Celebrating the life of punk rock icon Mark Astronaut

Published:
12:33 13 July 2022



Welwyn Garden City musician Mark Astronaut – who died on July 7 – was, although he never achieved mainstream acclaim, an icon of the punk rock scene whose career spanned more than 40 years.

Born Mark Wilkins, he formed The Astronauts in 1977, although they weren’t a band in the true sense of the word, with Mark recording and performing with a host of musicians in and around his home town.

The antithesis of The Astronauts was also in their sound, emerging as part of the anarcho-punk scene thanks to Mark’s political lyrics, while sounding rather “unpunk”.

It was this loaded songwriting that gave the astronauts outspoken anthems such as “Protest Song” and “Baby Sings Folk Songs” after the release of their folk and psychedelic-influenced debut album, “Peter Pan Hits The Suburbs.” in 1981, a cult classic among punk fans.

A second Astronauts album followed in 1983 with the release of “It’s All Done By Mirrors” on All The Madmen records, culminating in the apocalyptic love song “Typically English Day”.

Astronauts didn’t slow down through the 80s, producing three albums and joining Acid Stings records for the release of ‘In Defense Of Compassion’, which saw Mark experiment with a house sound way ahead of its time.


Mark the astronaut on stage.
– Credit: Archant

The group self-released albums in the 1990s, before Mark embarked on a new project, The Otters, at the turn of the millennium, continuing to maintain a loyal and devoted fanbase.

Described by Focus as “one of the biggest UK bands you’ve never heard of”, Mark was never bothered by the Astronauts’ lack of commercial success, preferring to let their music do the talking.

Summing up Mark, poet Frank Bangay said: “His writing and singing gifts continue to shine brightly. Mark Astronaut is a national treasure.

Mark’s passing was confirmed in a short statement from The Astronauts, which read, “It is with immense shock and immense sadness that we announce the passing of Mark Astronaut. We have lost a remarkable talent and an incredibly dear friend.


The astronauts

Astronauts on stage at the Welwyn Garden City Kite Festival in July 1981.
– Credit: The Astronauts

“Thank you for the kindness you have shown Mark and the support you have given his music. Today we will play his songs out loud and remember the incredible legacy Mark leaves behind.

Fellow Welwyn Garden City rockers The Subways also paid their respects, tweeting: “We are completely devastated to learn of the passing of the legendary Mark Astronaut.

“We can’t believe we’ll never bump into each other again as we always have on one street or another in Welwyn Garden City for a good chat. A true legend. Irrepressible. RIP, buddy.

Diana J. Carleton