Dear FishHeads, Freaks, Fans and the Company,
When I was a teenager I had a dream of becoming a singer in a rock band and at the age of 22 I joined "Blewitt" to begin my journey to the stars leaving Scotland to take up with a bunch of guys who called themselves "Marillion".
I was a fan, a punter and a wide eyed boy at that. I bought "Sounds" and "Melody Maker" every week and went to gigs, hanging about back stage doors hoping to catch a glimpse of my idols. In every respect a late starter I can never forget my first introductions to rock music.
First gig: "Yes" on the 'Relayer' tour, second gig: "Genesis" on the "Lamb Lies Down" tour, first festival: "Led Zeppelin" at Knebworth. All classic rock acts.
Years went by and history unfolded. I got lucky. Really lucky. I found myself part of a worldwide successful band and part of the glitterati.
I never forgot my roots and the fan in me still comes out although rarely with that slack jawed, open eyed, boom boom heart rate, don't know quite what to say routine I used to have as a kid. I got it all back the other night.
I had been invited by Trevor White and the Planet Rock guys to attend the Classic Rock awards at the Landmark Hotel in London on the 5th November. I was given two tickets and decided to take along Steve Vantsis who'd put so much work into the new album and who had never attended an event like this.
I set off in the morning, flying down for an afternoon meeting with my lawyer before checking into the hotel. A grade zero shave and cut at a Lebanese barber, the Italian suit pressed and Cuban boots polished I was ready to head out at 6 for the customary pre show Bloody Marys with a suitably attired Steve V who had trained down from the Midlands. We hit a couple of pubs and turned up at the hotel chillingly cool for our entrance shortly after 7 for the champagne reception.
I'd been told I would be giving away an award to someone but had no idea of what was going on or who I'd be giving it to. I figured that as nothing had been said it had been forgotten about.
Right from the off I knew it was going to be a special night. A sly wink from Jimmy Page who passed me as I was getting my photo taken for Hello magazine by my old friend and PR agent Judy Totten, a series of handshakes and hugs with faces from my past and into the morass of the reception. Rod Smallwood and Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden, Luke Morley and Danny Bowes from Thunder. Grabbed conversations and fast updates. The media mill turning, cameras flashing, bubbly going down a treat. James Cassidy appeared out the blue with huge arms and a tight hug. I hadn't seen him since around '95 at Midem where we had spent a night on the ballroom staircase drinking cognac out of a hip flask until the early hours. I had found out that I might be giving away the award to Jeff Wayne for best showman. I had first met James when he was working with Jeff on the "Spartacus" album. He was engineering, I was a session singer. Neither of us knew the other would be there and the irony was not lost.
A photo with Bob Harris and a conversation about "13th Star" which he had just received via Lorna Bannon, a close friend of Bob's wife. A pledge from me for a slot at a charity event at the O2 arena next March, beaming smiles, it was great to see him again. I forgot to mention I'd been playing "Druid" on my Planet Rock show (he discovered them and produced their first album.)
The Faces bopped in and out of vision and as dinner was called the crowd surged into the main room.
I found myself sitting at the back of the hall on the Planet Rock table with their crew and some XFM DJs.
At the table next to us was Yes bassist Chris Squire and Jaz Coleman from Killing Joke. The only real sad moment of the evening was when I talked to Jaz. I'd found out that afternoon from our mutual lawyer that Paul Raven, their bass player had died on the 20th October, age 46, from a heart attack in his sleep while recording in Geneva. I'd known Paul for quite a while and he was a good friend. As is the habit we hadn't seen each other for a couple of years when we'd played Parkpop together. We'd drawn a few strange looks from people as I was at their side of stage when Joke were on and they were at our stage side watching our gig. We took over the backstage later and turned it into a party zone. We'd been introduced by Chris Kimsey who produced their "Love Like Blood" album shortly before he produced "Misplaced Childhood" in Berlin. Paul had been at my wedding in '87. I'd thought that he might have been at our Prague show as the band all live in that city. I hadn't been able to contact them as I'd lost his email but had hoped they would know the show was on and would turn up. I had just figured they were out of town. The news that afternoon caught me completely by surprise. A fun guy and great musician he'll be missed by a lot of people.
I offered my condolences to Jaz but didn't have to say much more. The eyes spoke it all.
Steve V was in his element and I introduced him to Chris Squire, the "other" Fish. Photo opportunity taken with Chris pointing out that he was the "original" Fish.
Just as we sat down I was told that I would be giving away the award to Jeff and I stared at the distance through the melee of tables and chairs I'd have to negotiate to get to stage. An obstacle course.
The organiser handed me a piece of paper with what I thought would be the introduction and my script.
After my introduction from Nicky Horne, fellow Planet Rock DJ, it said "Fish -'Hello - (insert speech) and the winner is..'" My heart sank. I now had to write a speech through dinner. As the courses went down I scribbled away. Jokes about airport security (a woman asking me in line if bananas were allowed to be taken on board!), Guy Fawkes jokes, jokes about War of the Worlds... anything that came into mind. It was getting too long. Steve V chortled when I asked how much time I had and the organiser said "as long as you want". "We'll be here till midnight then!" he quipped.
I was introduced to a young lady wearing a 50's style air stewardess uniform who informed me that she would lead me to the stage. My mind wobbled. It was all too real now. I would be addressing the hierarchy of rock. This wasn't my gig. I disappeared out to the back of the hotel for a couple of smokes encountering the gathering autograph hunters prowling outside. I remembered my youth. Smiles, signatures and photos. I was one of them once.
Heading back along the corridor a glamorous and elfin Steve Tyler desperately searches for the rest rooms and Lemmy, cool and unfrazzled as always leaned against a wall wearing what seemed like a 7th cavalry outfit complete with hat. Also at my wedding we exchanged a few gags and comments and I headed back into the cauldron of the main room. The awards were being handed out.
I was presenting number 9. My scrap of paper was a mess of lines and garbled words mostly scored out.
I wasn't clocking anything apart from the countdown.
I did however raise a smile and a glass as Steve Wilson and Richard Barbieri from "Porcupine Tree" went up to collect the award for best album of the year for "Fear of a Blank Planet". It was great to see him get this recognition as he has put in a hard shift in recent years and been producing some excellent work. I wasn't sure if they would be there and hadn't seen them earlier so it was a surprise to see them popping up out of the crowd and hit the stage with an eloquent acceptance speech which included the words "progressive rock" which I never thought that I would hear him speak! :-D I was genuinely pleased for both of them.
The intro speeches had all been snappy and straight forward and I was editing my speech drastically. I thought I just about had it in shape when Nicky Horne started to introduce me. A great intro, healthy applause and I set off on my marathon to the stage. The applause held till I reached the podium and then I realised I'd left my sheet of paper at the table in my subdued and controlled panic.
The pro in me kicked in and I took the mike and decided to go for it off the cuff.
I admitted to leaving my speech at the table and the "insert speech" element, a round of laughter and I was off! As Dave Ling pointed out later I was the only artist to mention terrorism when I said I was concerned on arriving in London to volleys of explosions before remembering it was November the 5th. Mime ducking for cover and then I pointed out that I was convinced that Tony Iommi was actually Guy Fawkes. The delivery was good and the room was with me. And then a mention about Jeff and how he's been in my bedroom as a teenager. Not literally but as a presence with his 'War of the Worlds' album. More laughter. I said I'd gone down to do a quick two day session on Spartacus and ended up there for two weeks singing 35 harmonies on every track I was involved with etc. And then I introduced the man. Bingo! Short, sharp, funny, effective. I'd done it.
Jeff gave me a gracious thanks, he'd loved it. I walked off to a laughing Nicky Horne and a very happy organiser. All that stress and worry for four or so minutes!
And then I was whisked away to the press and media. An interview with ITN news which they loved, more poses for an assembled gaggle of photographers and then interviews for Kerrang, Planet Rock and others. It was a blur. I was still high from my stage appearance. I hadn't done the production line media call for quite a while and it was nice to be back! :-D
I got back in the hall via a quick hello with Alice Cooper to arrive at the table to hearty congratulations and a welcome glass or two of wine. I could watch the rest of the show knowing there were others going through the gut gnawing panic I'd just suffered. Nick Mason introduced Storm Thorgerson with a prepared piece which opened with the "insert speech" gag I'd just done. He must have hated me.
Meatloaf's daughter picked one up for her Dad who was ill and I was glad I had omitted the gag I had written down which apologised for my voice, still shredded by flu and in a register that would "reduce a tour manager to tears and put a smile on a film director".
And then the film rolled after Steve Tyler introduced Jimmy Page for the lifetime achievement award with the speech of the night.
A montage of footage of Jimmy's career, it was an amazing mini documentary with clips I'd never seen before providing an insight into one of rock music's greatest all time guitarists. You couldn't help but totally hold the man in wonder and respect. He took the stage to a rapturous standing ovation and left to a roar of applause.
It was over.
The best awards ceremony I have ever attended and I was proud to be a small part of it all.
There were no tantrums, no one was big time or aloof, everyone was cool and friendly and as was pointed out from stage there was a great feeling of the resurgence of rock music and an appreciation of classic rock that has been overdue. I didn't want it to end. And it didn't.
As tables broke up, everyone mingled. I met Nick Mason for the first in a long time since I'd rammed him off the track at a banger race years before. Lovely bloke.
And then out to the corridor where I met old friend Tony Iommi. Lots of bear hugs and laughing about old times. Glenn Hughes, looking so cool and fit. We nattered about nothing and everything.
The company expanded and we were joined by one of my all time heroes and legendary guitarist, Jeff Beck. He was an incredibly down to earth guy and a brilliant laugh. Everyone was on a high and the vibe was wonderful. As if it couldn't get any better Jimmy Page walks up and shakes my hand with a huge smile. Out of the blue and taking me completely by surprise. We talked about the film and he was blown away by it, especially the footage of him as a kid being interviewed for a local TV news item about blues guitar.
We were ushered though to the media room to be photographed in a studio set by Ross Halfin. I admit I was reeling and, when I was pulled into a line up with Tony Iommi and Jimmy Page, I thought I was in a dream. The 17 year old was back and he had a huge smile.
I can't honestly remember all that was said and happened but we were all getting along famously!
Steve Vantsis was ecstatic and was also reverting to teenagedom. We were hurtling along on the curve of the night and, when Jeff Beck suggested we go out to Ronnie Scott's, it just felt the right thing to do.
Into taxis and towards Soho and to the birthplace of progressive rock and one of the most famous jazz clubs in the world.
And there we were. At a table in a near empty club listening to the house band. Steve Vantsis, Jeff Beck, Tony Iommi, Jimmy Page and myself, laughing and joking and shooting the breeze. I would never have thought for one moment that this would have come to be. One of the experiences of my life and truly unforgettable.
After nearly an hour the party broke up. Tony had a gig in Glasgow with Heaven and Hell next night and we both knew how dangerous we were together. He excused himself and headed into the night. Jimmy shook our hands and struck off back to the hotel. More huge smiles and long goodbyes. Jeff had met up with some old friends so Steve and I bid our fond farewells and took our leave. We still had the aftershow party at the Cafe Royal and I wanted to catch up with some people I'd missed earlier.
The curve was coming to an end and the Jack Daniels was taking effect.
At the party I diddly bopped around until I found who I was hoping to meet. A very happy and chilled out Steve Wilson and Richard Barbieri. I hadn't seen Steve for years. He'd changed a lot. All the touring he'd taken on in recent years had turned him from a studio ghost into a fit, honed road warrior with that confidence and attitude you only get out there in perpetual gig world. It was great to see him again and I congratulated him on their award. We talked a while and promised to meet up again soon. I like the man a lot.
It all had to end sometime and, before I crashed, I bailed into the night and the sanctuary of my hotel.
As I slept I knew I was smiling, and that the teenager with the big dream was somewhere inside me still, coming to terms with a magnificent reality.
A truly wonderful night.
lots of love