It's June 19th 1997 and I'm in Aweara in a club called the 'Hidden City'. I entered through an ancient oak door and descended into a huge cellar in which has been constructed as a replica of an entire street with cobbled roads and windowless houses, blackened and riddled with shell holes. The bar is constructed from sandbags and the spooky scenario reminds me of Bosnia. To add to this surreal environment the house system is blasting out 'Forgotten Sons'. It's now 16 years since I headed Southward from the Ethrick Valley in the Scottish borders to join a band called 'Marillion' and the path of destiny has since revealed a myriad of twists, turns and diversions for all concerned in the gathering in January 1981 at a small house in Aston Clinton, Bucks.
I'd met up with bassist Diz Minnitt in Retford, Lincs and spent 6 months trying to form a band before we gave up. Just as it all seemed to be over Diz used one of our last coins to phone a number given in an advertisement placed in a weekly music paper - Bassist/Vocalist required. Diz talked them into taking 2 members and tapes were exchanged along with the obligatory bullshit on how well both parties were making out and what connections and levels of success we had acquired. The gig was on and when we both eventually pulled up in the blue van outside 26 Weston Road, nobody knew what to expect but as far as we were concerned we were totally committed to this band. We had no other options and there was no return. We drifted to the pub and talked warily over a clutch of warm pints. Present were Mick Pointer, drummer and founder member of the band previously known as 'Silmarillion', guitarist Steve Rothery who'd come down from Whitby in Yorkshire to join the band in '79, keyboard player Brian Jelliman, band 'manager' Guy Hewison and all round roadie and sound engineer Chris 'Privet' Hedge. Diz and I couldn't work out initially who was who and who did what. Brian owned the PA and had a Ford Capri. We had a van, Guy rented the house where Steve, Priv and Diz and I were to spend the next 6 months or so and was obviously the bands friend and fan and general dogsbody who was taking care of the business and booking side that nobody else could or would do.
That would soon change but first Diz and I had to pass a formal audition at the bands' rehearsal room/demo studio they had hired. Next day we trundled in and Diz got through his run-through while I recorded vocals for the first time singing my newly written lyrics entitled 'The Web' over an existing band composition written and performed with Doug Irvine singing a few scant verses of lyric. The song was called 'Close' and sounded to my ears like Camel. I'd received a tape in Scotland and worked one of my existing lyrics around it. It was the first time the crying Jester was mentioned, an image I identified with as a fat teenager who turned class comedian at school to deflect an endless barrage of taunting from fellow classmates. The result of this early demo made everyone realize immediately that we had something magical. That night our dreams were charged, Steve and I sitting up till the wee hours going through the existing material and working through the possibilities of what we could salvage to create a brand new set which the new line up required to begin an assault on the London record companies.
We were based in Aylesbury, one of the spiritual homes of 70's progressive rock, with the renowned Friars Club run by David Stopps, providing focus for a vibrant local music scene which had hosted major and emerging bands for more than 10 years. A gig at Friars was to become our first goal.
The set began to take shape and rehearsals continued. Steve, Diz and I were unemployed, Brian had his job at the Unemployment Benefit Office and Mick was a self-employed carpenter. This meant Steve and I spent a lot of time together and living in the same house meant the writing sessions were intense. From the ashes of the Silmarillion catalogue rose a new list of songs some of which would be jettisoned along the way as our songwriting abilities increased and our standards became higher.
Our first gig was at Bicester Red Lion and the set list included The 'Web', 'Madcaps Embrace', 'Skyline Drifter', 'Herne The Hunter' (formerly known as 'The Haunting of Gill House'), an instrumental called 'Time For Sale' and 'Garden Party', based on a satirical lyric I'd written up at Ethrick Bridge after a brief stopover in Cambridge with Diz where we made a futile attempt to gather a band. We stayed in college halls of residence in my then girlfriend's room and, as it was a female only block, we had to enter and leave by a ground floor window. Padding the city streets by day, broke but with a heart full of dreams. It was at a party in the halls that I'd wear full face make up for the first time in an effort to wind up the attending hoi polloi. I'd already decided to use full face make up when I did eventually discover my band. Inspired by Alice Cooper's theatricals, it was also going to be a mask to cover my shyness and lack of confidence as a singer/frontman. I'd only started singing at 22 and had a mere 15 gigs under my belt as former singer with Borders cover band 'Blewitt' in 1980. The party descended into drunken argument and my preferred loathing of blue bloods resulted in Diz and I being ejected from the party and heading North for refuge, needless to say leaving an ex girlfriend behind. The lyric was my parting shot.
The centrepiece of our early sets was the 19 minute 'Grendel' which had evolved from an eight minute song formerly known as 'The Tower'. It was a daunting challenge for me to come up with a lyric and both Steve and I felt that we needed to add sections if we were going to come up with a curve in the arrangement and overall dynamic of the piece that would hold the listeners attention and deliver the lyric which I'd decided to base on a book I had borrowed from Steve, namely John Gardner's 'Grendel'. The book itself was based on the Beowulf legend but rather than adopt the heroic angle he'd taken the perspective from the creature's viewpoint, portraying the warriors as greedy, corrupt and evil and the monster as a sensitive, intelligent being. The juxtaposition of the moral standpoint intrigued me and I set to work. We were concerned about the similarity to the lengthy composition by Genesis called 'Supper's Ready' which also meandered and burst into sections, the end one in particular, which would add conviction to the many critics opinions that Marillion were more than influenced by Genesis. But it all flowed and the fans loved it.
Another song - 'Alice' - was added to the set but soon was swallowed by another new epic, 'Forgotten Sons' which was about the conflict in Northern Ireland. Brian eventually wangled me a job in his office and I had to sign on a lot of young guys who'd been laid off in the local factories. Many of them intended to join the army whose career office offered a far different perception of military service than the one I was aware of through my cousin's experience. He'd been a career soldier and had served in the province. On his last tour of duty he'd been hurt in a riot and news of his plight was difficult to extract from the army. As we'd watched TV it seemed that the Irish situation had lowered in the agenda of the media and the deaths of soldiers and civilians there didn't appear to be dealt with the gravity and respect they deserved.
I can remember writing the 'prayer' section coming down from an acid trip, sitting in the sunshine outside a damp, dank rehearsal room as the band assembled the music that swelled through the open door. There was a dark power trapped in the song that visited us again while recording the track for the album in the Marquee Studios. As we multi-tracked the voices giving us the immense monk like chant, the booth which was buried in the cellars of the Marquee offices went icy cold and a tangible presence entered the room. Everyone freaked and something happened to the tape which now contained noises other than those recorded. The Marquee Studios are built on top of an old plague pit where hundreds of bodies are supposedly buried. It took me a while to go back into the booth.
But we were a long way from an album.
We saved up enough money to hire Watlington Studios in order to record 3 tracks with Les Payne, a local musician with many years experience as a writer/performer and producer. His guidance and advice gave us a lot of hope for the future and the results of the session gave us something to approach the major record companies with. 'He Knows You Know' - a song about drug abuse, the lyric originally written while suffering terrible stomach cramps on a desk in the UBO. My personal excesses and the unwanted advice they attracted from well meaning people with no experience of the subject were documented and the first version of this song, one we thought was a possible single, was laid on tape, 'Garden Party' and another new song 'Charting The Single'. a lyric with song sown well in cheek about the other side of my hedonistic activities which I was accused of continuing with by friends of my new full time girlfriend, whose presence in my life had calmed the beast within.
We sent the demo to every major record company in London and everyone including EMI rejected it - 'He Knows You Know' would became a Top 40 single and 'Garden Party' number 16 in the UK charts! We continued playing at Friars on several occasions that year, supporting John Cooper Clarke, John Martyn, and supporting Lindisfarne at Dunstable Civic. Finally our second goal playing the Marquee Club in October supporting 'Girl' opened us up to Central London and wakened up the press to our existence.
Brian Jelliman had a good position at the UBO and as the touring became more demanding he was under pressure from us to make the next big jump and declare ourselves full time professional musicians. I had a number of confrontations about his commitment to the band. During one of our East London voyages we were supported by a local band called 'Chemical Alice' who had in their number an incredibly talented and good looking keyboard player who was pointed out to me by Mick. We'd all decided Brian was out and an approach was made on the quiet, resulting in the keyboard player meeting us pre-gig in Chesham a few nights later. Mark Kelly was in, Brian was out.
The next weak link was Diz, whose bass playing was becoming suspect mainly due to Mark's contribution raising the overall standard. As the shadow loomed over him, I'd come across Pete Trewavas. Although I knew him from the local music scene in Aylesbury where he'd been the bass player with the Metros, a relatively high profile pop band (which included in its line-up Robin Boult). I'd never seen him play until one night in a local pub in March at a benefit gig and I was immediately impressed by the bubbly, outgoing bassist, who proved he was a lot more than a good-looking pop musician. He came along for a rehearsal in the garage behind the house in Victoria Street where I now stayed, ironically with Diz.
It was all over and I was reluctant to fire my best friend at the time and a guy without whom I wouldn't have even met the band - but the unit had to come first. It was left to me to deliver the news before a show at the Starting Gate, Milton Keynes, one of our strongholds. Needless to say a four piece played that night and next day rehearsals began with Pete for the forthcoming Scottish tour, a 29 date extravaganza that would mark the band finally turning fully professional.
Diz's last recorded contribution was to a radio session for Tommy Vance's Rock Show on Radio 1, a highly influential programme that would provide us with a springboard to greater things. It was first put out on 26th February and repeated in May and featured 'The Web', 'Forgotten Sons' and 'Three Boats Down From The Candy' - a lyric about a sexual liaison under a boat on the front at Brighton. The profile created by The Rock Show transmission, together with the Scottish tour and our new residency as headliners at The Marquee Club was pulled together by our press officer Keith Goodwin who we'd taken on a few months previously to create an awareness of our continuing presence on the live scene.
In July the record companies were becoming more interested in this strange unfashionable band from Aylesbury and major music press articles added a new awareness. I realized that bringing in a record deal was a different matter to securing gigs and although Dave Stopps - Friars Club promoter - stood in for a few weeks, we'd come this far without professional management. If we were to benefit from our new profile we had to act and, after a few interviews, appointed John Arnison as manager. We were all impressed by his enthusiasm and previous work with off-the-wall acts like poet John Cooper Clark and Pauline Murray.
The effect was dramatic and John's energy and tenacity soon gave him a foot in the door at EMI and at Charisma Records. In August places on the bill at Theakston and Reading Festivals (the big stage for Marquee Club favourites), signalled the achievement of critical mass and in September we signed to EMI records, our publishing going to Charisma.
But first we had to sign and go through the obligatory studio re-runs at demo level before we could prove we were ready to do our first truly professional recording. 'Market Square Heroes', our first attempt at deliberately writing a hit record and a 'simple' rock song to juxtapose against our meandering but dynamic 'epics', was chosen as our first assault on the charts. An EP format was picked to satisfy the album demand that had generated over nearly 18 months of solid touring and 'Grendel' the stage epic was chosen as B side to both alleviate the demand for an album/recorded material and use a well known piece of music that we all felt didn't warrant one side of our first album. The pre-rehearsals focused on 'Grendel' and through the advanced demos we attracted and hooked the services of David Hitchcock, veteran of Genesis (ironically the 'Foxtrot' album which contained the similar 'Supper's Ready' odyssey) and Camel and similar 70s bands.
We commenced recording at Battle nr. Hastings in Park Gate Studios. It was slow, real slow. 'Market Square Heroes' and 'Three Boats' were first to go down on tape with 'Grendel' spilling over time and requiring additional studio time at Wessex Studios to finish. The EP was released and peaked at No. 60 in the UK chart, although it continued to sell well on the back of the album. David Hitchcock, as far as we were concerned, was going to produce the album, but a car crash allowed a new option to be revealed and although David was still in the equation, our A&R Department at EMI used David's accident as an excuse to bring in a more 'modern' producer with experience of chart-friendly material but at the same time cater for a dramatic rock edge. His previous work with Toyah was the biggest influence on our decision. He fitted everyone's requirements and as Dave (as we were led to believe) was unavailable, Nik seemed the perfect choice to continue our education and career curve.
We'd chosen the songs from the current set, apart from the title track which was written relatively close to the album recording and previewed for the first time toward the end of our 13 gig marathon in 1982 at The Marquee Club.
With the upheaval of egos and the demands of studio work, combined with my always fragmenting relationships, EMI had rented us a flat, yards from St. Steven's Hospital. It was a bohemian den and images from that epoch revolve around heavy drug and drinking sessions, Israeli melon, scratches on backs and accusations of infidelity (most proven), late night cafes and house specials of teapots filled with cheap wine, cloudy mirrors, bloodied streets, murmuring telephone receivers and sustained diplomacy intertwined with dynamic hedonism. A truly wonderful epoch. It spawned not only confrontation and condemnation from some quarters, but also another album track, 'Chelsea Monday'. Early morning walkabouts in the areas with mind on records gave me examples of so many wannabees and couldbees and I wrapped them all up in a female character drowning in romanticism, unable to cope with reality. Read into it what you will.
The intro to the track was taken from the SFX library at Abbey Road Studios where Mark and I spent a day sifting through sound samples to link all the tracks. One we did record at about 4am one morning was the pre 'Web' telephone conversation where we completely freaked out a Marquee Ents. Office Secretary. Apologies were necessary the next morning. We also tried to get Trevor Macdonald, the ITN newsreader, to narrate the section in 'Forgotten Sons', but the recording budget was tight and we had to settle for a regular voice-over artist instead. 'Garden Party' included the 'partying' SFX we'd practiced at demo stage in Roxon Studios - all members of the band indulging in clinking glasses, popping corks and with outrageous accents.
Mark Wilkinson who'd created the EP cover was kept on to build the album cover. Out of a number of portfolios given to EMI for us to consider. Mark's artistic style paralleled our musical and lyrical vision and like our fellow stable mates at EMI, Iron Maiden, we decided to utilize a central image in the artwork which would be easily identifiable and carried over into merchandise.
The jester introduced in malevolent form on 'Market Square Heroes' was to be portrayed in a classic bed sitting room setting with subtle acidic undertones. I wanted to recreate the environment in which the music was born and working with Mark was the beginning of a new creative relationship containing a magic that would endure throughout the next 6 years of that Marillion era. On the sleeve, pointers were given to the next batch of evolving songs namely 'Punch And Judy' and 'She Chameleon' - the chameleon about to begin a long run on album covers. An album collection on the floor containing Pink Floyd's 'Saucerful of Secrets' and a Bill Nelson album as well as 'Market Square Heroes' and the first single from Script 'He Knows You Know'. The lyric in the violin case seemed appropriate 'Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far way'. The cover needs a whole book itself to explain all the imagery.
As a debut it was powerful and I can still remember the playback at the Marquee Studios after we'd finally mixed the album. I found it difficult to listen to in particular which held too many memories. One EMI Executive was actually in tears at the end of the playback and I remember thinking that we had captured what we set out to do.
It seemed so simple and so pure back then. Little did we know what was going to unfold and that this script was for the beginning of a much bigger drama that was going to develop on a world stage.
Script For A Jesters Tear sleeve notes