The story behind the record cover – Misplaced Childhood (1985) – MARILLION

“1985. It was the era of the rise of the CD. A revolution in the music industry. No more crackling and hissing. Chrystal-clear sound. You replaced your best LPs with small silver discs and the rest was destined for the attic or junk shop. You took for granted that record sleeves were reduced to pale copies, because the quality of the music was so good, and that was what it was all about. The trusted record store had to change its interior. LP bins were replaced by CD racks. Record sleeves still hung on the wall. And at one point the boy in an English soldier’s costume stood out. It turned out to be the cover of Marillion’s “Misplaced Childhood”. The boy stared at me. For a moment I hesitated. Was I going to buy this? But I passed on it. Bought a Phil Collins CD and a pale copy of Yes’ “Relayer”. I had just sold my entire record collection.

Yet the cover of “Misplaced Childhood” kept on haunting me. Actually, I didn’t know Marillion’s music that well. Progrock was out of style in the early 1980s. Musically I was a bit lost. I bought everything that was released on CD and replaced the old records. I kept to myself the fact that I missed something, deep down in that fantastic CD sound. “Misplaced Childhood” disappeared from view for a while. Until 1991, when I had a colleague who was a fanatic record collector. He took me to a second-hand record store. I was sold immediately. I spotted “Relayer” once again and also a copy of Marillion’s album. The boy in the soldier’s costume was staring at me, again. Wow, I had to have that one. I retrieved my old turntable from the attic and the music of Marillion and singer Fish immediately came alive in my living room. Finally, I also had something beautiful in my hands. A brilliant gatefold cover that showed every detail of the artwork, made by Mark Wilkinson. The record took me to great heights. Awesome; I had found my way back to progrock music.

A few years later I met a cook who was a Marillion fan at the music theatre De Boerderij. He pointed me in the direction of the book “Masque” the Graphic World of Mark Wilkinson, Fish & Marillion. A beautiful book which clearly explains how the covers came about and what their meaning was. Singer Fish was in a difficult period when he wrote the lyrics for “Misplaced Childhood”. The relationship with his girlfriend was over. The pressure from the record company was great. There were disappointing sales figures. Marillion was still seen as a ‘category 2’, while the object was clearly to become as big as Genesis and Pink Floyd. A strong appeal to Fish was made: please grow up asap and solve your problems. Fish said goodbye to the child within himself, only to be left feeling gloomy and grumpy. Until he took a psychedelic journey with a pill. At first it was a bad trip. He ended up in dark clouds and death was lurking. A magpie had stolen his wedding ring. It looked like Fish would end badly. But suddenly there was a guardian angel, appearing behind him. The boy in the English soldier’s costume. Fish regained his senses. The idea of “Misplaced Childhood” was born. In one fell swoop it had become clear to Fish that one should always cherish the child within. It is inappropriate to allow that part of your psyche to be obscured by the demands of adult society. “There is no Childhood End” he sings with all his heart at the end of the album. Within hours he had finished the lyrics for the songs on the album. Together with his fellow band members he went to Berlin to further develop the concept at Hansa Studios. He presented his psychedelic trip to his friend and illustrator Mark Wilkinson. Wilkinson went to work and started looking for a suitable boy model. He found 10-year-old Robert Mead in a local pub. He was given the costume of the Queens Guards soldiers.

The magpies from the artwork of previous Marillion albums also returned to “Childhood”. They refer to an old English nursery rhyme about magpies: “One for Sorrow”. According to ancient superstition, the number of magpies spotted tells whether someone will be unlucky or lucky. (One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret that will never be told.) The magpie that stole Fish’s wedding ring is a reference to Fish’s stranded relationship with Kay, the protagonist of big hit Kayleigh. And on the back of the cover we find the second magpie with the key to a new life in its beak. The iconic ‘Jester’, who appears on previous Marillion covers, was also a must. This had become more or less the trademark for Marillion. But Fish wanted a new identity for Marillion and was ready to say goodbye to the jester. That is why he disappears through the window on the back cover. You can also spot the poppy: symbol of life and death. Emerging from the ground from dried up earth.

There is much speculation as to whether there are references to the Beatles’ artwork. To “Sgt. Pepper” where John, Paul, Ringo and George are also dressed in similar British soldier uniforms. Or to “Abbey Road” where Paul McCartney walks barefoot. The ten-year-old boy is also depicted in bare feet on this Marillion artwork. Mark Wilkinson and Fish made no further comment. Marillion is Marillion and they achieved stellar status after this album. They became a world-class act with zillions of fans. Unfortunately, they no longer perform in the old line-up. Fish and Marillion broke up a few years after “Misplaced Childhood”. But fortunately we also have StillMarillion, the Scottish band that regularly visits the Boerderij and knows how to emulate the music of Fish-era Marillion in almost identical way. The roof of the Boerderij will be raised from the first moment on. The audience will sing along to all of the songs. A true happening. I can already picture it completely when those nice musicians from Scotland come to Zoetermeer. I have to start practicing my Scottish.”

By Gerrit-Jan Vrielink

Translation Alex Driessen


Thanks to Nieko Slobbe, one of our chefs at the Boerderij. Can’t wait for his delicious cooking. And neither could Fish, if he were to ever perform at the Boerderij again.