Friday, January 6, 2012

1983: Mother smiles she did it too

The Woolies, WH Smith and Boots singles bargain bins were ace, weren't they?

Any shop that sold singles that they then discounted once they dropped out of the charts was a treasure trove. There were those singles you never got round to buying. The ones you liked but not enough to buy at full price. And most intriguingly the ones that hovered outside the Top 40 and those that floated around the lower reaches of the charts that you had seen, read about but never heard. At such knockdown prices now was the time to buy. The ex-jukebox singles on the newsagents' counter was rich vein too.

Among many such gems I discovered this way was this Marillion number. The anti-thesis of everything I stood for at the time, I had always liked the cover. I knew they were rock, and I wasn't really into metal back then. That's what I thought they were, though of course they're not metal at all. Modern prog if anything at all, with their jester imagery, etc.

But for 20p it was worth a punt, and I was instantly enraptured by staccato pace and Fish's soaring vocals. I was pleasantly surprised. It took me a while to work out that it's the biggest class war song going, the garden party of the title up for derision rather than celebration, though the whole tone of the record is so upbeat it's an easy mistake to make.

I've had a soft spot for Marillion ever since. I was kind of pleased and disappointed when they hit big with Kayleigh. They were my discoery, my semi-secret crush and now everyone loved them. Ah well, nothing good stays hidden forever. Since then they've proved to be by turns dull, ludicrous and forgettable, sometimes even embarrassing, but I'll forgive them.

The last bargain bin I regularly visited was in the basement of the Sloane Square WH Smith, which I'd get off the bus specifically for on my way home every Monday when it was replenished. They binned singles in 1991 and that was the end of that. Another pleasure bit the dust. CD singles were never the same, though I'll cherish doing even that when there are no longer any record shops on the high street whatsoever.

What sort of world will it be for the next generations where one is unable to rummage in record shops? Unthinkable.

Anyhoo, I've never seen this video before.


  1. I'm struggling with the appeal of that cover - Mrs M may get it, she's been a long haul Marill' fan. And Tull too!

    Loved a markdown single - as well as Woolworths, Smiths - there was a DJ gear rental shop near us, who would sell off ex/non-charters (or I'm guessing used once singles). Not surprisingly it was mostly new wave oddities: The Damned - Just Can't Be Happy Today, The Stranglers - Nuclear Device and The Human League - Boys and Girls - all were bagged at basement prices

  2. That sleeve is so horrible I can't look at it. I never had anything in particular against Marillion, but now I do. *shudders*.

    BUT... how incredible that WHS binned singles as early as 1991! I didn't even get a CD player until 1997, holding out desperately for vinyl as long as I felt I could. I loved nothing more than a rummage in a Singles Bin - we used to make a special trip to a dodgy shop in East Ham that sold them on at ten for a quid. At that price, you could afford to risk a few stinkers...

  3. Me neither, ISBW, I held out until 1994 and then realised if I didn't get with it, I'd never be able to hear new music at home. Sad, but true

  4. I saved up for a CD player and bought one in 1990, aged 17, which from the evidence of previous comments was quite early. And, for me, impressive.

    Marillion's pre-Misplaced Childhood stuff remains one of the few of the nooks and crannies of the 1980s that I've never (re)discovered. It doesn't help that their iTunes presence isn't comprehensive.

    Assassing was the first single of theirs I remember, and the sight of Fish in Smash Hits with that snake's tongue gave me nightmares.