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'SPLITTING IN TWO: Mad Pride and Punk Rock Oblivion' by Robert Dellar

In this book Robert Dellar traces his life journey from his childhood in a working class area of Watford, through Sussex University and the London squatting community, to what he calls the ‘murky waters of mental health’.

Of special importance is the pioneering work Robert did in Hackney Hospital, setting up a patients’ council and advocacy department. At the time of the hospital’s closure in the mid-90s, Robert organised some lively gigs, which he describes here in colourful detail.

He subsequently worked at Southwark MIND, (the first user-run MIND group), before joining Mad Pride, an organisation which linked mental health to rock and roll through the gigs it produced. Dellar and his friend Peter Shaughnessy also turned mental health demonstrations into theatre.

The title of this book is taken from a song by punk legends Alternative TV. They make several appearances here, as do Nikki Sudden and two survivor punk bands, the Ceramic Hobbs and Rudimentary Peni.

Lesser-known but equally talented artists like Dave Russell and the Astronauts also make a number of appearances here. While Mad Pride is associated with punk rock, a number of folk musicians and poets also took part in their gigs.

Some parts of this book deal with grim and tragic topics, but it is also shot through with a sense of humour and a deep compassion. There are also flashes of anarchy. The titles for a lot of the chapters come from songs, many of which are those relating to the Punk and new wave years.

This was a period of great importance to Robert, during which he also produced many fanzines. His fanzine influence continued with the Southwark MIND newsletter, which was always an inspiring magazine to read. The book also exposes some little-known capitalist scandals like the exploitation carried out by drug companies.

It also shows how charities like SANE (Schizophrenia a National Emergency), whilst appearing to be respectable, do a lot to demonise people with that label, contributing to schizophrenic people’s negative experiences of such things as heavy medication, stigma, and locked wards.

The book highlights the demonstration Mad Pride organised against SANE in the late 1990s which forced SANE’s founder, Marjory Wallace, out to face the protesters.  

This book is an enjoyable, entertaining read. Robert’s journey has been an uphill struggle, but there have been proud achievements along the way. I have a lot of respect for the good work that Robert Dellar has done over the years.

SPLITTING IN TWO: Mad Pride and Punk Rock Oblivion by Robert Dellar is published by Unkant Books. Copies are also available at Amazon and Waterstones.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 21 August 2014

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 30 September 2014

The Astronauts: Urban Planning rails against gentrification

The Astronauts’ latest album traces the history of the band from 1979 to 2013. Urban Planning is a beautiful yet gritty retrospective that showcases the skilled songwriting of Mark Wilkins.

The Astronauts are based in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire. Thanks to the dedication of singer-songwriter Mark Wilkins, (better known as Mark Astronaut), the band are still active, and will no doubt continue to be so.

I first saw The Astronauts play at a Mad Pride gig in the mid-1990s. While it was a late introduction to the band, I am glad that I discovered them. Mark Astronaut has shown consistent support to such causes as Mad Pride.

Over the years the group have had a number of different line-ups. This is reflected in the different musical styles displayed here. Some tracks like ‘Sod Us’ and ‘Seagull Mania’ are folk songs. Both songs feature a lively fiddle accompaniment.

When I have seen Mark Astronaut perform ‘Seagull Mania’ (a song about urban squalor and and disillusion caused by the failing of radical ideas), he has always sung it a cappella. It is interesting to hear him do it here as a folk song.

In recent years Mark has teamed up with a group of teenage musicians. One recent song ‘Hersey’ is about the loss of community - something that is all-too-common in these days of gentrification. The song shows the band in fine form tackling 70s dub reggae, whilst another song ‘Have It’ shows them taking on rap and techno sounds. The lyrics of this song talk about modern-day DJ culture.

Sometimes the Astronauts have put harsh lyrics to gentle tunes - an example of this being ‘Baby Sings Folk Songs’. At one point in the song Mark sings about the Fulham nightlife being controlled by the knife. We are reminded that there was a time when parts of Fulham were quite rough. However the music gets tougher as the song progresses.  

Another song ‘Don’t Think about It’ features some nice saxophone playing from Loll Coxhill.  The recent song ‘Melisa’s Party’ is about the down side of hedonism. Musically and lyrically it has a brooding sense of menace running through it. A similar sense of menace runs through the epic ‘Protest Song’.

Since the Astronauts started in the late 1970s Mark Astronaut has shown himself to be a fine singer and a gifted songwriter. As the new songs here show Mark’s song writing and singing continue to shine brightly. Mark Astronaut is a national treasure.

To buy this record visit All the Madmen website at www.allthemadmen.co.uk Also available at All the Madmen is the 45 single ‘A Typical English Day’, one of my favourite Astronaut songs.

There are a number of Astronaut songs on YouTube including some live performances, but there is also an American surf rock band from the 1960s called The Astronauts. To get the right band type in ‘Mark Astronaut’.

You can also follow Mark Astronaut on FaceBook

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 15 August 2014

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 11 May 2016