Interview: A Brief Encounter with Fish
This past weekend, Fish embarked on a 17 date Farewell to Childhood tour, performing the classic Marillion album Misplaced Childhood throughout the UK and Europe. Shaun Neary sat down and had a chat with the former Marillion frontman about the tour, the upcoming album, his impending retirement from music and a few other stories.
© Shaun Neary. All images are subject to copyright laws. All rights reserved.
Thank you for taking the time out to talk to Pure Rawk. Let’s start by talking about the rescheduled Farewell To Childhood dates running this month. What can fans expect, will there be anything different from the last batch of dates?
It’s basically going to be the same set as the previous dates, as apart from London these are places that we’ve never played before. The Amsterdam, Groningen and Tilburg shows were replacements for the dates last year before John Beck broke his arm, and all the German shows are cities we’ve never played, so we didn’t need to put a new set together for that. It’s a 17 date tour focused around the Misplaced Childhood album, plus a bunch of other numbers.
How is John Beck’s recovery coming along from the broken arm?
The last time I spoke to John, he was doing well, and I think he’s back playing again, but Tony Turrell has taken over on keyboards, we couldn’t take the risk of John not being ready. I don’t think he’s gig ready yet, he might be playing, but two hours a night for 17 shows is probably a bit too demanding. Hopefully John will be involved with the writing of my last album at the end of the year.
You mentioned back in January that the writing and recording phase of that album is planned between May 2016 and March 2017. Is that still the plan?
Yeah, it’s still the same, it’s probably going to be pushed back a couple of months because of the rescheduled tour dates, and the first few months of this year have been very stressful and weren’t very conducive for writing. Even the remaster for the Kettle Of Fish sleeve notes should be written by now, but I wasn’t able to get my head into the creative process on any level, so it’s looking like a change of plan.
We should be recording during March/April next year, and the album should be out in April/May. We’ll be hitting some open air shows first during the summer, then doing the main bulk of the tour towards the end of the year, which ties in with the Clutching At Straws 30th anniversary and the new album, Weltschmerz. It’s nice because it’ll be my last Marillion album going out with my last solo album, assuming all goes well. Then the next lot will be in the following year, with the farewell tour in 2018, when I’m hitting 60!
Are there any ideas for the new album that you can share with fans just yet in terms of writing, subjects, music style, etc?
No, it’s still in early stages yet. I’ve got an idea of where the whole feel of the album is going, I think it’s going to be a very dark album, as inferred by the title. But at the moment we’ve not had the musicians up yet to start, and I don’t even know which musicians, or who’s going to be working on it.
Misplaced Childhood tours have been on and off for the last few years, and these dates are the last ones. How do you feel, given the iconic status of the album, knowing that you’ll probably never perform it again in any capacity?
I really only started touring Misplaced Childhood again last summer, we played about 15 open air shows, and a few indoor shows, but the last time I toured it was back in 2005 I think. But this one will be the definitive farewell, these will be the last indoor shows that we’ll play this year. With this idea, I’ve scheduled some filming for the Amsterdam show, and hopefully we’ll get something out of that for some sort of video release.
I will see the end of the Misplaced Childhood tours as a welcome relief though! I’ve really enjoyed the performances, and I could have kept this tour going for another year as there’s been such a demand. I’ve not been to Italy, Spain, South America, there were a lot of options, but I wanted it to remain fun and I wanted it to remain fresh, which is why I decided that we’re going to keep limited dates.
It has been a lot of fun playing, but it’s all very well doing Kayleigh, Lavender, Heart Of Lothian, which was the standard for many years with Marillion and myself, but I wanted to take the album out as a full performance one more time. I couldn’t do a full performance of that album on my final tour because it would take up such a huge chunk of time, so I decided to give it its own space, and it’s been fantastic. But you can eat too much of the same food to the point where you can get sick of it, and that did happen with Marillion in 1986, performing the album was becoming a bit of a chore, so hopefully this rounds things off nicely.
I’m not sure if you remember the Olympia Theatre show in Dublin in May 1997 for the Sunsets On Empire tour, but attendance was somewhat sparse. Yet you still managed to knock out a close to two hour set as if you were playing to a packed stadium. In situations like that, what keeps you motivated to perform?
I remember those shows, and sometimes it’s hard to get motivated before you go on, but once you get on stage and you go up there, the music becomes the important thing regardless if it’s 50 people, 5000 people or 35,000 people. You tend to just switch on, it’s difficult to explain. You can take it all in after the gig, and sometimes it’s a disappointment, it’s definitely a financial disappointment, as it was with those Irish dates which is one of the reasons why we’ve been unable to play Irish shows. It just doesn’t financially make sense, and that saddens me in a way.
The reality is, I need to be playing to a two to three thousand people a night on a regular basis, I’m going to be 58 on this tour that’s coming up and I’m in a situation where I don’t recover like I used to. I had to go across to Holland two weeks ago to get cortisone injections into my spine and shoulder, then I’m about to get on a bus tonight to drive to Newcastle, trying to sleep on a rocking bus and doing a gig the next day, it’s demanding. We do three days on, two days off, but someone still has to pay the bills and the wages and the hotels, so I have to run the tour so that it makes financial sense, as well as remaining attractive for the fans.
In June 1996, you got to represent your country performing Flower Of Scotland at Wembley Stadium before the Scotland/England Euro 96 game. What are your memories of that?
Oh God, yeah! Fear! I remember standing in the tunnel with Paul Carrick, and it was really hot and I had the kilt on and everything, blistering heat and I was getting so much abuse. People were hanging over the walls of the tunnels shouting expletives because I was Scottish, I walked out into a sea of red and white English flags, and there was this little Scottish contingent in the corner.
I could see John Major was in front of me in the box, and I just remember focusing on him, and then the team came out, Andy Goram and Gary McAllister gave me a bit of a wink which settled me down a bit. As the anthem started, the Scottish crowd started off in a different key and out of time, I just had to focus and keep it going, it was a very scary moment. I’d never felt so alone in my life out there!
In all the years of performing live, what is the strangest gig you have ever played?
We played a bar in Mogadishu, which is an air strip. We went out a couple of years ago to play an acoustic show, it was myself, Foss Patterson on keyboards and Frank Usher on guitars. We got asked by a friend who was working for the Amazon mission, a United Nations mission in Somalia, they said they had a bar but there was no entertainment, and would we come down, so we flew into Nairobi in a military aircraft. Now that was a weird gig. Obviously there was a lot going on in the city and we got taken around in armoured cars, that was some weekend, a very long weekend. I wouldn’t go back, it’s a very scary place.
Apart from that, we played a gig down a coal mine with the Fishheads club, that was pretty weird, we did that in Poland. They were definitely the two weirdest gigs we’ve ever done.
For all of your years in the music industry, as a singer, songwriter, and DJ, you’ve proven that you can tell stories. Can you see yourself writing an autobiography?
Absolutely, that is one of the plans when I finish in 2018. But it won’t be one of those standard musician’s autobiographies, I think it’s going to jump about in subject areas rather than time areas. That’s been the thing with the remasters, they’ve been an interesting exercise because I’m going back into areas of time, and there’s no way I could approach the albums without dealing with all the personal stuff that was going on behind them again.
The remasters write ups are only the tips of the iceberg, that’s mainly got to do with the making of the albums and the songs, which was basically backdrops to what was happening in my personal life. So with the autobiography, I’ll be going into what was going on behind the scenes, and I think it’s going to be a very different flavour.
In terms of producers, who have you enjoyed working with the most, and are there any that you would have liked to have worked with, but never happened?
Calum Malcolm. I wish I’d had Calum on Raingods With Zippos, Field Of Crows and Fellini Days, as I think they would have been very different albums. He’s a great guy to work with, and he gets great vocal performances out of me. At the same time regarding writing, he points out the areas which are too flabby, or where we should be adding parts. He’s got a lot of input into what we actually do in the studio, and I really respect his opinions, plus he’s got a great set of lungs on him.
Bob Ezrin would have been interesting, he was supposed to be producing the Marillion album that never was. I would have liked to have worked with him, but that never happened and at this point, it’s not really an option as I’m happy working with Calum.
For all that you’ve done in your career, if you could change one thing, what would it be?
I don’t do that. Regrets are a fool’s paradise and focuses energy in all the wrong places. Anything that’s happened has happened for a reason, and hopefully I’ve learned from mistakes. Sometimes I learned too late, and sometimes it takes me a while to put the teaching into the process again, but regrets are a waste of time.
Going back to 2005, what are your memories of being on Celebrity Weakest Link?
When you do those kind of appearances, even when I did Pointless recently, you get the fear because you think your mind is going to become full of glue, and you don’t want to make an arse of yourself. I was really lucky on the Weakest Link that I’d hit a sweet spot, I got right through to the end and then won it along with Eggsy from Goldie Looking Chain. We split the winnings which was cool, I don’t think that had been done before, but it was a charity thing. Anne Robinson was wonderful, she’s just a really nice person, I was quite surprised. Her onscreen persona is very different to the offscreen personality.
Some of your lyrics have a great deal of political content. With all the information so widely available now, especially in the age of the internet, do you ever get frustrated with people falling for the same propaganda and lies, time after time?
Yeah, I do. I just wish there were more songwriters out there who would deal with political subjects. I think it’s part of the corporate game, the major record companies don’t want anyone to be outspoken or dealing with subjects that could alienate their fanbase. I remember in 1991 when we were putting Internal Exile together, it was slammed by a lot of people who felt that it was too pro-Scottish, and it was coming out at a time when the SNP were making a lot of noise. It didn’t help the album, but it was how I felt at the time.
How can you put on the TV these days as a writer and ignore what’s happening in the world? You cannot make social comment without getting involved or touching on politics. What really gets to me is when you look at the Trumps, and the Camerons and the whole issue regarding the Panama papers, and then you look at the doping accusations in world sports and you have to wonder, how can you bring up children to respect their elders and peers? How can you teach a child that lying and cheating is bad, when the people in charge of our lives are setting such horrific fucking examples?
Once the new album and tour is finished, apart from the book, what is in store in terms of retirement from music for you?
I’m a writer that can sing, not a singer that writes. There are things that I have to do, there are books to be written, there are screenplays, and my acting has been put on hold for years. I’d rather do that at 60 and still be creative, rather than getting on a tour bus and club stages.
It’s a big blank page and I can write what I want on it, in whatever way I want to write, but I want to write. I think it will be time to reminisce and time to deal with things properly. I’ve done so many interviews, and they never really get into the nitty gritty, because there isn’t the scope there within the pages of a magazine or a radio interview.
Finally, in your career, what is the proudest thing you have achieved?
I think, probably getting Vigil together. I think coming out of the car wreck of Marillion, putting the album together, starting a solo career and maintaining it through some very difficult times, which is documented in the Clutching At Straws remaster sleeve notes. When I was writing those notes I was trying to work out how the fuck I got an album out of that lot, they were difficult times.
I’m proud to still be here and getting ready to head out on tour tonight after all these years. I have been written off by many people, but I’m still standing, and that’s probably my proudest achievement.
You can catch Fish on the Farewell To Childhood tour at the following UK dates and venues:
11th April: Waterside, Aylesbury, UK
29th April: Islington Assembly Hall, London, UK
30th April: Town Hall, Sailsbury, UK
1st May: The Robin, Bilston, UK [SOLD OUT]