Subject: Fish 2002 - The Missing Cheese Piece
Dear Fishheads, Freaks, fans and the Company,
Champions League on the TV in the background. Newcastle one down. It's quiet outside apart from the splashing water feature that's been built since I closed the door on touring this year.
The World Cup final is thousands of miles behind me but that moment of realisation in the pub in the Square at Enschede when I knew we had pulled the weekend off, for me dwarfed the events that played on the TV screen. A cold Guinness on a hot throat. It was but a pause while on fast forward. Home was a score card of flights away.
The previous weeks had been intense. I'd started watching the World Cup in Brunei, the first two games, then followed the scores on TVs in airport terminals all the way home. The Terminal bars all held little trails of English football fans, swarming like ants on the way out or on the way back from Japan with their yellow plastic duty free bags full of saki or vodka, depending on direction.
Scotland was yellow on my return. England had Brazil. 1966 was the magic number being seen in the skies and on the heads of newly born boys with the surname Hurst or Charlton. The papers were, as usual, full of the traditional cross border baiting game that only the media take seriously as yet another outraged citizen in the Home Counties demanded the charge of treason brought against any Scotsman supporting "the other teams" (but especially Argentina who we had..." blah blah!). Scotland were their usual shite, didn't qualify and saved us Jocks from the usual traumatic disappointment at the latter stages. We had a laugh at everyone else's expense but of course especially the English fans who by this time had been bull-whipped into a patriotic frenzy of religious proportions by a media who were losing touch with reality. The come down was going to be heavy and I was actually starting to feel sympathy especially when matches were being shown on big screens in schools. I remember '78 when the media convinced the entire Scottish nation that we were going to win the World Cup in Argentina. I really, really, truly believed we had a serious chance. I am still getting over it now and hide behind sofas when I hear "Ali's Tartan Army" on the radio or TV. The children. They never think about the children!
The Brazil game, a formality in some people's eyes, was fast approaching as was the Enschede weekend. England was on every screen. What's all this to do with the price of Edam in Enschede I hear you ask.
Well! Rehearsal time was as tight as Yatta's "Cradle of Filth" beach shorts. I had wanted the band together in Haddington the week when I was in Brunei so I could return to work through arranged numbers and we would have two weeks as a unit before the Liverpool shows on the 24th and 25th June.
Robin Boult had US work with Howard Jones which blew out the "Brunei week" and then extended into the first "full band" week. He eventually arrived to start on Thursday 13th. John Marter had his own juggling act with dates and Steve Vantsis was working half days as he had to keep up the day job. Frank Usher and Irvin Duguid were the only full time operatives early doors.
I had hoped that with the tapes I'd sent out that most of the homework would have been done and we could be up at a running speed with the tracks so I had something to sing over. I wasn't to get a chance to sing with the band until nearly the middle of the second week and that was when the girls came up for backing vocals.
It quickly sunk in that time was short and the sets were long. The homework had in most cases not been done for a variety of reasons and the sudden awareness of lack of preparation hit like a bad oyster on an empty stomach. Robin and Irvin in particular put in long candlelit shifts moulding the sounds into the effects racks. They'd programme in the morning working with Frank and JM on skeletal arrangements toward early afternoon when Steve would arrive from his early shift at the PC sweatshop in town. My visits to the rehearsal room at the Masonic Lodge were kept few and far between in the early days as I found myself heading to the bar next door with visions of my career disintegrating on stage in the middle of an apocalyptic meltdown during Misplaced.
I had said we would deliver and we had to. We had to deliver. We had to. It was always a huge gamble to get it together with limited time and limitless numbers to work out.
And during all of this the World Cup bounced and beamed along, thankfully mostly morning matches that could be caught during smuggled breakfasts and endless listen-throughs of the ever expanding mountain of CDs without cases on the piano next to the sound system. The World Cup was coming in second and we moved the songs into working and singing order.
Allowances had already been made for the aging singer and keys had been dropped to accommodate 17 years of wear and tear. I wasn't going to be precious or allow pride to goad me into stretching for the impossible in a vain attempt to recreate something that was a strain the first time around. Another singer becoming victim of a "middle eight" crisis! :-)
When I finally was given the green light by the others to "come on down" and when they had enough material to go for elaborate run-throughs I was nervous. It was all well and good singing along to tapes in the Studio and reading through page after page of lyric. It was coming at me 3D from now on in.
Weeks have just passed. I got lost in Home Life. It is now 23rd October. Hibs are back on form and 5th in the league and Scotland are starting to look like a football team again.
Where was I. The Masonic hall and rehearsals final week. Susie Web and Zoe Nicholas could only come up for 3 days including fly time. We had to approach the backing vocals mostly from scratch. The studio, my home was a rolling mess of endless breakfasts and listening to the tracks. Dayglo pens lit up the lyric sheets and we worked most of the day at the house before heading down to try and assemble arrangements. No one had an idea of "Plague" and we planned to rehearse that without the girls and then polish it off at the Liverpool soundcheck. It was Wednesday. I had organised a warm up/run through in front of the locals at the Lodge on the Saturday after a full days rehearsal. There was just enough time to get the full sets working.
On Thursday disaster struck as Steve, who was already working a real job as well, took the call that his girlfriend was seriously ill in hospital. He had to look after her and their son and was obviously out of the equation. I decided to drop "Plague" and go for a second night with "Misplaced". The Fan Clubs agreed on the decision but, like myself, were disappointed. "Plague" would have been perfect for the second night but the possibilities of blowing it overruled my heart. The band sighed with relief and we spent the rest of the time concentrating on the tracks we had in place.
Saturday was deliberately under-promoted as we were very unsure of the material. Around 40 people turned up and it was a strange feeling opening with "Script" in such a small venue with the audience 3 metres away from us, sitting at tables and drinking. I had a flashback to '81.
"Misplaced" went down a storm and I admit to a tear at a couple of points. We were rough as hell and mistakes abounded from all areas. The crowd loved it and some of the older fans were visibly moved. I just shuddered at the prospect of playing that badly in a couple of days in Liverpool.
Sunday was homework for all before an overnight tour bus South. The journey was tense.
The Cavern Shows were unforgettable. The first night exploded on the opening note of "Script" and we never looked back. After the debacle in Haddington I was seriously worried about whether I had been overambitious. After Liverpool I knew we could pull it off as long as we concentrated and didn't get complacent. The crowd went mental on both nights. I had to keep an eye on my lyric sheets on the stand. I still wasn't that confident and had panic attacks on a couple of songs when my mind went blank. "Shadowplay" was and will always be a nightmare to learn. Even on the "Exile" tour I couldn't memorise them up to and including the last show! As most of the songs hadn't been played for years I was having a hard time getting back into the zone!
But Liverpool lifted us all. The girls in particular were amazed at the fans reaction.
I was early to bed both nights, paranoid about vocal fog before Enschede which now had the added stress of being a multi track recording and 4 camera professional shoot all of which I was covering. I had nightmares about previous gambles. The last American trip was still relatively fresh in memory.
The day off in Liverpool was welcome and I spent most of the day with Louise and the Hughes clan. Wayne and Shelley had set up the Cavern shows and the least I could do in return was pick up the kids from school :-) Wayne took Louise and I out that night on a personal guided tour of the Beatles haunts and I got my photo taken outside John Lennon's house and at the gates of Strawberry Fields. Who would have thought that after all these years I can still go gaga fan :-)
The buzz about the shows was all over the City and it felt like old times. The whole experience over those gigs was beautifully resonant in a lot of ways and there were quite a few private smiles, especially in Liverpool which was an important part of my early days.
During the show days it was fascinating seeing the looks on faces in the pubs as everyone realised what they were part of. Magic in the air and lots of knowing smiles. The atmosphere was so friendly and open and the gigs made their mark in a way I could only have dreamed of a week before.
John Lennon airport. I resisted the photo next to the bronze statue. I always thought he was a smaller guy. It seemed fitting we were flying to Amsterdam.
to be continued - honest :-)
Subject: Fish 2002 - Enschede "Fools Company"
Dear Fishheads, Freaks, fans and the Company,
Holland. Cocktails at Schipol airport and the inevitable bus to Enschede. The hotel was full and familiar faces hovered around reception. Dinner with the Germans and news that Harry from the Company Holland, one of the organisers, had badly hurt his back and was now prostrate on a floor in Rotterdam dampened the spirits. His girlfriend Astrid was really upset as this was to be their swansong gig as they retired from "active duty" and handed over the Company Holland to Wilco's charge. Mario and Joergen, the other main pillars behind the event like myself and the other organisers really felt for them both. A few beers in the square and then bed and the bedlam of the convention. We were more confident after the Cavern shows but were nowhere near comfortable with the set which we would play for the first time to the hardcore of the European fan clubs. The "Marillion" night was first up and the first performance of a complete "Misplaced" for about 16 years. I was incredibly nervous. Everything seemed to be on this gig. My credibility as to being capable of performing the old material and holding together an outfit which was fully in the spotlight. Comparisons were going to be made whether we liked it or not.
The first night was completely sold out. The fact that the second night was short did niggle me a bit but I had set the stage and the first night always going to have more pull.
I was tense, nervous and silent backstage. Close friends stayed away and let me focus. Yatta introduced the band and forgot John Marter. The chord. The roar. "Script" and the take off point. I hit the first big note, fluffed another and then hit the curve. The reaction was incredible and all the pressure from the build up was released as I let myself loose on the set.
"Incommunicado" was a reminder that we still had to concentrate after my dedication to the recent John Entwhistle of the Who got lost in a frantic scramble of notes and beats which ended up in a car wreck of an intro as the band momentarily lost the plot. It was a very tough set and difficult to enjoy as there was so much to remember and any slip by any musician could tear a song apart. We watched each other intensely for cues and reminders.
"Misplaced", the heart of the set soared and rocked and before we knew it, it was over. A loose ending but the relief was immense. As the last crash got lost in the appreciation from the crowd I was nearly in tears. It was very emotional for everyone in the hall and I looked down at more than a few smiling crying faces in the audience.
"Forgotten Sons" and "Fugazi" were outstanding and I forgot to worry about singing. I started to relax. Big mistake. "Garden party". My major stand out gaff of the weekend. I completely forgot the "I'm punting etc" section. I was lost in the song and drew a complete blank. Wobbly bottom and cold sweat! Everyone knew I had cocked up big time. And was I to be reminded! Oh boy was I to be reminded. Next day as I walked to the gig I reckon everyone mentioned it! "Afternoon Fish. Great gig. Screwed up 'Garden Party' though, eh?"
There were a lot of mistakes. I missed quite a few notes and fluffed lyrics. Sections wobbled and endings were scary. We were very loose. I walked off stage and I was more angry at the mistakes we'd made than what we had pulled off. I didn't realise we had delivered a great gig until the next day.
I was still incredibly stressed out as I had just sung a long, loud and demanding set over 2 hours long and had to deliver another the next day. We had conquered the older material. Now we had to prove we could deal with the solo material and equal the reaction to the Marillo set. The two nights had to work together. It was a matter of pride as well!
So back again in the Musiczentrum, early afternoon for last minute rehearsals. The band recognised we needed to recheck endings and songs that had been left till later in the Haddington Rehearsals. I threw another iron into the fire when I found out that the hall manager was a good friend of Jan Ackermann, the most famous guitarist ever to come out of Holland, ex-member of 70's Focus and someone with whom I had struck up a friendship with after appearing together on a Dutch TV programme earlier in the year. I phoned Jan and he was up for coming along for a working of "State of Mind" - which he didn't know! More learning and we worked "State of Mind" with Jan and the band right up to doors opening.
The usual wind up to the show. I got a couple of e mails later that week asking why I didn't talk to people backstage and appeared to be so intense. No offense. The two nights involved the most intense focusing I can ever remember before a show. I didn't realise just how stressed I had got until the plug was pulled out when I got back home. I was emotionally and physically exhausted.
The solo night turned out to be even more demanding than the Marillo night. I wobbled at the beginning of "Vigil", forgot the lyric, threw a couple of high notes into the balcony and then we missed the groove for a moment that lasted an album side. I had promised a longer set and had included "Misplaced" again with others that we weren't going to play.
To be honest I can't remember much of the performance. I came offstage to Yatta shouting at him over the roar that we had to go back on as we had only played 2 hours and I'd promised a longer set. He told me straight-faced that we'd just played 3 hours and that he was pulling the plug! :-)
"Misplaced " was awesome. Much more relaxed than the previous night and the band was playing rather than reading the album. "Shadowplay" was a nightmare. Too many bloody words!
"State of Mind" wandered into a groove and the guys felt their way round Jan Ackermanns brilliant guitar forms. That was 12 minutes or so of weaving and diving with the feel that kept moving into all sorts of areas. It was difficult to find a way out but we got there in the end :-) Jan was gracious and it was a great honour to play with him. He has allowed us to use his contribution on the DVD due out at Christmas.
We pulled off a rough version of "Raingod's dancing/Make it Happen" but struggled to sit in the groove. "Raw Meat" was powerful and then I had my revenge!
I was still taking hits for the "Garden Party" cock-up from the crowd so decided to end the night by letting the assembly sing out with the "Company". So sweet it was when a vast percentage of the front ranks cocked up the lyrics in the middle eight! :-)
Another outstanding moment of the weekend was when Yatta took his place at the drum kit for a rough version of "Yer Birthday"! He surprised us all and let loose with a rather tight drum solo. He declined to take up a permanent position as he had drunk a bottle of vodka to get his nerves together. The occasion was his 50th Birthday and it was the first time he had been behind a kit for years and the first time his daughter had ever seen him play. His family had come over for the weekend and were part of the back and on-stage party. Mo Warden had presented him with a DVD player on stage which had been bought with money donated by the fans who were milling around the square in all the various bars. It summed up the weekend and the local papers were amazed at the sense of camaraderie and the overwhelming party spirit that sparkled all weekend in the town and at the campsites.
It rained but what did you really expect.
The solo night received as positive a reaction as the Marillo night and I was secretly pleased when some considered it the better of the two nights. It wasn't that I felt either night or setlist deserved more attention or that I wanted the solo material to be better received. What I wanted was to show my career and the material as a whole. The Marillion material is as relevant and as important to me as my solo material and vice versa. That is what was proven that weekend in my mind. I was comfortable with playing the older material and actually really got off on playing "Misplaced Childhood" again. I had forgotten how good it was and with the band kicking it in the rockier, groovier feel together with the backing vocals made it somehow more relevant and less dated. I was also reminded of just how personal the lyrics were and considering the recent upheavals in my private life they seemed more relative than before.
Backstage was a real downer for me. I couldn't communicate with anyone and was speeding from adrenalin that leaked all through my system. I was mentally drained.
I can't remember much. The party at the hotel didn't happen and I crawled to the square for the obligatory partying after the long weekend. To be honest I sat at the bar, had two pints of Guinness in silence and then went back to the hotel on my own. It was over.
Next day I watched the World Cup final in the Square with Yatta and his family and a few fans. Last stragglers of the weekend. No one really said much. We didn't need to.
Altogether the Enschede convention was a brilliant piece of organisation and everyone who worked on it deserved medals. It will happen again in a couple of years.
I was really proud of being a part of it all and proud that we did deliver a great weekend to all the fans who had made the effort to get there.
I'll give myself more time to prepare for the next one though!
Home. It took me over a week to get back to normal and come back down to reality. Just enough time to get ready for the next jaunt!
to be continued :-)
Subject: Fish 2002 - Update
Dear Fishheads, Freaks, fans and the Company!
Just to let you know that I'll be on British TV in November. First up is a Phil Collins Documentary on BBC1 on the 4th and then on ITV on the 11th, the Davina McColl "Closure" programme that I filmed quite a few months ago. That is the "apology" for constantly reminding "Kayleigh" of our relationship in song for the rest of her life!
Jan Ackermann has OKed the use of his performance on "State of Mind" at Enschede on the DVD which is due out just before Christmas. "Fool's Company" is a double DVD with footage from both nights at this years convention in Holland. Elliot has finished mixing and is heading South on Monday to sort out the Surround Sound mix and the marriage of the sound to picture.
I have not used the entire show footage as we were limited on studio time and budgets as to how much we could edit. Some of the material including the second night of "Misplaced" will be released on a double CD "Mixed Company" at the same time as the DVD. I have axed a couple of tracks as they had a lot of faults but between the projects there is the bulk of the material we played at the convention.
The version of "Misplaced" on the DVD is from the first night when there was more visual interest. The second night was acknowledged as being more relaxed and as I didn't want the two versions on the DVD I elected to go for the CD as the other option. The DVD and CD will be mail order only though the website. A full track listing will be announced in the coming weeks.
We are currently putting together a far superior ordering service and a new database that will hopefully be in place around Christmas and in time to deal with the Enschede material.
Release dates will be named when I am confident of delivery dates. All DVD's will be released on NTSC and PAL formats.
The "Sunsets on Empire - live in Poland 97" DVD is going into production in the next 2 weeks as we have the Koln interview and a new interview in place. As with "Fools Company" Mark Wilkinson is putting together the artwork.
"Nine Dead Gay Guys" has a cast and crew premier on Saturday morning in Leicester Square. I've not heard anything about the release dates yet. Sadly I'll miss the showing as I have to attend a wedding near Oxford on Saturday.
At the moment I am doodling with lyrics and ideas while spending some much-needed time on getting the house together and ready for Christmas.
Nice to be home to be honest:-)
lots of love
Email 23rd October 2002