Misplaced Childhood by Marillion – another important one for me. Although I am cheating a bit here, because I only bought the vinyl on eBay in 2006. In fact I got this album on cassette at Christmas time in 1986, by mistake. I was in one of those awful music club things where if you didn’t send a reply slip back by a certain date you basically had been deemed to want to buy it – that strikes me now as legally dodgy to say the least, but I didn’t question it at the time. So anyway, being the organised little spud I was, I got a package through the door one day containing the cassette of Misplaced Childhood. Great. After sulking for a bit I played it and wallop!
The lyrics! The music! The lyrics! Oh God, the lyrics! Here was a man writing songs, who was possibly even cleverer than me – really. Fish threw phrases around like ‘primordial phantom of romance’, he wrote about sex stuff in a different, sensitive way, he rhymed ‘morning’ with ‘mourning’; there was no end to this man’s talents. I began what can only be described as a complete obsession with the man, I then discovered all their earlier stuff and started to obsessively set out to collect everything Marillion had ever done, every 7″, every 12″ and more importantly every picture disc. They were the first band I ever felt that urge towards. I spent my hard-earned money on dodgy bootlegs, early unrecorded tracks, videos and just anything I could find. At one point I could probably have recited the Marillion book I owned (was it called ‘Childhood’s End’ ?, I lost it). I even wanted to go to Aylesbury – still an unrealized dream at the time of writing.
A big part of this was down to Mark Wilkinson’s artwork, just like Iron Maiden, Marillion had a look, an icon (the jester) and a cool logo. They spent the time and money giving their singles different sleeves, different tracks – as an obsessive 15-year-old you got your moneys’ worth and that made me feel good. I hope Mark got his money out of them because although the music was excellent, he sold a lot of records for them, an awful lot, a fact not lost on EMI, I’m sure.
The music? long, meandering keyboard-led pieces blending, bleeding into each other (suites – if you will), quiet bits, loud bits – some mumbled bits that were damn close to being TALKIE BITS (steady, my beating heart!). I’d never heard the term prog, although I already loved Floyd. I just knew it was very different to ZZ Top, Queen and the stuff I was taping off the radio (obsessively, of course). I have played this a few times recently and it still holds up, I love ‘Bitter Suite’ – mostly for the way Fish enunciates ‘lager’ like a swear word and the line that the Magdalene whispers to him ‘J’entend ton coeur’ which my friend Colin and I thought must be something so filthy and rude that the only way they could get away with putting it on the LP was by saying it in French. I find ‘Blind Curve’ the other long one great too, the emotional, brilliantly sung ‘Mylo’ in particular. Steve Rotheray plays lyrically throughout and there was a good reason why Mark Kelly always won Best Keyboard player in Kerrang! poles (apart from the fact that he was the only one most people could remember apart from thingy from Bon Jovi).
I know that standard prog criticisms apply, not so caught up in my own cleverness now, the lyrics teeter over into pretension for me at times and the over-bombastic bits towards the end are only palatable because of the nostalgia I have for the LP as a whole. The Ramones, when they eventually hit my bit of rural Wales, made Marillion unlistenable for me for a few years and I know the punk orthodoxy which paints this sort of music as unrealistic, overwrought and complacent is hard to argue against logically. Something carries it through for me though, there is genuine feeling, humour and passion here, a bit of grit that prog doesn’t usually have.
It’s not perfect, I hate ‘Lavender’ and find it embarrassingly trite even now; why guys why? no dark mutterings about rainy perimeters, violet assignations or twinkling strangers – just nursery rhyme drivel – why, Fish, WHY?! I find ‘White Feather’ a bit of an unconvincing finale too.
But lets not end there, let’s hear it from the man, himself:
Huddled in the safety of a pseudo silk kimono
Wearing bracelets of smoke, naked of understanding
Now, come on we’ve all been there, haven’t we? oh sorry I’ve done that joke before , stop me if you’ve heard that one before.
Oh and I also picked up Heart of Lothian at the same time, apart from a live version of ‘Chelsea Monday’ which adds very little to the original. I like the track in the context of the LP, but its not a very good single and I suspect this is only the second time I ever played this 12″, it might even be the first. So why did I buy it? the cover of course! The little drummer boy wielding a drumstick and looking all Scottish and angry. I had it bad.