MARK WILKINS, AKA Mark Astronaut, the frontman and living embodiment of The Astronauts for more than four decades has died.  Announcing the news on their official Facebook page, the band expressed their “immense shock and sadness” at Wilkins’ passing, describing their grief and distress at losing “a remarkable talent and an incredibly dear friend.”

Mark had remained the constant in the ever evolving line-up of the band, which began to coalesce in the formative months of punk’s initial breakthrough. As a lyricist, singer, poet and thoroughly distinctive live performer, Mark remained integral to one of the outsider punk scene’s most resilient and patiently prolific bands.

With roots in the counter-culture, free festival movement and the more creative and unexpected fringes of hippy, The Astronauts were far from the epicenters of the original anarcho-punk explosion. Yet the band shared many of its independent, rebellious, DIY tendencies and, through their connections with bands such as Zounds and The Mob, The Astronauts’ activities overlapped and intertwined with radical and anarchist punk culture. The Astronauts would also demonstrate a level of resilience and longevity that would be the envy of many of their more political musical peers.

“I’d always liked music which retrospectively could be said to have a ‘punk attitude’ in various musical settings,” says founder member Mark Wilkins (aka Mark Astronaut). “I then saw The Sex Pistols in a very early form after being party to booking them at a local college. After this, several of my friends started to form bands.” It quickly become a source of new inspiration. “At the time, punk rock seemed a diversion from the usual music and it was possible for musical incompetents like me to play gigs,” he adds.

Wilkins had been looking for a fresh outlet for his musical talents for some time. “I’d always written songs in my head, since I was very young, and the DIY ethic of punk made me feel it was possible to do this for real.” Things came together quickly, and in the first febrile months of first punk wave. “In 1976, in England, there was a very hot summer,” Wilkins recalls, “and people used to have parties outdoors in woods. We all met up at one of those.”

Extract from The Astronauts chapter in the manuscript for Let the Tribe Increase.

The Astronauts had most recently begun a fruitful collaboration with Grow Your Own Records, releasing the EP When You’re Not So High (2021) and in February of 2022 the album When We Were Otters. The label shared the following statement in response to the news.

It has been a complete honour and pleasure to have been able to work with Mark and the band on several releases over the last few years, and Mark was always talking about new ideas and projects. As well as being a massively talented singer, performer and writer Mark was also just a really lovely person, as a friend said he was a beautiful soul. We are so grateful that working with him on the GYO releases meant that we got to know him better, and he became a friend rather than someone we bumped into at gigs or went to see play.

Much love and condolences to The Astros and Mark’s family and friends.

Rest in peace Mark, and thank you for everything you gave us.

Grow Your Own Records

Mark featured on The Astronauts’ first vinyl release, a self-titled EP release on Bugle Records in 1979…

…and most recently on The Astronauts’ 2022 album When We Were Otters.

At the end of 2021, Marcus Blakeston published Survivors: 45 Years of the Astronauts, a 466-page history of the band’s life and work put together with”extensive input from frontman and songsmith Mark Astronaut, along with many of the musicians who have played alongside him over the years in both The Astronauts and his various other musical ventures” to tell the story of “how it all came about – from the bedrooms of 1970s Welwyn Garden City to the 2020 national lockdown.” Blakeston published a heartfelt tribute to Mark on his own site, shortly after the sad news broke.

The initial hardback edition quickly sold out, but paperback copies of Survivors: 45 Years of the Astronauts can be purchased through the Retroactive Bandcamp site (in the UK), and through Amazon (for US and Australian readers). Sample pages can be viewed on Marcus’ site.

Mark Wilkins, 27 August 1954 to 6 July 2022

Main photo credit: Gary, through Grow Your Own Records