Ian Mosley’s career took him down some unlikely avenues before he ended up on the Marillion drum stool in 1984. In 2020 the band’s backbone and peacemaker – and also their undisputed tennis king – looked back with Prog.
When Ian Mosley was a teenager with lofty dreams of becoming a professional drummer, he got the chance to meet Buddy Rich. The irascible sticksman was appearing at the BBC Television Theatre in Shepherd’s Bush. Mosley’s mother worked for the Beeb and managed to wangle her son into rehearsals.
“After they’d finished rehearsing, I went backstage and knocked on his dressing room door,” says Mosley today. “This voice went [curtly], ‘Yep?’ I thought, ‘I’m really in trouble now’ – ’cos he had a reputation of being quite a mean guy. But I said, ‘Mr Rich, my name’s Ian, I just wanted to say hello and ask you some questions.’ And he said, ‘Come in.’ So I sat there and asked him about drumming while he was having a shave. And he was really, really nice. If he’d said, ‘I think you should give up,’ I probably would have.”
Luckily that wasn’t the case, and Rich’s papal blessing stuck with the young Mosley. His subsequent journey took him through such disparate gigs as drummer for infamous late 60s musical Hair to touring drummer for Steve Hackett, before he eventually landed on Planet Marillion in 1984.
“When I joined I was the oldest member of the band, and supposedly one of the wisest,” he recalls. “None of that was true. Back in the 80s, problems seemed to arise when there wasn’t a problem. And because of the way I was, I was like, ‘Boys, there really isn’t a problem here.’
“I think that’s carried on really. But generally we’re all a lot more laid-back these days. If any of us have got a problem, we can chat about it. I mean, I’m working with my mates, and it’s the best job in the world.”
What was your first proper show as a drummer?
It was probably a wedding gig at a working men’s club somewhere. The bridesmaid threw up over my drumkit. I can’t remember what I got, but I was only getting paid £10.50 a week at the time.
How did you go from vomiting bridesmaids to being in the pit of the musical Hair?
I was working at a drum shop in London called Drum City, on Shaftesbury Avenue. One day, a guy named Peter Wolf, who was the drummer of the show Hair at the Shaftesbury Theatre, came in. He said, “Ian, do you fancy doing the show?” And I said, “You’re taking the piss, aren’t you? I can’t do that.” And he said, “You’ll be able to do it, it’ll be a doddle.”
So I went along to see what it was all about. I was sitting next to the drummer, watching him play and trying to pick it up, and all of a sudden there were 12 naked girls onstage. After the show Pete said to me, “Do you want to do it?” And I said, “Yeah!”
It must be quite distracting trying to play the drums when you’ve got all sorts of things wobbling in front of you, male and female...
Yeah, though I must admit I wasn’t really that into the male bits. But I did it for about six or seven weeks. It was terrifying the first couple of nights. Actually, Alex Harvey was on guitar. You wouldn’t have recognised him – he wore a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches. He was really nice and helped me a lot ’cos I was a kid.
You were in the thick of swinging London. Was it as swinging as legend has it?
Well, I kind of missed that swinging 60s thing by a couple of years, but it was still pretty good. I used to go to various clubs in the West End. When I worked at Drum City, I was on first name terms with the girls from the strip clubs. It was good fun.
But with Hair, after about three weeks I thought, “This is a doddle.” After about five weeks, I thought, “I really don’t want to do this for much longer.” After six weeks, I’d finished and the fixers rang me and asked if I fancied going out on tour with the show. And I said, “No, I really don’t.”
Your first proper band was Darryl Way’s Wolf. What was that like?
It was good fun. He’d just left Curved Air, and he was a pop star really. That band had a great guitarist, a guy named John Etheridge, who had played with Soft Machine. The bassist was a guy named Dek Messecar. When we were reviewed, no one ever said, “What a great bass player.” They just said, “Good- looking bass player.”
What did they say about you?
I was quite fortunate really. [Melody Maker journalist] Chris Welch called me “a whizz-kid drummer.” I thought, “That’s nice, I’ll take that.”
Did you audition for any big name bands before you joined Marillion?
At the time, the only way you could join a band was if someone died. I did audition for Buggles. Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes asked me if I was interested in doing a tour with them. They’d just had a hit with Video Killed The Radio Star and I thought, “Yeah, sounds good.” But nothing happened because Trevor left to join Yes before the tour, and then Geoff followed him.
AC/DC was another one. I had an audition with them. After about 10 minutes I stopped and I said, “Look guys, I can pretend to play like this, but I can’t really.” They were really nice, and we had a great play, but I could only pretend to be a heavy rock drummer for a few minutes.
You joined Marillion in 1984 – had you heard of them before that?
I’d been touring with Steve Hackett for two or three years, and after Steve’s gigs we used to do signings. People kept saying to me, “What do you think of Marillion?” I’d never heard of them, but because I was quite a hardened session guy and you never knew what was around the corner, I’d always say, “Yeah, they’re fantastic.” They sounded very intriguing.
A few weeks later I opened one of the weekly music papers and it said, “Marillion need drummer.” And I thought, “Hmmm, this is very odd. This name keeps coming up. I wonder if I know anyone in their camp?” It turned out a friend who worked for Steve Hackett knew [then Marillion manager] John Arnison. So he wrote John a letter, saying I was a good bloke. I’ve still got it somewhere.
Did you actually audition?
What happened was that John Arnison phoned me and said could I come along and have a play? But I told them I couldn’t because I was doing a Belgian drum clinic. When it finished, I rang them back and they said, “No, we’ve found somebody.” And they’d got a guy named Jonathan Mover, an American drummer. So I thought that was the end of it.
Then a few weeks later I got a call from John again, saying that the boys were up at Rockfield Studio in Wales doing their second album and would I go along and help them out as a studio musician?
When you walked into the room at Rockfield and you saw this motley assortment of blokes, what did you think?
Well, I actually gave Pete Trewavas and Steve Rothery a lift up to Wales. I lived near Aylesbury, so I went to their houses to pick them up. I remember knocking on the door and Pete answered and he looked about 11. Same with Steve. I thought, “Blimey, they look really young.”
They’d hired and fired three different drummers just before you joined. Did you see it as a long-term thing?
I knew they’d had a bit of a Spinal Tap thing going. I got to Rockfield and the first thing we did was sit down and have dinner, which was the first time I met Fish and Mark. I said to Fish, “What happened to the last drummer?” And all he said to me was, “Well, he was American.” And I said, “You’ll get on with my wife then, she’s American.” There was a glint in his eye and I was being tongue-in-cheek about it, so we all hit it off straight away.
When did you go from helping them out in the studio to becoming a full-time member of Marillion?
Even from the first few gigs I did with them, there was some magic, some chemistry. I thought, “This is what it’s about.” On the first tour I did with them, John Arnison came up to me at the back of the bus and said, “Ian, the boys want you to join permanently.” I was earning pretty good money doing sessions and stuff, and they were all on about £50 a week, so I said, “That’s great, but I can’t really afford to do it.” So he went down to the front of the bus and gave everyone an immediate pay rise. I was Mr Popular on that tour.
What do you remember about recording Fugazi?
My initial thought was that the material they were working on felt totally natural – it was right up my street. There was an energy. They had quite a lot of the skeleton of the stuff written. From the word go, I thought, “I’m really enjoying this.” And they were a good bunch of fellas as well.
Is it true that you were best man at Fish’s first wedding?
Yeah, but to be honest it was a bit of a mystery to me why Fish asked me because I didn’t know that much about him. I mean, we got on well, but I didn’t grow up with him, I never went to school with him. Yet there was a guy named Tony who was one of his best friends, who was working for us on the crew, who really had known him all his life. I was asking Tony the night before the wedding, “Come on, give me some information ’cos I’ve got to do a speech.” It was a little odd.
When Fish told you he was leaving, did you panic or were you relieved?
It had got really difficult. The four of us were carrying on, trying to write, and Fish just didn’t want to be there in rehearsals or writing situations. When it happened, he sent us all a letter, and I don’t think anyone panicked. We just thought, “Well, he’d better fuck off then.” I was very aware of the consequences.
I remember listening to something on Radio 1 and they had woman that sang China In Your Hand [T’Pau’s Carol Decker] on. The DJ played one of our songs and said, “Fish has left Marillion,” and she said, “Well, that’s the end of the band then, isn’t it, forget it.” And I thought, “You bitch!” So things were a little bit disturbing. But at no point did the four of us think, “Well, that’s it.”
Is it true that you discovered Steve Hogarth?
Well, I wouldn’t say that because he’d had a couple of great bands of his own. But at the time we were getting cassettes from various people who wanted to try out. I used to drive from my house to Aylesbury every day with a handful of cassettes on the passenger seat, and I’d listen to them. And one day I put this cassette in, and it was Steve Hogarth singing this track called Games In Germany. And right away I thought, “Wow, this guy’s voice sounds great.”
I got to Pete’s house and everybody was unanimous: “Yes, get him along.” So we called and got him along. He said, “What do you want me to do?” We went, “Here’s some lyrics, just try these over this piece of music.” And that was The King Of Sunset Town.
Straight away, we thought he was brilliant, so we asked him if he’d like to join... and he said he didn’t know, he’d have to think about it. I thought, “Oh bollocks.” But I knew Darryl Way lived really close to Steve, and they were drinking buddies. So I rang Darryl up and said, “Look Darryl, we really want Steve to give it a go, can you have a word with him? I’ll send his wife flowers, whatever you want.” So I think Darryl did have a chat with him, and Steve came along and said, “Okay, I’ll give it a go.”
What do you remember about making Seasons End?
We had such a good time writing and recording it. We already had a lot of material written before Steve joined, and he would arrive at rehearsals with a bucket full of cassettes with his own ideas. We used to say, “Have you got anything in the bucket worth doing?” The first thing he ever pulled out was Easter. So that was a good start.
Things got tough for Marillion after Afraid Of Sunlight. What did that feel like?
I felt a little bit lost in a way. Afraid Of Sunlight sold something like 300,000 albums – it was still a lot of albums, even then. And then we got dropped by the label. I just thought, “What?”
You recorded three albums in the late 90s – This Strange Engine, Radiation and Marillion.com. How do you look back on them?
This Strange Engine is one of my favourite albums. Radiation, I couldn’t listen to at the time, because I hated the production. But when Mike Hunter remixed it in 2013, I thought, “Bloody hell, there’s some really good stuff on here.”
The problem was that the label we were on wasn’t really giving us any proper promotion. They knew we had a fanbase who would find our albums even if they were under a rock somewhere. They just thought, “A Marillion album, it’s a licence to print money.” Except it wasn’t for us.
When things were tough, did it ever feel like it was the end of the road for Marillion?
I don’t think any of the band ever felt that, but the manager definitely did. He said to me one day, “You should think of doing Marillion six months of the year and doing something for the rest of the year.”
What would you have done? Would you have gone back to drumming in the West End?
I suppose so. But as a freelance session guy, you get used to getting to the studio, doing an album in a day and then clearing off. And then you join a real band and it’s, “Shall we go in the studio?” “Well, I can’t be arsed today.” It was a lot more laid-back. To switch to going back to being in the right place at the right time, and phoning everybody to let them know I’m still about, I don’t know if I could have coped.
Did you breathe a sigh of relief that your crowdfunding experiment in 2001 worked?
We definitely relaxed a little bit. We knew that the fans were really up for it. It’s unbelievable. For all they knew, we could have gone out and bought Ferraris and knocked it on the head. But of course, we always want to do something better.
It got to the point where we decided not to do a crowdfunding thing with one album, and we actually got people emailing and saying, “No, we really want you to.” They were quite pissed off that we weren’t doing it.
The last 15 years have seen a massive upswing in the band’s fortunes. What’s the mood like in Marillion compared to the 90s, or even the mid-80s?
What I’ve noticed over the last few years is that we’re much more relaxed about stuff. In the first few years of Steve H joining us, he and Mark used to have real set-tos, to the point where I thought, “This is really bad news.”
It was a shock for Steve joining a band, which I could relate to. He was used to going into studios, working in a very methodical way, then coming out at the end of the day with product. And he joined Marillion and it was very laid-back: “Shall we write a song?” “No, let’s just see how it goes.” Things could get pretty tense.
What was the worst argument they had?
I don’t know about the worst, but there was one gig in Germany. We’d had a great show and we were going on to do an encore, and Steve Hogarth said, “Let’s do Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer,” ’cos it was a Christmas show. And Mark said, “I’m not fucking playing that.” We nearly split up over it.
What do you do away from music?
I did get well into playing tennis for a few years. The passion for that started at Hook End when we were doing Seasons End. We were there for months, it was the most beautiful summer and they had tennis courts, and that’s when I started playing. And that carried on right up until about three or four years ago. I had to have my gallbladder taken out, and ever since then I haven’t really played tennis.
Did you stay in touch with Fish after he left?
We didn’t speak for a long time. But the last few years we’ve become friendly again. We chat on the phone occasionally, we wish each other happy new year every year. I don’t dwell on all the crap stuff. We had some really good times together and that’s what I dwell on.
What’s your personal favourite Marillion album?
What is about Brave that you love?
We did Seasons End, which was a doddle, but Holidays In Eden was really hard work – we were starting from scratch, it was a blank canvas, we were a bit lost. But when Brave happened, it suddenly felt like a band again. It felt like we were all going down the same avenue together. It’s a third album thing – it happened with Misplaced Childhood in the 80s, and it happened with our third album with Steve Hogarth in the 1990s.
What about FEAR?
With FEAR, it’s an album that works from beginning to end. I really enjoy every track on it. And it was another point where Mike Hunter, our producer, really just nailed it. Of course it helped that we got some pretty good reviews; it was really well received. It was wonderful.
The last two or three years have been fantastic for us. Touring has just been getting better and better, and the whole thing has been really enjoyable.
What can we expect from the next Marillion album?
It’s still early days and we’re jamming every day. It would be really nice if we could write an album pretty quickly.
Has that ever happened?
It happened with Afraid Of Sunlight! But since then, no, never. You’ve more chance of getting hit by Skylab falling out of the sky.