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The Astronauts: Urban Planning rails against gentrification / 15 August 2014

Front cover of the Astronauts album Urban Planning (All The Madmen records)

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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 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

Keywords: mad pride,music