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Uploaded tonight is a wonderful performance by The Astronauts recorded at ‘The Victory For The Miners’ benefit gig in the band’s hometown of Welwyn Garden City during August 1984. The Redskins from York also performed at this gig. Unfortunately for browsers of KYPP who enjoy my sporadic posts on The Astronauts, I only have the one side of this cassette tape with this recording existing on it. The other side of the cassette tape I found out to my horror had something else recorded upon it sometime during the passing decades, erasing the last ten minutes or so of this performance by The Astronauts.
Sorry about that! Still forty five minutes of an Astronauts live performance around the ‘Its All Done By Mirrors’ era is still pretty much gold dust so here it is…
Thanks to Tinsel who supplied the photograph above of The Astronauts performing at Stevenage Bowes Lyon House around this time. Also I have added Robin Basak’s piece on The Astronauts below along with KYPP’s Tony D’s N.M.E review of the All The Madmen records release ‘It’s All Done By Mirrors’.
Eternal long-haired losers. This semi-legendary band have only released seven albums in its long existence but each of them is a bonafide classic. The Astronauts second album ‘All Done By Mirrors’ judged by those who heard it as among the best albums of all time was a stunning collection of explosive pop songs and traditional folk ballads recorded at a time when all their gigs were with anarchist punk bands. Their fifth album ’In Defence Of Compassion’ experimented with ambient house music years before other conventional bands even thought of doing so. With so many excellent songs (many never recorded) it is probably The Astronauts enthusiasm for drugs and music over career and changing fashions which has stopped them becoming as well known as they should be.
Inspired by the UK punk explosion Mark Astronaut formed the band with a few friends in 1977 and began playing local gigs in their hometown of Welwyn Garden City. By 1979 The Astronauts were regularly appearing at free festivals and gigs in London organised by a hippy collective known as Fuck Off Records and from these began a close friendship with London punk bands Zounds and the Mob.
That year the first Astronauts EP was released on local label Bugle Records and musically it reflected the hippie drug culture combined with the energy of punk. ‘All Night Party’ still sounds like the paranoid nightmare it did back then. The record established the Astronauts on the local gig scene among the non mainstream hippie / punk / biker crowd.
Also in 1979 an EP was released under the assumed name of Restricted Hours on the Stevenage Rock Against Racism label. ‘Getting Things Done’ attacked the political apathy of small town life while ‘Still Living Out The Carcrash’ was musically a typically nightmarish theme.
By 1980 gigs throughout England with Zounds had won over an army of fans and the ‘Pranksters In Revolt’ EP sold all its copies within weeks. Musically the four songs were not as adventurous as the first EP although the lyrics were as incisive as ever. Like many great bands from the post-punk era The Astronauts were completely ignored by the UK music press which then as now was only interested in anything trendy, fashionable or middle class. Local fanzine Zero began to champion the band as did the local newspapers.
The debut album ‘Peter Pan Hits The Suburbs’ was released by Bugle / Genius Records in 1981 to widespread acclaim. Incredibly it received great reviews in virtually all the UK music press. The typical Astronauts audience at the time was largely punks attracted by the energetic gigs and a handful of hippies, so the album was something of a surprise. Full of heartfelt folk ballads and featuring legendary jazz saxophonist Lol Coxhill, the album was not what fans had expected but appealed to a different audience.
The contradiction of heavy chaotic punk performances and structured melodic alternative pop / folk / ambient songs continues to this day.
Throughout 1982-1985 there were hundreds of gigs with the many anarcho punk bands of the era and the second album ‘All Done By Mirrors’ on All The Madmen Records was arguably the finest album to date. ‘Soon’ again on All The Madmen Records featured great songs but was let down by lifeless production, yet it still remains one of my favourite albums.
Robin Basak Zero Fanzine
It’s All Done By Mirrors (All the Madmen records)
No-one’s going to complain of The Astronauts holding back in the world-stakes. An average song on this, their second album, unfolds a mini-saga or describes an isolation-tinged scenario with painstakingly effective attention to detail. From Mark Astronaut’s lyrical pen comes a woman dreaming of the Dorset coast whilst writing to her former lover (‘Seagull Mania’); or the man on the street and his wife living out the final day before nuclear destruction (‘Typically English Day’). Carefully drawn, their personalities delicately shaded in – textured is the word. Sung deep in the shadows of irony, these verbose vocals are the framework through which the raw violins and guitars are weaved. Punchy drums keep things alive and alert when wimp-out threatens, which it does too much to be comfortable. However, it’s hard not to feel akin to such a loosely anarchic platter. Let it rip!
Tony D, NME, October 1983