Subject: Fish 99 - Saturday Convention
Dear Fishheads, Freaks, Fans and the Company,
Was it just a week ago?
I awoke with that overwhelming sense of responsibility laced with paranoia and nerves. I sensed incoming as the dry cough and the film of sweat that covered my body indicated that I'd picked up something in the last 24 hours. Two people had come to the Farm with tonsilitis the day before and that together with the exertions of the pub gig in a close and humid room suggested that this was no hypochondria.
To make matters worse both Steve Vantsis and Squeeks were showing the same symptoms.
The pressure was really on. To be in the shower in the morning knowing that people had come from thousands of miles away to see two shows was overwhelming responsibility. I'd been careful that week. Double doses of Vitamin C and every other pro voice treatments had failed. To cap it all I had a football match that afternoon.
Tammi and the others had done brilliantly. The artwork was up , the council had set up the marquee and the chicken and burgers were on the grill. Yatta was digging me as the sponsors we had hoped for to pay for the BBQ had pulled out and as I'd promised a free event I couldn't go back on my word. When I arrived at the Poldrate the food was already out and the gathering was strong. I grabbed a bite and washed down breakfast with a pint of Belhaven Best.This was dangerous territory. Next to a pub with a crowd of eager drinkers and a football match and a gig later. Last year I took on too much in one day and suffered for it. This time I'd paced myself and played safe only to be taken out by a bug.
Eventually the small PA went up and the blistering sunshine was more than welcome. If it had rained I think I would have collapsed in a resignatory heap in the Tyneside . All was going well though. Dave Gould although late in set up was doing the business , the food was well received and there were a lot of happy faces masked in ketchup . Phil and Hazel otherwise known as Traprain had a set ready and I went up for the welcome speech in the filling courtyard. As always it was off the cuff . I knew what I had to get across and it was hard to get a positive spin on a depressing situation with Roadrunner which had been preying on my nerves for months now. I knew where my future lay. I just had to give directions to myself and the assembled company. In the end everyone seemed to understand the situation and I withheld the bile that threatened to spill over and form a rant and rave against an industry I have grown to detest in the last year.
Everyone that stood in the courtyard understood the logic and there was no real need to explain the situation further.
The banter and the jokes defused the bomb and the Q and A session was welcomed by all including myself.
Best heckle of the week was when I announced that I was having difficulty with the Plague lyrics and a voice span out from the crowd suggesting we play Grendel because it was shorter! :-) No come back!!
Tosh was admirably collecting names for the football tournament and without his clipboard skills all would have descended into chaos.
I was pleased at the response and to have the necessary 9 teams for the competition meant game was definitely on.
Traprain filled the courtyard with some fine music and as covers of Little Feat and John Martyn echoed around the Poldrate in the midday sun all seemed perfect.
I had 2 pints and headed up to Millfield for the games. I'd booked 2 x 7-a side pitches weeks earlier and went in to check with the Sports centre to make sure all was ok. Cue panic as they couldn't find the booking and people were coming back from the field telling me that there were matches currently being played.I though that it was a bogey game and would have to find alternative pitches or cancel the long awaited tournament. The bookings were confirmed and I headed down to see the other match finish on a full size pitch not the 7-a side pitch I'd been promised. The choice was play full size or play across the pitch using jerseys as goalposts! A short discussion with a few people and the decision was to go for the full monty.
An hour or so later everyone regretted the macho bravado as grown men wilted under the Haddington sunshine and chased the ball from end to end of an ever growing pitch. The referee hadn't shown up so whistles had to be found and luckily a couple of people including Chalky White from our team Badger volunteered to officiate. Chalky also being a youth coach had coloured bibs so it was possible to differentiate between the teams most of whom wore Fish T shirts!
I also had forgotten about a megaphone and had to resort to shouting instructions across the field in order to get the teams together.
I was very aware of the night's gig but needs must. My thinking was that if I sweated enough and drank enough water I could flush out the bug. 2 minutes into our first game with the Company Germany I realised that perhaps this was a bad choice!
I thought that I was playing in a yeti costume. Thankfully Elliot Ness played a blinder and we held the Germans to a 1-1 draw mainly due to the spectacular keeping of Mario Boult in the German goal. I came close once with a volley that went outside the far post from 20 yards. Elliot was trying to dribble round everyone including his own team mates and after the game was given a dressing down. He listened and went on to our next game against the Just Good friends mob to score a hat trick. Team Badger was coming together.
Steve and Squeeks were suffering and like me were becoming worried about the gig later on. Bill McNie was a tank in mid field on both games and for a big boy moved fluidly and confidently mopping up the few JGF attacks with his partner the stylish Chalky.
I'd been offered loads of "real" players but had turned them down as it would have seemed a wee bit churlish to take the competition so seriously. I secretly hoped the Team America would get a result as they crushed a piss poor Dutch team in the first game thanks to a bull like Jon "Gooner" Davies. Funniest thing of all the games that weekend was the reaction of the US goalie to the Dutch penalty kick. before the Dutch player had started his run up the goalie ran straight out and charged the ball down before the player reached it! After the explanation of the rules the Dutch player retook the kick and blasted it toward a passing Russian Space Station.
Northern England and Southern England were looking good and it was no surprise that both qualified for the semis.
The Dutch team were bravehearts and hats must be taken off to Frauke , the only female player on the pitch. Sadly she was clattered in their last game and we were all worried that it was more serious than originally thought. Her husband walked her off the pitch to applause.
I had to miss the last game between the Germans and the JGF mob as soundcheck was upon us. I headed to St Mary's still in my kit.
I'd seen Rick Wakeman there a few months ago but to realize that tonight it was my turn to play in this hallowed hall was daunting to say the least. The PA was still being checked but the lights were up. I hadn't really given the "venue" that much thought and it was only now that I realised that we would be playing "in the round" for the first time. I'd been asked to "respect" the premises. It wasn't necessary .The command of the building was complete.
Andy Williamson was having difficulties setting up the rig and the check dragged on. I knew I had problems with my throat and spent a long time warbling away on my own in corners of the church hoping that some of the alleged Lourdes like powers of the building might come to bear on this very nervous singer. Stress is the voice's worst enemy so the head work was tough. Yatta steadied me a couple of times and as I began a late soundcheck I'd opened up the voice to a working level of quality. The check was short and difficult as we all came to terms with the environment. With the PA facing 4 corners away from the stage there was no sense of the overall physical sound. We were reliant on wedges all pointing away from each other thus eliminating that natural overspill that goes with playing in a straight line facing the same direction. I had difficulties hearing Wes in particular, adding to the Fear of playing our first "proper" gig together and not knowing the "signs" that you develop as a pre cognicance as a long term unit.
I was also starving and nobody had eaten since the BBQ. Judith Mitchell and Julie "Ding Ding" Robinson had offered a wee bit haggis and chips outside as we waited for Yatta to get the Fish Suppers. We ate heartily in the Organ gallery as the people filed quietly in awe into the unfamiliar surroundings. I needed something from the Farm and drove the van through and past a line of fans that stretched to the gates of the graveyard. I grabbed some lyrics and a double brandy , threw some vits down the throat and dabbed a few drops of my Swiss homeopathic remedy on the tongue. I arrived at the church and was straight into the toilets for a full warm up much to the bemusement of an occupant of the toilet too nervous to come out and face the nutter making strange noises outside the cubicle.
I was too nervous and the walk to the stage on Tony's opening to Tumbledown was shaky and lacking in conviction. I was glad to get the first one in but the sound was not confidence building. Everyone seemed miles away from each other and I have to be honest and say that never in my life have I felt so self conscious as on that stage that night. The low and mid voice was on the button and the acoustics urged more adventurous melody lines and expressions. The top range was intimidating. When we reached Goldfish my balls were in my throat as the high projections were due in an environment that was not sympathetic or natural to Rock and Roll. As soon as we reached the first "up" section I quaked and ducked the note into something else. It seemed as if my voice separated from all the music and drowned out everything else in the building. The sound was so big that it intimidated and together with a weak throat transformed the entire show into a struggle to the end. I never relaxed and the banter was forced and tense. Yatta was signalling that we still had an hour so I thought we were well short. I added some stuff and cocked up " Dear Friend" big time after dedicating it to Doc. I was so self conscious I was thinking too much about forgetting the lyrics and forgot them. I even got " Lavender" the wrong way round and had to be prompted by Squeeky at one point!
The high section on "Gentlemans" went awry and another on the spot melody re-write was in order.
There were a few highs noticeably "Lady Let it Lie", "Incomplete" and the very obvious "Sugar Mice" which started and ended up very left field as a melodic wandering went somewhere magical. I decided not to follow the Rock version and instead in the middle went another route ending up in the biggest silence I'd ever made. Before the "blame it on me...." admission I just held it and looked up to the ceiling. It was immaculate and all the time I was thinking that everything including my life stopped. It was if I was totally alone. "Plague" could have opened right then and there and it would have been sublime. That moment will remain with me forever.
But all in all at the end of the gig I was despondent and dreading the full electric show the following day. We were all a wee bit down mainly due to our perception of the sound. It was only later that we found out that it had gone down a storm with all the audience feeling as intimidated and as self conscious as the band. But at that time of the night nothing could console me. I couldn't go down the Tyneside as responsibility chained me to a homegoing vehicle.
Tammi and I were both exhausted and I necked a bucket of voice treatments, vitamins and other remedies for everything from Flu to leprosy in the hope that I'd wake up and all would be ok! Squeeky's voice was totally shot and Steve was sweating and coughing frogs. We had a football semi final which I was suggesting we withdraw from in order to protect the gig. I was due at the Waterside for 12 - we'd decide then. In the front of my mind was the realisation that tomorrow was big-gig day. The two hour show tonight had only been a "warm up".
I had the Fear.
I was fast asleep by 1am.
lots of love
Email 4th September 1999