Letters to my sons.

Trying to explain the world to two very small children.

Market Square Heros

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Dear Son,

I saw something on the BBC web site yesterday that triggered enough memories to fill a whole book.

Way back in 1988 a singer called Fish split with the rest of a band named Marillion, a band I had followed for a few years before. I got into Marillion when my brother (your uncle Phil) was given a tape of “Misplaced Childhood” by a friend of his and it was played constantly. The album is still a fantastic listen, I’ll be putting it on my iPod tonight so I can listen to it tomorrow.

The album that came after that was called “Clutching at Straws” and was about Fish’s alcoholism. The songs are all about self pity and fitted in well with my raging 17 year old hormones. I bought the album the very day it came it out from HMV in Durham. A University and Polytechnic fair had been organised at a school hall in Durham and as Sixth formers we were all encouraged to go along and meet with people from different Universities and polytechnics. Most of us used it as an excuse to go to Durham for the day and hang out although I did pop into the fair and pick up a couple of Prospectuses.

That day in Durham was gloriously hot and fantastically rebellious – buying an album in the morning and then I ended up spending the afternoon in the cinema watching a film rated 18 called “Personal Services”. The film was based on the life of Cynthia Paine who had run a brothel. The film would be thought of as quite tame these days but then it was close to the edge of scandal. I also took the decision that day to drop A Level maths as I was spending all my time working on it but not getting anywhere – the other subjects I was doing were suffering as a result, as I was way behind with the other reading and work I needed to do for my Computers and History A-levels.

We had a shared record player in the front room so when I got home I simply taped the album and then put it away so that it wouldn’t get scratched and then played the tape until it wore out.

I had managed to amass the Marillion back catalouge by this point with the exception of one album. I used to buy my records for a stall on Chester-le-Street market. I forget the man’s name who ran it but he some really good stories. He had gone to see Led Zeppelin at Newcastle City Hall but had only been able to get seats in the Choir stalls that was behind the stage – this was in the days when the band would turn-up on stage and play, without fancy lights and shows. He had to leave early to get the last bus back to Chester-le-Street and on his way out he got a little lost back stage and bumped into Jimmy Page who has just finished playing. He asked Jimmy, who still had his guitar around his neck, for his autograph. Jimmy patted his hands around his trousers, looked at the guy, shrugged and said: Sorry mate, I’ve got no pen.

The other story he told was when he met Jimmy Hendrix. He was going into a night club in Gateshead when someone on the way out bumped into him. The guy apologised for not looking – the guy in question being Jimmy Hendrix.

The one album I was missing was called Fugazi. The term comes from the Vietnam war and means a type of madness that would affect American soldiers. I’m not sure if the album was rare or not but the man on the market stall never had it, I suppose it was the album that nobody wanted to part with as most of his stock was second hand. Or perhaps it was the album that was hardly ever bought and then stolen – if his stock was in fact nicked goods. I was going to have pay full price for this one and I saved really hard. By Christmas 1997 I have enough money to finally go out and buy the album and I made a day of it.

The only place to buy albums was in Newcastle as Woolworths in Chester-le-Street didn’t sell it. I would have a large choice of shops once I was in Toon and might even spoil myself with some cakes from Greggs.

My favourite record shop at the time was Virgin in Eldon Square. The place hadn’t had a make over for years and was very dark and dingy but that just gave it an arty feeling. If you wanted bright and well lit you could always go to WH Smiths or even HMV on Northumberland Street. Seriously weird people lurked in the dark of Virgin and being a teenage Marillion fan made me seriously weird to my contemporaries. Although no where near as weird as the people who haunted the darkness of Virgin records – goths, punks and rockers.

Buying music in those days was very different from how it is now. Within a few years CD’s has replaced vinyl and now downloads are replacing CD’s. The thing about albums in general was that the packaging had to house a piece of vinyl that was 12 inches in diameter. This left loads of room for pictures and artwork and all the thank you’s or equipment lists. Marillion albums were two twelve inch pieces of card with a fold in the middle and had fantastically detailed artwork on all four sides. In the inside would be the lyrics printed above more artwork. I don’t remember which shop I bought Fugazi from but I do remember sitting on the bus back home and spending a good long while looking at each every detail and being enthralled by it all. You don’t get the same enthrallment with CD artwork because it is so much smaller and all you get with an iTunes download is very small cover artwork that appears on the computer or iPod screen – you don’t even get to hold the thing, turn it over in your hands, see it in different light at different angles. So much of the creative process of creating a package that envelopes the artistic process of making music has been lost with digital technology. And that is a shame.

Instant gratification is no gratification. The very fact that I saved for many months to buy the album and then had to wait for an hour to get home before I could play it, an hour studying every nuance of the cover art and lyrics to songs, only added to my enjoyment when I finally listened to it. Some of them I had heard before on Real to Reel, the live album, but most were new to me including the stunning eponymous song Fugazi.

I was lucky enough to see Marillion with Fish on their last tour together at Newcastle City Hall around Xmas 1997, nearly 20 years ago. I still have the t-shirt and program from that night. So when I read the BBC news story that Fish had been joined on stage by his old band mates I was excited and then saddened that I hadn’t been there. In the story one woman says that grown men were crying and I understand why. My Marillion years are long behind me but I still long to be a Market Square Hero.

Written by Administrator

August 29th, 2007 at 8:14 pm

Posted in Culture,Memories

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