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Forgotten Sons

Introduction: In an interview entitled Fishy Tales published in Melody Maker 27 Nov 1982 Fish said, "Northern Ireland didn't mean a shit to me - that's the same for most people in this country nowadays - but when my cousin went across there for a while, we'd watch the news on TV every night, expecting things like blood to come pouring through the screen, expecting to hear so-and-so had been shot!

"Then, when I went to Aylesbury, I was working in the employment office, and a lot of blokes would come in saying, 'I'm only actually signing on for two months because I'm joining the army soon and going on my first training stint.

"And I'd say, 'Why have you joined?' and they'd say, 'Because there's nothing else to do, we cannae get a job and it's a job innit?'

"And I ended up actually arguing with these blokes over the counter, saying, 'You're crazy! Think what you're getting yourselves into', and from that my ideas for Forgotten Sons evolved."

In an interview published in
Melody Maker, Apr 9, 1983 entitled Planet Marillion, Fish was asked if he'd been to Northern Ireland:

"I've never been to Ireland. But the song's not written from the point of view of an Irish citizen, or from the pure soldier.

"It's written from the point of view of somebody who lives in Britain that's aware of people in in Britain that are fighting in Northern Ireland. It was affected by my cousin, who was in his last trip in Ireland and was hit by a brick during the riots and when we found out it had happened it was like the blood came through the TV set.

"Nobody gives a shit until Hyde Park, you know? The horses got more coverage than the bandsmen did, and I find that sick. It's like the whole thing about peace these days where its a laughable word.

"A lot of people are laughing at Greenham Common, but I mean, like, you know, nuclear weapons, a lot of people tend to sit back and ignore it."

"This is dedicated to all those who fell on a pavement outside Harrods last Christmas."
Fish's spoken introduction to Forgotten Sons from Real To Reel. Harrods is an exclusive shop in Knightsbridge, London. On December 17, 1983, an IRA bomb exploded, killing six and wounding many others.

Armalite is an American firearms company. They make the M16 - the standard American assault rifle - often called the Armalite. It is sometimes believed that they are the standard weapon used by the IRA. In fact, most of the IRA's weaponry used to come from deals with people like Libya’s Col. Gaddafi, and was therefore more often of Soviet (CIS) stock.

'Boys baptised in wars'
Julien Gauthier said: "In World War II, when regiments were ready to go to war, they gathered together in front of a priest to get baptised." (I think that this line alludes to the fact that many of the young men fighting in the conflict had been born in the earliest part of the Troubles and had never known peace. - Ed.)

Chris Charette said: "Soldiers tend to carry a few syringes of morphine with them, in case they get injured. They shoot it so they can endure the pain."

'Poison pen'
A poison pen letter is one which contains bad news, conveyed in an unsympathetic way or abuse often anonymously.

'Saracen hull'
Saracens were armoured cars used by the British Army (see right). They were originally built in the 1950s, but were used in Ireland well into the 80s.

The Irish Tricolour. P.T. McNiff said:

"Green: Catholics (or, the people of the Republic of Eire)
Orange: Protestants (or, the people of Northern Ireland, often called Orangemen)
White: The unity and peace between the two."

Whitehall is a road off Trafalgar Square, but is also the generic name for the British civil service part of British Government, although the MoD - the Ministry of Defence - is actually based on Whitehall itself.

Minister is the title given to a Member of Parliament put in charge of a portfolio, in this case, Defence. It's a nice pun on the religious meaning, which is not as obvious as it might seem as most Christian religious leaders in Britain aren't referred to as ministers; it's much more common in Scotland, however.

'Emerald aisle'
The Emerald Isle is another name for Ireland, on account of the lush green grass that grows there. It is also a play on words, conjuring a coffin being carried down the aisle of a church.

'Dole queue' is British slang for the unemployed people queuing to receive their Government benefit payments. It was referred to as 'dole' on account of the fact it was 'doled out' (i.e. perceived as a charitable hand out) to claimants.

'Monday signings'
In the UK, when you are 'on the dole', you used to have to register at the Department of Social Security (the 'DSS' - now largely replaced by the Department for Work and Pensions or 'DWP') - to get your payment, called 'Social Security Benefit'. The act of registering for Social Security was known as 'signing on' and took place once a fortnight (but not necessarily on a Monday). (C.f. 'Armed with Antisocial Insecurity' from Market Square Heroes)

Ring-a-ring-o-roses, they all fall down'
An old English nursery rhyme. It is popularly believed to have dated from the time of the Black Death in the 17th century. The rhyme is:
A pocketful of posies,
Atishoo! Atishoo!
They all fall down!
The rhyme supposedly developed out of the fact that sneezing was the first sign that death by plague was imminent; those who sneezed died! The rhyme is rarely perceived to be as nasty as it really is; it's about death!

A long-extinct website,
Ian Munro's Ring A Ring A Roses FAQ clarified that this was not true. The earliest printed versions of the rhyme date from 1881. A folklore book published in 1883 claims that versions of the rhyme were circulating in Massachusetts in 1790, but no printed evidence is available. In any case, 1790 is more than 125 years after the last major plague of the English-speaking world, and roughly 450 years after the Black Death, the 14th century plague most commonly - and incorrectly - thought to be associated with the poem. More importantly, it is difficult to interpret the earliest versions of the rhyme as being references to the plague. Those lines arrived later in its evolution.

'Peace on Earth... ...lost her child’
The 'Peace on Earth and mercy mild' is a quote from the Christmas carol Hark the Herald Angels Sing.

Knees up Mother Brown is an old Cockney dancing/ drinking song, but Brown is one of the most common English surnames, so 'Mother Brown' would be understood to be a quintessentially English name.

Songs with a link have explanations.

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  1. WOW, interesting facts, helpful to understand song meaning. Thanks for posting this!

  2. Súper interesante entender como una mente genial como la de Fish combina tantos elementos de la historia de la guerra entre Norirlandéses católicos contra Norirlandéses protestantes e Ingleses ha afectado a tantas personas... muertos y muertos en vida... esos son realmente los "hijos olvidados" de los ministros y los gobiernos y aplica para todas las guerras.

    1. Translation of comment: "Super interesting to understand how a great mind like Fish's combines so many elements of the history of the war between Catholic Northern Irishmen against Protestant and English Northern Irishmen has affected so many people ... dead and living dead ... those are really the "sons forgotten "by ministers and governments and applies to all wars."


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