Behind This Strange Engine
In May 2006, h played a show in a small bar in Dublin called Whelans. Diana from the Web Spain took this transcription and sent it to us. You can also read a review of this whole show here.
"I've never played before on the piano in front of people... the reason I'm here is because of the Inland Revenue... in January I didn't have enough money, so I said to Lucy, 'How can I make a lot of money?' and she said, 'Go on a tour on your own, go on the road.'
'Do you have no alternative?'
I've never actually done this before in public, but it's scary until I get the hang of it... so that's why I'm doing it, I'm just doing it for the money... after I started doing it for the money, I discovered it became a thing of its own, it took a life of its own this thing and it gave me the opportunity to do something very intimate, something very bare and in fact it's been very magical and I've really enjoyed it, so sometimes the tax man can send you places you don't know you're going."
"If there's a tax man in the audience, this is all made up, I owe nothing at all... so that's why I got into this, and having decided to do it, and plucked up the courage to do it, well, I thought I don't want this to be like a tour, I want this to be more like a conversation than me just making a speech, so if you want to ask me anything during the evening, feel free, just talk to me, and think well what you're saying or you'll have to suffer the consequences."
(hey, get off!!!)
"So if anyone has anything intelligent to say..."
(my friend wants your number!)
"...yeah? I'm sure she's very nice... So, I'll talk a bit about, I can't because I'll feel like an egomaniac going for long talking about myself somehow or another... what are you laughing at Judy..? But anyway, I was born in the Lake District in England, which is up in the north of England, just south of Scotland, contrary to popular opinion, I'm not Scottish, I never used to be a lumberjack, I'm not 6'4", don't do wild acts of violence and what else?
I was born in the Lake District, in Kendal where the mint cakes come from... if I don't know your name feel free to shout it out, especially if you're going to ask me a question - say ,'Hi, I'm Jenny from Dublin and I have a crazy background..." So, I was born in Kendal... Marillion have this album called This Strange Engine and I've been getting into the habit of explaining the words to people, because the words that came to me in the middle of the night in one mad rush. I got out of bed at 3 in the morning, went downstairs, wrote them all down and went back to bed again and then got up the next day and went to have a look to see what I'd written, and to my surprise - I wish it happened more often; it hardly ever happens - but I'd written it all in about 10 minutes, which is about as long as it took to write it down... and probably it might sound like an odd song but it actually is quite true, I was born at the hands of a holy woman in a holy place, my mother... There used to be a convent up in Kendal that was also a maternity home and I was delivered by a nun... Whenever I watch The Omen I feel strange things, I've got visions of Gregory Peck (muffled) ...and my dad was in the navy at the time, he was in the merchant navy... apparently it was very hard for him because (muffled).
I don't know, I'm kind of bored with this, I think I'll get on with another song..."
(cheers to continue)
"...alright if you get there shout, 'We're bored!' So, my dad was in the navy, he was on this ship most of the time and he got some leave briefly when my mother had me and he raced to the convent maternity hospital and he always said that the most beautiful woman he ever saw was this nun who handed his baby to him. I don't know how my mother took that, but that's what he said; he was an honest man - like myself. He went back to the navy and we lived with her mum and dad.
They were very interesting people. My grandfather, who came from Kendal, he had made a large sum of money from (muffled) and my grandmother was in the habit of dressing up as a man... I'll live with that... in those days - this is the 1920's and women weren't allowed in the pubs those days - and my grandmother had 7 brothers, she was the only girl, and she'd grown up basically trying to be a boy for all she was worth, to keep up with her brothers, playing football and all that. So, she used to dress up as a bloke and go to the pub. I think he must have met her there... (muffled)
He asked her to marry her, she said she would only marry him if he would marry her the next day. That must have come across as a bit desperate, but that's what she said and so they got married the next day. A short time after that she fell pregnant with my mother, and she had my mum. I'm not quite sure how long after my mother was born, he left home and he went away with all the money and he disappeared for about 18 years and then he came back without hardly any money at all, and said, 'I've had a bit of a rethink and would you take me back?' and she said, 'yeah'!
So my mother grew up as an only child because her father was away spending his fortune somewhere. I can imagine his way of spending... Anyway, with the little money he brought back he bought a shop, he bought a newspaper shop in Kendal which is where we went back to live after my mum came out of the hospital, we went to my Gran and Grandad's house which is above the shop, so I was literally raised in a sweetshop, which was great. I could go downstairs and raise a sweet and provided I could get in and out before my grandfather hit me round the back of the head - he'd do it deliberately slow...
So, we lived above the shop and they had a bulldog named Peter and I'd take him for walk with my grey coat to the river, there was a river right at the back of the house - it's all true and This Strange Engine is sort of the story of my life - and my dad used to come back on leave and he'd sit me on his knee, when I started to learn to talk, and he used to tell me all these stories about what he'd seen, how he'd seen the sun setting on the equator, he drank rum out of coconuts in Montego Bay, and he'd sailed through the Panama Canal. And he said that the Panama Canal, the locks in the Canal where so steep that you could stand on the deck of one ship and see the stern of another ship in the air above you. And he filled my head with all these things.
He told me about banana spiders because the ship he was on used to transport bananas and every now and again one of these spiders as big as a dinner plate would come out and across the deck and it would frighten everybody to death, so all of this in This Strange Engine are my early childhood memories and I joined the choir when I was about 11 and that is when I did my first scrap at singing...(muffled)...and then my Dad came out of the navy.
My mother got sick whilst he was away at sea, and I think that he decided that he couldn't live like that any more; 'the wife, we've got a little kid now..." and he couldn't just carry on sailing round the world not being around, and all those things kind of resonate with me: I've been in bands for quite a lot of years now and I've sort of neglected my kids and my family. So, a lot of these things that he went through are very similar to some of the things that I can relate to, except that he had the courage and the guts to pack it in. He came out of the navy and the only other work he could get was in the coalmines, so he moved us to Doncaster which is a far less attractive place than Kendal, it's a grim and industrial town in northern England - certainly grim in those days, not quite so bad now. It was famous for its mines, famous for the railway - they've got The Flying Scotsman there, if anybody's heard of that (nothing to do with the previous singer in Marillion) and, so... famous for mines, famous for railways, and that's about all that it's famous for, except for Kevin Keegan, that bloke that was in Top Gear and me... in order of fame... so, 'my dad came back from the navy and down the mine', la di da...
It wasn't until I was about 40 I woke one morning and realized how massive a jump it must have been for him to go from watching the sun set on the equator and putting his feet up in the Caribbean to being two miles down a hole underground, being unable to breath, being hot and claustrophobic, and basically just being down a mine which is pretty horrible by anyone's standards. I then realized one day how much of a sacrifice that he actually made for my mother and I and I know how much because I used to see him staring into space and he looked so unhappy and so I wrote this song just to let him know that I had noticed, it was my way of thanking him.
The first time I got into a band, it was at a working man's club band, gigging round Yorkshire - just think Peter Kay; that's basically what we were doing for a couple of years. We were dealing with people who were like the kind of people that Peter Kay pretends to be, and that was dreadful, especially for someone so (muffled) with me... That was a bit of a struggle, they weren't the most tentative of people and weren't given to massive outbursts of poetry... the biggest trouble was this guy we ran into this guy called Pete Eager, and he was an old rock 'n' roller from the late 50's, early 60's, but he was a lot older with a beard, but he was playing a tribute to Elvis. That was his thing...he said he had himself this gig on this cruise liner, and he said that before he was on we could play some of our stuff.
We used to write all our own stuff, and working men's club bands had to do a couple of songs from the charts in the 70's which was all really awful, and we refused. We used to write our own songs which were all really awful - but we didn't know how awful they were!"`
(play one now then!!!!)
"I don't think I remember them. I really can't - you forget how old I am, I can't even remember my lines. So, we all got on the ship with the tribute thing and what we hadn't realized was that the bass player of the band we were in was a psychopath. He was actually stroppy and when he got very, very drunk - and we had never seen him really drunk - he turned into a complete axe murderer, which is funny, but not when you're in a confined space, and we were on this ship with nothing to do all day.
It went from Felixstowe to Gothenburg in Sweden and then down to Amsterdam, up all the canals, they've got huge ocean canals where ships can go into. And we were in the middle of the North Sea and the bass player was so drunk he could hardly stand, let alone play, we were playing this nightclub at the back of the ship, and we went on stage. The drummer and the mad man had quite different opinions over the rhythm and that was a wreck, and so he was trying to hit the drummer with the neck of the bass over his head, which is a very heavy thing. So this Pete Eager, complete with rhinestones and Elvis outfit, jumps on the stage and began to restrain our bass player, did so successfully, took him away to walk him around and calm him down, and we all went down into my cabin, which is a small, enclosed space, you can't pretend to hit anyone, let alone try to kill you... And shortly after that he came into the cabin and tried to kill the drummer with a broken glass, and in the struggle he completely cut my hand open.
That was 30 years ago... getting on to 30 years ago... So the next thing I know is I’m running down the corridor of this ship, breathing like I didn’t know people could breathe, running around trying to hold my hand. In fact there was more blood than in Psycho! So, I couldn’t find anyone, 2 o’clock in the morning, running around the ship in the middle of the North Sea, breathing like no one could breathe, I eventually found someone who was from the crew and they took me to the bridge of the ship, where all the electronic controls are, and I was sat in the chair in front of this thing with lights and buttons, with a window here and I could see the bow of the ship down below me and the open flatness of the water in the middle of the night and they were wrapping towels round my hand which were gradually dyeing red and dripping. They’d take one off and give me another one, and they told me that there wasn’t a doctor on the ship, that there isn’t anyone that could do anything, but that the first officer had done a first-aid course and they had gone to take him out of bed, and if I could just wait for him to get out of bed...
So, I was staring at the sea out of the window, and getting weaker and feeling dizzy, and realizing that I was dying and I was bleeding to death. And I remember thinking that there are actually much worse ways to die than this. I wasn’t in a lot of pain, I was cut up but didn’t hurt that much, completely cut through the nerves. He had actually cut through my thumb tendon, it took two years operations, that was after - but in that moment I was bleeding to death and thought all that stuff at the end of Strange Engine - the part of Strange Engine breathing, that’s all true as well. To know that all this stuff is all a romantic metaphor...
(Is that how you wore the band on your fingers in Marillion?)
"Yes, I spent two years with parts of my right arm and right hand in bandages. And when I got back into bands again, started playing again, I used to wear bandages on my hand, just for the hell of it. We got rid of him; he didn’t carry on playing the bass after we got back to England. The guy that got his job, a guy called Steve Rock, actually committed suicide. The guitar player that helped me in the struggle that was down the cabin when I got cut, he died of leukaemia after that. The good news is that on our next album I’m going to write a nice happy (muffled) and then I’ll get hate mail from people like you...
(Starts Marbles..."has anyone seen my last...")
"...this is all true as well. Me and my mate John used to play marbles every day. This is quite a happy one... Most days - it isn’t like it is now - so we used to play on the roads without there being casualty. In those days there weren’t any cars anyway. So we played on the street and we used to play marbles on the street. And one day me and my mate John realized that if you hit marbles with a tennis racket, they go up into the air like bullets and they go so high that they go out of sight. We sat there all afternoon. It’s amazing, they don’t come down, they just go up. And we spent all afternoon and worked our way around about 200 marbles which of course were coming down all over the estate, breaking their way through greenhouses and killing a cat, and by the of the afternoon there was a queue of people at the front door waving, and so my dad confiscated all my marbles. I used to have about 400 at that time. He gave them all away to the kids on the road. When I was about 43, he got me some marbles for Christmas. So that’s it..."
"...that sounds like a Rufus Wainright song..."
(plays a bit of Rufus, goes into Erin Marbles)
First posted on the Web UK website in 2006.