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Garden Party

Introduction: Fish (The Funny Farm Interview - July '95, Dick Bros) said: "Diz and I moved down to Cambridge where I had a girl friend who was an archaeology student at the time. So we were actually living in this all female block down in Cambridge; I think it was Newlands College or something, having to sneak during the day through the windows because there were no males supposedly allowed in the college.

"Funnily enough that was the first place I ever painted my face; we got invited to this party so, seeing as how we were rock and roll people, we decided to be very outrageous. And we got all this Boots #7 stuff etc., I remember Diz did his face up like a cat, and I'd painted my face up as something.

"We'd gone down to this little party, and drunk this wonderful wine and being quite outrageous. And that period actually inspired the track Garden Party [...] We couldn't get the band started; we didn't have any money, so we just wandered about being very involved in the Cambridge student scene and punting and all that sort of stuff."

It was Newnham College, Cambridge, not Newlands. Former Marillion bassist
Diz Minnitt posted on Facebook: "The Garden Party lyrics were written when Fish and I were living in Ettrickbridge [near Selkirk in the Scottish Borders - Ed] in a five bedroom holiday cottage called Hawkshaw.

"We managed to live there after Fish had convinced the estate agency to open the cottage over the winter and that we were a band called Sirius (cue 'you can't be Sirius' joke here) who needed somewhere to write over the winter. The pre-Marillion version of Garden Party (just bass and vocals and very different to the later Marillion version was, from memory, included on the demo that we sent to the band prior to moving down to Aston Clinton on 1st Jan 1981."

In an interview published in
Melody Maker, Apr 9, 1983 entitled Planet Marillion, Fish discussed the origins of the lyric:

"Fish: Garden Party is a cynical outlook, the microcosm of Cambridge where the upper class is used to uphold a plastic facade rather than a reality and it becomes an act that rather a lot of people feel the need to maintain at Cambridge.
"Melody Maker: What provoked that?
"Fish: A girlfriend. When we were together in Scotland it was great, as soon as she went to Cambridge it was as if she put on a uniform. I think I objected to it in a way. I objected especially to a guy who told me all about the troubles in Palestine when he'd never ever been there because Palestine was a very hip thing to discuss at wine and cheese parties, you know? I reacted very, very aggressively to that situation."

(I've still included Torch's stuff here, but his whole explanation is wrong as far as I'm concerned! Obviously sexual encounters are referred to but not to the extent that Torch seems to believe; he's viewing it like a Carry On movie - Ed.)

Torch said: "Okay, we know what 'garden parties' are etc., but I feel the crucial point was overlooked on the FAQ, that here Fish is turning the whole thing into a gross and grotesque satire by caricaturing the occupants and making it be invaded by sexual escapades... the LAST thing one would see on such an occasion. Hence the dirty schoolboy puns of 'please do come they say' etc.

"A few other points to add to the FAQ comments...
'Social climbers polish ladders' because the device they use to climb, e.g. soukie (sic.) conversation and crawling flattery they are brushing up on, but also they are perhaps washing their penises like medals before the orgy begins... ladders... ?" (Far more likely, I feel, to refer to social climbing or a social ladder, if you will - one of the recurring images of the song. - Ed)

'Wayward sons again have fathers' - 'How's yer father...?' (Again, I really don't think this explanation works; the expression 'how's yer father?' certainly does mean having sex, but there's no euphemisms about 'having a father' that I'm aware of - Ed.) "or just that this is the day their parents come to see them graduate so it's remembering your best behaviour? (Yes! - Ed.)

"Eggs and cumbers... yes yes yes... Crumbling eaves, a nice pun on eaves dropping... Chaucer mentioned again as in Cinderella Search... a writer greatly into cultured carousing.

"The ultimate defeat of the classes Fish hates happens when they are caught on film shagging by 'pressmen'.
'Society columns now ensured, Oh what a crowd!'(No, no, no! They're just ensuring that their pictures get in the society pages of the newspapers by sucking up to royalty, and once that's done, they sod off again - Ed)

"Maybe Fish was bitter because he went for an interview for Sandhurst and told the guy he was a pompous prick... they are the kind of folk he curiosities in GP.

"Also the early bits of the song were penned when Fish was in Cambridge looking for a band with Diz Minnit as his girlfriend was a student there... it may have been Kayleigh. (It wasn't; see Fish's explanation at the top of the page - Ed.) He spent most of the time sleeping on floors and pretending to be a student... jealousy?

Marvellous song, whatever, and very imaginative, typically Fish-bitterness!"
Geoff Parks
said: "'Deb' is short for debutante. By tradition, the daughters of the 'ruling class' in Britain are presented at court (i.e., introduced to the king or queen) when they reach the age of 18 - they make their debut in social circles, hence the term 'debutante'. Over the summer which following this these debutantes attend all the 'essential' social events and each host a 'coming out' party. The object of all this is to find a husband. It is all a very elaborate mating ritual! By extrapolation, the term deb is applied to any girl from the upper classes whose main purpose in life seems to be to find a rich (or potentially rich) husband. There are lots of these at Cambridge!" (Taken from Jeroen Schipper's FAQ on the Web Online)

Sarah Lanel said: "It's a practice which still continues amongst the British upper class, although not as widespread as it was say 20 years ago."

Geoff Parks said: "'Cumber' is short for cucumber (the salad vegetable (what an American might call an English Cucumber - Ed). Two of the most common delicacies at garden parties are cucumber sandwiches and egg sandwiches. In Britain the construction of a sandwich is much simpler than here in the US - it is: slice of bread, butter, filling, butter, slice of bread. At the `best' garden parties such sandwiches will have had the crusts removed and be cut into little triangles. Many hundreds of these will be consumed hence 'The Great Cucumber Massacre' sub-title." (Taken from Jeroen Schipper's FAQ on the Web Online)

In addition to the pun on 'cucumber', Wayne Bloschichak said: "Cumber Bun= an American term for the cloth strip around your waist usually found only with a Tuxedo. (Surely 'cummerbund'? - Ed) Maybe then, 'eggs' refers to 'egg heads'?"

'The Cam'
The River Cam, which gives Cambridge its name, is a 64km feeder tributary of the River Ouse.

Swallows are migratory birds which return to Northern Europe from Africa in the late Spring and Summer, which is when you might expect people to hold garden parties. There is a British expression; 'One swallow does not make a spring.'

Brewer's: "(Ger. Strafen, 'to punish') A word borrowed in good-humoured contempt from the Germans during the First World War. One of their favourite slogans was 'Gott strafe England!' The word applied to any sharp and sudden bombardment, and also used by Americans in the Second World War for the machine-gunning of troops or civilians by low-flying aircraft."

Pear's Cyclopedia: "Strauss. Family of Viennese musicians. Johann Strauss (1804-49) the Elder, was a composer of dance music, who with Joseph Lanner established the Viennese Waltz tradition. His son, Johann Strauss (1825-99) the Younger, although not so good a violinist as his father, was the composer of over 400 waltzes including The Blue Danube and Tales from the Vienna Woods."

It is unlikely that the song refers to Richard Strauss (1864 - 1949) who was the composer of symphonic operas and poems, especially given the feel of the song.

Geoff Parks said: "Eaves are the part of the roof that hangs over the wall. The area underneath the eaves is called the eavesdrop." (Taken from Jeroen Schipper's FAQ on the Web Online)

Pears Cyclopeadia "Geoffrey Chaucer (1340? - 1400) English poet. His main work, The Canterbury Tales, gives a vivid picture of contemporary life." (Cf. Cinderella Search for more information about Chaucer.)

The unintelligible spoken bit after 'Chaucer'
Mark Kelly said: "As far as I remember when we remixed it [...], it wasn't 'garble garble garble my eye spurly spurding my eye,' but 'I say old chap, I've got a squirrel in my eye!'"

'Please don't lie upon the grass, unless accompanied by a fellow'
Kim Quamme Miller said: "In Cambridge there are loads of beautiful grass lawns that have signs saying 'please keep off the grass, unless accompanied by a fellow.' A 'fellow' is a member of a college." A fellow would normally be a post-graduate student.

'May I perhaps suggest Othello'
Kim also wrote the following summary: "Shakespeare wrote the play Othello for an increasingly racist Elizabethan England, making a black man a hero and a white man the villain. Othello, a Moor, is a fairy tale hero who falls in love with a white girl, Desdemona. Othello is 'the thick lips' [1.1.66], 'an old black ram' [1.1.88], 'a lascivious Moor' [1.1.1261 and 'a Barbary horse' [1.1.111-12], and 'he is making the beast with two backs' (having sex) [cf. 1.1.116-17] with Desdemona. She marries Othello against her father's wishes. Iago (a low-ranked commissioned officer in Othello's army) tells Othello that Desdemona's interest in him is nothing more than 'foul disproportion thoughts unnatural' (i.e., white women don't fall in love with black men).

"Iago is the (white) villain who convinces Othello that his wife is cheating on him, which results in him killing her and then himself when he finds out it's untrue."

Geoff Parks said: "'Punting' is a leisure pursuit. A punt is long shallow rectangular boat. This is propelled along the river by standing at one end with a long pole which one pushes against the river bed. It takes quite a bit of practice to get the thing to go in a straight line. Usually a bunch of friends go punting. Each takes a turn doing the 'driving'. The others sit in the punt talking, drinking, trying to catch ducks etc. On a nice day and in the right company it is actually quite a pleasant way to while away the hours." (Taken from Jeroen Schipper's FAQ on the Web Online)

Geoff Parks said: "Beagling is a low-budget version of fox-hunting. A beagle is a type of dog similar to a fox hound. To go beagling, one assembles a pack of these dogs and a bunch of hunters (on foot) and sets off across the fields in search of a hare, rabbit or some similarly inoffensive creature." (Taken from Jeroen Schipper's FAQ on the Web Online)

'I'm miming'
For the single release, 'I'm fucking' was replaced with 'I'm miming'. It was rather unclear until Fish appeared on Top of the Pops, the UK's long running chart show. At the point where he ought to be saying the broadcast-able 'miming' he shut his mouth and merely pointed at his lips as the words came over the PA!

Geoff Parks said: "Another name for rugby (the game). The two most important sports played in Cambridge are rowing and rugby. University sport in Britain has nowhere near the status it does in the US but the annual rowing and rugby contests between Oxford and Cambridge (the Boat Race and the Varsity Match) are televised nationally.

'Rugger is the tops' simply means 'rugby is the most enjoyable sport'. Incidentally, the term 'rucking' which appears in the song is a technical term from rugby." (Taken from
Jeroen Schipper's FAQ on the Web Online)

A relatively lowly order in the Church of England. See Steve Rothery in the video to make more sense of this!

'chalks another blue'
Geoff Parks said: "A 'blue' is a sporting honour. To obtain a blue you have to represent Cambridge University against Oxford in a major sport. You could be in the team all year but if you miss the Oxford game due to injury you don't get your blue. The major sports are rowing, rugby, football (a.k.a. soccer), cricket, (field) hockey, boxing + perhaps one or two others. If you represent the university in a minor sport (e.g.. tennis, squash, badminton, ice hockey, basketball...) you get a 'half-blue'. Receiving a blue entitles you to numerous privileges, such wearing a hideous light blue blazer (dark blue at Oxford), and gives you considerable status amongst those who consider athletics more important than academics." (Taken from Jeroen Schipper's FAQ on the Web Online)

Paul Irvine said: "There is a simpler explanation. Here in England someone who is somehow connected with the royal family, or a lord, peer, etc., is said to be 'blue blooded'. Hence 'blue' from the song." (Taken from Jeroen Schipper's FAQ on the Web Online)

Doug Roach added: "I took this to mean that the daughter had a tryst with a blue-blood, and mother had previously got lucky with one."

'Society columns'
These are gossip pages found in the newspapers and are lists of which well-connected, well-bred or well-moneyed people is seeing whom, or whose party attracted the most fashionable people. It's tittle-tattle for the upper classes. I'll paraphrase so you get the idea; 'Sources tell me that my good friend and confident Baron Haddington has been seen with the eligible young Lady Nina of Berlin. I wonder if I shall be buying them a wedding gift soon?' It's all to do with who's in favour and who's out.

Songs with a link have explanations.

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  1. I always took Othello to mean the simple yet sophisticated board game, popular in the 1980's. It seems to fit the cool, reflective life of Cambridge students and is a one-on-one game. Do you know it? " A minute to learn ..a lifetime to master".

    1. I know it, but it'd never occurred that might be what was being referred to.



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