Subject: Fish 99 - Hamburger Hill
Dear Fishheads, Freaks, Fans and the Company,
First of all I want to sincerely apologise to anybody who has lost out financially on cancelled tickets and travel arrangements due to the cancellation of these North American and Mexican dates.
The gigs were confirmed and I was struggling to make sense of the situation right up to the last moment when I was within 12 hours of committing 25 thousand pounds to set up costs for the tour in the way of flights, visas, freight and rehearsals.
The USA and Canada were always high on the agenda due to the overwhelming positive reaction to the performances and material on the 97 tour which was conducted with virtually zero record company support. I'd discussed the potential of this territory when signing to Roadrunner Holland and one of the main reasons for signing to the label was the reputation the company had at breaking acts and supplying solid promotion and distribution over there. Both Jim Pitulski and I had fought hard to get the simutaneous release and did everything in our means to convince RR USA that we held the American situation as a priority territory in our touring plans. The company were sluggish at responding to our calls and we didn't get the feeling that they were convinced about the album. We pressed for reactions and Larry Webman my agent had meetings and calls with the company together with Jim Pituski. They were totally aware of the touring commitment at least 3 months ago. RR Holland were also aware of the plans to tour and they were posted on all the main developments.
Larry did a great job booking the tour and hacked away at the promoters, raising offers and generally putting together something that was starting to make sense. The promoters were all made aware that Roadrunner were a committed label and that they would be backed up in every respect. The vibe was good and the confidence inspired by the last tour was getting results not only in the areas we played before but also in new cities and states.
RR USA were surprised at the initial sales and we thought that they would be further inspired to get fully behind the project. The promotion was better than on previous releases and I genuinely thought that this was it!
Jim expressed concern that the radio promotion was lacking as the album was only serviced to stations and not being worked. We had offered RR the track that they thought suitable and a number of conversations led them to think that Faithhealer would be a great opportunity. Weeks went by and nothing happened. I had virtually zero contact with the company and both Jim and Larry were getting a bad vibe.
The tour at this point was about to lock in and Yatta and myself had worked for nearly a week together on the budgets. The figures, working only to guarantees (in a show the promoter guarantees a fee plus a percentage of the ticket income after costs are covered) and a merchandise projection were not working out as we hoped. It was estimated that over the 33 gigs I would lose somewhere to between 25 and 30 thousand pounds.
Yatta and I worked out that in order break even we would have to sell out at least 75 per cent of the shows and sell more than the same percentage of the tickets in the houses that didn't to provide us with the extra income we required above the guarantees. These attendance figures also would relate to the merchandise takings which I originally had planned to keep separate from the gig fees as the merch income provides my salary.
(For those of you who may have a bug about t-shirt sales at gigs - the house takes on average about 25 per cent of the gross which includes tax, manufacturing is about 30 - 35 per cent depending on the number of screens - Kettle had about 8 - and the remainder pays the wages and hotels of the merch guy, the freight of stock to venues and the taxes on the gross! I get what's left.)
The tour with the merchandise thrown into the hat could have broken even on these figures which as you'll agree were optimistic but still feasible. Larry and Jim thought that we could make it happen and I felt that if I toured straight on the album that there was a beautiful chance to really get things rolling in the States and Canada with Roadrunner fully behind my career. It was a huge gamble and one I had said I'd never take on again after the debacle of 97. With solid record company backing it could work and was a realistic proposition. I was fully aware that there was still the chance that the tour would not break even but the prospect of losing 10 thousand pounds or so against the in-roads that were being made was acceptable considering the long term investment in my career over there.
I was genuinely excited as were all the band and crew. Wes' flight was booked and even the loss of Elisabeth Antwi didn't phase me. Tracy La Barbera's flight was booked and Wes' full guitar rig was freighted over for rehearsals due to start this week. Visas were applied for for both him in the UK and ourselves in the USA and Canada. The flights were on hold for Toronto, the bus was about to be booked and Mo Warden had the T-shirt designs with the full dates sent to the US manufacturer. The first tickets were going out and I had no response to our request for radio promotion from Roadrunner USA.
It stank! Jim was getting no response from the company and we both felt that I was going to have to get the weight of the label's owner Cees Wessels behind us if we were going convince the company in the States to commit to a more dedicated radio promotion.
I eventually got a call from him on Tuesday of last week and to be honest I was in shock when I put the phone down. I was told that the US company didn't believe the album contained tracks that would hold any appeal for US stations and that there was a great difficulty taking Prog rock to radio as there were no formats available.
Needless to say I disagreed but Cees said that there would be no radio campaign either independent or provided in-house. I pushed the issue and to cut a long story short he said that RR USA had no idea how to work the project and had not been sure of the suitability of the album or the act for the American label from the start. He then said that I couldn't expect anything other than a standard promotion from here on in and he advised me to cancel the tour as they couldn't provide the necessary support. The chances of being prioritised were nil!
The conversation somehow remained calm and collected and when I asked why the company had given no indication that they weren't into the project whatsoever throughtout the entire set up and allowed me to continue with the tour preparation he said it had been a terrible breakdown in communication and that he could only apologise.
The American company in my opinion has been guilty to the extreme of badly advising both myself, my agent and my manager as to their commitment to my career and allowed us to become both financially and professionally embarrassed by their actions.
It was never a matter of money as RR are a very well off company and are currently having massive success in the US with Fear Factory and Cold Chamber both of whom are moving to multi platinum levels. This may be a part of the problem as the company is not a Major and has limited staff. I do not however accept that as an excuse for allowing my career to be adversely affected and damaged hopefully only in the short term in the States. This was the best chance I have ever had there and I must admit to having a very bitter taste in my mouth at present.
Cees admitted that the object of the release was to provide a good basic promotion that was targeted at the fan base. They did that. They have not examined the potential I still consider exists in my career and after pointing this out I was told by Cees that he wouldn't stand in the way of my career and would give me the catalogue back in the States and allow me to move to a more sympathetic label. With the new album already in the stores and selling through to the fan base and beyond it will be a tough job for a new label to handle as the initial fan sales are the ones that provide the capital to pay for the initial promotion. Both Jim Pitulski and I are now working on this and I will be in discussion with RR Holland this week as to the practicalities of the changeover.
It would have been financial suicide to attempt a tour under these circumstances. The Internet and the Freaks List are a great method of promotion and are accessed by highly motivated individuals but the fact is that I needed to depend on a far greater awareness of this tour in other mediums - principally radio - if I was to get anywhere near the necessary figures required to break even.
To go out and play to the converted with no coverage and losing financially would have been a depressing scenario and with my house going on sale this month as I negotiate for a new home the consequences of another loss making tour so soon after the last one would be a prospect too horrible to contemplate.
The American tour was put in to excite the sales of the album, prepare the ground for the catalogue release and build my profile to the extent that a follow-up Autumn tour would establish my career over there and allow me to put that territory firmly on my future tour plans.
The tour as scheduled would have provided none of the above and in fact would have had directly the opposite effect. Promoters would lose confidence, I would lose money, fans would be standing in half-empty shows and the future would be bleak indeed.
With the reaction I received from Cees even tour support from the company was obviously out of the question and to be honest I would never have asked for it. Some of you think that the record companies give this as a service. In fact it's recoupable in the main, meaning that the artist pays it back from sales. If I was playing to fan base alone then there would never have been the extra sales to commensurate the expense of the exercise. I would have been paying to play.
Nobody but nobody is more disappointed than me. I had to tell Wes when he got off the plane in Edinburgh that the tour was cancelled and I had to phone up all my crew and band to tell them the news. They had blocked their schedules for me and had committed the next 3 months to my career. Both Jim and Larry had done a phenomenal job for literally nothing and the calls to them were particularly wrenching.
They both totally understood the realities of my situation and knew that a half cocked tour may have exploded in our faces.
I couldn't take the risk and after this new information from Cees I decided to cancel at the very last minute before I reached a point of no return.
I've already lost over 3 thousand pounds in cancelled flight and freight charges but that is nothing compared to the disappointment and loss of the musicians and crew who I feel deserved a lot more.
Perhaps if these people in record companies could remember that there a lot of people on the other side of their air conditioned office windows that depend on them doing their job. There are agents, managers, crew, bus drivers, promoters and sundry other professionals whose living depends on them getting it together. They don't have a guaranteed monthly pay check.
If there had been more openness, honesty and communication on this project then this situation would never have happened. I am extremely annoyed and feel very depressed by the outcome and I deliberately withheld from posting until I came back from Switzerland to avoid rampaging emotionally in a charged state of mind.
Not only have I suffered a direct financial loss from this fiasco I also lost a chance of a role in a movie project I was asked to audition for. The director wanted to send me the script for a London gangster movie filming in July with Ben Kingsley. By this time the tour was booked and I was therefore unable to consider the part. I now have no work until August.
I did consider taking my complaint further but in the end as I have found to my near demise it's not worth it. RR Europe are doing a great job and they have my catalogue for at least the next 7 years.
This issue is with RR USA. If the American catalogue is returned and I can get the chance to at least salvage if not resurrect the best album that I have made in years then that will be at least a small consolation to cover the massive disappointment of recent weeks.
I was born a fighter and that I will continue to do. If I can organise a new label in time then the tour will go ahead in the Autumn. I'll start in Europe rather than the Americas and make sure that when I come back it's with a label that genuinely cares and in a situation that's positive and beneficial to all concerned.
I apologise to anyone who has been let down by my decision to postpone the tour and you can trust me that I will do everything in my abilities to make the Autumn tour happen.
Please don't e-mail RR USA as I would like to walk from this event as quietly as possible. This has happened and no matter how angry or disappointed you are I feel infinitely worse and am attempting to make the best out of a shite stuation.
It don't mean nothing!!
I have a cunning plan!!!!:-))
lots of love
Onkel Fish x
Ps The Mexican and South American dates will also be recheduled to run with the intended North American tour!
Email 2nd June 1999