The Astronauts – Woodhall Community Centre – Welwyn Garden City – 03/08/84

Waiting For It All To Go Wrong / Scoop / Blood / Death Of An Idealist / No Cold Water / Chances / Typically English Day / Gothic Rooms / Gold At The Top / Following Orders (part) / Behave Yourself (Accapello) / Friends

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’.

The Astronauts

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

  1. gerard
    April 29, 2012 at 1:23 am

    Probably the most underrated songwriter ever in my book. But I’d say this….

    “the UK music press which then as now was only interested in anything trendy, fashionable or middle class”

    …isn’t really true, I think it’s simpler than that, it’s about what sells. Shift the units and they’re interested. I bet that’s even truer these days, now NME sells about 3 copies a week

  2. devotionhooligan
    April 30, 2012 at 11:18 am

    another excellent post mick//of course i agree with gerard // mark is a totally underrated songwriter//also,credit where it’s due, i nicked most of my spiel from rob at acid stings // who also have a cool apostles page too.(
    the current line up of the band are out there playing some blinding gigs and busy recording new songs for a split LP as i type. 🙂 xx

  3. Ju
    May 8, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    Many evenings in my youth around this period were spent either listening to The Astronauts on vinyl or seeing them live in and around London. They helped me get through many a hard time and have my total respect: great live, great lyrics and a commitment to saying things which we may think but struggle to express. Without them, the world would have been a pretty lonely place. “The Astronauts, we love you!” Too right we do.

  4. Rob
    May 30, 2012 at 3:17 am

    I wrote the Astronauts piece above (as devotional hooligan points out) but nice to see so many websites have used it when describing the Astronauts.
    I was at the above gig which had a great turnout and atmosphere. The Astronauts played well but their current gigs with Otters lineup at times surpasses performances from that era.

  5. Penguin
    Penguin • Post Author •
    May 30, 2012 at 8:37 am

    I have changed the details on the post above now Robin…

  6. Rob
    May 30, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    Thanks Mick. I think I have said it before but thanks for continuing to run this truly great website…

  7. Fortino
    June 6, 2012 at 12:00 am

    I’ve seen the Astronauts for the first time during the weird tales night 2011 and I was very impressed by the atmosphere and the energy of the show. So bad I don’t live in the UK to see them more often (and all the others who were playing that night. What a night!) And I was proud to go back home with the vinyl reedition of the Peter Pan record!
    Thank you Mick for keeping this place so interesting!

  8. Smudge
    September 14, 2014 at 9:37 am

    I helped organised that gig for the Miners at Woodhall in Welwyn (I’m Cam). It was done in collaboration with the local Miners support group (Trades Council). I think that may have been the last gig I was really involved with. It really was a great night- jam packed. Can’t remember the exactly figures but think we made over 500 quid. The money went to Nottinghamshire Miners groups. I’m still proud to have the mini mining lamp I was given (these were given as thanks to people involved with support efforts during the strike).

    It did seem to me that the anarcho punk scene seemed to decline in the wake of that strike. It was a depressing time…(or was that just how I felt?!).
    Fucking bastard Tories look after their own….nothing changes there does it?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *