Interviewed by Duncan Everson (Journalist/Writer/Contributor) Myglobalmind Webzine
Best known as the ex-singer from Marillion, Fish has been a solo artist since 1989 and recently spoke to me about the release on iTunes of the re-mastered version of his second album Internal Exile, his latest album Feast Of Consequences, the supporting tour and some surprising plans for the next two years.
MGM : Hi, I’m Duncan from Myglobalmind Webzine and can I just thank you for speaking with me today. If I can start with the Internal Exile album – Callum Malcom has just re-mastered it and it’s available for download on iTunes, it’s timed to dovetail nicely with the [Scottish] Independence vote on the 18th. Did you ever imagine when you wrote the song in ’88 that you’d see this day?
Fish : Yeah. In all honestly – I don’t want to go too much into politics, some of it antagonises some people, you know. When Internal Exile came out I lost a big proportion of the fan base, they just didn’t understand it. All they saw was “Scottish Nationalism, that’s not us”, bang, delete, you know. But it was an interesting period. Okay, this is how the re-master came about because I went looking for the Internal Exile clip on YouTube, thinking it must be up there somewhere and I couldn’t find it. And I couldn’t find Credo either and then I realised that they’d never been put up and I owned them, right, so I thought this is silly, we should put them up on YouTube and on the Fisheads club site and so we dashed them up and at the same time, obviously, I had to write about the referendum, about my stance. I didn’t want to get actively involved in the Yes campaign because, as I said in my statement, there’s a high probability that I’m gonna be moving to Germany in two years and although I’ve always voted SNP [Scottish Nationalist Party] and I believe in the Yes vote, I don’t want to get involved with campaigning because if we do get the Yes vote and I do move to Germany in two years, people are just gonna turn around and say you’re a hypocrite. And I thought, well that’s not the way I do things, so I just said “I’ve got the right to vote Yes, that’s what I’m doing.” So I put the Internal Exile album up and when I was writing up the notes for the clip and it reminded myself of what was going on at the time because that was when Margaret Thatcher had decided that Scotland was going to be the guinea pig for the Poll Tax and a lot of people in England – this was the really interesting thing because this was pre-internet, pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter, right – so a lot of people down in England didn’t even know what was happening, they didn’t understand the concept of Poll Tax. And up here everyone was going crazy and at that time, Marillion and I were trying to write the album that never was, up in Dalnaglar in the Scottish Highlands and it was the first time I’d really been exposed to Scotland, you know, for a period longer than a weekend when I’d come up and see Hibs [Hibernian Football Club] at Easter Road on a Saturday and meeting me Mum and Dad. And it started to…it got me thinking again and then of course there was all the friction with Marillion and I think it was one of the things…I think I started to wake up, you know what I mean?
MGM : Yeah.
Fish : And then I left Marillion and as we were saying, when I was deciding on where I was gonna go [to live] and it was like “I’m gonna go back home. I’m gonna go back up to Scotland.” And of course I moved back up here and so I was totally immersed in it etc., etc. and then…Vigil was an album that was, I would say probably most of the lyrics in it were for the Marillion album that never was. The vocal melodies were for the album that never was, but then when I came into Internal Exile, the “difficult second album” as far as a solo artist went and of course the politics started to come to the fore. But Internal Exile, the original lyrics had already been started at Dalnaglar with the Marillion sessions. It was one of the ones where there was no way this was gonna end up on a Marillion album which was why one of the reasons I left Marillion at that time was for political reason, you know. But way back then, in ’90…at the time the SNP were on a bit of a high and that was 1990 – there was a lot of things going on there and eventually we got devolution and it’s moved on since then and of course we got the right to the referendum and we’ll see what happens in two weeks.
MGM : Yes.
Fish : Interesting times.
MGM : Yes, it’s an interesting situation.
Fish : I mean, personally – stripping the whole Yes/No thing out of it, whether you believe in the Union or not – what I’m finding the most exciting and invigorating thing, is that everywhere you go – even yesterday, right, I was at Tesco’s and there’s a guy on the meat counter – he’s an old guy, he’s about 70, right – and we started talking about the referendum. And this is what’s happening, you go in a pub, you go in a café, you sitting there talking to people at a bus stop and eventually people get round to talking about it. And it’s not heated exchanges or anything like that. It’s “what do you think?” And it’s amazing, I’ve never, ever known, in the United Kingdom ever, a subject matter that’s been embraced and people talking politics and talking about circumstances and talking about the future and talking about what they want, and I think that’s brilliant. And when they’re talking about at least an 80% turnout on the day, I think that’s brilliant for Britain. I think in the United Kingdom there’s been so much apathy that’s taken root because of this stagnation that’s occurred between the Tories and the Labour party it’s hard to see who’s on what bloody side these days. And there’s nothing I hate more than getting caught up in Sky news and watching some live debate from Westminster and you’re watching two people, you know, who are trying to talk chunks out of each other and it’s like “can you please deal with the country rather than your ego’s?”, you know what I mean?
MGM : Yes, very true.
Fish : I’m loving it, I think it’s great. I’ve got my own personal feelings on it but I live up here and I’ve lived up here since 1988, so sometimes I’ll object a little bit to some of the celebrities that are going all out, “Better Together” – it’s like, “You don’t live up here”.
MGM : Yeah, I think I know who you mean.
Fish : Having Mick Jagger and David Bowie turn round and say “Oh it’s better together”, I don’t even think they pay the majority of their taxes in this country.
MGM : That’s who I was thinking of, yeah. On the new release of Internal Exile the wonderful version of “Just Good Friends” with Sam Brown is included as well. Are there any other artists you’d like to duet with or guest on their albums or anything?
Fish : Um, I haven’t really thought about it, you know. You see the thing is with music, I don’t listen to music in the house that much. I watch movies, I watch TV – I love Sky Atlantic and….as far as duets go – I’ve never really considered myself a singer as such. Technically, I’m not that good a singer. I was never trained, you know, I just fell into it by accident. What I am is a writer, I mean I love words. It’s the one of the things about the Feast Of Consequences album that I really got off on was putting the words together and working those words with that music and creating what I’ve always described as being movies for people’s ears. And working with the soundscapes with the guys I write with and being able to try to catch the drama and catch the dynamic of everything, that’s what I love, you know. So working with another musician is, do I want to write words for someone else to sing them, then yes. And when I do eventually stop singing, which is only gonna be in a couple of years, then I’ll be quite happy to write lyrics for other people and for them to sing it. I’d love to write for the likes of Dave Gilmour but I think his missus does that now. [Laughs]. As far as working with other people, I’d love to write some stuff if they wanted things written but from a musical level, it’s not something I really think about that much.
Sam was brilliant to work with, she’s just an incredible person. I’d met her a few times and saw her on the Pulse tour and it was like, wonderful…We actually wrote together. We were down in France for a week, working with this kinda publishing circle at Chateau Marouatte, which was owned by Miles Copeland, The Police/Sting’s manager – we worked together down there and did some writing. In fact on the Raingods With Zippos album, it was Tilted Cross and Incomplete and both came from those sessions.
MGM : Was that the one where Rick Astley was there as well?
Fish : Yeah, that’s right. Mission Statement I wrote with Rick Astley. It was interesting. It was quite bizarre, you know, it was an interesting experiment. It was a bit of a wake-up because I’d never been in that situation before where somebody said to me, “Okay, meet so and so, and so and so. You’ve gotta write a song in a day.” And we were down there for one week and we had to basically write…[coughs]…bloody builders dust! So you’re basically put in a situation with complete strangers and you’re sitting there writing and it was a completely different discipline and it was quite exciting and since then I’ve approached songwriting in a slightly different way. I’m not as intimidated by it as I used to be.
But then again, it was 6 years between 13th Star and Feast Of Consequences and one of the reasons was that I just didn’t feel I was ready. I didn’t just want to write something – cos that would have been easy – I think that’s one of the differences being in the situation that I am, as an independent artist who’s got a relationship [with] and the trust of a fanbase. I think you’ve got to respect them and respect their loyalty and the worst thing you could ever do to a fanbase is treat them like a cash-cow and just start throwing stuff at them and expect them to pay for a piece of silver plastic and go “There you go. Cos it’s got my name on it, you can buy it.” Well you can’t do that, you’ve got to produce something that’s good and I didn’t feel in the six years between 13th Star and Feast that I was mentally prepared to actually provide something that was equal, if not better, than 13th Star. I had two vocal operations, a collapsed marriage. You know, I went out on the road for 18 months, 170 shows with the Fisheads Club and that was where I re-learned songwriting and really re-discovered the magic of songwriting was on the road on the Fisheads Club tour and it was after that I was ready to work on Feast Of Consequences.
MGM : Well I think the wait was definitely worth it…
Fish : I’m proud of that album, you know.
MGM : And so you should be, it’s definitely one of you best. I have to admit, I was a bit unsure of pre-ordering the album when I heard that Frank Usher [guitarist] wasn’t going to be involved but I have to say that Robin [Boult] did an amazing job and there wasn’t any point when I thought “I wish Frank was on here”.
Fish : Yeah, with Frank, he wasn’t really happy with the 13th Star album and I didn’t realise how unhappy he was with the album until we were in the middle of the Feast project and he just said he never liked it. He didn’t like any of the material on it except maybe his own [laughs]. And it was like, “Ok. That’s a surprise!” but that made me understand a lot of stuff and if somebody’s not happy with what they’re doing, there’s no point forcing them and Frank and I are old friends enough that…we go back waaay too long to fall out over stuff, you know. It’s the same as Foss [Paterson ex-keyboards] – I’m expecting Foss round in the next couple of hours actually for a cup of coffee. Long gone are the days when it’s like somebody leaves the band and it’s lawyers time, you know! [Laughs]
MGM : I’d also like to congratulate you and Mark Wilkinson on the deluxe edition of the album. It’s rare that something lives up to its billing as well as that does.
Fish : Well I tip my hat to Mark. It was Mark’s idea. We decided to go for something special on the packaging and we were unsure and it was Mark that said, “Why don’t we do the book with all the illustrations in?” I was like, “Are we sure we can do this? [laughs] Cos I can provide the audio end and I can provide a shitload of words [laughs]. You’re lining yourself up for a lot of illustrations!” And I think about halfway through he was like, “Julie’s [Mark’s wife] helping out now!” But it was great having Mark and Julie involved. And Julie’s watercolours, I think, were perfect…they were perfect to go with the entire World War 1 illustrations, you know what I mean?
MGM : Yes I do.
Fish : Like I said I’m really proud of it and I’m really glad that Mark’s up for a Prog award. It’s my name that’s on it for the Album Artwork but it’s not and Mark’s gonna be with me at the awards and if we do get it, it’ll be his award. It’s going on his mantelpiece not mine cos he’s the one who deserves it.
MGM : Well, you’ve always worked so well together.
Fish : Yeah, we’ve always had a great relationship. We were talking about the modern interaction between fan and artist. In the last couple of days, we’ve been putting up the designs for the T-shirts and saying “Well, what do you want? Which do you like? What colours do you like?” It gets them kinda involved, it gets the fans involved and, to be brutally honest, you don’t want to be sat there with hundreds of shirts that you might like but the fans don’t like and you’re sitting there thinking “how do I get rid of this lot now?” And at the same time, if they’re gonna buy something, let them buy something that they want to buy. And Mark enjoys that as well and we’ve always worked with that. We’ve already been on the phone twice this morning trying to work out the little details about how we’re gonna do stuff. And it’s great, that’s the way we work it now. You know it’s strange because he works with me and he also works for Judas Priest and other bands…his work with me is a lot less stressful than his work with the corporate dynamic!
MGM : It’s interesting you said about the T-shirts actually – was one of the people that suggested using your [Facebook] profile picture.
Fish : I put the request into the photographer but he hasn’t got back to me yet.
MGM : As a photographer myself, I think it’s one of the most striking images I’ve seen to be honest. It’s absolutely fantastic.
Fish : Yeah. When we did the photograph…cos what happened was, I was in Aschaffenburg, which is a beautiful little town in Germany, and the in-house photographer happened to be Juergen Spachmann and I got a request. And I’d seen his photographs on the wall and they were absolutely stunning photographs. And I went “this looks pretty cool” and then the guy goes “would you be interested in doing a set-up for me?” And then he delivered these photographs and I just went “wow!” And I was looking for a photograph when it came to the Feast Of Consequences album and I just thought it was so powerful, so I said to him I’d like to use it on the sleeve and he said “by all means. Be my guest”. And it’s become an incredibly powerful image. I always get a bit wary about putting them on T-shirts. I did it way back on the Internal Exile album, I think, and it was an infra-red image on a black shirt and I always feel a bit weird with people walking about with my photograph on them [laughs].
MGM : I’m a photographer and a fellow D300 [camera] user.
Fish : Oh right!
MGM : I wondered if you still have time to take any pictures?
Fish : I do but the problem is, as you know, when you’re out on the road and you’re lugging about a D300, it’s alright when you’re on a tour it’s easy but when you go to, for example, festivals and things, you know it’s a bulky piece of equipment and when you’re travelling hand luggage it’s a bit of a weight. On a tour bus it’s easy and that’s when I tend to use it cos then it’s just so much more fun. You get so used to the iPhone , the software in the iPhone is more than adequate for Facebook snaps and stuff – it’s the new instamatic, you know. But I still like the Nikon and I like playing about but I don’t get out…I think the last time I went out and went “Right this is gonna be a camera expedition” was when I went to see the midget submarines. And I had a lot of fun doing that but I like it on tour because it keeps me occupied during the day rather than heading off to a bar or just sitting in the back seat twiddling your thumbs. Just go out and try and take some shots of stuff and Steve Vantsis and Robin Boult both do the same thing and Foss was doing it on the last tour.
MGM : Is there a possible book in the future?
Fish : A book? Well, not a photo book – I’ll leave that to Steve Rothery! I’ve thought about doing what Steve’s done – Steve’s a great photographer and I remember way back in the ‘80’s when he was doing it and I hope he sends me up a copy cos I’m not bloody buying one haha! [laughs] In all honesty, the way I’m looking at stuff at the moment is; the idea – the plan – the way I’m looking at things is…well I’m 56 years old now and I’m going out on a bus tour now for three months and 60 odd shows and I must admit it’s a bit more daunting than it used to be when I was in my 30’s and 40’s. It’s a different challenge these days and I’ve been talking to my partner of three years who lives out in Karlsruhe [in Germany] and we were just going through stuff… What really happened was a friend of mine who was in the infantry and his wife’s been ill. He was in the infantry and he was career army, he’d been there for a long time and he left the army, he left for family reasons, he left for the right reasons. And he sent a message up to me after the collapse of the last tour when Robin was taken ill and I’d spent three months setting that tour up, you know. Doing the interviews, doing the prep, getting everything together, sorting it out and working with Yatta [tour manager] and then suddenly a bug comes along and the whole thing falls down. And at the end of the day there was an insurance claim from which every musician got paid and all the crew got paid, the bus driver got paid and the only person that didn’t get it was me. You don’t get profit or anything like that with an insurance claim. And I was sitting there after putting all that effort in for 3-4 months and Blind For The Beautiful was about to be released, we had press lined up for the whole tour and to support the single and it was like poof! and the whole thing went. And there was no pint getting angry and stamping my feet but I was sitting there and I was here on my own, in the studio, with a garden that’s too big for me and a house that in all honesty is too big for me and paying a big mortgage on a house I don’t really need and I’m sitting on my own in this house with my nearest and dearest being all the way in Germany and I was kinda going “Why am I here? What am I doing? What am I doing with my life?” [laughs] And my friend, the ex-infantry guy, sent a message and he said “you’re perfectly within your rights to leave the battlefield with honour after everything you’ve done.” He said “there’s no disgrace if you decided to leave the battlefield now” and I think he sent it in a way that I don’t think he intended to and at first I laughed it off. That was on the Friday, and on the Saturday I was sitting there with a bottle of wine and I’m staring out the window and it was like “What is this?” I’m up at ten o’clock in the morning answering emails in my dressing gown and I’m working through till the night. I was up until half past three in the morning the other night, working on something to do with publishing or whatever it was, you know. I work, and that’s what I do – I don’t really have any life, I rarely go down to the pub these days. I’ve got a few friends here but not that many because all my friends live all over the world, you know. And I thought “How long do I do this for?” And then I came up with a plan. So the idea is to do this tour and then look at working on an album, January, February, March, April as the follow up to Feast Of Consequences – I’ve already got the title, I’ve already got a couple of sketchy ideas for bits and pieces for it. And then I want to take Misplaced Childhood out on the road next year but not for clubs or anything like that, I just want to do open-airs in Europe and the UK and it’s going to be the last time I’m ever going to play Misplaced Childhood. It’s going to be the band, a couple of backing vocalists, do a reasonably special production, take it out in the summer. Then record the album, which is gonna be my last album after that tour and then in 2016 I want to put together basically a farewell tour. It’s gonna be “That’s it.” By that point I’m gonna be 58 years old and I really don’t want to be out on the road when I’m 60 years old out on a bus. And I’ve seen too many guys, just even in this last year or so, and I’ve watched them coming off stage and they’re absolutely knackered. I’m going [to myself] “there’s got to be a point where you stop”. And I’ve spent so long doing album, tour, album, tour – I mean my acting career basically stuttered and spluttered and it’s never really gonna happen to the point where it’s more than a hobby I really, really love, you know. As far as writing goes – there’s my autobiography there, there are screenplays there, there are novels there and while I’m doing music and working in the manner I’m working in at this moment in time, I ain’t gonna get it done. So I’ve decided 2016, I’m gonna call it a day and it looks in all likelihood and the high probability is that I’m gonna move across to Germany. I’m still gonna maintain The Company [website] etc. and music is still gonna be there, that’s never gonna go – I’ll do a Sean Connery [in Connery voice] and “never say never” but as far as live stuff goes, I’ve got no intentions of going out as a five-piece band and going out on a bus again. From 2016, the Fisheads thing, that’s where I’ll have my fun and even then it’s gonna be a week at a time and as I said, I’ll probably be based in Germany anyway. I need to be sensible about what I’m doing and I don’t want to end up like the alleged story about Alex Harvey where they brought his body back to Glasgow on a tour bus, you know. I don’t want to do that. And I’ve got a life to live and as I said, I’ve got a partner in Germany that I want to spend an awful lot more time with and I’ve got books to write and I wanna enjoy the rest of my life without having to be beholden to album and touring patterns, you know.
MGM : Yeah, absolutely.
Fish : But I’ve always loved writing, it’s actually exciting and that weekend, after I got the email from my army friend and when I made the decision and I talked to my partner about it, and I started talking to some of my close friends about it, everybody said yeah and a huge weight came off my shoulders because, I think, the way I was looking at the time to the endless “clocking-in” to the music business and it was a music business that had changed. You’ve got to remember that when I joined the music business it was vinyl only or vinyl and cassette, in fact I think there was f**king 8-tracks about at that time! [laughs] They’ve changed it now and it’s not as much fun as it used to be and I always said, I always, always said to myself “That when it stops being fun and when it only became about the money and when you’re walking out and only seeing credit card numbers, right, it’s time to leave”. Because at that point, the passion would be coming out of my performance and if the passion comes out, then my performance is not what it should be. And I’ve got to be true to myself and I’ve got to be true to the fans in that respect. And that’s why I figure that by 2016 I think I’ll be in that area where it’ll be time to hang up the mask, you know! [laughs] Like we said it’s a whole new realm, and like I said before, it could be that I’m writing lyrics for other people but I’m not gonna be singing them. I don’t really want to be getting into making albums and doing all that again, you know. I just wanna have a bit of fun in my life at that point – I’ve done it, I’ve done a lot of work and I’ve travelled a lot of miles and I’ve put a lot of hours in on stage and there just comes a point where I have to take a step back, you know.
MGM : Yeah, why not. You can always record the occasional song if you get the “itch”!
Fish : Yeah, that’s it – I just need to break out of this pattern. But like I said, you never know what’s gonna happen, you never know. Its two years down the line, there’s a lot of things in the world that can change things very, very dramatically very, very quickly. That is the current cunning plan.
MGM : I’d better let you go, I’ve run over my time by a long way.
Fish : Ah, we’re okay, I’ve got another five minutes yet.
MGM : Just a couple of quick ones then, if that’s okay.
Fish : Yeah sure, that’s cool. Shoot!
MGM : I’d like to thank you for signing the petition about saving the Fleece [Bristol venue].
Fish : Ok, what’s happened with that?
MGM : Everything’s holding fire with it I think.
Fish : I remember playing there years and years ago when Keith Moore was in the band, I think it was one of the last gigs that he did with us.
MGM : I’m looking forward to seeing you there in December – I’m looking forward to buying you a drink if I get the opportunity!
Fish : I’ll be there – if I’m actually still able to talk after that length of time [laughs] When you get to that level of roadwork it’s almost like you start developing your own…you start speaking Klingon! And not even realising it! [laughs]
MGM : [Laughs] Yes I think it’s one of the last ones of the tour isn’t it.
Fish : That’s right. We finish off in Glasgow. That’s gonna be a surprise to a lot of people. I’ve been looking forward to this tour – I’m dreading it and I’m looking forward to it. We’ve got a great setlist, it’s a good mix. We tried it at Haddington and everybody was very positive. When I turned round and saw my production manager at the side of the stage clapping, then I know – he’s one of the most cynical bastards in the world! – and he loved it. He reckons it’s one of the best sets we’ve ever played and if he’s giving me that sort of heads up then that’s cool, you know.
MGM : Yeah, there’s some interesting choices there. I couldn’t resist reading it – I couldn’t wait that long [laughs].
Fish : Yeah, I know [laughs]
MGM : Lastly, I’m sure I read somewhere that you’re not a big fan of cameras at gigs.
Fish : I don’t mind cameras at gigs as long as you’re not flashing them. I don’t understand why anyone would come along and with, say a D300 and with a flash on it. And flashes are the most disrupting [drill sound from builders…] next to bloody drills and builders! You know, when you’re in there and you’re in a space and you’ve got the feeling going and you’re in the moment and you’re also trying to remember a very complicated lyric and then suddenly a flash goes off – it can really throw you. You can forget the lyrics and the mood you’d been in had just been had been completely destroyed, so I don’t like flash. Cameras I’ve got no problem with.
MGM : I was wondering if you had any views on the Peter Frampton incident of a few weeks ago? You’re fully behind him, I would imagine.
Fish : What was the Frampton incident again? Did a guy just walk in or something like that?
MGM : I think it was a couple actually and they were shooting the whole thing despite being asked and told not to.
Fish : Did they not arrive late or something like that?
MGM : They missed the announcement that they weren’t allowed to shoot.
Fish : Yeah, yeah, yeah – they arrived late and they were sat right in the front and were popping off flashes at him. Did he smash the camera up or something like that?
MGM : I think he asked for the guy’s iPhone as though he was gonna take a picture with it and then threw it basically. Allegedly anyway, I wasn’t there so can’t report it as fact!
Fish : I’ve taken an iPhone of somebody before. I remember doing that down in Southend and the guy got really pissed off and we started having an argument onstage and I told him “F**k off!” He was just standing right in front of me taking shot after shot with the iPhone with a flash. There’s people using a Canon or a Nikon [with a flash] and it’s like “why don’t you just change the f**king ISO on it! Why are you doing that with this sort of camera – you don’t need the flash.” You look at the quality of the photographs you get with a flash and people are standing like twenty-five feet away from you using a flash – what do you think you’re gonna get on the shot?
MGM : Absolutely, yeah!
Fish : Anyway, so I don’t like flash!
MGM : And people watching it through their screens.
Fish : Videos I don’t get. And there’s nothing worse than when you’re standing at the front of the stage and somebodies actually taking a movie of you on an iPhone. They’re holding it out and it’s only about four feet away from you and you’re going “why don’t you…they’re looking at the iPhone. Why are you doing this? Why have you paid twenty odd quid to come and see an act and you’re recording it – getting a shit sound and shit picture. Why don’t you just embrace the moment?” Ah, it’s modern society. I do give people the warning though. I only make a big deal out of it if it gets to be a pain in the arse because people are warned at the start, you know. The last thing I hate is you guys with the big cameras and the big lenses and the keep jostling everybody out of the way to try to get the shot, it’s like “No, no, no.” [laughs]
MGM : Yeah. I think your fans are a bit more respectful.
Fish : Generally speaking – you do get the odd ones, you know. But like I said, I’m looking forward to the tour and getting out there again. I’ll be glad to get away from the [builders] dust in this house!
MGM : Well I’d better let you go! Thank you very much for your time.
Fish : I’m looking forward to the beer down at The Fleece!