The In-Betweeners: Jonathan Mover

Any fan of Spinal Tap will tell you that one of the biggest bits of the band’s lore is their problems with drummers.

It does seem to be a notoriously difficult position in a band to keep consistent. While I would call a number of drummers irreplaceable in their respective bands (like Neil Peart was to Rush or Stewart Copeland to The Police), to certain casual listeners of music, drummers can be relatively anonymous since they often are out of sight on-stage. They may have a drum riser at times, but are still placed at the back of the stage, buried behind toms and cymbals, and are often insufficiently illuminated by the stage lights. Skilled drummers make up for some of their relative anonymity by being highly employable. A back-story often heard about up and coming drummers is that they’ve played in just about every local band, sometimes all at once. I’ve heard variations on such anecdotes so often that I couldn’t even associate it with a particular drummer.

Marillion, a progressive rock band from Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, England, is where this edition of “The In-Betweeners” is centred. They are one of many bands that, at least initially, had a hard time of solidifying the all-so important role of timekeeper. A joke was even made in the comedy film Alan Partidge: Alpha Papa, where one of the radio station staff claimed to be a former drummer of Marillion. Given their drummer situation in the formative years in the band, I could have written this piece about any drummer that came after group founder Mick Pointer (they were originally branded as the Tolkien-borrowed Silmarillion). While Pointer was on their debut album Script for a Jester’s Tear, he would be fired following their UK tour in support of the album. I could have written this about Pointer’s replacement, ex-Camel drummer Andy Ward. I could have also done so for the next man up in John Martyr. I chose the fourth man in succession, Jonathan Mover, over Ward and Martyr because he was nearly there. He was so, so, close to being immortalized on wax (or even chromium dioxide tape) on a full-length Marillion studio album. And, as I aimed in the first of this series, I’m writing these pieces about musicians that joined bands but left before they could finish recording an album.

Mover seemed like an interesting choice to be integrated into the Marillion camp, being the first (and so far, only) member to hail from America. The Massachusetts-born drummer was very green in terms of being a professional, but was a very passionate musician. He began playing drums at age thirteen, and took up music education from lessons with Donn Carr and Garry Chaffee as well as study at the Berklee College of Music. His discography reveals no projects prior to his joining Marillion, though it’s possible that a more obscure recording or band existed. Most sources I’ve read do point to the day Jonathan joined Marillion as the beginning of his professional career, as he had moved to England in hopes of finding like-minded musicians.

The first source of my insight into this very short-term relationship came from the band’s 1987 biography Market Square Heroes – The Authorized Story of Marillion (written by Mick Wall). The band had been booked for a series of concerts at Radio City Music Hall in New York. These shows were in support of Rush for a five-show engagement following the Canadian trio’s Signals touring cycle, during which the quintet were not met with much enthusiasm, which came in part to not being given adequate accomodiation from the sound crew at the venue. It is there that the band would meet Jonathan, who was put in touch with their manager John Arnison. It was through a mutual acquaintance in Phil Spalding (who was the bassist with Toyah Wilcox) that Mover made contact with Arnison. Details of their joining of forces (once John Martyr was told his services were no longer required) was announced in a press clipping with the on-the-nose title “Marillion’s New Mover”, which I located on a Marillion fan page though I’m unsure of the publication it was printed in initially. He was hired on the spot after an audition, but being on shaky ground with drummer turmoil in the past year, Marillion did not offer Mover direct membership into the band, but they entered a probationary period to determine if a true fit was there.

Jonathan performed with Marillion in Germany two days after auditioning for the band in London. The gig took place at Rundsportehalle in Baunatal on the 1st of October in 1983. The show would be broadcast on German radio, and would later see a release on the Curtain Call box set through Marillion’s own Front Row Club label that they use for issuing live recordings. The gig turned out quite well in contrast to the Radio City Music Hall shows. It was encouraging enough for them to partake in some boisterous partying in a hotel post-concert. The extent of Jonathan Mover’s involvement in the mischief was not made clear in Market Square Heroes. My instinct tells me he wasn’t the primary instigator due to him not being a drinker in addition to being the new kid on the block. His roommate, keyboardist Mark Kelly, did recall Jonathan being hit with a wave of fire extinguisher foam in the midst of the hijinks and collapsing as their room filled up with (as was the norm in Germany at the time) poisonous, asbestos-based powder!! Naturally, this led to encounters with police and fire officials in a rather noteworthy evening that led to smoke filling much of the floor.

Back to the performance itself, the most surprising addition to the set would be a pre-studio version of “Assassing” for a show that otherwise consisted of song from Script and singles or B-side tracks that had already been released in some form such as “Market Square Heroes”, “Charting the Single”, and “Three Boats Down From The Candy”. This was just the band’s second-ever Germany show as well as their first headlining show in the country. However, this wound up being Mover’s only live performance with Marillion.

Squint and you can spot the “Mover”. Photo credit: Fritz Vennemann

Soon after, the band would be in the recording studio working on their sophomore effort Fugazi, with an initial stay at The Old Mill House in Monmouth to rehearse the material in November of 1983. Varying degrees of aggreability emerged within the band as to how they related to the American. The instrumentalists got on fairly well with him, or at least they appreciated him on a musicianship level. In spite of how things eventually ended, Market Square Heroes lists quotes of praise from certain Marillion members. Mark Kelly called Mover “quite ridiculously talented, very technical, and tremendously dedicated”. Bassist Pete Trewavas was also encouraged by the drummer’s enthusiasm and knowledge of their material, but countered these musings by stating he also had the “tendency to throw everything and the kitchen sink into a song”.

The biggest personality issues seem to come from how he related to vocalist Fish, and these complaints stemmed from a few issues. He never seemed to appreciate the technical aspects that Jonathan was bringing to the band, stating that he “couldn’t sit and talk about anything except the drums”. I’ll have to defend Jonathan on that one. For a person entering a new musical environment, I’m not surprised that would be the direction he’d be steering many conversations. Contrarily, if other conversations come up organically, such as sports, politics, movies, etc., that’s obviously a good way to see if someone’s compatible on a personal level. Maybe Jonathan wasn’t as open in this manner because he didn’t want to needlessly butt heads. Also, being from ‘across the pond’, he could have been lost in a few cultural differences at times. Still, Mover put so much on the line through his geographical relocation that sticking faithfully to the topic at hand (music and the song arrangements), then drums and percussion is the language he speaks the best. Other such bonding may have occurred best on the road. Maybe he’d get up to different hijinks with his band mates, or maybe he’d be stuck in his bunk on the bus slavishly reading books of the Hal Leonard or Alfred Music variety. Without further road experience that would have allowed for more bonding opportunities, there’s no telling how this could have developed. Fish also brings up his being American and a non-drinker, but admitted he harboured “a lot of stupid superficial prejudices against him, but underneath all that lay the simple fact that I couldn’t relate to the guy on a personal level deep or interesting enough for me to work with, to pledge my life to, and I hated not working like that.”

Mover throws another source of conflict into the mix, as noted in the book Mountains Come Out of the Sky: The Illustrated History of Progressive Rock. Jonathan mentions that the idea was being pushed for the songs to be become a concept album like Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Jonathan apparently didn’t understand the point of this since the band were already working on several songs that seemingly had little to do with each other. That further placed him at cross-purposes with Fish, and an ultimatum was eventually made by the front-man for the rest of the band to choose between the singer and drummer. In this regard, Mover frames Fish as something of a bully in the breakdown of this multi-national union. While the other three in the band seemed to be sympathetic to Mover’s overall plight and were encouraged by his ability to gel on a musical level, having a singer with such nagging doubts could not be good for band morale, especially a figure like Fish that was becoming such a focal point of the band’s image. A band can be like a marriage, so the saying ‘happy wife, happy life’ could apply here (which wouldn’t last long-term as Fish would leave the band in 1988 for a solo career), leading them to choose the least Earth-shaking option. Mover would be sent on his way following a late-night band meeting consisting of all the non-American members.

The exact start and end of Jonathan’s employment was so brief to the point that other sources I’ve seen, even those as early in the band’s history as 1985’s Marillion – In Words & Pictures, don’t mention his membership beyond two sentences. His legacy does live on through Fugazi despite having his parts re-recorded by the next drummer up in Ian Mosely. Perhaps the best-known song off the album, “Punch & Judy”, earned him a writing credit in what is listed as a full-band collaborative composition. He also claims to have co-written “Incubus” and “Jigsaw”, though he is not officially credited for either track. Mover unveiled in a November 1989 Modern Drummer interview that he “was completely green when it came to publishing rights and royalties. I had written the songs with them, went back home expecting them to be honest, and the next thing I knew, they had a hit single and I had an empty pocket.” Add to this that he was left with no clue as to what the future held in store, commenting “One minute I thought I had my foot in the door, and the next thing I knew I was back in Boston wondering if I was going to have to go back to selling tuxedos…” I can just imagine that the stresses of moving across the Atlantic Ocean could take quite the toll on a twenty-three year old. I had to move over 1,400 kilometers from home to attend university, and I thought that was bad! At least I remained in the same country and province. The cultural, geographical, and personality gaps between being American and not British or Scottish were ultimately too large to overcome for this lineup to last.

Despite both sides of the split being in uncertain territories in early 1984, things would wind up working out very well on all fronts. The band’s next anointed drummer, Ian Mosely, would be the band’s last anointed drummer. He turned out to be such a great fit for them considering that once filling Mover’s spot in the Fugazi sessions, Mosely’s Marillion membership continued through to what is now thirty-eight years later across a further eighteen studio albums and several dozens of tours. On this regard, Marillion surely aren’t second-guessing their decision. Losing a gig with what would become a rather successful band with a cult following sounds like one of those moments one would be kicking themselves for a lifetime over. In Jonathan Mover’s case, he carved out a great career for himself, so I wouldn’t count on him shedding many tears over this presently. You may even argue that his career turned out better for it. Mover, strangely enough, would join Steve Hackett in GTR, a group the guitarist formed with ex-Yes guitarist Steve Howe. Ian Mosely had previously drummed with Steve Hackett, appearing on his Highly Strung album. Another nice twist about this short-lived project is that Phil Spalding had become GTR’s bassist.

From there, Jonathan did plenty. He next became part of guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani’s band beginning with shows in support of the ground-breaking album Surfing with the Alien. Of note, Mover can be seen with Satriani providing percussion for his MTV Unplugged appearance. In the studio, notable performances of his include playing on albums by the likes of Oleander (February Son), Fuel (Sunburn), and Frank Gambale (The Great Explorers). He also has touring experience with Alice Cooper, Saigon Kick, and The Tubes under his belt. I was acquainted with him in more recent times from his work with Drumhead magazine, a publication of which I’ve purchased multiple issues despite my own drumming never extended beyond brief flirtation with a Yamaha electronic kit.

Of most relevance to this post, and perhaps to bring it all full-circle, I’ll refer you to one of Mover’s most recent excursions. The ProgJect is a tribute to the progressive rock music that Jonathan, as well as the other members of the band, had been raised on and served as a big influence on their playing. Whether this group ever dips into Marillion or are focused on the ’70s, the talent is there to handle it all. Jonathan is joined by Michael Sadler (Saga), Ryo Okumoto (Spock’s Beard, Asia featuring John Payne), Mike Keneally (Frank Zappa, Steve Vai), and Matt Dorsey (Sound of Contact, In Continuum).

For details on how this project came into fruition, I recommend that you watch his interview with Marillion fan-page MisplacedStraws.com, in which they also discuss his time with Marillion. While Mover does admit he wasn’t a big fan of Marillion when he first heard them and that this project will be “sticking to the giants” that they grew up on, he doesn’t rule it out adding Marillion songs to their repertoire down the line. Without revealing too much more, it’s also great to hear that Jonathan and Fish have apparently buried the hatchet regarding their past!

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