“Lyrics about the jester’s tears. A beautiful title for an amazing album by Marillion. One of my favorite prog rock LPs. I can look at the cover for hours. It is full of details with all kinds of interesting background stories. The jester with a broken heart. He’s writing ‘The game is over’. In the violin case are handwritten lyrics from the Beatles song ‘Yesterday’. “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away.” The painting above the mantelpiece on the back sleeve is a cover of a book, “The Ebony Tower” by English writer John Fowles. And what about the sugar cubes and the spoon on the table. A hint to hard drugs like heroin and LSD? Or just stuff for making coffee? And I can go on and on. First consider the jester and his tears. A brilliant paradox. Singer Fish often felt that way, alone in his attic room. In his circle of friends and in the pub he was a celebrated person. He liked to be the clown, the jester. But inside he often felt gloomy and sad. When it came to matters of love, he had a hard time. Peter Gabriel, Genesis’ lead singer, was his role model. As the singer of Marillion Fish also started to paint his face. So you only saw his image, his mask, not his true face.
A friend of Fish’, illustrator Mark Wilkinson, elaborated on this contradiction. It started on Marillion’s first EP, “Market Square Heroes”. Seen here as a poster on the back of this cover. Wilkinson got the jester’s idea for “Script” through a record cover of English folk group Fairport Convention, “Gottle-O-Gear”. It prominently features the jester in his original apparel. What is actually the original story of the jester? The jester has a long history. Especially in the Middle Ages he was popular as a joker in his typical jester outfit complete with fool’s cap. He had to be careful with his jokes because that could also cost him his head if he was too critical about the policy of the prince or king. But he enjoyed a special position, with a lot of freedom and happily walked around the court of many monarchs.
Fish was a fan of the 1970’s gatefold covers of bands like Yes (with Roger Dean drawings) and Genesis (for example “Nursery Crime”). Together with Mark Wilkinson, Marillion came up with this cover. ‘Jester’, the joker, the fool, became Marillion’s trademark. The Jester’s merchandise performed particularly well. All of a sudden you could see fans walking around wearing T-shirts with Jester images, throughout all of England.
While creating the cover, Wilkinson ran into all kinds of copyright issues. For the painting on the mantelpiece, Fish actually wanted the famous painting of Ophelia by painter John Everett Millias, but Wilkinson was not allowed to do so. So he came up with a poster of a book cover by writer John Fowles. That was feasible and Fish gave it the go-ahead. On the table, Wilkinson had originally drawn a jar with the real Nescafé logo and a can with the Coca-Cola logo, on the floor. Just before the artwork was send to the printers, they found out that they would have to pay a lot of money if they used both logos. Wilkinson only had two more hours to erase both logos and draw something else instead.
Fortunately, not all were opposed. The Beatles’ Paul McCartney was happy to have handwritten lyrics from his song ‘Yesterday’ appearing in the violin case. Pink Floyd granted permission for the record cover of “A Saucerful of Secrets” to be drawn on the floor in the attic room. The same applied to bassist Bill Nelson’s LP “Do You Dream in Color”. In the end they succeeded with the artwork for “Script for a Jester’s Tear” and Fish’s wishes came true, to a large extent. It became the basis for a trilogy of Marillion record sleeves.
Jester also returns on the second LP “Fugazi” and eventually disappears from the window on the third album “Misplaced Childhood”. The chameleon, which clings to this cover on the back of the chair, symbolizes elusive love. Every time Jester or Fish thinks that he can connect to someone, it changes color and love is elusive again. Jester does seem to be in a relationship on “Fugazi”. As seen on another bed in a kind of surrealistic image, like that of the painter Magritte. The chameleon can also be found on this cover. On the third LP “Misplaced Childhood” a child appears in the foreground. As a product of Jester’s love? Fish and Wilkinson won’t comment. Jester disappears through the window on this LP and is replaced by a fallen angel, Valkyrie, on Marillion’s fourth and final studio album with Fish (“Clutching at Straws”). Perhaps more about that in the next blog about Marillion.
Should I be happy when it comes to this? I write these articles as long as the Boerderij is closed. So with every blog I write, the Boerderij is closed for one more week. But it may not be a case of one excluding another. So not either a blog OR the Boerderij open, but the Boerderij open AND the occasional story about a cover. But of course, the most important thing is that the Boerderij will re-open again, for everyone and without restrictions. So that we can all enjoy live music once again and in between joke like a jester at the bar.”
By Gerrit-Jan Vrielink
Translation Alex Driessen