March 24, 2020

The 1983 debut album from the Mad Marillos is the latest in the ongoing deluxe reissue series of the first eight albums for EMI, and it is a cracker of a set. Have a gander at the goodies included this time around: On the first disc, a sparkling new 2020 remix of the album – from its plaintive, soliloquy-like opening through to its emotionally-charged finale. Further dust is blown off on disc 2 with a 2020 remix of the earlier Market Square Heroes EP, plus a new remaster of the period piece Charting The Single. Discs 3 & 4 are made up of a full, previously unreleased concert from December 1982 at the Marquee club (that’s right, freaks, another live version of Grendel to entice you – in fact, there are three different recordings of that prehistoric epic throughout this set, that’s over an hour’s worth of bad boy Grendel stalking the night). But it’s disc 5, the blu-ray, where the magic is truly uncovered: All of the audio from the four CDs in hi-res stereo, and Script itself mixed in 5.1 surround sound. A 93-minute documentary on the making of the album (and the early days in general) titled Sackcloth And Greasepaint, featuring new interviews with Fish, Mark Kelly, Pete Trewavas, Steve Rothery, Mick Pointer, original bassist Diz Minnit, and cover artist Mark Wilkinson. Promo videos of the period. Oh yeah, and they just happened to throw in the complete Recital Of The Script video release, the classic ’83 Hammersmith concert – without even mentioning it in their promo advertising of this set. Consider that one a huge bonus – because, well, it is. And, now that everybody has all the time in the world to read it, a splendid book is included, filled with info, interviews, photos and lyrics.

Pete Trewavas set aside 45 minutes of his Thursday evening to discuss this early period of the band he joined 38 years ago (and has flawlessly anchored ever since with his brilliant and highly melodic bass playing). And so, with enough space between us to be considered ‘socially distanced’, an over-caffeinated Canuck has a bit of a chinwag (and a few yuks) with an affable four-stringer from ol’ Blighty:

VT: Well, we might as well say it right from the start: pretty strange times we’re living in at the moment…

PT: Yeah, my god! I don’t know what you’re doing in Canada, but everyone here is kind of working from home. Self distancing as opposed to self isolation. But they are talking now about closing London, similar to what’s happened in Barcelona, and I think all the cities in Italy now.

VT: It’s crazy.

PT: Yeah, it really is.

VT: On to better things! I’m holding the Script For A Jester’s Tear deluxe boxed set in my hand and it’s a real beauty. These sets over the past few years have been pretty fantastic for the fans.

PT: Yeah, we’ve tried to make them as immersive as we can. The hard thing about doing something so old is that most of the things that we did around that time have probably been seen or heard, so digging in the archives and finding new stuff was the big challenge there, really.

I’ve always thought of us as just a rock band, in the same way that I think of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple as rock bands…

VT: When you get together to reminisce about these old albums, are you ever surprised at things you’ve forgotten about them?

PT: Totally! More so when we got busier. Although there were a lot of things I forgot about Script as well, but certainly later on with Clutching At Straws, we were all quite vague at that point about which sessions went with which album. Some of the songs had been around for a long time, and some of the songs had sort of been developed for one album, but got finished off on another, so yeah, it’s interesting going back down memory lane. We’ve sort of kept the past in the past to a degree, because we’ve all moved on with our careers, and we feel it’s more important to stay kind of current. The Fish era was four albums, it was a small part considering the longevity we’ve all had in the industry – us, Fish, and Mick as well. You know, it’s quite a short space of time but we seemed to do a lot in it! (Laughs) But I think with Script, it was all new and all exciting, it was the first time we’d done this kind of thing, so it’s a bit more vivid, you tend to remember those things.

VT: Whenever I go back and listen to the early albums, I’m often struck by the thought that you were essentially a four-piece band plus a singer/lyricist – whereas later you became a more conventional five-piece band. It must have made a huge difference to the group dynamic when you shifted to a singer who also wrote and played music.

PT: It did. It was very refreshing, actually, to have that kind of approach. The challenge for all of us, apart from learning how to write together and be a team, a five-piece writing partnership, was not to get bogged down with too much… convention, if you know what I mean. Because it would have been quite easy to go down a bit more of a… not commercial, necessarily, but a more conventional style of music. And we did do a fair amount of commercially accessible songs, for want of a better word, but we always wanted to stay as what we were. And I don’t know if we were ‘progressive’ – we were more progressive than some bands and less progressive than others. I mean, I’ve always thought of us as just a rock band, in the same way that I think of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple as rock bands. We do venture into the progressive, but it’s not really essential. What’s essential for us is to be excited by what we’re writing, that’s what it comes down to.

VT: Is it frustrating to hear from the ‘Fish-only’ fans when you come up with so much great modern material? For example, I think The New Kings from your most recent album is a fantastic, stunning piece of music, I’d be annoyed to hear someone shout out for Grendel while that was being played.

PT: You know, we’ve sort of got ourselves to a situation where most of our fans want to hear new stuff, and if they want to hear old stuff, they want to hear old stuff from the Hogarth era. Because we spent quite a while being really restrictive on the old songs once we had a catalogue. You know, after about two albums. Certainly after Brave, but even before then we were trying to play less of the older music – and if we were playing it, we were not trying to pick on the obvious tracks. Because we didn’t want to become that band that almost becomes a parody of themselves. You know, there are a lot of bands that become tribute bands, almost. Now having said that (laughing), I’ve seen Foreigner and a few other bands, I saw Kansas actually on the last cruise, and I loved it. I grew up with the old Kansas songs, you know, along with Foreigner, and it was great to hear them played. But there’s a time and a place to do that. Quite often as well, when we’re on tour around the world, we’re on tour with a new album, so that’s what we’re promoting. And our songs are so long, you can’t put too many old songs in the set, because there’s not room for the new songs, or the popular songs from the other albums that we’ve done more recently, like Neverland. There are quite a few popular songs from more recent years. It’s a balancing act.

VT: Coming back to the Script album, what are the high points for you, musically?

PT: Well the high points for me were… well, Script, the title track, because that wasn’t written yet. Most of the other music we played live, and certainly the band had played live before I even joined. I joined in 1982 and prior to that, they had already been on a Radio One show, what was the show… Friday Night Rock Show, I think it was? So a fair amount of the songs were quite well known. They’d been playing the Marquee a fair amount of times. And then when I joined we sort of upped the ante a bit. So Script was a high point for me, and Forgotten Sons. It was great, actually. I grew up listening to the Beatles and I was learning to play guitar in the early 60s. The later 60s and the early 70s, I was learning to play bass. I started guitar when I was seven, I changed to bass when I was about twelve or thirteen, because me and my mates wanted to start a band, you know the old garage bands. And I was listening to Focus and Caravan, and all sorts of other stuff… Camel, obviously Floyd, and Genesis as well. I remember I saved up for a few months, because records were expensive when I was a kid, for me who only had pocket money. And I saved up to buy Genesis Live, and that was my first real experience with Genesis. Because up until then, we’d pass cassettes around, or you’d go round your mates’ houses and listen to their albums. So I was doing all of that in school and as a young teenager, and then in my late teens/early twenties, punk came along. I didn’t get into the punk scene at all, I didn’t really understand punk. Musically, I could kind of recognize The Stranglers, because they had the keyboards and the gritty, driving bass sounds that reminded me of Chris Squire. And a few other things when New Wave came along… great songwriting by Elvis Costello, and Ian Dury & The Blockheads – an incredible bass player in that band. Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick just has a ridiculously good bass line. And I was listening to a lot of Steely Dan as well. When punk was seriously happening in England, I was listening to more American new wave or just American music like Dan Fogelberg, and Toto. I got into harmony bands. So then I got back into progressive music again when I joined Marillion, and we went pretty much from doing a few shows to signing a record deal, and we played Reading… Oh, Reading was before the record deal actually. But that was a bit of a high point. But yeah, musically it was great to have songs that had a structure to them that I could then re-write the bass lines to. Because I was kind of told “This is the music, do what you want over it”. So I could kind of pick and choose my styles a little bit. For example, not to give too much away, but bits of Forgotten Sons, I kind of was thinking of Kasim Sulton, Utopia’s bass player. Because I loved Utopia, and Ra was a real favourite album of mine. So there’s a bit of that style in Forgotten Sons. And funnily enough Steve Rothery picked up on it: “Hmmm… that sounds a little bit like…” and I was like “Yeah…” (laughs) The first person I really learned to play bass while listening to was McCartney, and after that I would channel all sorts of stuff. I found myself later on when I started analyzing things thinking “Oh, that’s actually more like Caravan” than you know, whoever. I always say the two bass players that inspired me the most were Mike Rutherford and Chris Squire, but there’s an awful lot of other people thrown in there in places, it’s a mixture. And these days, I just do what I think, if I can think outside the box a bit.

Little did I know the record company isn’t the end – it’s the start…

Photo copyright 2019 Denis Lefebvre

VT: Do you remember the process you went through in deciding whether to go with Charisma or EMI?

PT: Ummmm… originally we wanted to go with Charisma, because it was the ‘cool’ label, and it was the label of a lot of our heroes. It was a like a ‘progressive’ label, and that’s what we stood for. We were trying to kick down the doors of punk and new wave and all of that, because you know it was 1982, which was an odd time to be signing a progressive rock band, really. Or, maybe not! But initially we thought we’d go with Charisma, but that was much more of a heart thing. And eventually our manager said “EMI have so much more to offer, and they can offer a proper worldwide deal”, because they had Capitol over in America.

VT: And you also had a different producer than you had worked with on the Market Square Heroes EP, what was that like?

PT: David Hitchcock was great, and very exciting because he had worked with a few of my favourite bands growing up, so that was very cool to be working with him. We basically set up as a band and just recreated what we’d done live. Maybe rearranged a couple of little things here and there, but essentially he was recording a performance from all of us. Not necessarily all in one go, we did overdub things, and we had the luxury of separating stuff as much as we wanted, but essentially we were all in the room recording. Whereas with Nick Tauber, there was a very different process. It was much more about using the studio as a tool. So he’d really get into the guitar sounds and where all the instruments were placed, and how we should play the parts and how everything should sound. Nick and the engineer were really hands-on. He was the overseer, he had a plan and a vision of how to get the album recorded. And the thing was, EMI obviously wanted a single, they wanted a commercial track. So Garden Party became that track. But we kind of all played so they could record a drum track. And then everything was replaced one instrument at a time. And everything got edited and precisely put in place and in time, as much as you could, because it was before all this modern technology, it was just to reel-to-reel tape. Twenty-four track, in fact, so you had to make those decisions that you used to have to make in twenty-four track studios, which parts were important, and if you wanted multiple parts you had to bounce stuff down. So you had to make certain choices at certain times in the process. Which made it a quicker process, actually.

VT: I love the songs on Script, but I’ve always wondered if they aren’t a bit subdued in comparison to how they came alive in a concert setting. I don’t mean to sound critical, it’s just that the songs are so powerful live, these particular studio recordings are a touch stiff by comparison.

PT: I know what you mean, they’re probably a little bit safe, aren’t they? It was all a methodical process, or it was with Nick. You tried to get the performance – it was a case of playing the right notes and making the sounds right for the engineer. Whereas when we were playing at Hammersmith or somewhere, and you’ve got the crowd and the wall of sound, it’s just the way live stuff can get captured. I always found that same thing with Genesis Live. Certain bands just sound… Tears For Fears for example always sounded great in the studio, and Gabriel. But I know what you mean, I think it’s just part of learning the craft, really, learning how to make a record sound great. And you learn over the years. It doesn’t happen anymore, because it can’t, but we were probably one of the last bands to be signed and be given a chance. Because EMI were going “Well, we’ve signed somebody”, but they weren’t really sure what it was they had, and what to do with it. But all they knew was we would go and play somewhere, and the place would be full (Laughs). So they thought “Well, there’s people out there that want to hear this, and if they want to hear it live we can sell it”. So they could see that they’d make their money back. So they gave us three albums, really, to see whether we could cut it.

VT: Well, you definitely did cut it, and I think especially in those early years there is a marked improvement from album to album, as it probably should be with any band.

PT: I think Fugazi is a massive improvement to Script.

VT: Speaking of Fugazi, the song She Chameleon was originally going to be recorded for Script, I’ve heard. Is that true?

PT: Ummm… that could be right, rings a bell, yeah. What tended to happen is that Fish had a load of lyrics and we had a load of versions of a lot of the songs. There’s a song called Charting The Single that got re-written every few months into another version, but with the same lyrics, because they were good. Fish had great lyrics, and they were a kind of poetry. And we were trying to feel what music would work best with it. Each album and each song, really, is a kind of a picture of how we captured it in time.

VT: You had numerous “B-sides” and non-album tracks in those days, were there any from this early period that you remember that never saw the light of day, or that were played live but not recorded?

PT: There are a couple of songs that I was told about, and I never actually got to hear what they were like. So they were obviously songs that were tried live, and they were shelved to be re-written at some point. And then other stuff came along, and new ideas always feel like ‘better’ ideas, so we tended to work on the newer songs that were currently in the pot. And of course once we’d signed the deal and started the process, it was a case of “This album is great, lads, go on tour.” And as soon as you come back off tour, it was “Well, what have you got for us for the next album?” So it was a machine. Little did we know… I mean I spent all of my life, ever since I watched the Beatles at Shea stadium, wanting to be in a band, and the goal was to get a record contract. Of course, little did I know the record company isn’t the end – it’s the start. It can be tough, it’s very tough actually, to sustain it. Because you have to prove you can come up with the goods.

VT: But again, you certainly did come up with the goods, time and time again.

PT: Well yeah, but it takes its toll on a lot of people, there’s a lot of stress involved. You’re never really looking at it while it’s happening. People say “How did it feel?” – and whatever we were doing at the time, how it felt was: what do we have to do next? (Laughs) By the time we were halfway through the recording process, there was a tour to arrange, and we were having meetings about staging and lighting companies, and where we were going to rehearse, and what we were going to play, and would we have a long enough set? And suddenly this other stuff is taking over your time, rather than “This is great! We’ve just finished an album and it sounds amazing, and I’ve just heard myself on the radio!”, you know.

VT: It must have been so cool to hear yourself on the radio for the first time.

PT: It was cool! But we didn’t have much time to really take it all in. Whereas these days, I’m of an opinion that I should sit back and savour it all, whatever’s happening. We’ve worked hard at it, but we’ve had a very lucky life really, all of us. And we have amazing fans, for which we are eternally grateful. Our fans are incredible and they give us so much.

VT: Well, it’s a give and take.

PT: It is a give and take, but we get so much freedom, which is amazing, because not many bands do.

VT: I attended four of the Montreal weekends. I’ve got to ask: How on earth do you keep three completely different set lists in your head at one time? That’s got to be awfully challenging.

PT: (Laughing loudly) It’s challenging, yeah, it is. Well the first time we did it, we didn’t really manage to. We didn’t start coming to Montreal until we’d done two or three weekends, and by then we’d learned how. It’s just a lot of preparation, really. A lot of preparation. It doesn’t matter how long or how much you rehearse, nothing’s ‘burnt in’ properly until you do it for real. Once you’ve done a show, then you can do it again. Because you’ve had that fear factor, having to get through it at all costs. So really, one of the tricks is to plan it so you don’t have too much time off. The big challenge is that we go from one place to the next. Holland, then a couple of weeks off while the gear comes back, then maybe the U.K. or Poland, couple of weeks off, do Montreal… but if you have more than about two weeks off, you’re kind of stuck. And we do also have legendarily long soundchecks. I mean our soundchecks have been known to be longer than the gigs – and the gigs are quite long. Any songs we think we need to rehearse. We’ve gotten much more professional over the years, so we do practice. We’ll take guitars or keyboards back to our hotel rooms and practice stuff. I’ll sit and listen to the set and just run through things. Even if it’s just listening to it, it’s just keeping it in mind. Remind myself “Oh yeah, then this song does that.” So that on the night, I can think “I’m going to be doing this next”, so I want to prepare myself, my hands are in the right place, I’ve got the right sound on, I’ve got to go to the mic to sing that backing vocal, I’ve got the right note in my head… stupid stuff that goes through your head, you know. (Laughs) And when you know that’s all happening, then you can start to look around and enjoy the place, enjoy the audience.

Photo copyright 2019 Denis Lefebvre

VT: I’d like to throw five song titles at you that are favourites of mine from throughout your career, but perhaps not noticed as often as the ‘biggies’, and just have you say whatever springs to mind about them.

PT: Okay, sure.

VT: First one is Faith.

PT: (In a pleased tone) Faaaaaith. I wrote the music to Faith on guitar, it was a guitar thing. And the kind of jazzy interlude in the middle I wrote on bass guitar. It’s a kind of chord thing I was messing about with. It’s really quite boring practicing bass guitar on your own, so I mess about with chords and stuff as well. It can be a bugger to play, that song.

VT: Oh really?

PT: Well, because I tend to play the guitar part. I do play the guitar, but I’m not a natural guitarist these days because I spend most of my time on bass!

VT: Next song: Angelina.

PT: Angelina… that’s a good song! Really hard to play sometimes, because it’s so slow!

VT: I love the atmosphere of that one. One of my favourites.

PT: Yeah, it has an amazing atmosphere. It really does sound like late night radio, doesn’t it? It’s got that sound and that feel of 3:00 in the morning and there’s not much going on. Which is genius, really. Yeah, it’s really lovely. And the big challenge there is playing in a really slow groove well. That’s much harder than playing fast. All this shredding and things is very impressive looking, but try and play a groove in a really, really slow kind of theme.

VT: Next up: Especially True.

PT: Especially True…. that was… (long pause) you know what? I’m going to have to hold my hand up. I don’t remember.

VT: Bluesy guitar intro, Englishman-in-America vibe to the lyrics, Steve sings about American baseball… towards the end of Happiness Is The Road volume 2.

PT: Oh yeah, yeah! Sorry! (Laughs)

VT: That’s okay, I tend to stump everybody with these once…

PT: Oh do you? (Slyly)

VT: Holloway Girl.

PT: Ahhh, Holloway Girl, that was an amazing time, actually. We were writing these songs, we had some music and Steve had some lyrics, and we had some lyrics from John Helmer. And putting together Seasons End was like being in a band for the first time again, it was really exciting for all of us I think, and kind of invigorating. And I always felt quite proud of putting that silly noise at the beginning, that’s a pick scratching the bass guitar strings while I’m playing a little riff. I used to love that song! We haven’t played that for ages! It was a true story, one of the papers did this news article about an underage girl found in a woman’s prison. Because Holloway was a woman’s prison that was not supposed to have minors, but it did. Steve took the headline and sort of ran with it.

VT: It’s such a great track.

PT: Yeah, again very evocative and very sad. Haunting.

Transatlantic live is a lot of fun…

VT: Finally… Swimming In Women.

PT: (Loudly) HA! That’s a Kino song! Written by John Beck, really.

VT: Alright, so I strayed a bit. It’s another great one though!

PT: Yeah, it is! I can barely remember the music now… oh no, I’ve got it, it’s that 6/8 thing. (Tapping the rhythm and humming the chorus) That’s a great song, that first Kino album had some good songs on it. As did the second one, of course, many moons later. Yeah, that was good fun. John (Mitchell) is a very good friend, and a wicked guitar player. He’s in Frost as well, well he’s in several bands. Everyone seems to be in lots of bands these days.

VT: I’ve also seen you live twice with your ‘mistress’ band, Transatlantic.

PT: Transatlantic live is a lot of fun.

VT: That gives me the chance to ask about the upcoming fifth album.

PT: Yes! Well, work is ongoing. You probably heard we went to Sweden to record it, but actually what we did in Sweden really was we arranged it, and then the drums got recorded in Nashville. And everything else is being put on top as we speak, and it’s being slightly rearranged here and there, and messed about with, and then it goes to someone else and it gets polished some more. Some gloss, some dust. (Laughs) And assuming there’s a record industry left after all of this going on in the world, it will be sold on our behalf.

VT: Well, there will always be fans waiting to hear your music, no matter what’s happening in the world.

PT: There will always be people interested in listening, and there will always be people interested in wanting to write music as well. Creative people are creative people, they do it whatever way they can and however they can. If you’ve got something to say, you want to say it don’t you? It’s always happened, hasn’t it?

VT: Thank you Pete, for your music, and for your time tonight, I’m looking forward to your next visit across the pond. In the meantime I am in an ‘early’ Marillion mood thanks to this killer deluxe set!

PT: It is a pleasure, great talking to you! I was wondering if I was saying anything of use, actually. (Laughing) Thank you for listening to us all these years. We’ll see you in Canada next year… assuming a vaccine can be found, of course!

Script For A Jester’s Tear deluxe five-disc edition and four-LP vinyl edition are available to order now from the official Marillion website and all the usual vendors.