Another year, another Astronauts road trip. Last time, me and Mrs Marcus made the 300 mile round trip on our motorcycle to see them in their home town of Welwyn Garden City, which you can read about here.
This year I had a box of In Defence Of Compassion CDs to give to Mark Astronaut, and we had a choice of two locations – London, where The Astronauts would be supported by Zounds, or Hitchin (wherever that is), where they would be supported by Blyth Power. It was quite a tough choice, but in the end we chose London and decided to make a weekend of it.
I didn’t fancy biking it to London, it was cold and I would have just got lost in the one way system or confused by congestion charges and things like that, so we went on the train instead. Which, as it turned out, was just as well because everyone in London seems to drive like they are in that Carmageddon game – I mean, what the fuck?
You step on a zebra crossing, and instead of stopping to let you cross like Yorkshire drivers do, they speed up and try to kill you. And people on mopeds are no better, they ride around with their legs dangling down on the road, as if they are going to kick you in the face when they weave around you on the zebra crossing.
We got to London at about dinner time, but we weren’t allowed into the Travelodge we’d booked until 3pm so we decided to go shopping while we waited. I wanted to go to All Ages Records in Camden, to see if they still had any of the books I sold them last year because I’ve never actually seen any of them in a shop before.
So I told the satnav lady on my telephone the postcode for the record shop so she could direct us there. Unfortunately I forgot to tell her we would be walking there rather than going in a vehicle, so she took us on a very long and convoluted route that took over an hour to get there. Which was made worse by flurries of snow and hailstones – I thought it was supposed to be warm down south? Probably something to do with Brexit or whatever. On the way there, we found Youtube, which we didn’t even know was a real place.
Anyway, we eventually got to the record shop, and the first thing I noticed was they had a poster advertising the Astronauts gig in the window. Ooh, I thought, I’m having that. We went inside, and our punk credentials were checked by two small dogs who came over to give us a sniff. We must have passed the test, because they wandered back to the shop’s owner to let him know we were okay.
I had a flick through the A section for any Astronauts albums, because I’ve never seen any of those in a shop either, and spotted the It’s All Done By Mirrors reissue and the Survivors singles collection, which I obviously put at the front so people can find them more easily.
Then went over to the counter and asked if I could have the poster in the window. “Yeah, sure,” the bloke says, so Mrs Marcus went and grabbed it for me before anyone else had the same idea. There was a shelf full of books near the counter, so I had a look to see if any of them were mine. I found Runaway, pointed at it, and said to the bloke, “That’s me.” I assume he understood that I wasn’t referring to the skinhead girl on the cover, because he said he could do with ordering some more books from me as all the others had sold out. Which is kind of good. Now I just need to remember to email him about it.
I asked how well Astronauts records sell in his shop, he said they sell now and again, but not often. Then I showed him one of the In Defence Of Compassion CDs and he said he would order a few to go with the books. He seems a good bloke, and it’s a good record shop to go in if you are ever in the area.
We had planned to go to some other shops we had found on the internet, but time was getting on by then, and the box of CDs was getting heavy, so we decided to get a bus back to the train station so we could find the Travelodge.
It turns out you are not allowed to use money on London buses, you have to either use a credit card, or pay the driver with an oyster (which I assume is some sort of local bartering currency? Probably easier to carry around than jellied eels or whatever.) Being vegetarians we obviously didn’t have any oysters, but Mrs Marcus did have a credit card. So she tapped it against this thing on the bus to buy a ticket for herself, then tapped it again for mine.
“Can’t do that,” the bus bloke says. “Got to use your own credit card, or pay with an oyster.” Eh? We don’t have any bloody oysters, and we only took one credit card with us. I thought one of us would have to walk back, but he must have taken pity on us or been in too much of a hurry to spend ages arguing about it, because he let me on for free. Rather surprisingly, the bus didn’t smell of oysters. Not that I know what an oyster smells like, I’m just assuming they have some sort of odour. Also found out people in London don’t like it when you talk to them on buses.
Finding the Travelodge was just as much fun as finding the record shop, thanks to the satnav lady trolling us again with directions designed to confuse us. We ended up at the wrong one, but we eventually found the one we were supposed to be at, and settled in with a sandwich with some weird green stuff in it, like wet tea leaves or something, and a plate of cardboard chips. London food is strange.
Mrs Marcus used her own satnav lady to find The Lexington when it was time to go, because we had both fell out with mine by then. It wasn’t far, just a short walk away, which was handy. It’s smaller than I expected it would be, basically just a corner pub with the music part upstairs. Which probably explains why the tickets sold out so fast.
Downstairs was packed out and noisy, so we went upstairs to see if we could find Mark Astronaut to hand over the box of CDs. He wasn’t there yet, but I was assured he was on the way. We left them with Steve Lake’s missus instead, who was selling Zounds stuff, and went in search of a suitable place to watch the gig from.
The first thing I noticed was a big camcorder on a tripod just inside the room where the bands would play. Ooh, I thought, someone is going to film it and I might be able to snaffle a copy off Mark later. I asked Joe Davin, an ex-Astronaut who seemed to have just appeared next to me, and he said it was going to be streamed live over the internet. Okay, I thought, maybe I’ll be able to download it when I get back home.
A few people headed upstairs, so I thought I’d best find somewhere to watch from before all the best vantage points were taken. There’s an elevated bit with some seats next to the bar, and a lot of the seats had a ‘reserved for …’ note with a name written on it, but we found a couple in the corner that didn’t so we perched on those for a while until Mrs Marcus reminded me to scatter a few Runaway bookmarks around the venue. It’s called marketing, or product placement, or raising brand awareness, or something like that.
Anyway, I also wore my Punk Rock Nursing Home T-shirt, partly for the same reason, but mainly so Facebook friends who were there would be able to find me if they wanted to, since I have no idea what most of them actually look like. A couple of them did, most either stayed away or didn’t notice me.
While I was placing bookmarks in strategic positions someone prodded me in the stomach and said “I’ve read that,” referring to the book advertised on my T-shirt. At this point, one of two things usually happens – they either tell me how much they liked the book, or they want to punch me in the face for making fun of Thatcher being dead. Fortunately it was the former, but you never know these days.
While I was heading downstairs to put bookmarks on the tables down there, everyone started coming up for the gig, so I changed my mind and went back up again. It’s a very narrow stairway, so I wouldn’t have been able to get past them anyway.
Rites of Hadda were on first. I’d never heard of them before, but they were pretty good. They reminded me a bit of Dr and the Crippens, not so much in the music, which was a lot more melodic with saxophone and stuff like that, but in the way the singer dressed. First he was a nun, then he had some sort of feathered suit, then at the end he had these big butterfly wings with flashing lights on them.
After that it was the main event of the evening, The Astronauts. Mark seemed a lot more energetic than he was last year, which was good to see, and Joe Davin rejoined for the evening on a little synthesiser type thing which probably has a more technical name.
Presumably because of the new In Defence Of Compassion CD, The Astronauts opened up with Suburbs, which I don’t think Mark’s done for about 30 years because it went a bit wrong a few times. They also did Problems and The Nurse from the same album. In fact most of the set was old stuff, with just Flounder and Not Doing It being the only relatively modern ones.
Young Man’s World was the highlight for me, because it is obviously the best song Mark Astronaut ever wrote, and anyone who says otherwise is just plain wrong. They ended with Melissa’s Party, which is a cover version of an old Otters song that gets really noisy at the end.
Zounds were on next, and it was pretty obvious a lot of the audience were only there for them, because there suddenly seemed to be a lot more people there, all leaping around and joining in with the chorus to songs mostly taken from their first album. In fact I don’t think they played anything at all from their second album.
As you may know, the current guitarist and bass player are also Astronauts, so it wasn’t really a surprise when Steve Lake invited Mark Astronaut onto the stage for backing vocals on Can’t Cheat Karma, which The Astronauts covered on one of their more recent albums.
“Mark Astronaut, everybody,” Steve says as Mark wanders off the stage. I see blank faces everywhere. They don’t know what they are missing out on. Joe Davin also got up to play synthesiser on one of the songs, and towards the end there was a woman from Nigeria whose name I didn’t catch doing a sort of reggae version of War.
After the gig I went in search of Mark Astronaut, and found him surrounded by people who wanted to hug him and tell him how much he means to them. Which is perfectly understandable, so I didn’t want to interrupt any of it. I still remember the first time I ever met him, I touched him and swore I would never wash my hand ever again. Unfortunately it was the hand I use to wipe my arse with, so that wasn’t really practical.
While I waited for the hugging to stop I met Helen Robertson, who sometimes does the French singing during Baby Sings Folk Songs when they play that. Turns out she was also in The Sellouts, who shared band members with The Astronauts for a while in the early 2000s, which is the period I am working on in the book at the moment. So now I know her name I can annoy her with lots of silly questions until she gets bored with me and stops replying.
Mark invited me to the after show party backstage, which probably sounds very exciting so I won’t spoil your imaginations with the reality of it all. Met up with some more people I knew through Facebook, a lot of them for the first time. They probably told me stuff that would be useful for the book, but without something to record it on all that information is lost to me because of my memory issues. So hopefully they can either email it to me or arrange a phone call to say it all again. They all seemed to be pleased with the way the CD had turned out, anyway.
Everyone else had gone home by the time I left the little room backstage, and Mrs Marcus was sat by herself wondering where I’d gone. I must have forgot to tell her about the party, or maybe it took longer than I thought it had. Anyway, after that we bought a pizza and went back to the Travelodge.
The next day it was quite sunny, so we decided to go sightseeing instead of just wandering around shops or getting the train back home. I wanted to show Mrs Marcus all the pigeons at Trafalgar Square, and she wanted to see where the queen lived. The bus was too complicated without any oysters, so we decided to get the underground train thing instead, which we hoped would be a bit easier to get onto. But while we were at the ticket machine we saw we could buy a daily bus ticket for about half the price, and even better, it would let you buy two of them on one credit card. So we went on the bus.
Got to Trafalgar Square, and there was about 3 pigeons instead of the thousands that were there the last time I went to London. There was a sign with a picture of a seagull and a red line through it, presumably meaning ‘no pigeons’ so either they are very law abiding birds, or someone has murdered them all. After an hour looking around the art gallery we decided to go and visit the queen, and maybe watch her getting trooped by them red blokes with big heads.
We couldn’t find the queen’s house, so we went to have a look at the Houses of Parliament instead, to see if there were any toffs to shout at. Didn’t see any toffs, but there was loads of coppers with machine guns glaring at us from behind barbed wire fences, so we made a hasty retreat before one of them decided to take pot shots at us. Ended up walking past Downing Street, which had even more coppers with machine guns. After that we thought bollocks to it, and got a bus back to the train station, where we would be relatively safe.
Got home and found out the live stream hadn’t worked too well, but it did capture the Rites of Hadda set in its entirety before things went wrong. There’s a few Astronauts songs in there as well before it cuts out, and I think they caught most, if not all, of the Zounds set with random glitches. It should be still there on Facebook if you want to have a look for it. Search for Lost Data Productions, I think it’s in three separate bits. Then go and buy all The Astronauts albums you haven’t already got.