An incomplete list of live gigs by Mark Astronaut and his various bands

If you can fill in any gaps, please comment or find me on Facebook.

1978

28 January

The Corn Exchange,  Hertford

The Astronauts, Lol Coxhill, Johnny Curious And The Strangers, etc.

? May

The Half Moon, Bishop’s  Stortford

The Astronauts, Alan Clayson And The Argonauts

20 May Hope and Anchor, London

The Astronauts, Soft Boys

8 July 1978

St Albans Civic Hall

The Astronauts, Bob Green solo, Dire Straits

Here & Now Tour 1978, unknown dates, but The Astronauts confirmed as playing at these locations.

Southampton University

Warwick University, Coventry (December?)

Fforde Green, Leeds

Austin College, Manchester

Unknown date

Somewhere in Hatfield, the day after Southampton University above

Unknown date

Hitchin College

The Astronauts, The Ruts

Rock Against Racism benefit gig

Unknown date

The Hope and Anchor, Islington

The Astronauts, The Soft Boys

1979

? January

Ludwick Hall

20 January

The Campus, Welwyn Garden City

The Astronauts, The Soft Boys

If It Ain’t Worth A Fuck, Fuck Off Tour, March 1979.

4 March

Bournbrook Hotel, Birmingham

The Astronauts, Dangerous Girls, The 012, Wilful Damage, Danny And The Dressmakers, Andy T

6 March

Art College, Canterbury

The Astronauts, Alternative TV, Danny And The Dressmakers, Wilful Damage, Andy T, The Sellouts, Funboy Five


10 March

Meanwhile Gardens, London

The Astronauts, Zounds, Danny And The Dressmakers, Psycho Hamster, Blank Space, The 012

? Summer 1979

Meanwhile Gardens, London

Restricted Hours, Nik Turner’s Inner City Unit, etc

Unknown date

The Hope And Anchor, London

Restricted Hours, Mickey Finn

Unknown dates, unknown local venues (“a few”)

Restricted Hours, occasionally joined by Bob Green and/or Alan Cowley.

Support band at one of them was The Robotics (with Chris Bland)

21 July

Severn Vale Celebration

The Astronauts, The Pop Group, The Mob, Cardiacs, Here & Now, Blank Space, Dangerous Girls, Androids of Mu

21 August

Acklam Hall, London

The Astronauts, The Mob, Androids of Mu, The 012, Dangerous Girls

Weird Tales Tour 1

? September

Leeds

? September

Blackpool

20 September

Eric’s, Liverpool

The Astronauts, The Mob, Androids Of Mu

21 September

Bournbrook Hotel, Birmingham

22 September

Funhouse Club, Manchester

The Astronauts, Danny And The Dressmakers

23 September

Oranges & Lemons, Oxford

24 September

Triad Leisure Centre, Bishops Stortford

? September

Wolverhampton University

The Astronauts, The 012, Blues Drongo All-Stars

16 October

Acklam Hall, London

The Astronauts, Zounds, The Mob, Androids Of Mu

12 November ?

Birmingham University

The Astronauts, Dangerous Girls, Here & Now, Duran Duran

? November

Herts Agricultural College

? November

Downs Farm Youth Club, Hatfield

1980

7 June

Meanwhile Gardens, London

The Astronauts, Androids Of Mu, Nik Turner’s Inner City Unit, etc

16 March

Triad Leisure Centre, Bishops Stortford

The Astronauts, Zounds, Exit

1981

18 March

The Nag’s Head, High Wycombe

The Return Of The Repressed Tour: Zounds, The Entire Cosmos. Unknown which ones The Astronauts played at except where mentioned.

3 April

The Golden Eagle, Birmingham

4 April

Manchester Polytechnic

6 April

Clarendon Hotel, London

10 April

Trinity Hall, Bristol

The Astronauts, Zounds, The Mob

23 April

Summer City, Aberdeen

24 April

The Cavendish, Edinburgh

25 April

St David’s North, Dundee

30 April

Fforde Green Hotel, Leeds

2 May

Huddersfield Polytechnic

The Astronauts, Zounds, Instant Automatons, Nice People, Murphy Federation – some tracks released on Rock Against The Bomb tape

4 May

Retford Porterhouse

23 August

Parliament Hill Fields, London

The Astronauts, The 012, Zounds, The Mob, etc

1982

29 August

Centro Iberico, London

The Astronauts, Zounds, The Mob, Null & Void

1985

8 March

Ludwick Family Club

The Astronauts, Smash At The Blues, Salad From Atlantis

10 March

Pindar of Wakefield, London

The Astronauts, Blyth Power

13 March

Demolition Ballroom, Bristol

The Astronauts, Blyth Power, Idiot Strength

6 April
The Ambulance Station, London
The Astronauts, Blyth Power, The Dynamics

11 June

The Clarendon, Hammersmith

The Astronauts, Blyth Power

7 December

The Crypt, St Albans

The Astronauts, Blyth Power

11 December

The Astronauts, The Angels Ov Light (Psychic TV), Blyth Power, Zos Kia

20 December

Ludwick Youth Club, Welwyn Garden City

The Astronauts, Blyth Power, Benjamin Zephania

1986

2 April

Timebox, London

The Astronauts, Blyth Power

25 June

Crypt, Sussex University, Brighton

The Astronauts, Blyth Power, Thatcher On Acid

23 November

Bowes Lyon House, Stevenage

The Astronauts, Conflict, Exit Stance, Karma Sutra

16 December

The Clarendon, Hammersmith

The Astronauts, The Walking Floors

1987

30 March

Sir George Robey, London

11 April

Rooftops, Bournemouth

The Astronauts, Blyth Power

29 May

The Richmond Hotel, Brighton

The Astronauts, Blyth Power, Salad From Atlantis

1 November

Bowes Lyon House, Stevenage

The Astronauts, Blyth Power, Thatcher on Acid, We Are Going To Eat You

1988

30 April

Swansea University

The Astronauts, Anhrefn, Karma Sutra

12 May

Doncaster

Mark Astronaut + Chris Bland

1989

19 November

Bowes Lyon House, Stevenage

The Astronauts, Blyth Power

1990

17 February

Co-Op Hall, Oxford

The Astronauts, Blyth Power

30 March

1 in 12 Club, Bradford

The Astronauts, Decadent Few

1 April

Bowes Lyon House, Stevenage

The Astronauts, Blyth Power

22 August

Shelley Arms, Nutley

The Astronauts, Blyth Power

1992

21 February

The Acton Arms, London

The Astronauts, Cuckooland, Ian Bone and the Living Legends

13 June

The Acton Arms, London

The Astronauts, Robb Johnson Band, Three Man Riot

12 July

The Acton Arms, London

The Astronauts, Haywire, Brassic Park

13 September

Bowes Lyon House, Stevenage

The Astronauts, Blyth Power

26 September

Sir George Robey, London

The Astronauts, Nik Turner’s Allstars

8 November

Bowes Lyon House, Stevenage

The Astronauts, Blyth Power

14 November

Sir George Robey, London

The Astronauts, Anhrefn, What If, The Atomic Chainsaw Sex Vikings

20 December

Sir George Robey, London

The Astronauts, Blyth Power

1993

20 February

Bowes Lyon House, Stevenage

Mark Astronaut acoustic, Nikki Sudden, Scum of Toytown

10 April

Sir George Robey, London

The Astronauts, Anus

16 April

The Forum, Tunbridge Wells

The Astronauts, Walk On Water

28 July
Ludwick Family Club, Welwyn Garden City
The Astronauts, Blyth Power

1995

26 July

Ludwick Family Club, Welwyn Garden City

The Astronauts, Blyth Power

1997

5 December

Zone Club, Hitchin

The Astronauts, Blyth Power

1998 1999

List missing.

2000

28 July

Club 85, Hitchin

The Astronauts, Blyth Power

2002

13 December

Club 85, Hitchin

The Astronauts, Blyth Power, The Sellouts

2003

18 October

The Green Room, Welwyn Garden City

The Astronauts, Redmaxx

13 December

Club 85, Hitchin

The Astronauts, Blyth Power

2004

5 November

Marquee Club, Hertford

The Astronauts, Atilla The Stockbroker, Fish Brothers

2005

29 May

The Green Room, Welwyn Garden City

The Astronauts, Frog Stupid, The Coquettes

16 July

Whistle Stop, Tallington

Blyth Power Ashes

Mark + Dom (pre-Otters)

2006

15 or 16 July

Rhythms Of The World, Hitchin

2 day festival

10 August

Wasted  Festival, Blackpool

The Otters playing as The Astronauts

15 October

Club 85, Hitchin

Mark Astronaut + Rico

2007

2 December

Club 85, Hitchin

30th Anniversary gig

The Astronauts, The Otters, Steve Lake, Alan Clayson

2008

31 May

Club 85, Hitchin

The Astronauts, Daevid Allen, Floor Nine

23 December

Evershot Village Hall, Yeovil

2009

7 August

Rebellion Festival, Blackpool

Mark/Dom acoustic

30 October

Club 85, Hitchin

The Otters

2010

17 January

Club 85, Hitchin

The Psephologist, The City Divided, Rise As They Fall

2 February

Proud Gallery, Camden

The Astronauts, Restricted Hours, The Otters, The Psephologist, Zounds, Babyshambles

5 February

Club 85, Hitchin

The Astronauts, Redmaxx

24 or 25 July

Rhythms Of The World, Hitchin

2 day festival

The Astronauts, Zounds, Glen Matlock, Hugh Cornwell, etc

Played Peter Pan album

2011

20 February

Hector’s House, Brighton

The Astronauts, Blyth Power, Pog

12 March

Rodeo Live Club, Athens, Greece

The Astronauts, Tilbury On Cloves

29 April

Caroline Of Brunswick, Brighton

The Astronauts, Robb Johnson, Pog

9 or 10 July

Rhythms Of The World, Hitchin

2 day festival

7 August

Rebellion Festival, Blackpool

The Astronauts, Here & Now, Alternative TV, Captain Sensible

8 October

Power Lunches Arts Cafe, London

The Astronauts, The Pheromoans, Woolf

18 November

Brixton Jamm, London

The Astronauts, The Mob, Zounds, Rubella Ballet, The Hamsters, Idiot Strength, Andy T

10 December
The Old Bell, Derby
The Astronauts, Addicted Philosophy, Eastfield, Andy T

22 December

Club 85, Hitchin

The Astronauts, Shoot The Director

2012

26 January

Club 85, Hitchin

The Astronauts, Patrick Fitzgerald, Steve Lake, Grae J Wall

23 February

Caroline Of Brunswick, Brighton

The Astronauts, Steve Lake, Pog

1 March

Boston Music Room, London

Another Winter Of Discontent Festival

The Astronauts, Subhumans, Zounds, Hagar The Womb, etc

24 March

The Hydrant, Brighton

The Astronauts, Patrick Fitzgerald, ASBO Derek

31 May

Caroline Of Brunswick, Brighton

The Astronauts, Pog, Lily Rae

29 July

Club 85, Hitchin

The Astronauts, Patrick Fitzgerald

23 August

12 Bar Club, London

The Astronauts, Alan Clayson, Hungry Dog Brand

24, 25, or 26 August

The Plough, Peterborough

The Blyth Power Ashes

The Astronauts, Blyth Power, Pog, Anal Beard, etc

13 October

Duke Of Wellington, Shoreham

The Astronauts, Attila The Stockbroker

16 November

The Green Door Store, Brighton

Hay Fever Festival

The Astronauts, Red Maxx, etc

30 November

Boston Music Room, London

The Astronauts, The Mob, Kill Pretty, Andy T, Hagar The Womb

2013

18 January

The Green Room, Welwyn Garden City

The Astronauts, Attilla TheStockbroker

28 March

The Green Room, Welwyn Garden City

The Astronauts, Pog

3 May

Mersea Youth Camp, Essex

Cosmic Puffin Festival

2 June

Duke Of Wellington, Shoreham

The Astronauts, Anal Beard, Bandana Collective

15 June

Beside The Birdbath garden party

Brighton

The Astronauts, Pog, Blyth Power, Anal Beard, etc

16 June

Lord Nelson, Brighton

The Astronauts, Robb Johnson, Pog

14 July
Club 85, Hitchin
The Astronauts, Blyth Power, Scum Of Toytown

2 August

The Albert, Brighton

The Astronauts, Asbo Derek

10 August

Rebellion Festival, Blackpool

The Astronauts

25 August

Blyth Power Ashes

The Astronauts, Robb Johnson, Monkfish, Anal Beard, etc

20 September
The Hairy Dog, Derby
The Astronauts, Zounds, Addictive Philosophy, Chris Butler

21 September

Bitter Suite, Preston

The Astronauts, Zounds

24 September

The Met Lounge, Peterborough

The Astronauts, The Destructors, Pennyless, The AKAs

30 September

12 Bar Club, London

The Astronauts, The Duel, Segs from Ruts DC, Freedom Faction

29 November

N0 6 King Street, Weymouth

The Astronauts, The Mob

2014

5 February

12 Bar Club, London

The Astronauts, The Fallen Leaves, The Long Decline, Electric Eyes

21 February

The Green Door Store, Brighton

The Astronauts, Alternative TV, Fractured

20 June

Sonic Rock Solstice, Builth Wells

3 day festival

The Astronauts, Lene Lovich, The Enid, Nik Turner’s Space Gypsy, etc

penultimate joe

8 August
Arcelor Mittal Orbit, London
The Astronauts, DJ Food, Paddy Steer

6 september

The Green Room, Welwyn Garden City

The Astronauts, The Lurkers. Last joe davin

7 November

Green Room, Welwyn Garden City

The Astronauts, The Protest Family

18 December
Glastonbury Assembly Rooms
The Astronauts, The Mob, Zounds, Anthrax

2015

7 March

Club 85, Hitchin

The Astronauts, The Metatrons, Pog

27 June

Beside The Birdbath garden party

Brighton

Mark Astronaut + Joe Davin, Zounds, Blyth Power, Pog, Robb Johnson, etc

19 July
Ye Olde Rose & Crown, Walthamstow
The Astronauts, Freddie Keen

8 August

Rebellion Festival, Blackpool

The Astronauts, Zounds, The Mob, etc.

31 August

Blyth Power Ashes

Anal Beard, Monkfish, etc. Astronauts may not have played

11 September

Balstock

Los Astronauts Muertos

4 October

Club 85, Hitchin

Mark Astronaut acoustic, Fishwife’s Broadside

21 November
Union Chapel, London
The Astronauts, Grasscut, Lilith Ai

2016

22 January

PKDK Tattoo Pub, Gran Canaria

The Astronauts, Repression 24 Horas, Hokvspokus

29 January
Club 85, Hitchin
The Astronauts, Inner City Unit

27 February
Boston Music Room
Another Winter of Discontent (AWOD) festival
The Astronauts, Zounds, The Mob, Rubella Ballet, etc

1 April

Kabaret Karamel, London

The Astronauts acoustic

9 April
Club 85, Hitchin
The Astronauts, Smash

4 November
Kabaret Karamel, London

The Astronauts acoustic

8 December
Hope & Anchor, Islington
The Astronauts, Zounds

2017

28 January

The Cowley Club, Brighton

The Astronauts acoustic – Joe + ? on violin

11 February
Green Room, Welwyn Garden City
The Astronauts, Smash, The Metatrons

8 April
The Hope and Ruin, Brighton
The Astronauts, Steve Ignorant’s Slice Of Life

29 July

Prince Albert, Brighton

The Astronauts, The Featherz, The Decadent Dayze

6 August
Club 95, Hitchin
The Astronauts, Clayson and the Argonauts

13 September
Club 85, Hitchin
The Astronauts, Gong

24 september
Robertfest, The Amersham Arms, London
Los Astronauts Muertos, ATV, etc

21 October
The Lexington, London
The Astronauts, Interrobang, The Cravats

28 November
The Cowley Club, Brighton
The Astronauts

2018

2 September

Club 85, Hitchin

Astronauts acoustic, The Hanging Bandits, Bruce McCrae, Smige

19 December
Hope and Anchor, London
The Astronauts, Mur-Man, Property, Spinmaster Plantpot

2019

22 February
The Green Room, Welwyn Garden City
The Astronauts, Pog, The Metatrons

23 March

Rockaway Park

The Astronauts, Steve Lake, The Brewer’s Daughter, Funky Breaks

19 October
The Prince Albert, Brighton
The Astronauts + Nik Turner, Asbo Derek

3 November

Club 85, Hitchin

The Astronauts, Rites Of Hadda, People Look Like Dogs

9 November
AN Club, Athens, Greece
The Astronauts, Radio Sect

2020

29 February
The Lexington, London
The Astronauts, Zounds, Rites of Hadda

7 March

Club 85, Hitchin

The Astronauts, Blyth Power, The Metatrons

2021

3 December

Club 85, Hitchin

Survivors 45 Years of The Astronauts book launch.

The Astronauts, SMASH, Rites of Hadda

11 December

Biddle Bros

The Astronauts, Aloha Dead, Pampered Fists

2022

2 April

Club 85, Hitchin

Andy’s Magic Garden – in memory of Andy Keeble.

The Astronauts, Los Chicos Muertos, Skimmington Ride, The Metatrons

14 May

The Astronauts, Blyth Power, The Metatrons, Pog

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Mark Astronaut 27 August 1954 to 6 July 2022

I don’t think I ever told him, but Mark was one of my teenage heroes, and the only person I ever put on a pedestal that stayed there for the rest of my life. I still can’t believe he’s gone. His music has always been a huge part of my life, and every song has an attached memory for me. They saw me through good times and some very dark periods, but they were always there, playing in the background.

Mark had been ill for a long time, and needed an operation to fix it, but covid put an end to all hopes of that ever happening. Ever the professional, he continued performing through the pain he must have suffered, even when there was only a couple of dozen people there to watch him. Sometimes he would be very subdued on stage and you could tell how frail he was. Other nights he would down a couple of cans of energy pop and he’d be bouncing off the ceiling all way through the gig like the teenager he still was inside his head.

I always felt a bit guilty injecting myself into Mark’s life – the sheer audacity of a hack writer of teen fiction for the over 50s blagging his way into chronicling something as important as his lifetime’s work. The first thing he said to me was “I don’t want it to be a book about me, I want it to be about the band.” Which pretty much sums Mark up – he never wanted to take the credit for what he saw as a collaborative effort. He was just a member of a band who ended up singing because he couldn’t play any musical instruments. The fact that he wrote all the songs and composed all the music was irrelevant to him.

Never  meet your heroes, they say, because they are not the people you think they are. Mark was the exception to that rule, he was exactly like I always imagined he would be – intelligent, humble, scatty as hell at times, but always sincere – he wasn’t just writing protest songs for the sake of it, or to make money, he actually believed in every word and (to paraphrase one of the songs), lived his own life and did what he wanted.

We became friends while I was writing the book, I started making regular 200 mile round trips to Astronauts gigs and he would always come over for a chat when he saw me. Because we lived at opposite ends of the country most of the interviews for the book took place by telephone, but even after it was published he would still call me up pretty much every Sunday night to tell me what he’d been up to that week, his plans for the new album, any feedback people had given him about the book, and his ideas for promoting it – he even had a plan to sneak copies into the local Waterstones.

We’d talk for about an hour or so, until he would eventually say something along the lines of “I need to hang up now, I just remembered I was supposed to be giving X a call.” (With X almost always being someone famous.) Then we’d talk for another hour about random things – the state of the country, what we’d bought at our respective car boots that morning, our plans for a follow up book containing the lyrics to all his recorded songs, and a re-release of Soon and Seedy Side, the last of the ‘classic’ Astronauts albums from the 1980s. “But don’t put those shitty singles on it like All The Madmen did,” he would always say when the topic came up.

None of that will happen now, and neither will most of the things he mentioned in the interview at the back of the book. I don’t know if we will ever get to hear his last album, I suppose that will depend on how advanced the recording of it was, and whether the rest of the band will want to finish it without him.

It was always my intention to write additional chapters and publish them on my blog as and when anything new happened in the world of Mark Astronaut. I had already started on one called ‘I’ve Been Getting Into Books’ when I heard the news, but I don’t really feel like finishing it now. I know how it ends, and I just can’t bring myself to write those words. Because then it would become real, and I’m not ready for that yet.

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Errors and omissions for the book Survivors 45 Years of The Astronauts

With a topic of this scale it was inevitable that a few errors would find their way into the book. I take full responsibility for these, and apologise to those whose reputations may have been affected. It was also perhaps inevitable that new information would come to light after publication, brief details of which you will also find below. If you know of anything else that is wrong or missing, please let me know.

Page 227. Along with Upfront And Sideways, a second cassette was self-released around this time. Called Mad Old Song’s Gone, it compiled selected tracks from Peter Pan Hits The Suburbs, It’s All Done By Mirrors, the two Bugle Records EPs, and Getting Things Done by Restricted Hours from the Stevenage Rock Against Racism EP.

Page 263. Waiting For July To Come Around dates back to the early 1990s lineup of The Astronauts, and was not specifically written for this version of the band.

Page 401. ‘a whopping price of £12’ for the Lovers single is unfair to Paul Stapleton, who organised its recording and release out of love for the band and made no profit on sales. The singles were hand-pressed at a cost of £8 each, with the rest of the money spent on printing costs and postage.

Page 402. Paul Stapleton says Mark Astronaut knew in advance that the Lovers song would be attributed to The Astronauts. While Mark still refutes this, it should have been mentioned.

Page 426. Photo by Rob Hurst.

Discography additions

The Madding Crowd
Bristol Class War cassette 1991.
Poor quality live recordings of Shoulder, Waiting For July To Come Around, Scoop, Typically English Day, Silence, Constitution, Chances, Seagull Mania.

Mad Old Song’s Gone
DIY cassette 1992.
Compilation of previously released tracks from early singles and albums. Behave Yourself, Typically English Day, Protest Song, Getting Things Done, Survivors, Following Orders, Moderation Is Boring, Sod Us, Seagull Mania, We Were Talking, Books, Midsummer Lullaby, Young Man’s World, Back Soon, Gold At The Top.

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The Astronauts Book Launch Show Club 85 Hitchin

Our first Astronauts road trip since the apocalypse. We weren’t actually planning to go on one, but about a week earlier the owner of Club 85 messaged me and said they were having a launch event for the new Astronauts book and would it be possible for me to go along and take some with me. Yeah, I replied, no problem. Except I didn’t actually have any books, I was still trying to raise enough money through pre-orders to pay for the printing. But not to worry, that’s what friends and credit cards are for, and I wasn’t that far off reaching the target anyway.

So long story short, the next morning I sent the files off to the printer and hoped for the best. Fortunately, they arrived two days before we were due to set off for Hitchin. Unfortunately, the place we’d booked to stay at for the night cancelled on us because the owner had caught the covids from a previous guest. So we had to find somewhere else really quick, and ended up staying at a woman’s house who advertised on airbnb.

The next problem was how were we going to get to Hitchin? We wouldn’t be able to carry boxes of books on our 900cc motorcycle because they would be too heavy, and I didn’t fancy carting them on a train much, either. So we decided to go in our little 500cc car instead. Now cars like that aren’t really intended for long journeys, but we’d recently been to Leeds in it (45 miles) so we figured if we made a lot of stops at motorway services along the way it would manage the 120 miles to Hitchin just fine. Or at least that was the plan.

As an aside, the reason we went to Leeds was to see David Rovics, who I’ve always considered the American Mark Astronaut – think of a sort of left wing Billy Bragg and you won’t go far wrong. I never got around to writing my diary of that night, but it was basically him and some other bloke in a tiny pub with about 15 people watching. The only other point I would make was Leeds has some really weird and confusing road junctions, and it’s easy to get lost even when you have a little voice telling you which way to go.

Anyway, back to Hitchin. The satnav lady said it would take one and a half hours to get there, so we figured with all the rest stops it’d take about three hours maximum. We set off at dinner time, thinking we’d get there about 3pm, drop the books off at Club 85, then go exploring for a bit before we booked into the airbnb place at about 6pm.

Everything went fine until about twenty-five miles before we reached Hitchin. We stopped at services every forty miles or so, had a piss and a coffee, etc, then continued on our way. It was at the last service stop that we noticed the engine was really hot. As in cor blimey hot, or ooh eck I think there might be something wrong with it hot. So we opened the bonnet to help it cool down while we had our coffee. Half an hour later we were ready to go again, but the car wouldn’t start. Turned the key, nowt happened. Arse, we thought, now what? This was about 4pm, it had taken a bit longer than we anticipated to get that far, and we were still a long way away from Hitchin. We decided to leave the car a bit longer, tried again, still broke.

So we phoned the RAC (the car recovery company, not the far right organisation formed by Ian Skrewdriver – that would have just been silly)  – and told them what was up. They said they would send someone out, but it would be about four hours before anyone arrived because they were busy. Double arse, we thought. We’re going to miss our own book launch. But worse than that, we’d come all this way on an Astronauts road trip and we wouldn’t get to see them play. So we sat there for another half an hour panicking, until I decided to give the car one more try. It started. Yay, we thought, cancelled the RAC bloke, and off we went.

Then we ended up leaving the services on the wrong road, thanks to the stupid layout and lack of any signs telling you which way Hitchin was. The satnav lady was no use, she just kept saying to do a u-turn on a one-way road. But she readjusted eventually, and sent us on a ten mile detour back the way we had come. Then down some really dark and twisty narrow roads which were scary as fuck. We got there at just gone 6pm, Club 85 was surprisingly easy to find. Mark Astronaut was already there, standing outside and having a fag, so we said hello and took all the books inside.

Mrs Marcus got a taxi to the airbnb place so she could pick up the keys, while I stayed behind and watched the three bands do their sound check stuff. As an aside, the singing bloke from Rites Of Hadda looks completely different without his clothes on, but I suppose the same can be said for most performers. Then I pestered some of the celebrities to sign my copy of the book, plus a few of the hardbacks that various people had asked me to take with me for that purpose. I also picked up a copy of the ‘new’ 12” single, When You’re Not So High and swapped a few In Defence Of Compassion CDs for some Upfront And Sideways CDs.

“A lot of people have cancelled because of the new covid variant,” Mark said when he came over, “so there won’t be a big turnout.” Fair enough, I thought, big crowds make me nervous at the best of times, and my anxiety levels tend to go through the roof when there’s something like a global death plague epidemic going on. I arranged the books on the merch table, plus a few copies of Punk Rock Nursing Home I’d taken with me, and went and stood at the back, next to the mixing desk where I thought it might be a bit safer. Had to go back to the table a few times when people wandered over to buy things, but that was basically my spot for the night, and also that of Mrs Marcus when she arrived back at the venue. There was also a small dog for some reason. It kept wandering onto the stage, but it had gone by the time the bands started.

Rites Of Hadda were on first. I’d seen them before, on our last Astronauts road trip before the apocalypse when they played in That London with Zounds, but they seemed much better this time around. For a few seconds I thought they were going to open with Everything Stops For Baby as a sort of Astronauts tribute, because the opening few bars sounded pretty much the same, but it turned out to be something different. I regret not filming them or taking any photos, but I’m sure I will see them again one day and rectify that.

Mark came over again just before The Astronauts went on stage, to tell me I should probably go over to the merch table after they finished playing. I’d sold about ten copies of the book by then, plus one copy of Punk Rock Nursing Home. Someone (sorry, I’m crap with names) told me they liked my earlier book so much they bought all their friends a copy for Xmas one year, which was nice of them. For some reason that one always seems to sell well at Xmas, whereas the seasonal (sort of) sequel Christmas At The Punk Rock Nursing Home tends to do better in summer. I’ve also had someone on Facebook (who may or may not be the same person, I forgot to ask) tell me they discovered The Astronauts after first seeing them mentioned in that book and deciding to go and have a listen for themselves. But don’t buy Punk Rock Nursing Home for that reason.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, watching The Astronauts from the back of the room, video camera screwed onto the top of my walking stick as per usual so I can listen to it (and occasionally watch it) again at a later date. You could tell it was an Astronauts audience who had turned up, they knew most of the songs and shouted out others they wanted to hear. There was even a bit of dancing going on at some points in the proceedings.

The Astronauts did a couple of ‘new’ songs, which were actually very old ones which have been brought back to life again – Don’t Tell Me and Tearaways – albeit in new arrangement form, and one which I hadn’t heard before called It Was Always Going To Be Like This – which may or may not be new. Then there’s the usual stuff you would expect – Everything Stops For Baby, Protest Song, and a couple of tracks from the ‘new’ EP to help promote it. Why does he keep putting ‘new’ in inverted commas, you ask. Read the book and find out. There was also an encore of Getting Things Done – which, as an aside, was actually the working title of the book until about a year ago, when I changed it to Survivors instead – and it was all over. Time to pack up the camera, go over to the merch table, and flog some more books.

Now here’s the thing, I’ve only ever sat behind a table full of books once before. That was at a David Rovics gig in Rotherham many years ago, where I sold about six copies of whichever book it was I was trying to shift the whole night. To say the Astronauts books flew off the table would be a lie, because people actually picked them up reverently and threw money at me instead, but watching the big pile of them diminish to nothing over the course of about half an hour was nothing short of amazing. One person even wanted me to sign their copy for them, as if I am somehow important. I also sold another copy of Punk Rock Nursing Home, and gave one away to someone who demanded to pay over the odds for the Astronauts one.

I didn’t really get to see much of SMASH (or S*M*A*S*H if you prefer) because people kept coming over to buy stuff, and by the time I’d sold out and packed everything away they were half way through their set. They’re not a band I’m familiar with – to be honest their fame passed me by, and I only heard about them while researching the book – but they seemed okay. Again, no photos for obvious reasons. After that we hung around for half an hour waiting for a taxi to take us to our room for the night. I’d been on the cider, so we left the car parked outside the venue with the signed books in the back of it.

The next morning we got up and made some toast. The house we were staying at was well posh, I didn’t even know what half of the matching gadgets in the kitchen were for, and there was black squirrels in the garden. I had no idea squirrels came in black, I’ve only ever seen grey ones before and the odd photo of a red one in some nature reserve. Maybe they are like that blue elephant who broke his mother’s fountain pen while he was in the bath or something. They were too quick to photograph, so you will have to take my word for it. But they were definitely real. What are you on about, some of you are probably thinking, all squirrels are black. Well they’re not, yours are just weird ninja squirrels.

Anyway, we’d arranged to meet Mark Astronaut outside Club 85 before we set off for home, to talk about book promotion and the like. We were going to get a taxi, but then the owner of the house offered to drive us there instead. We got there just as Mark was arriving, and sat shivering outside the venue for half an hour until he had to go somewhere else. And that’s where our nightmare began.

The car started first time, and we set off. Went the wrong way and ended up on some housing estate, so we stopped to get directions. Then the engine died and the car wouldn’t start again. So we phoned the RAC and waited for someone to come. An hour later he turned up, twiddled about under the bonnet and said the fan belt was worn out and he didn’t have a replacement to put on it. He offered to get a tow truck out to take us home, but said it would cost £3 for each mile, so about £360 in total. Aaarghh, we thought, that’s more than we made from selling the books. Then he twiddled about a bit more, and got the car started. Take it really slow, he says, and it will probably get you back home eventually. Or at least part of the way, then you can call us back and get towed the rest of the way. Either way, every extra 10 miles you get will save you thirty quid.

So that was the plan, get as far as we can and then get towed the rest of the way if we have to. Except we needed petrol, so we headed for the nearest garage. And guess what? You have to turn the engine off to put petrol in, and it wouldn’t start again after that. Phoned the RAC, they said they don’t tow people home at weekends anymore and we will have to make our own arrangements.

As luck would have it, an AA (another recovery company, nothing to do with anonymous alcoholics) van pulled up at the petrol station. The guy must have seen us looking a bit distressed, because he came over and asked if we were okay. Bloody RAC, he said after we explained what had happened, and twiddled about under the bonnet before confirming we needed a new fanbelt. He actually went off to look for one for us at some places he knew, and said if he couldn’t find one we could just phone the AA, and they would register us as a new member. We would still need to pay to get towed home on the first day of membership, but at least they wouldn’t leave us stranded in the middle of nowhere in winter. Like the RAC did. So we phoned the AA and said we wanted to join them. Can’t do that, the bloke says, you already have cover with the RAC so it’s up to them to help you. And we don’t accept new members who have already broken down. So bog off and freeze to death, you northern bastards. (He didn’t actually say the last part, but that’s how we perceived it at the time.)

Ffffuuuuuuucccccckkk!

So all we could do was look on the internet for someone who could tow us home. At a massive cost, because they knew we had no choice. Then we sat shivering in a car for four hours because the heating only works while the engine is running. With one glove, which we had to take turns with. No idea what happened to the other glove, that’s just one of life’s mysteries. Maybe the RAC man stole it. Then it started raining and it got even colder.

When the tow truck eventually arrived it had a massive crack in the windscreen, and we must have been vibrating from the cold because he said we should go and sit inside it rather than hang around while he loaded the car onto the back. So we didn’t get to see whether he had shut the car window or not after he’d finished pushing it up the ramp, which then meant I worried the whole journey, expecting all those limited edition hardbacks people had asked me to get signed would be turned into liquid mush with all the rain pouring onto them. He kept reassuring me that the window was indeed closed, but you never know.

As it turned out, the window was closed and the books were all safe. We got home at about 9pm, which marked the end of the most expensive Astronauts road trip to date. But it was worth every penny. We’re hoping to do it again soon, various locations have already been suggested by Mark. We’ll probably go to those by train, though.

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Survivors – 45 Years Of The Astronauts

Formed in the summer of 1977, The Astronauts have been lurking in the shadows of the British underground music scene ever since, criminally underrated and ignored by most despite their extensive back catalogue of albums and singles – each one a bona fide classic in its own genre-defying way.

With extensive input from frontman and songsmith Mark Astronaut, along with many of the musicians who have played alongside him over the years in both The Astronauts and his various other musical ventures, this is the story of how it all came about – from the bedrooms of 1970s Welwyn Garden City to the 2020 national lockdown. Also includes an extended interview conducted in 2021 and discography of all bands.

468 pages, illustrated throughout with photographs, flyers, fanzine articles, reviews, etc.

Sample pages below (click to enlarge).

Ltd edition hardback SOLD OUT

UK Paperback (Bandcamp, post will be expensive outside the UK)

UK Paperback (Amazon, cheaper if you get free post)

USA Paperback (Amazon)

Australia Paperback (Amazon)

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Preview: Survivors — 45 Years of The Astronauts

Sample pages from the forthcoming book about Mark Astronaut and his various bands — The Astronauts, Restricted Hours, The Otters, Los Astronauts Muertos, and The Psephologists. Covers the period 1975 to 2020. Also includes details on fellow travellers Here & Now, The Mob, Zounds, Blyth Power, etc.

The text is still being finalised prior to editing, and we don’t have a cover image yet. No publishing date yet either, but we are aiming at summer 2021 when we hope to have some sort of launch event with music, etc.

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The Astronauts / Zounds / Rites of Hadda at The Lexington, London, 29 February 2020

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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The Astronauts In Defence of Compassion CD re-release

The sleeve notes I wrote for the 2020 Retroactive CD re-release of The Astronauts album In Defence of Compassion. You can listen to the album here, and possibly buy the CD if they haven’t already sold out.

Bandcamp

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Recorded over the course of 1989, In Defence of Compassion was The Astronauts’ fifth studio album and one which vocalist and songwriter Mark Wilkins would later describe as the most overtly political album he has ever recorded.

With the exception of Secret File, which dates back almost to the very inception of the band in the summer of 1977, the eleven tracks it contains were written over a three year period between 1984 and 1987, and form a loose narrative based around a then-future 1990s dystopia which becomes more and more authoritarian as the album progresses.

Mark Wilkins was without a band when Acid Stings offered to fund and release In Defence of Compassion, and turned to long term friend and guitarist Chris Bland for help in finding suitable musicians. Bland suggested Terry Cain and Martin Meadows, both of whom he had performed with in the early 1980s post-punk band The Glee Club.

With Wilkins living in Welwyn Garden City, Bland and Cain both based in London, and Meadows having recently moved to Brighton, full band rehearsals were scarce and this version of The Astronauts made only four live appearances together during its short existence.

Acid Stings chose Raven Studios in Surrey for the recording location, which at the time operated from a spare bedroom in the home of its owner Alex Cable, drummer of the female-fronted anarcho-punk band Internal Autonomy. The tracks which originally made up side one of the album were recorded there over a five hour period in the spring of 1989, and the band went their separate ways shortly after.

When Mark Wilkins later returned to Raven Studios to record the vocals for those tracks he found Alex Cable had added his own synthesiser to them, along with extra guitar played by a friend of his called Jason Gray. While somewhat surprised at this, Wilkins liked the overall result Cable had achieved, so the extra instruments made it onto the finished album.

Rather than find another new band to record side two, Wilkins turned to Russ Seal, another friend and collaborator who had previously produced the earlier Astronauts albums Soon and Seedy Side for All The Madmen Records, to complete the album. These remaining three tracks were recorded in Seal’s bedroom in Luton in the autumn of 1989.

Along with owning his own recording equipment, Seal was a musician in his own right, having played in several local bands, and offered to play all the instruments himself rather than involve other musicians.

Wilkins already knew he wanted to include an expanded version of the Orwellian song Secret File, which had previously only been available in a very primitive form on a limited edition cassette released in 1978, and this formed the majority of side two.

While discussing what else to include on the album, Russ Seal played Mark Wilkins a tape containing a drum track he had recorded with his brother Steve several years earlier combining an electronic drum machine with a bass drum, floor tom, and bamboo sticks being hit together. This formed the basis for the ambient track Behind The Mirrors, which is still occasionally played on the radio to this day.

Russ Seal also composed the album’s closing track, Sudden Pause, which featured vocal samples from the 1955 Charles Laughton film Night of the Hunter. Again, this was something he had recorded several years earlier, and the same sample would later be used in Pudden Sause, the opening track of 1999’s You’re All Weird album.

In Defence of Compassion was released in January 1990, and sadly its themes of poverty and social decay remain as relevant today as they were all those years ago.

The bonus lo-fi tracks included with this release were recorded at Ludwick Hall in Spring 1988 by the Seedy Side lineup of The Astronauts shortly before they disbanded, plus a young woman the bass player had met earlier in the day on saxophone. Nobody remembers her name, and nobody saw her again after this.

No Cold Water and Somnambulist were originally intended for release as part of a split single with The Apostles to be released by Acid Stings later in the year, but a mix up with cabling meant one of the guitars failed to record properly so the project had to be abandoned.

The master recordings for these tracks are now lost, but were dubbed onto a cheap cassette tape for Mark Wilkins at the end of the recording session. It is from this cassette which these tracks, many of which were either never recorded again or would take a further thirty years to see release, have been rescued. As a result you will notice a distinct drop in quality from the studio tracks which precede them.

 

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Wakefield / Birmingham diary April 2019

Billyclub / Infa Riot / Subhumans — Warehouse 23, Wakefield 18 April 2019

I wanted to go to a folk festival this year, but Mrs Marcus said we’re not old enough for that yet, so we ended up going to the Holocaust In Your Head / Noise Not Music / Discharge festival (it had lots of different names on Facebook) in Birmingham instead, mainly because Civilised Society were playing. They were one of the bands we used for lullaby music when Sprog1 was a baby in the early 90s, she wouldn’t seem to go to sleep to anything else. She ended up being into Spice Girls and Aqua, so I don’t know what happened there. She later worked for Vivienne Westwood for a year though, so there’s that I suppose.

Anyway, the night before we headed off to Birmingham we went to see Billyclub, Infa Riot and Subhumans in Wakefield. We’d bought tickets for it months in advance, thinking it would sell out pretty quick, but when we got there the place was half empty and stayed that way for the rest of the night.

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We went in Bill’s car, so the bike stayed at home. He was about 40 minutes late picking us up, and we thought we were going to miss Billyclub, but in the end we got there with about 10 minutes to spare. When the bouncers saw Bill hobbling along the road on his walking stick they let him in through the side door so he wouldn’t have to climb the stairs. I was also on a walking stick, the one with a secret camera mount hidden under the handle, but I had to take the stairs instead.

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Bill had never seen Billyclub before, but he liked them enough to send me to get him a CD off them after they’d finished, and he later bought a T-shirt. I used my walking stick to film a couple of songs, but the floor was vibrating with the music and the video went all wobbly. I eventually fixed that by balancing the end of the walking stick on my foot instead of the floor, but I suppose holding the stick off the ground would have done just as well.

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Infa Riot were on next, who used to be Kids Of The 80s but are now Old And Angry. As an aside, I’ve got a feeling it might have been an Infa Riot gig at The Marples in Sheffield in 1981 that I based the first couple of chapters of Runaway on, but memories of drunken brawls with skinheads have become a bit hazy over time so it might have been someone else. Nothing like that happened this time, of course, because we’re all too old for that sort of nonsense. Which is probably just as well because with half the audience being bald it would be quite difficult to know who was on your side.

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A few more people wandered in for Subhumans, some even jumped around to them in front of the stage for a while before they got out of breath and gave up on it. The singer Dick Lucas seems to be still full of energy though, it must be that vegan diet of his or something. They played for about an hour, with him running around the stage the whole time. I have no idea how he manages to keep his glasses on while he’s doing all that, mine fall off every time I look down. Maybe they are glued on or something.

When we got back home at about midnight we found out the dog had gone on hunger strike and refused to eat his dinner in protest at us abandoning him for the night. Which didn’t bode well for the trip to Birmingham the next day, because we would be away for three days, not just the five hours we’d spent in Wakefield. We had visions of coming back to a skeleton dog, like the one that lives next door. I’m sure they never feed the thing, because they never take it for a walk either so it can’t be just running off the calories.

 

A Holocaust In Your Head / Discharge / Noise Not Music Festival — The Castle And Falcon, Birmingham 19 – 20 April 2019

discharge fest

We went on the bike to Birmingham, it’s just under 100 miles away so we only had to stop once along the way, and the satnav lady took us straight to the door of the place we were staying at without any weird detours like she usually does. We’d booked it through Airbnb, and it turned out to be a lot posher than we expected. There was lots of weird posho food I’d never heard of in the fridge too, but we didn’t try any of that, we just stuck to the proper food we’d taken with us or bought at the Lidl down the road.

The venue was The Castle and Falcon, a pub about half a mile away, and we tried to use the satnav lady to help us walk there but I think she  must have got confused by how slow we were walking or something because she kept silent the whole way. We found it by ourselves, anyway. There was a sign on the door banning the wearing of hats, which is just HATTIST, but fortunately it wasn’t enforced and I was still allowed to enter.

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We handed over the tickets we’d printed out before we set off, along with the payment receipt, and, unknown to us at the time, the page with the keycodes for entry to the flat we were staying at. The bloke on the door ripped them all up and gave us black wristbands to wear. Had to put them on ourselves, which is a bit trickier than it sounds.

Just after 5.30 the door to the band room was unlocked and people wandered in. Mostly old duffers like us, but there was also a few youngsters too, which is a bit weird. They were dressed like 1980s punks, so maybe that’s what their grandparents were or something. Quite a big room, but a fairly small stage. The first thing I noticed is there wasn’t any seats so you had to stand up all the time. Fuck that, we thought, and got a couple of stools from the bar area. Everyone else seemed happy enough to stand up. Weirdos.

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The first band were called Mannequin Factory, and are probably best described as a sort of shouty industrial duo with a bit of performance art. A lot of people hated them so much they just walked out with their hands over their ears, but I really liked them. The bloke playing the gristleizer – if that’s the correct term for such things – was blind, and his guide dog wore special doggy ear protectors while it sat on the floor watching them. I was expecting the dog to be called Gristle, but it wasn’t. The other bloke ran around all over the place, jumping on and off the stage while he shouted stuff. Mrs Marcus didn’t like them, and when she saw me buy their CD later she said I could only play it when she is out.

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It was while Mannequin Factory were playing that I found a little alcove next to the bar (which wasn’t open, and I suppose that would explain why everyone rushed out between bands, with the youngsters even leaving their painted leather jackets on the floor). We moved the stools into that when the band room was empty, and pretty much stayed there for the rest of the night.

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I’m not sure who was on next, one of the bands had cancelled so it would have been either DSA or Salvo. I liked them, anyway, whoever they were. In fact there was only one band the whole weekend that I didn’t really care much for, but I won’t say who that was in case they track me down and beat me up over it – they did look quite scary, to be honest.

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Certified were next, unless they were the band who cancelled and it was actually Salvo or DSA playing in the wrong order. Then The Crippens, who used to have a Doctor as well but don’t seem to anymore. Maybe he got struck off or something? I used to play one of their albums a lot in the olden days, but had largely forgotten about them until I saw them at Rebellion last year. If you haven’t seen them, they’re one of the more theatrical thrash bands, they like to dress up on stage and make a mess everywhere with confetti and stuff like that. Nightmare on Sesame Street is probably their best known song.

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Tried to film a few songs with the camera in my hand, but ended up stuck behind a bunch of giants and gave up. After that I decided if I wanted to film something the only way to do it would be with the camera on the end of my walking stick, and the stick fully extended so it’s about 10 foot high. That solved the problem of the giants, but also meant I couldn’t reach the controls so there would be no zooming in and out, just a static shot. The alcove we were in hid the camera from view of the rest of the crowd, so we didn’t spoil it for anyone else before anyone writes in to complain. It did get a few weird looks from people who barged past to get closer to the stage, though.

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Anti System were a new band to me, but the internet says they’ve been around for decades so I’m not sure how I’ve  managed to miss them up to now, especially with them being from Yorkshire like me. The singer spent more time in the audience than on stage, but they were good, and they gave me a free badge for my hat.

Then it was Absolution, who seemed to just do songs about various serial killers, but not the Yorkshire Ripper which seems a bit racist against Yorkshire to me. He’s probably our most famous export, after cricket and Jimmy Savile, so he deserves a song of his own.

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Then it was Extreme Noise Terror, who closed the first evening. ENT were a band I used to play a lot in the late 80s to annoy the upstairs neighbours I had at the time. They always had noisy parties on Sunday nights where they would play crappy pop music for hours on end while I was trying to sleep, so as soon as they went quiet I would get up and blast the ENT side of Radioactive at them. Fun times.

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I can’t say I’ve listened to them much since then, but I did remember all the songs they played, especially Murder which seemed to be included on every single one of their records. Borstal Breakout was a nice addition at the end of the set, much better than the Sham 69 version.

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Back at the flat, we couldn’t find the printout with the keycode for the door, and that’s when we realised the bloke at the pub had ripped it up and chucked it away. This was about midnight, so major panic time. I couldn’t reach the flat’s wifi from outside, so no way to get it from the Airbnb website even if I did manage to remember what the password to get onto it was. Fortunately Sprog3 has a habit of staying up late on the computer, so we phoned him and got him to find the file I’d typed it on so he could read it out to us. Phew.

As is often the case with sleeping in the wrong bed, we woke up stupid early at 7am the next day so after breakfast we decided to get a bus into Birmingham town centre to see what was there. Basically just shops, and a big church type thing. And a massive bronze cow, for some reason. Quite boring really, but it passed a few hours.

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The festival was due to start again at 3pm, and Mannequin Factory were playing again so I wanted to get there early so I could film it. But we ended up getting back to the pub an hour too early, and there was nobody there so we sat on a wall for ages until we were let in.

The bar stools had been stolen during the night, so we had to get new ones and take them to the little alcove we had now claimed as our own. Spoke to the shouty bloke from Mannequin Factory for a while, he seemed surprised anyone would like them. I found out the blind guy with the dog was also deaf, and said I would send them a copy of the video later if they found me on the internet.

Next up were The Domestics, one of quite a few bands I hadn’t heard before, along with Active Slaughter who played before an Animal Liberation Front banner so I knew they would be good before they even started.

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After that it was Hagar the Womb (I still maintain it is pronounced Hay-gar, despite what the band have to say about it). I’ve seen them quite a few times, and have tried to film them at least 3 of those times but something has always gone wrong. If it wasn’t bouncers telling me to put my camera away, or forgetting to press record, it was getting stuck behind giants and not being able to see anything. This time I managed it okay with my 10 foot stick, but they weren’t allowed to play for long because everything was running late.

Intense Degree were another band I used to play a lot in the late 80s but had pretty much forgotten about. They also had to cut their set short, as did Civilised Society, which was quite annoying since they were one of the main bands I’d gone all that way for. Spoke to one of them earlier, they said they play a lot in Batley, which isn’t too far from me so maybe we’ll go and see them there one day instead.

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Everything seemed to be back on track for Anthrax and Burning Flag, who got to play their full sets. Anthrax I was already familiar with from their records, but Burning Flag were new to me. They had a shouty woman singer, so I was hooked straight from the start. Wish I’d filmed it now. Oh well, maybe next time I see them.

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Discharge took ages to set up, like they usually do, but it was worth the wait. A few people dived on stage and pranced around with them, singing along to mostly the old stuff with a couple of newer songs thrown in. Then it was all over, and back to the flat for the final night in the wrong bed before we headed for home.

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The dog’s food dish was full when we got home, so either he was still on his hunger strike or Sprog3 had filled it up again before he went to bed in the early hours of the morning. He gave us that ‘I see you have returned, you bastards’ look for a few minutes before giving in and slobbering all over us. The dog, that is, not Sprog3. He was still in bed, he didn’t get up until teatime.

 

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Why Thatcher invented punk rock

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When Thatcher seized control of the Conservative Party in 1975 she had one overwhelming ambition – to utterly destroy the county of Yorkshire in revenge for what Sir Arthur Scargill and his plucky band of miners had done to Ted Heath and the previous tory government.

She knew she couldn’t do this while in opposition, she had to become prime minister first, but with a strong working class turnout at elections she knew this would be impossible.

So she reached out to the Paedophile Information Exchange for ideas on how to put the working class off voting, promising them a £10,000 per year grant if they helped her get into power.

It was a shop owner called Malcolm McLaren who came up with the best idea – all she had to do was put as many young working class people off voting as possible, thus ensuring a Conservative victory forever more. And what’s more, he knew exactly how to do that. He would create a boy band who would storm the pop charts with songs about anarchy, having no future, and how pointless everything is.

But not even Thatcher realised how effective this ruse would be. The boy band McClaren created were copied by thousands of teenagers across the country within two years, expanding on the nihilist principles they preached. Vote Nobody, the message became. Nobody cares. Nobody will help you.

As a result the Labour vote collapsed in the 1979 election. Thatcher seized control of the country, and it was time for Yorkshire to suffer.

 

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