The Astronauts - What The Papers Say

Thanks to the following sources, amongst others:
Abisti Rock 'n' Reel Record Collector New Musical Express AK Press

Constitution Single (Acid Stings) - The Astronauts latest release in their lengthy career sees them back on top form with the single Constitution, a heady mixture of urban folk-rock and early seventies quirkiness bringing to mind the Incredible String Band or the more contemporary Here & Now, flute, violin and guitars creating a real texture of sound. The flip has them in garage band territory with a nicely frantic piece. Excellent. Rock 'n' Reel, Number 11, 1991

Constitution Single (Acid Stings) - ... veteran punky folksters The Astronauts jaunt through a pleasant tune, incorporating flute and stunning operatic backing vocals. Apparently not as raucous as they can be live, but enjoyable all the same. Andy Peart, Sounds, Feb 16 1991

Constitution Single (Acid Stings) - In contrast to the LP (In Defence Of Compassion), this finds the Astronauts in an upbeat dancy pop-folk mood. The A Side takes a dig at our lack of constitution while the flip side, Please Don't Come 'Round Tonight is on par with Kaya of Decadent Few adding her voice to a rousing chorus finale. Enjoyable enough and probably great live, but here it's safely within the limits of the medium, with only Mark's ever-wry lyrics adding an extra shine to this single. Jake Lagnado, UK Resist, Issue 4, Spring '91

In Defence Of Compassion LP (Acid Stings) - Compassion is one of the last things you'd expect a band who regularly fill the bill at the George Robey to defend - but then The Astronauts are one long tale of the unexpected.

Formed 14 years ago, and having supported everyone from Crass to the Redskins via Psychic TV, this is their fifth official album and an extremely sensitive, conscientious affair.

Main man Mark Astronaut possesses a ghostly voice which narrates its way around a variety of disconcerting topics. "Tonight we'll go dancing in synthesizer city/Like every other youngster in New Towns and cities" he recounts in Suburbs and this tone of cynical detachment informs the whole album. Cold Climate works the most effectively, a despairing voyage through desolate places where Mark painfully asks "When you try and explain to the mass how you feel/Do they turn a deaf ear to your desperate appeal?". The question doesn't need answering.

After the splendour of the first side, the second comes as a disappointment - three slow meandering tracks, too experimental and obscure to have any lasting impact. A brave failure, though, and one which shouldn't detract from the more substantial successes. Not everyone from '77 turned into ego maniacs or disappeared completely. The Astronauts' struggle is still on. Andy Peart, Sounds, March 16, 1991

In Defence Of Compassion LP (Acid Stings) - The latest release on Acid Stings is the excellent In Defence Of Compassion by The Astronauts. The first side (recorded with a standard group format) is promising if a little restricted by the wordy lyrics. The second side is performed by just Mark Astronaut (vocals) and Russell Seal (all other instruments and engineer). It works up a more original atmosphere for the likes of Behind The Mirrors that approaches the chill-out factory of KLF.... Sounds, March 23, 1991

In Defence Of Compassion LP (Acid Stings) - The latest album in the lengthy and varied career of The Astronauts, really the brainchild of Mark, vocalist and song-writer and on their previous album it's the mournful croon of Mark's vocals that serve as The Astronauts trademark as well as his lengthy lyrical pieces that could see him tagged as a new town bard, suburban poet from Welwyn Garden City.

Gone are the more noticeable folkish style approach of previous albums which is replaced by an atmospheric sound that echoes the feelings of desperation running through this release. The seven tracks filling side one give way to three rambling, seemingly improvised pieces on side two that are vaguely psychedelic, vaguely new age, vaguely post-punk, but very much Mark Astronaut.

Certainly no party album, although it'd be an insult to ever think it was meant to be; more one man and his music whose depth sometimes makes it hard to follow. Intriguing, annoying, and sometimes strangely exhilarating. Rock 'n' Reel, Number 9, Autumn 1990

In Defence Of Compassion LP (Acid Stings) - Our heroes seem to ramble on in a typically blithe unfashionable way in side one, lulling the faithful into a sceptical security, then blasting into a black hole with side two where Mark's avant-garde synthetic space biting vocal twists and blends to the sensitive spine chilling yet complementary backing. New boundaries mate, new boundaries. Roy Barry, Bitch Mental, Issue 1, April/May 1990

In Defence Of Compassion LP (Acid Stings) - On this form there really is no band quite like The Astronauts. Mark Astronaut's distinctive vocals are given full range over 10 haunting and deceptively laid back compositions, fraught with pent-up tensions and an eerie synth. But it's the highly audible lyrics that are the magnet drawing the listener in with their prophetic, angry overtones: "Characters in this great drama, each of us taking a part, so me and my mates all hang at the gates as we wait for the fires to start" (Flashpoint). With such lyrics the Astronauts really become, like TV Smith, among the great bards of the time we live in. The words blend personal fears and anxieties with the social/political realities that surround and consume us all, without either being too confusing for their own good or repeating cliches. The songs aren't stereotypical 'great tunes' with a continuous foot-tapping drumbeat, but then this band seem at their best when least conventional. A fine album, that in segments (Flashpoint, Secret File, ...) threatens to be brilliant. Jake Lagnado, UK Resist, Issue 4, Spring '91

In Defence Of Compassion LP (Acid Stings) - Mark Astronaut has a new solo album coming out and your favourite music page has the privilege of reviewing it first. Here goes...
I could say it's jingly-jangly with happy guitars running all over the palce... Perhaps I might state that it's humourous lyrically and then again seriously unfunny with social sentences...
Maybe I would claim that Mark's voice is totally tuneless but definitely soulful... How about describing it as approachable and then saying that you have to scramble through layers of meshing drums and guitars...
Or what about saying it's wonderful and I like it an awful lot?
PS Why hasn't he been signed to a major label yet? HR, Sounds Around (Welwyn Times), June 21, 1989

It's All Done By Mirrors (All the Madmen) - No-one's going to complain of The Astronauts holding back in the world-stakes. An average song on this, their first album [sic], 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

The Astronauts: Up Front And Sideways (Tape) Heroes of mine, I think it was "All Done By Mirrors", LP that first hit me in the head like a freight train, never been the same since, they came out and about and really got noticed at the real punk time, when The Mob, Crass, The Subhumans,the anarchist set were doing their thing for the good of all. Well their here on the freebie tape so make up your own minds. There was so much stuff that Mark Astronaut said I could use, and to pick a track was crazy, just so much good stuff. Anyway on Up Front you get their last 7" "Constitution", and the B-side "Please Don’t Come Around", which are incredible , if you like punk with thought provoking lyrics and music with something to say, check them out, they've always had a great folk edge, but the lyrics sold me long, long ago, sheep poetry in places. "Is The Revolution Coming", well what a song! I could go on forever about this band, all I hope is that they do, check out the latest album and open your mind , gigs, chats, the lot, contact, Mark, 29 Westfield, Welwyn Garden City, Herts, AL7 1QZ. or the tapes out on Dizzy Positivity Recordings, P.O. Box 53, Whitley Bay, NE26 1YY. Cream of the Crop

The Ludwick (Welwyn Garden City) 199? - The Astronauts were third from the top (even though they were the only band there to have a record deal!). They played very well but they took a bit of time to get used to the vocals and the hair of local music guru Mark Astronaut's hair, but after two tracks I really got into it, this band have loadsa talent and can really put it across to the crowd. At one point I there was some kind of musical orgy going on. On stage it seemed that every man & his instrument was up there! I thought that Rico was a really great guitarist and when I told him so his head very large 'cos several others had done the same. Overall The Astronauts were out of this orbit.......sorry. Voice (Hitchin-based fanzine)

The Vortex, 2000 of the UK's finest and least well known original singer-songwriters. The Guardian, previewing Vortex gig with Alan Clayson.

Pirate Jenny @The Vortex, 2000, with Alan Clayson - Once upon a time, there was a notable date in many peoples' summer calendar called the Stonehenge Festival. It was wild, weird and wonderful, but I'll bore you about it elsewhere sometime. Both these performances come from 'Henge Vets, and it feels strange that the venue shares a name with an old London punk hangout - two tangential throwbacks to very different times. But can they hack it in the present? Have they changed? Will they be embarrassingly old, like the people you see squeezed into clothes they were too old for twenty years ago? It's the hottest day of the year, let's hope nobody faints. The venue is primarily a jazz-joint, with accompanying candlelit tables and polite people. And I find myself quite enjoying it….what's happening?

"This is another one about drugs…" singer Mark Astronaut informs us, before launching into a newie 'Clarity'. Tonight there's just two of them - singer Mark and a guitarist, occasionally backed up by tapes. A few new songs are premiered tonight, and seem to be up to their startlingly good lyrical standard. But it's the classics that work the best - 'Protest Song' is still moody, moving and bleeding onto the stage. 'Seagull Mania' - the tale of a woman who longs to escape her humdrum existence but never gets beyond dreaming about it - is delivered à capella and has the whole place, even bar staff, silent and staring. It's a lovely moment.

Generally, however, the Astronauts live never live up to the glory of their records. It's a touch too jokey, too informal, too much like they're self-deprecating to cover a genuine lack of self-confidence: as though they refuse to believe how good the songs are. Mark Astronaut is one of the best songwriters of the last two decades. That you've probably never heard of him is little short of a tragedy. If you want to, check out 'Peter Pan Hits The Suburbs' or 'It's All Done With Mirrors', both lost classics.......................

George Berger, Abisti

You're All Weird (Irregular Records) - "You're All Weird"? Methinks it's a case of us kettles being called black by potty Mark Astronaut, who's been leading this band since the early '80s. How else would you describe the unique sound of this band? Only as psychedelic-indie- rock-techno-punk-ambient-jazz-folk, but this is a word that my computer won't recognize so 'weird' will have to do. Then again, who are the real weird ones in this so-called society.

We're led after the trance-like 'Pudden Sause' into the more catchy rock song 'It'll Happen Again', where Mark hollers like he's amazed by what he's singing, all government conspiracy. Politics is also the theme of 'Fourth Way' - "vote for nice tie, he's a good man/ heterosexual, with a nice tan" - and the sinister nature is complimented by a spooky harpsichord sound and well-distorted vocals which get buried under the effects like Labour's ideals of old. Mark's voice goes between Ian Curtis and Ian Hunter, from angry to mellow on the saxophone-supplemented 'Don't Think About It', a downbeat and deadpan song. 'Time to Roam' shocks as it's aggressive techno-rock in the mould of Garbage, then it's back to the ballads, led by piano and children's TV synths, before the upsetting 'Bats In The Belfry'. "Famine and torture, hunger and hardship / appear on screen, just like visual muzak", and a sax squeals like Beefheart at his most off-the-wall over copious interference and occasional fairground music. 'Clarity' is more focused and a bit like old Pulp but the way that the vocals are layered but don't fit in with each other make this just as unsettling. 'Conjecture' is similarly somehow vary '80s New WAve with it's harsh guitar and Joy Division synths, before going all Middle Eastern and jazzy! By the time of 'Where Do They Go?', the edginess evident throughout the LP (and shown well on 'Climbdown' where Mark's voice is raw like a crow!) may start to irritate- "perhaps you've freaked out at the mess" the lyrics anticipate. But it's only as scary as real life can be, and it ends in blissed-out ambience.

Except it doesn't, because you also get some bonus lo-fi live tracks. So that's 74 minutes of variety, quantity, and quality. If you don't like the sound of that, then it must be you who's all weird.

For more details contact the label: You can buy the CD for £10, and I have a few copies to sell (I drew the cover picture, although I'm credited as 'Alan' - grr!).
A Cheery Wave From Stranded Youngsters

You're All Weird (Irregular Records) - The Astronauts are one of those bands for whom the phrases 'criminally overlooked' and 'cruelly underrated' were made for. Mark Astronaut is a wordsmith for our times - one of the best since Jim Morrison passed off his pretentious sixth-form poetry as art. This, however, is a record, not a book and The Astronauts haven't always been able to deliver the music to match the barbed-wire visions.

This time, though, they deliver on every front. On 'The Fourth Way' - a searing attack on New-Labour-culture, they merge folk with a mutated rap, throwing eastern licks in and wrapping it all up with a typical mixture of anger and compassion all too often lost to the extremes of one or the other in bands these days. Elsewhere, just about every musical form is employed - 'Don't Think About It' is almost Patti Smith with piano (but not voice), whilst 'Time To Roam' ventures into pseudo-techno. But it's lovers of lyrics that will love the Astronauts most, and 'You're All Weird' is a serious return to form. It's also the most eloquent comment we've had so far on Britain post-'97.

Which begs the question as to why you haven't heard from them. The answer is because they don't play the game - the lyrics are more heartfelt than the usual decorations on tunes built to shift units. They're the best-kept secret of a generation, so much so that legendary saxophonist Lol Coxhill took time between playing with legends to come down and contribute beautiful licks for free. He knows - it's about time you did.
George Berger, Abisti

You're All Weird (Irregular Records) - Cult band The Astronauts, creative vehicle for songwriter Mark Wilkins, continue to defy simple-minded categorisations with their latest album. The band plunder & merge folk, punk, techno, rap & rock at will, fusing these elements into a distinctive soundtrack for Mark's eloquent, inventive & witty lyrics, & intense, dramatic vocals. The new album overflows with musical creativity, topped off with contributions from legendary saxophonist Lol Coxhill, & lyrically provides a sharp critique, angry, compassionate, humorous, of the reality of life in Britain under Blair.

As one reviewer put it, The Astronauts are one of those bands for whom the phrase "criminally overlooked" might have been invented. 2001 Catalogue entry, AK Press & Distribution

Only Fools And Optimists - Despite it's lack of local venues, Mid Herts has managed to remain a minor hotbed of musical activity with punk, pop, electronic and heavy metal bands all working away in various corners of the district.

One of the most original - and possibly the longest-running - of these groups is The Astronauts, a constantly changing line-up held together by the single-mindedness of singer-songwriter Mark Astronaut. The latest line up appears at WGC's Campus West on May 28 with punk poet John Cooper-Clarke, and as a welcome taste the band have released their long-awaited cassette-album Only Fools And Optimists.

This rewarding collection of 12 new or recent compositions neatly falls into two parts. The first, side one, was professionally recorded in a 16-track studio by various combinations of personnel and, in the words of The Astronauts themselves, is "intended for future release on vinyl". Side two is slightly different and in some ways more interesting, especially for those who have followed Mark's progress over the years. It was recorded in the homes of various Astronauts and although the standard of recording falls short of the other tracks, it still comes up to scratch. That said, my personal preference is for the studio recordings, some of which have Lol Coxhill's superb soprano saxophone playing as an added bonus.

Another highlight must be Tim Nixon's violin playing. He makes a major contribution to the folky Seagull Mania and the deceptively beautiful Typically English Day, one of my favourite tracks. This song's gentle tune belies a biting lyrical content that's typical of Mark's compositions and anyone who likes their music to stimulate the grey matter as well as the feet will probably enjoy this song.

There's everything here from the frenetic rock of Gold At The Top to the empty sparseness of Bodies In The Bath with ???? number Behave Yourself - inspired by the summer riots - thrown in for good measure.

And making allowances for the odd bit of distortion on Sounds Around's advance copy, the band have achieved a commendably high sound quality throughout.

So there you have it. The Astronauts still offer a musical alternative to the acoustic charms of Hatfield's Marine Girls or commercial pop-rock of Blasé. And long may they continue to do so.
Sounds Around (Welwyn Times)