Clutching at Straws - Intro

Introduction: Clutching At Straws was the fourth and last Marillion studio album to feature Fish on vocals. In some ways, Clutching At Straws is an odd album. This is mainly due to some of the discussion about it in the press that occurred after Fish's departure. Fish declared "Clutching At Straws was my self-penned obituary" in a post split interview (Gone Fishing - Kerrang! 1989) with the band's chronicler, Mick Wall.


Are we then to take it that Fish knew he was going to leave after the album or that he means it was his obituary by default? In a 1987 question-and-answer piece published in Just Seventeen (my girlfriend used to read it, OK? - embarrassed Ed), the interviewer asked 'Have you ever had your fortune told?' Fish replies, 'Yes, quite a few times. One bloke a few years back got it all spot on. He said I would have three careers and I've had two of them already with the forestry and then with Marillion and he said I would marry at twenty nine which is right as well. The third career is supposed to start in 18 months time but I've no idea what it will be. Maybe serious acting or writing a novel.'

Almost exactly 18 months later, Fish left the band. Co-incidence or planned? Well, in all likelihood, it was pure coincidence, but it is true to say that so much information was flying about in the press, much of it contradictory, that Marillion fans are unlikely to ever know the true story of the split.

Clutching At Straws itself is a concept album about a man named Torch, a writer with chronic doubts of his own ability and a drink problem the size of the Pacific. I was sent an article by Kristie English from the Freaks mailing list which details the episodes of the story. The article was presented on a song by song basis and I have prefaced each explanation by the relevant extract.

The Clutching At Straws remaster, released in 1999, contained demos for a number of tracks that had never been heard before. The majority were the tracks demoed for the follow up album, but which were abandoned when Fish left the band. Only one, Beaujolais Day, predates Clutching.
Some of the music and lyrics from these songs later appeared on albums by Marillion or Fish in a different form. I've included explanations for Beaujolais Day, Sunset Hill, Tic-Tac-Toe and Exile on Princes Street.

Cover notes: The cover for Clutching At Straws was another Mark Wilkinson work. Unlike the other studio albums, Clutching is not a gatefold. This is presumably a deliberate attempt to get away from the dated feel of the concept album and towards the mainstream market with regards to image. The logo has been modernised though it still retains the essential curves of the old logo. The pictures are both photos of the interior of the Baker's Arms pub in Colchester, with famous characters painted into the scene by Wilkinson. All of them had serious problems with substance abuse, many of them citing it as either an aid to their creativity or a crutch to protect themselves from the surreal nature of fame.

The people are: front cover, left to right along bar: Robert 'Rabbie' Burns, Dylan Thomas, Truman Capote and Lenny Bruce.

With a nod to Jeroen Schipper's Marillion FAQ, here are some brief details. Robert Burns, Scottish national poet, died aged 37 of alcohol poisoning, Dylan Thomas, Welsh poet, died at 39, also died of alcohol poisoning. Truman Capote, author of Breakfast at Tiffany's and In Cold Blood died aged 59, of a combination of alcohol, drugs and pills (probably suicide) and social satirist and comedian Lenny Bruce died of a heroin overdose aged 40.

On the back from left to right: John Lennon, James Dean and Jack Kerouac

Contrary to what Jeroen's FAQ says, Ex-Beatle Lennon was both an alcoholic and a junkie. At the time of his death however, he had been clean since '74... He was shot dead by crazed 'fan' Mark Chapman on the 8 December 1980, aged 40. Method actor James Dean died aged 24 in a car crash, but was probably drunk when it happened. He was an alcoholic and also used drugs. Beat-writer Jack Kerouac, who popularised stream-of-consciousness writing died of alcohol poisoning, (but also used drugs) aged 48.

Torch, we can see, is a descendant of the jester by the belled cap that hangs from his pocket and the shadows of the motley colours of the harlequin across his face.

On the back wall is a calendar showing the Market Square Heroes cover. Perhaps this was a little thing for the older fans; it is very much in shadow and not readily recognisable unless one is familiar with the image. The Masque book reveals that it was put there to hide the sign to the gents toilets!

Below the picture on the rear cover is the following quote: 
'If a person were to try stripping the disguises from actors while they play a scene upon the stage, showing to the audience their real looks and the faces they were born with, would not such a one spoil the whole play? And would not the spectators think he deserved to be driven out of the theatre with brickbats, as a drunken disturber?... Now what else is the whole life of mortals but a sort of comedy,  in which the various actors, disguised by various costumes and masks, walk on and each play their part, until the manager waves them off the stage? Moreover, this manager frequently bids the same actor to go back in a different costume, so that he who has but lately played the king in scarlet now acts the flunkey in patched clothes. Thus all things are presented by shadows.'


The quote is from Erasmus' The Praise of Folly. The Giant Book of 1000 Lives, (Magpie 1996) says: "Erasmus, Desiderius (c. 1466-1536). Dutch Humanist scholar, the illegitimate son of the priest Rogerius Gerardus. Erasmus himself adopted his Latin-Greek Christian name Desiderius which means 'beloved'. Ordained in 1492, he found monastic life irksome and spent much of his life travelling and studying. His satirical work, The Praise of Folly (1509) was written in England for his friend Sir Thomas More. He is known for his Latin correspondence and for his edition of the Greek version of the New Testament (1516)."

1 comment:

  1. So when you go to the bar for years ,the shadows are there and after you depart from your body ,you gonna return to the bar to drink again with the mortals..............thus you now is the guy on the silver hair......................became welcome to the band of shadows...............Cheers...................

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