour support from EMI.
This was seen as our best chance yet of conquering the States but as luck would have it our label over there, Capitol Records, was embroiled in a payola scandal. It meant that "Kayleigh" didn't get the radio plays it should have as the company were being scrutinised by the authorities and as everyone else was allegedly buying plays we stood no chance as the stations steered clear of our label.
The attendances were up and in amongst our own dates we had support slots with "Rush" in major arenas. On those gigs we used to walk out and I would announce "this is an album called 'Misplaced Childhood'!" and then we'd perform the entire album start to finish. They were tough gigs but it was a great experience.
We were out for nearly two months and actually came home for a couple of weeks in between our East and West coast dates when "Rush" took a break.
We arrived home at the beginning of May.
Relationships were under a lot of strain and what we needed was a long break.
The call went up for the next album and with the high benchmark of "Misplaced" the label wanted "another 'Kayleigh'". There was a huge collective sigh from the band.
In the Summer we went out once again into Europe playing our own indoor arenas and also open airs supporting "Queen" on their "It's a Kind of Magic" tour.
We played 4 shows with them and my favourite memory was sharing the stage with Freddie Mercury and the boys singing a duet on "Tutti Frutti".
Our Summer held one more high before we attempted to write the next album.
A sold out Milton Keynes Bowl on June 28th saw us reach our pinnacle of open air gigs in the UK. Our first headline show ironically supported by "Jethro Tull" who we'd supported on our first ever festival in '82. We had come a long way in 4 years.
It was a fantastic event and a major celebration and all my worries and insecurities were forgotten as we triumphed spectacularly in front of 30,000 fans.
Another couple of festivals, one in the San Siro Stadium in Milan and another with "Queen" before the strangest event I think we ever played. "Soap Aid" at the St Helens Rugby League ground was totally bizarre with various actors and actresses from British TV's favourite soaps attempting to emulate the Wembley experience. Awful!
The rest of the year was spent staring at each other in writing sessions at various locations. The follow up album to our most successful yet was proving elusive.
We struggled on despite frayed relationships and tensions sometimes coming to a head. We'd brought some of our tour "habits" home with us and I personally found it hard to re-domesticate myself. The time felt more like extended days off on tour rather than being home. I was fried.
The traditional Christmas shows allowed us to premier some of the new songs with gigs in Aylesbury, Liverpool and a Hogmanay performance in Glasgow Barrowlands. Needless to say the sprung dance floor was bouncing that night as we bid farewell to 1986.
The first single from "Clutching at Straws", "Incommunicado" was released in May and was accompanied by a video shot in the Marquee club to fan club members only. (a photo of the queue outside the club was used on the cover).
The album reflected the experiences of the last few years and was based around a lot of imagery from the incessant touring. In my opinion it was a road album and couldn't really have been anything else. (It's still my favourite Marillion album from my years in the band)
Production rehearsals were held in Poland in June, which at that time was still behind the Iron Curtain. Our first ever shows in that country established a strong relationship with the fans there that still exists today. The fact that it was "new ground" gave us all a boost and the reactions from the Polish audiences made us forget all our other problems.
A series of mixed indoor and open air shows in Italy, France, Switzerland and Germany followed.
July 18th saw us headline the Loreley Freilichtbune stage in front of 35,000 German fans, captured on film for the "Live at Loreley" DVD. Altogether an amazing experience and one of our finest hours in that country.
Nine days later I was married in Scotland.
My "honeymoon" was a two week promotion trip to LA.
As I sat and waited for interviews that never appeared, I discovered that the tour was postponed and I returned to the UK with my new wife only for a few weeks until the rescheduled North American tour began in early September.
The North American tour was fraught with problems and underlying friction but we had some memorable gigs especially in Canada where we were playing ice hockey stadiums compared to the small clubs in the US.
Coming down from arenas in Europe to the smaller venues was a challenge and it was becoming obvious that the US would never be a major territory for us.
It was a huge disappointment and an expensive lesson across the 4 weeks.
I remember sitting in my hotel room waiting on the flight home from Newark and watching the great storms rage across the UK on TV longing to be home.
And then we set up our stall at Wembley Arena on November 3rd for a three night residency.
It was great to get back to full production again although a bit daunting.
One of the shows was a charity concert in aid of Muscular Dystrophy.
To add to the pressure it was a Royal performance. Originally it was to be attended by Prince Andrew and "Fergie" but I had inadvertently let it slip in an interview and the Palace had cancelled their appearance for "security reasons".
They sent along Prince Edward instead who was obviously more expendable.
All our parents were there and sat in the Royal Box after meeting him in an extended handshake session immediately before the gig.
I had to excuse myself shortly after meeting him as I had a vocal warm up and it was close to gig.
He made a crack about my "jester suit" and I commented that I thought he was great on "Spitting Image". A sharp intake of breath and some stifled smiles from his security detail but he took it well.
The set was well honed by this time and "Slainthe", one of our best openers set the pace.
The set was a good mix of material from our four albums but my favourite section was the "Clutching" medley. "Hotel Hobbies" bordered on mystical and then the drop into "Warm Wet Circles" lit the arena up. It was at that point my radio mike went down and the replacement decided to have an off day as well.
I shouted out an audible "Fuck!" and immediately winced.
At then end of the piece I apologised for swearing as I'd promised my Mum I'd watch my language.
I mentioned this and then added "Sorry Mum!" She told me that the Prince, who was sitting directly in front of her, cracked up as everyone expected him to be the recipient of the apology.
The "Kayleigh/Lavender/Heart of Lothian" sequence made for a perfect encore and we left the stage to a standing ovation.
It was a tremendous gig and set another bench mark for the band in the UK.
The other two shows were equally magnificent and we were proud to have managed to have come this far from the early rehearsals in a pokey Scout Hut in Aston Clinton.
But there was no time to rest on laurels. Europe awaited the "Clutching" tour and it was going to be a long haul.
We would finally stagger to a halt in Italy in February 1988 when my voice gave out and then recovered enough to stutter through the tail end of some UK dates and a couple of shows in the Channel Islands.
The bandwagon was running out of fuel and as once again the call went out for yet another album.
It would never be made.
My last gig with the band was at Craigtoun Country Park on July 23rd headlining the "Fife Aid" festival. It was raining and the sea fog was so thick we couldn't see the mixing desk from the stage.
I couldn't see my future.
I resigned from the band in September 1988 in the middle of writing sessions for the album that never was.
But that is another story that began exactly 20 years ago and still continues being written today.
Fish September 2008
© Derek Dick 2008
Early Stages sleeve notes 5