My memory is terrible, I think I've told you that before (HA HA HA!!! BRILLIANT!). In fact, for me to remember anything, it pretty much has to be right in front of me. Practically in my face, preferably, because not only is my memory bad but I'm also not very observant. Put it this way, a bird did a massive shit on me last week and I didn't notice. I've no idea how long animal faeces had been on my coat when I finally spotted it. Incredible, really. I mean, who doesn't notice when a flying animal has shat on them? I've no idea. Oh, hang on. I've remembered: me.
I forget everything. Names, faces, Mum's birthday, where I live (really). Last year at the Edinburgh Fringe I was on stage talking about the actor Michael Legge from Angela's Ashes when I forgot his name. That's how bad my memory is and, you know, how thick I am. Being unobservant means I don't always take things in so I forget them easily. But when I'm reminded...something weird happens. I can see a photo of the past (I think that's the only thing that has ever been photographed) or see a film I saw as a child or go to a place I haven't been to in years and my memory just wakes up and everything floods into my head. Tastes, smells, textures and temperatures come speeding from the past and seem to just take over my entire body. Maybe everyone get's these memory sensory overloads when something opens a memory file in their dusty head hard drive but I like to think I'm the only one. I am special. Probably the most obvious thing to waken my memory is music. I don't listen to too much music from my youth but there are certain songs that will seemingly appear out of nowhere and transport me back to being a teenager. When I was a teenager, I loved Marillion.
You know how you love your kids? That's how I loved Marillion. Fish-era Marillion. Fish-era Marillion from 1982 to 1985, to be precise. They released one more album with Fish after that but my tastes were changing and, clearly, so were Marillion's. I liked indie, jangly, depressing music and they wanted to crack America. But for those few years, they were the greatest thing that ever happened. If you don't get prog-rock then there's no way I can convince you how brilliantly melodic, clever, experimental, theatrical, dark and utterly daft that it is. I mean, prog-rock isn't cool, is it? Radiohead, Animal Collective, The Mars Volta...those bands were never cool and they'd all be nothing if it wasn't for Genesis and Pink Floyd (note I didn't say Muse, another modern prog-rock band, because they really have never been cool. Bless). On Friday night I went to see Fish, a solo artist since '88, and as soon as I heard his voice...that memory sensory overload shouted "BUNDLE!" and leapt all over me.
When I say I loved Marillion, I mean they were all I talked about, read about, watched and listened to. I bought every single. In every format. 7", 12", picture disc. And every album on vinyl, picture disc and cassette. I couldn't get enough of lengthy widdly-widdly keyboard solos and "bad stuff is going to happen" guitar riffs and beautiful lyrics about being completely lost. When I was 16 and heard Fish singing about fucking in the flickering shadows of candlelight with a Berlin prostitute who fell in love with him, I just knew what he meant. I mean, I didn't at all but I really wanted to. Fish was just everything that I wanted to be: anti-establishment, anti-war, a poet, a fighter, a lover and tall. Growing up, the only other non-Northern Irish band singing about Northern Ireland was Boney M. And the only other band singing about how alone I am and how much I'd love a girlfriend was...well, there were loads but none as good as Marillion.
Fish was already on stage when I got to the venue. He was performing his forthcoming album, A Feast of Consequences, and I could hear his voice as I walked up the stairs to the hall. I've known that voice for ages. Immediately, I could see the six foot tall posters in my 80's bedroom. One of a scary man hiding behind a mask (the cover of Market Square Heroes, Marillion's first single) and one of a scary man tearing his face in two (the cover of He Knows, You Know). I remembered going out of my mind with joy when they got on Top of the Pops for the first time. GARDEN PARTY IS ON TOP OF THE POPS! I don't think I saw much of it because of all the jumping I was doing. I remembered the crappy paper that The Web, Marillion's fan club newsletter, was printed on. I remembered my Marillion coat. I HAD A MARILLION COAT! I remembered running after Fish in Belfast, drawing the Marillion logo on everything and tracing my hand over their autographs on their 1986 calendar. And I remembered how excited that brilliant music made me feel. Going to Zepplin Records in Newtownards and buying the record the day it came out and studying it. Every note, every drum beat, every lyric. Then trying to draw the record's cover art in my school sketch pad. The artwork almost as important to me as the music. Twisted, frightening, depressing images that suited me perfectly. I'm still proud of my school report after I handed my sketch pad in at the end of 5th year: "It's clear that Michael is possessed by the devil".
After the new album, Fish performed the classics. Assassing, Fugazi, Freaks. Songs clearly loved by everyone in that room, none more than me. And when he sang White Feather...my eyes were not dry. What an exciting time 1985 was when my favourite band became popstars. A number 2 hit single that EVERYONE knew, a number 1 million selling album and finally the band themselves got the chance to perform live in front of me. A friend asked me recently what my favourite gigs were but my memory failed. I couldn't really think of any. Well, I've remembered. Marillion at Maysfield Leisure centre, Belfast in September 1985. Of course, it's the best gig ever. Script For a Jester's Tear, Chelsea Monday, The Web, all of Misplaced Childhood in one go and Forgotten Sons IN BELFAST. I had a job interview the next day and all I talked about was the previous night's gig. I didn't get the job (bloody Bon Jovi fan). I even remembered the moment during that gig when I became the biggest, most contemptable cunt in the whole world. During Steve Rothery's guitar solo in Forgotten Sons I shouted "Tell it like it is, Steve". I actually want to punch me for that right now. "Tell. It. Like. It is. Steve". Fucking, fucking cunt.
Not all memories are good, I suppose. But clearly this gig had given me a rush of pure joy. I even talked to complete strangers, something I NEVER do, just because they were wearing t-shirts of Marillion's 1986 festival gig in Milton Keynes, "Welcome to the Garden Party". I went to that. It was the same day as Wham!'s The Final gig in Wembley and I remembered us all throwing as much shit as we could at their fan's buses as they past ours. It's the closest I will ever come to being in Bad News.
I had a couple of drinks with Fish afterwards (yeah, we're BFF's, OK? Get over it. Whatever) and even the sound of his speaking voice sparks a billion memories with me. His between song banter, him telling a fan off for shouting out Marillion song titles during his first solo tour in 1990, him being locked out of the venue in Belfast in '85 and booming "Open the fucking door". And it reminded me of the time I heard he'd left Marillion. I was listening to Tommy Vance's Friday Rock Show and the news broke that Fish was going solo and Marillion would go ahead with a new singer. I ran downstairs and told my parents, like they'd be genuinely concerned, and my Dad said something that has meant that it would be stupid for me to ever become a father. "Well, now you have two favourite bands". See? I could never be that clever or nice a Dad.
Fish is a very warm, welcoming and engaging man. Charming. But what he doesn't realise is that being in his company is overwhelming. He wrote everything that was important to me as a teenager, his first solo album is an underrated classic and his last album, 13th Star, is utterly beautiful. I sort of forget how brilliant he is but that's because my memory is bad. But at least now I know how to improve my memory. Simply all I need to remember anything is a rock concert filled with songs I love and to spend some time with my teenage idol who I love and who makes me want to be on my best behaviour.
Afterwards, I remembered that that bird shit was still on my coat.
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