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Marillion:
Misplaced Childhood

The History

The history of Marillion starts in Aylesbury in early 1978. Drummer Mick Pointer starts the band Silmarillion as a four-piece instrumental band. After various line-up changes "Sil" is dropped from the band's name and Marillion consists of Pointer on Drums, Steve Rothery on guitar, Pete Trewavas on bass, Mark Kelly on keyboards and Fish (real name: Derek Dick) on vocals.

In this line-up they record the acclaimed Script for a jesters tear, under the banner of record label EMI. Because of the long complex songs, the falsetto voice of Fish and his theatrics during live performances, the press gladly slags them off as Genesis wannabes. Yet the core prog-fans hail them for the same reasons, after some relatively quiet prog years, during which the rest of the world had turned their back on prog, in favour of disco or punk music.

In England the band rapidly gains popularity and the demand for touring is high. After internal friction founder Mick Pointer gets the sack for "musical incompetence" and after several personnel changes behind the drumkit it is former Steve Hackett drummer Ian Mosley who remains on that spot. In 1994 Pointer returns in the music industry, after a 10 year absence, with his new band Arena. A band, which relies as heavy on the old Marillion influence, as Marillion used to rely on Genesis, and the band is hailed in pretty much the same way as Marillion then.

The new Marillion line-up records their second album Fugazi, which proves that they are more than just a Genesis rip-off. The compositions have clearly grown since Script and the band's success is ever expanding. Another extensive tour follows in 1984, which leads them to the USA and Canada as a main act for the first time. Recordings from this tour are released on Real to Reel, after which yet another tour follows.

During the Real to Reel tour in late '84 the band premieres a new track of their forthcoming album. This new "track" is announced as "the new direction, unlike the direction a lot of people would like us to go in this is part of an album which will be out next May or next June. And the album, will be roughly a forty-six minute concept-album with two tracks, one called side one, and the other one called side two. This, what we're about to play for you tonight, folks, yes, is part of side one of an album which will be called Misplaced Childhood" (BBC live broadcast 1984)

The Story

The sudden success and the inevitable constant touring supporting the Fugazi and Real to Reel albums had its impact on the emotions of former forestry worker Fish: "Being away from family, loved ones and the sanctuary of home trapped in a cocoon surrounded by media and sycophants in a travelling circus where the quest for normality and sanity is a constant daily struggle (…) I'd been paying the price. My big on/off relationship had finally bitten the dust, left behind in a haze of exhaust fumes as I careered off in search of my elusive grail."

During the process of getting over his long-term relationship with his girlfriend Kay, Fish receives an envelope from an old friend, containing a strong tab of acid. Consuming this acid all too greedily, Fish is stoned out of his head for over 10 hours, during which he writes the whole concept of Misplaced Childhood. The story of the successful artist musing about his childhood, puppy love, the sudden success and life on the road - all conceived in that one night.

The Recording

The band accepted Fish's idea as a base for the forthcoming album and during the writing sessions that followed in late '84 the first side of the album slowly took shape. EMI was reluctant about the band's decision to pursue such an uncommercial venture. The band however stood firm and finally EMI let them continue. However, after the disastrous recording sessions of Fugazi (which had spanned across 10 studios and three producers!) EMI wanted a cheaper solution for the recording of the next album and sent the band to the utterly cheap and unknown Hansa Studios in West Berlin, Germany.

Producer Chris Kimsey, who had won his spores with his work for the Rolling Stones, was brought in to keep everything together and to make sure the band would actually record something this time. The atmosphere of these Berlin studios - where David Bowie had recorded his Heroes album years before - turned out to be excellent to create the right vibe for the recordings and the whole album was recorded and mixed within two months.

The whole band was at their creative highlight in 1985, and both the music and the lyrics on Misplaced Childhood are among the best they've ever done.

The Songs

The music on the album is very fragmented. Most songs consist of short musical themes tied together in a remarkable way - hats off for Chris Kimsey! The fragmented character of the album makes more a listening album rather than something you'd play in the background.

The lyrics are even more fragmented than the music and because of the personal nature they're pretty difficult to interpret. Unlike last week's Counting Out Time issue The Pros and cons of hitchhiking these lyrics hardly read as a story.

Pseudo Silk Kimono (2.14)
Pseudo Silk Kimono is a short introduction for the album. Mellow synthesiser tones, a warm bass and a guitar hinting in the back - that's all that accompanies Fish's soft (nearly whispering) voice. It tells the story of Fish's acid trip, pretty detailed in fact.

Kayleigh (4.04)
As the synth tones of Pseudo fade the guitar intro to Kayleigh starts. Often referred to as "The 'K'-song". This is that particular song that everybody knows when you name "Marillion". The lyrics for the song were considered 'too personal' by the band, as everybody in the band had known Fish's former girlfriend Kay. Fish had changed her middle name Lee into a new spelling and insisted on using her name in the song, (after phoning her up and asking if she'd mind) in favour of thrown in suggestions such as Katherine, or Jennifer.

During the writing and recording sessions the lyrical ideas for this song changed daily. Fish dug out of his experiences with a several number of ex-girlfriends (not just Kay) thus creating a fictional character after all. During the final recording sessions he still hadn't sorted out the lyrics and in the end Chris Kimsey took the rest of the band out for dinner, leaving Fish alone in the studio with explicit orders not to leave without a finished song. A mere 2 hours and at least as many bottles of alcoholic liquids later Fish had finished his lyrics and even the same night the vocals were recorded.

The musical offspring for Marillion's best-known song came from Steve Rothery. At one night his wife Jo asked him to show her how he wrote music on his guitar, and while playing something for her he created the famous opening riff.
More frictions and ego-clashed came when Ian Mosley demonstrated his drum-parts for the song. EMI representatives saw the hit-potential in this song and feared that his quadruple bass-drum fill wouldn't be fashionable enough. Mosly persisted though, and created one of the subtlest drum fills in history.

Lavender (2.26)
A piano-segue connects Kayleigh and Lavender. Originally only a mere 90 seconds long, this second single became one of the most original songs in rock history (according to Fish's own words) as it combined a traditional English nursery rhyme with classic rock-components. Fish: "Going through parks listening to Joni Mitchell, Lavender is the little boy's dream about you can walk through the park and bump into the lady of your dreams that you're going to fall instantaneously in love with".

Bitter Suite (7.57)
(i. Brief encounter, ii. Lost weekend, iii. Blue angel, iv. Misplaced rendez-vous, v. Windswept thumb)
One of the longer tracks and more complex songs on the album. This very fragmented song starts with a very ambiguous little poem, Brief Encounter (the titles comes from a book by David Lean, one of the greatest tearjerkers of all time). After the spoken part Lost Weekend is sung, and the musical theme of Lavender is reprised for Blue Angel.

Blue Angel is the title of a 1930 German film. In this section Fish introduces another one of his lost loves: a French prostitute. Fish: "The 'Magdalene' was in Lyon and if truth be told wasn't a prostitute. That was a compounding of events made under poetic license."
Apart the musical reference, Blue Angel also has lyrical references and in the 1990's this section was played during Lavender at live performances, probably because it had already been a part of Lavender in the first place. Also, the ending of Blue Angel appeared in the single-remix of Lavender.

Misplaced rendezvous tells the story of yet another ill-fated love affair - very personal. Misplaced rendezvous segues into Windswept thumb which in its way is an intro to the next song on the album.

Heart of Lothian (4.02)
(i. Wide boy, ii. Curtain call)

Heart of Lothian is (for Marillion) a pretty straightforward rock-song. The lyrics are about Fish's nationalism - proud to be a Scot and referring to his county of birth (Mid-Lothian, just south of Edinburgh). It tells the story of when Fish was still one of the wide boys - young adolescent men, who used to hang out on the streets and around pubs all weekend. Basically he is saying "what am I doing here in London with this band, I want to go back, I was born with a heart of Lothian after all"

In Curtain call he is back in reality with the band, concerts and press around him. He is unhappy, he wants to go back to his adolescent life, where all seemed perfect. Back to the waterhole…

Thus ends side one.

Waterhole (Expresso Bongo) (2.13)
Side two of the album starts with menacing keyboard-tones before drums kick in and a high-paced rock song, full of percussion starts. Once again Fish muses about his adolescence with the wide boys, the first steps into the maze of love-affairs combined with the at that time just as exciting visits to the local pub.

Lords of the Backstage (1.53)
Another high-paced rock song, this song was originally planned after Kayleigh and Lavender and deals once more about the poor combination of love and life on the road.

Blind Curve (9.29)
(i. Vocal under a bloodlight, ii. Passing strangers, iii. Mylo, iv. Perimeter walk, v. Treshold)

The music quietens again for the epic on the album. Well, actually you can't really talk about an epic as it is once again a very fragmented song. Fish gives us more personal details about his love affair in Vocal… and Passing strangers before Steve Rothery takes over with one of the most beautiful guitarsolos ever.

Death is an inevitable part of growing up and Mylo is about the loss of a close friend of the band, John Mylett, who got killed in a car accident in Greece during Marillion's Fugazi tour in North America. In self-explanatory lyrics Fish tells about his feelings while he still had to do interviews and perform at night. At the end of this fragment Fish reaches for the bottle and pills…

In the next fragment Perimeter walk we’re back where we started: Fish's acid trip. Once again very ambiguous this could be either about his experiences during this acid trip (or after consuming the pills and alcohol at the end of Mylo) while at the same time it could be about being a little child, taking the perimeter walk across the fence in front of the house. (I've never been this far out before…)

He wants to be a child again (My childhood, give it back to me) but there's a Threshold. Do you want to be a child again and grow up in this time of wars and problems? How can you let a child grow up in all this? How can you justify?

Childhoods End? (4.33)
Then the moment of clarity comes. The child is not gone, it is still there, deep inside you. He realises that he has to get on with his life, that he can't go on mourning about the child he was, as he still is that same child. The title comes from an Arthur C. Clarke novel which had earlier inspired Genesis for the track Watcher of the skies. (Of 1972's Foxtrot)

The strumming playing of Rothery's guitar would become his trademark for the next 12 years or so, where each album would at least contain one or two songs dominated by this unique style of playing.

White Feather (2.25)
The obligatory happy-ending. Fish promises to use his music to stand up for all the children in the world.
I won't walk away no more.

The Artwork

Marillion's artwork has always been very special and unique. Painted by airbrush artist Mark Wilkinson it first showed "the artist" (portrayed by a jester) writing his music in his own bedroom, hoping to find success once, on the cover of Script for a jester's tear. On Fugazi the same jester had found his success but also its drawbacks. It showed the jester passed out on a bed in a hotel room, glass of wine still in his hand.

The artwork for Misplaced Childhood followed the concept of the album. The artist is portrayed as a child, with the thunderclouds surrounding him while the jester is sneaking out of the window on the backside of the album. Links to previous (and even forthcoming) albums are as numerous as they always had been.

The boy on the album, Robert Mead (who lived next door to Wilkinson at the time) became the face of Marillion for the next year, as the jester had been in the previous two years.

The Single

On April 7th the first single Kayleigh came out. The single was a huge success all over Europe reaching a second position in the British charts. Strangely enough in in Holland it didn't get further than an 18th position in the charts, while this country is one of the most "Marillion-friendly" country nowadays.

The alternative spelling of Kay Lee was picked up by many expecting mothers who named their daughter after Marillion's hitsingle. And nowadays this name still reads in British namebooks (which expecting parents can use to choose a name for their children) as "name of a single, written by a band named Marillion"
Fish: "I've got used to signing autographs for 13 year-old Kayleighs".

The accompanying video was shot in Berlin and starred Robert Mead as the young Fish. The other star in the video, a local girl named Tamara, would later become Mrs Fish and is still living happily married in Scotland with the big stubborn Scot.

EMI disliked the song as a first single and preferred Lady Nina, the song the band had intended as a B-side for the single, but they gave in with the band. About a year later, when Kayleigh and the album had turned out to be a huge success anywhere apart from the USA (for which the album had been marketed in the first place) they released Lady Nina as a single, with Kayleigh on the B-side. With a video shot in Berlin once again, starring Tamara once again, the single was even less a success than Kayleigh.

The Success

When the single turned to be such a success in Europe EMI spent a great budget on marketing the album and the band. It worked; Misplaced Childhood became the biggest success under the banner "progressive rock" ever since Pink Floyd's The Wall. (Which, not entirely surprising, shows many similarities in album concept and a one-off single that everybody knows.)

The consequent singles Lavender and Heart of Lothian weren't as successful as Kayleigh, but still achieved a satisfactory result in the British charts. Until this day Lavender is still the second-biggest hit Marillion has had in the UK. An extensive world-tour followed, which kept Marillion on the road for over a year. Success seemed everlasting and suddenly they were the rock-stars they'd been singing about.

The Aftermath

After the tour the demand for a follow-up success was high. But as it already showed in many lyrics from Misplaced… Fish was getting tired of this lifestyle. After many friction and clashes the band came with the follow-up album in June 1987, titled Clutching at straws. It wasn't another concept album, although many of the songs contained a similar theme: the tired rockstar who is almost succumbing to the heavy pressure and the inevitable high consumption of alcohol and drugs. Once again a very personal album, although Fish has always claimed that it wasn't autobiographical.

Although Clutching At Straws became another hit, in the slipstream of Misplaced..., it couldn't surpass its predecessor, probably because it didn't contain any hitsingles.

As the success in the USA was still gradually growing EMI felt more need than ever for a breakthrough album. The band couldn't take it anymore and was on the verge of breaking up when Fish demanded the departure of manager John Arnison. When the rest of the band didn't agree with him, Fish left the band himself and went solo.

But that is a different chapter in the Counting Out Time series...

It was the turning point of all our lives and the intensity of the experience still rings a smile, never to be repeated. Never again Misplaced. Do you remember? (Fish on Misplaced Childhood, 1998)

Written by Bart Jan van der Vorst

Sources:
Marillion - Explanations of song elements
• Liner notes of the Misplaced Childhood Remaster (EMI, 1998)


 

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