Photo credit: Andy Philips. Friars Aylesbury Dressing Room March 1983
Interview with Mark Kelly January 2021
MMM: Hi Mark. thanks for taking the to me to chat to the museum page today. Its been a tough couple of years for most of us, but you've been VERY busy, You released your first solo album, you've written a new Marillion album, you've written an autobiography and you got married. Did you find all the work helped you stay sane in a crazy world.
Mark Kelly: Yeah I would never have predicted that I would have had such a productive couple of years, as you say its been quite busy for me with quite a few milestones, well in the case of getting married its not new but its certainly a milestone, but at the beginning of 2020 when the pandemic first started, I didn't really know what was ahead, because we weren't really planning to do Marillion touring, we were planning to write and record an album but that was what was in the diary, Oh! and we had Cruise to the Edge but that was it. So when all the pandemic stuff started and we all got told to stay at home, that was the point where i thought, OK, I can do that solo album now, so that was the first thing, it was because of the solo album that I was doing an interview with a chap called Nick Shilton, who has got a small publishing company and he was the one who suggested I write the autobiography, "I think you have a story to tell, have you ever thought about writing an autobiography?" and I was like "No" but I said i'd think about it and then I did that for a bit and I thought it was a nice idea
MMM So that was actually my next question, whether it was because of lockdown or because it had been planned.....but you've answered that now lol
Mark Kelly: That was it, I had no thoughts about it, I'm not a writer, and Nick said, "Don't worry about that, get out a microphone and record some notes and I'll get them transcribed and I'll find you a writer who can write it up for you to make it read well" Then I started doing that, trying to talk into a microphone for the first chapter, but it really wasn't working for me and I just thought, you know what i'm just going to type it up. There's a chap called Phil Wilding, who is a journalist, that I've bumped into from time to time, got on pretty well with him , nice guy, very funny, I liked his writing style, he'd written a couple of novels, so he's not just writing reviews of albums and stuff and I asked Phil if he'd be interested in helping me polish up what i'd written, he said " send the first chapter, see if you like what I've done" I said Lets do it. To be honest I wasn't sure whether to be pleased or disappointed when he didn't change that much, he added some really nice things and some nice lines that gave it a literary quality
MMM: It certainly has that, its very polished and very entertaining
Mark Kelly: Exactly! the entertainment factor! a few of the jokes came from me, but it was a case of I'd set him up and he'd score the goal. We did it a chapter at a time and it would come back and I'd be laughing out loud at some of it, the way he changed the story subtly but it still had my voice and it still felt like my writing. It was great, I think we worked really well together as a team. I was very pleased with the final result and I've got a lot of positive feedback from those who have read it, it's nice when its not just your Brothers or you Mum, actually (Mark laughs) My Mum was upset about the jacket blurb which said we were from a "Dirt Poor" childhood and she was " what do you mean Dirt Poor"?" We weren't exactly doing well
MMM: So did you go to your family for stories, did you find any of those "Who do you think you are" moments?
Mark Kelly: There were a few stories I already knew, like the one about Dick the Gunman, my Uncle Eddie told me that when I was over in the States, about Dick and how he tried to blow up King George, so I dug around on the internet and found he had escaped from Wakefield Prison and the British Government decided it wasn't in the public interest for him to return to England and serve the rest of his sentence, so its all there online and not just a made up story and I managed to find some evidence that it was all real which was really good. So most of the time I shared them with my family before it was published, just in case there was anything that they didn't like. My Brother did remember one, he said "that party you had when you were 16, when the Hooker stole the money to pay for the beer and you ended up lending me 30 quid or whatever" so it was quite fun.
MMM: The book starts in your birth city of Dublin, a city ravaged with poverty at the time, as we mentioned earlier, consequently your family had to emigrate and settled in Essex. How difficult were those years for you?
Mark Kelly: There was a little bit of adjustment, but I think when you are that age you take things in your stride, I lost my Irish accent within a couple of months, so literally you had to fit in, the whole story of me being a West Ham supporter, I didn't give a damn about football, but you had to support a team, otherwise you were a Freak or a Weirdo and it just ended up I supported West Ham. So it was a case of just trying to fit in, I was one of those kids who kept his head down and stayed out of trouble both with teachers and other kids.
MMM Let's move on to your academic abilities or perhaps lack of them, looking back on it now, for someone who has made a career out of music and headlined festivals, been elected to the PPL, you've created crowd funding and played the Royal Albert Hall, do you think your family or teachers would have been surprised by how well you've done?
Mark Kelly: Yeah I think i could have made better use of my school years, that's for sure, the thing that would have been useful to me, was to study a few languages, with all the travelling we've done, but that was one of the last things I wanted to do, but I suppose I was very lucky, the thing is anybody in a successful band is very lucky, so much luck involved, that who knew what I would end up doing, but I would certainly say I wasted most of educational years
MMM: Didn't we all?
Mark Kelly: Well No! My daughter Tallulah is at Cambridge University and I've never seen anyone work as hard as she does, so its clear she doesn't have my genes (Mark laughs)
MMM: So then like a lot of us you discovered Prog music and you joined your first band Chemical Alice, the band hardened fans will have known you from first, you released one EP Curiouser and Curiouser, what are your memories of your time in the band and how would you describe their music to fans who haven't heard it.
Mark Kelly: Well I think at the time I was very happy to get into a band, We took it very seriously but we didn't have aspirations to make a career out of it, I don't think, certainly at the beginning, but I enjoyed being in a band, the whole going to rehearsals, learning to write songs, learning to play other peoples songs, trying to do gigs, so all that was exciting and lots of fun, but the music we made was I think....We weren't really all on the same page with what we thought we should be doing, which was a big part of the reason when I got the chance to join Marillion, I jumped ship from Chemical Alice because I really didn't see eye to eye with the guitarist David Weston on the sort of music we should be making and as i said in the book, it was more towards "Let's jam for hours on end" and we do jam for hours on end now (Mark laughs), but he liked to jam in front of an audience, a sort of Grateful Dead and Phish (not the Scotsman, but the jam band from the US) so that was that and it didn't really appeal to me.
MMM: Marillion supported you in those days in late 1981, did they impress you then?
Mark Kelly: Very much, Yeah! They had a very big affect of me, to think that on the same night I saw them, they asked me to join was a bit of a shock. But I was keen and didn't have to think that long about it. I completely burned my bridges, I went to see my lecturer, I was studying Electronics at the time and asked him if it was alright if I joined a band and come back in a year if it didn't work out. I was already 2 years behind the rest of the kids. I'd messed about going to art college and a year of doing nothing and I figured another year wouldn't make a difference.
MMM: There were a lot of departures from the band in those early years, we won't go into them all, we'll save that for the readers, but was it hard to write about all those emotional moments?
Mark Kelly: Not really! I think it was a mixture of excitements about all the things that were happening. There wasn't a week that went by whether it was playing at the Marquee or the Radio 1 session, the Friday Rock show. So we were all being swept along. It was a combination of excitement, anticipation and new experiences with worry and fear that we wouldn't get signed and we wouldn't break through and we wouldn't have enough money to live on. Sometimes we barely had enough money to buy food, it was really tough at times and for me personally. I don't know how the rest of the band thought, I've never really discussed it with them, but I've always thought the way Diz was fired, Brian was fired, Mick was fired, I felt like it could be me next. It would only take Fish to take a dislike to you for whatever reason.
MMM: You do mention in the book, your fear that you might be next for the Assassin!
Mark Kelly: yeah why not? I'd seen it and been part of it, what happened to Diz and Mick. I'd seen how ruthless Fish and we as a band could be and it wasn't as if somebody was sticking up for them. The way they fired Brian, they saw me one night and 2 weeks later I was in the band. You know it was fairly unstable and again in the book i talk about having a baby and getting married and the rest of the band were all single young guys. That felt really risky, from the point of view of whether my face would fit anymore, Coz I could see in the case of Brian, his face didn't fit anymore, so I was nervous some of the time, but they were really exciting times, I wouldn't change a thing and I'd do it all again tomorrow.
MMM: As we all know there are many sides to every story, this is yours, There will be a large number of fans who will be most interested in the Fish era and in particular how that all ended. None more so than Fish himself, his Fish on Friday broadcasts in recent weeks have been very vocal about his interest in reading it? Do you think he will like how he's portrayed in the book?
Mark Kelly: He (Fish) messaged me yesterday, asking if I was going to send him a signed copy. I said I'd actually written him a note in a book the night before, its actually ready to go and it ships out today. So I think its hard. In the book, I've tried to be as honest about everybody as I can, like my failings as well as everybody else's. We had a great time together and I think in the case of Fish, if he hadn't have been in the band, we wouldn't have got anywhere. I think his presence in the band was the reason i joined or a big part of the reason. I could see this guy had a lot going for him, if anybody was going to go places it was Fish! Anybody could have seen that. There were a lot of difficulties as well and I try to describe how it was for me and its my recollection of how things were, everybody has a different version of events. The firing of Diz for example! I've read what others have said, like Mick, and Diz has said a few things about it himself. One of the things that Mick said was that somehow Diz had got wind that we were going to get rid of him, that isn't my memory of it at all. I can remember Fish saying, you're going to have to tell him and then literally stepping in himself and taking over, but that's exactly what happened and I have a clear memory of that. So what Mick remembers I'm not really sure, everyone has their own version and this is mine, as far as i remember its the truth. I've left out some personal stuff, because the people I'm writing about are real people and they're still alive and it's not my intention to hurt people. There's a lot been said about Fish leaving and it's not like I'm saying anything that hasn't been said, so hopefully it will still be interesting to people including Fish and like I've said to him, he' been threatening to write a book for years, I don't know what kind of book he'll write but if he doesn't like or agree with what I've said, he can always answer it in his own book.
MMM: and I'm sure he will...
Mark Kelly:...or in his podcast on a Friday night (laughs)
MMM: Well I'll be watching on Friday..
Mark Kelly: yeah I bet you will, a lot of people will but whatever he says I'm sure it will help sell more books,
MMM: So listen, there's a lot of bad books out there about the band, is there any recurring error in them that irks you more than others?
Mark Kelly: I tried to fix the ones that people pointed out, like with the Brian Jelleyman story for example.....
....at this point we were interrupted by my dog Ziggy barking at some passing cat, I had warned Mark we might be....lol
MMM Sorry about that, had to give him a treat to shut him up...lol
Mark Kelly: Good idea! We do that to Pete when he starts shouting (everyone laughs) there's a number of things that I hopefully corrected and as much as I could I tried to cross reference with things that are out there, as well as from other people or even just factual stuff, like it's great when you guys (Scott's Porridge -Marillion Archive) helped me out, I was messaging Claude (Micallef Attard) and saying, "have you a copy of this particular gig?" I don't want to hear the songs, I just want to hear what was said, like what Fish said at the Pier 83 gig in 1983, when we were opening for Todd Rundgren, I remember that event with the peach being thrown at him and I remember him starting off really calmly, I don't remember the exact words he said, but I got Claude to share the gig, then i reprinted his exact words, I knew he said something like "If you'd like to come up on the stage.....thanks to the guy who threw the peach it got a bit damaged on the way in" his voice goes up and up and up until in the end ''I'll stick it in your face''....and to the rest of the people Good Evening'' It was quite a moment, that whole tour was quite memorable actually, but yeah like I said, where I could I tried to verify stuff I was writing about...
MMM: So what did you learn about yourself from the writing process?
Mark Kelly: I think I got better at writing, by the end of it according to Phil anyway, he said I had improved. I enjoyed it as a process, "What did I learn about myself?" well i suppose, that I've gone through life...I think I say something about it in the book, like feeling like I'll just give things a try and if it doesn't work I'll give something else a try, its always worked out for me, maybe I was lucky, I've always had that attitude, you should give things a try, don't be afraid of change, like the whole crowd funding thing, if I'd been a cautious person I wouldn't have suggested it, I wouldn't pushed for it because there was some nervousness about it in the band and I think if we'd all been nervous we wouldn't have done it, lets just sign the record deal, that's guaranteed money there and we know that, so I think you have to willing to push yourself off into things that aren't always the easiest option, but its usually worked but not always, sometimes I jump before looking and realize I should have looked more carefully whether it be in my personal life or my professional life, but I'm grateful, I've looked at my last 60 years and I think I've ended up in a good place.
MMM: I've been asked by a number of people, will the book be available on kindle or will it have any translation into other languages
Mark Kelly: OK! In answer to the first question. it will definitely will be, I'm in talks with my publisher about it and I think its something that should be made available sooner rather than later, because I think I'm one of those people that generally doesn't pick up books anymore but buys everything on Kindle and there's been a few books I wanted read in recent times that I've wanted to read, but they weren't available on Kindle, so i'd wait for it to be released on Kindle rather than buy the book, but to be blunt, there's so little return in putting it out on Kindle or even putting it out through Amazon, they've slashed their price by 30% and I'm going to the publisher going 'bloody hell' how can they can sell it for that? The publisher said you offer them a book and they say, we'll pay less for it and they knock 40% off the price of what they should pay, so take it or leave it and if you say No, they won't sell it. so that's the world we live in, that's how Amazon sell so cheaply, as an Amazon user I'm being hypocritical because its great, you order something and you get it the next day.
MMM: Well I stopped using them because of all that, I only buy from the artist now
Mark Kelly: Being at the receiving end of their tactics or behaviour, I've already started doing what you said, not stopping using them, but seeing if i really need to buy from them or can I get it from someone else, so if I have to wait 2 or 3 days for a new pair of trainers or whatever its no big deal. Anyway it will be out on Kindle at some point in the not so distant future. The translations we've already had a few people talking about that, its hard to know as its not going to be a best seller. I think there is a chance but some of the humour would be hard to translate. and you have to pay for it, but it is something we are considering.
MMM: Moving on to the new album now, You released one track ''Be Hard on Yourself'' to fans and that went down a storm on the recent tour, you are due to release a second track Murder Machines on February 4th, what can you tell us about that song?
Mark Kelly: Well Murder Machines, when we started doing this album, I remember h, well not when we started, we sort of started doing it a few years back, some of this album, you know we started jamming as soon as we finished the last album, but because of all the touring and other stuff, Marillion weekends, 2018 was a year we did quite a bit of jamming and mostly 2020 really , but lyrically h had sort of had lots of ideas knocking around and quite a few songs that were at various stages of completion that are not on this album, because some of them we felt were not quite right, quite finished or we just weren't happy with them and at some point we had a shortlist of about 20 which we narrowed down to about 10 that we finished. I've been pushing right from the beginning to make an album that is 45 minutes or less. an album we fit on one piece of vinyl, not because of the vinyl thing but mainly because peoples attention span and willingness to devote time to listen to an album, I think 45 minutes is a really good length for an album, its always just worked
MMM: Yeah, I totally agree
Mark Kelly: I think we've been guilty of it, Happiness is the Road is a great 45 minute album not such a great 80 minute double album, in my opinion. So instead of making another Happiness is the Road we took the best which is 50/52 minutes, I pushed and pushed but that was the best I could get, I'm happy that its 50 minute of songs that we all like a lot. But to answer your question, h did say a couple of years ago once all the Pandemic was going strong, he just said "I can't make this an album about Covid, I'm going to try and avoid writing about Covid" but he didn't manage it really, because he writes about what's going on in his head, in the the world, the things that upset him, make him angry, make him sad or happy whatever! things that raise some sort of emotion, You have to write about what moves you I suppose, good or bad, so Murder Machines I suppose on the one hand is about 'The Virus' The Murder Machine is a virus, Bacteria for instance are self contained living things that reproduce, Viruses do nothing unless they invade a cell. they hijack the cells reproductive machinery to make copies of themselves and that's all they do, viruses are barely alive really, they can't exist outside of living cells, where at least bacteria can live on their own if you know what I mean. So a Virus is barely alive really, like a Machine, so that's the Murder Machines title. But there's also that line ' i put your arms around....' Oh you probably haven't heard it? (Such a tease) ' I put my arms around you and kill you with love' ok that's got a killed her with love theme, the virus killed her in a more literal sense and also its a song about unrequited love and erm....I wouldn't say stalking but.....erm you're better off asking h actually, its my interpretation of the lyrics having read them, but I think with a good lyric, people take from it what they want.
MMM: It was mentioned early on that you yourself were in a very productive writing mood on this album, was this in some way unusual for you?
Mark Kelly: Well in the book I talk about my writing, around about the time of Misplaced Childhood, especially Clutching at Straws, Steve Rothery was in a real creative period and wrote most of that music at that time and I always felt that I...not played second fiddle, but bits of songs I wrote tended to be half of what Steve wrote, but it was mostly his ideas through most of the bands career actually, but for the last 10 years or so I started to get into my stride with the way that we worked.....better late than never, I've just been quite creative, coming up with lots of ideas in the jamming process that we have, it just works well for me, I just feel comfortable experimenting, coming up with stuff, i don't really think about it when I'm writing. it really is just, switch off and see what happens. The only thing I do in preparation for writing is, is get some sounds together so I'll have lots of keyboards around me and each keyboard will have a different sound on it, like a palate of sounds if you like, I'll have a bunch of those all queued up ready to go and then I'll hit a pedal and have a whole bunch of other sounds, but they're all sounds I've previously selected so I know I like them, because if you just randomly start using sounds, you can waste a lot of time and its just pisses everybody off, so that's my writing technique if you like, I generally come in here with no idea of what I'm going to play and I get inspired by the sound, we jam around stuff, but I have to say, if I come up with the start of something, the melody, the chords or a keyboard part, Pete will come up with something that will be really creative on the bass and that takes it in a different place to where I would have had it, Steve Rothery will do some guitar around that and Ian will do the his thing, a great example of that for me is the song 'Care' the middle section of that, we're all doing different things but it really works well together and its one of my favourite bits on the album
MMM: Looking forward to hearing it, you're teasing us again...lol
Mark Kelly: But you know these jams...there's a little snippet of Care that Tim (Sidwell) used on the trailer, its got like a funky bass thing and a big guitar riff type thing. That big guitar riff was from 2010, we've had that little jam, but we've never been able to find a home for it and every new album, someone will say what about that bit, but we never found anywhere to put it until now and then it just really worked.
MMM: So was there any conscious decision to not make it FEAR part 2 or make it rockier?
Mark Kelly: For me, i was saying lets make it a bit more guitary coz FEAR was quite keyboardy and also its quite low key, lots of slow atmospheric stuff on FEAR, well its certainly how it feels to me, so I don't know if it was conscious or not but we ended up choosing songs that were a bit more up tempo, Be Hard On Yourself is a good example, it sort of motors along, Murder Machines does as well as does Reprogram the Gene, so there's quite a few songs that will work really well live I think. They're not slow or lacking in energy or all this washy atmosphere, so musically I think it is a bit of a departure, we've had great reactions, the record company people are raving about it. It was finished months ago and its still not out, so its really weird, we're really excited about it and hope people when they hear it, will feel the same we do about it.
MMM: You're starting rehearsals soon for the Weekends
Mark Kelly: Yeah! eh Monday actually, I'll be in the other room getting the sounds and click tracks for us to play along to and on Monday we're all in here learning the new album
MMM: Do you know yet, how much of the album you'll be playing?
Mark Kelly: All of it! Yeah Poland will be the first time you get to hear it live and they can hear the whole thing.
MMM: Wow! well that's something to look forward to. Well on that note, I'd like to say thank you again for talking with me today, Good luck with the Weekends, the album and of course the book.
Mark Kelly: Cheers Mark
Mark's book: "Marillion, Misadventures and Marathon: The Life and Times of Mad Jack: is available to buy direct from Racket Records.
The new album "An Hour before it's Dark" is also available to pre order from Racket.
Murder Machines will be released on streaming services on February 4