Fish 2008 - A Star in the West
Dear FishHeads, Freaks, fan and the Company,
I've only been back from Sweden a couple of days and am dealing with a combination of extreme jet lag heightened by the sleep deprivation after spending two days in perpetual sunlight in Ulea. It was more Guantanemo Bay than a Baltic beach :-D
I'd got back from Canada on Tuesday afternoon, bunged up with cold and a sore throat from air conditioned airports and flight cabins. As always after a tour there's an internal switch that gets pulled and your system stops fighting for the next gig. My switch had gone off after the Toronto show and I had 4 days until the next gig in Southampton with the SAS band as a warm up for the Swedish gig on Saturday.
My Dad and Katie met us at the airport. A bedraggled, knackered, bleary-eyed coughing trio exiting into the Scottish sunshine desperately trying to stay awake for a few more hours and adjust to yet another time zone. (How come Doctor Who never gets jet lag?)
Frank was picked up by his wife Sue and we volunteered to drop a hallucinating Foss off at his house on the way back.
We'd all smacked the pony a bit in Toronto after the show back at an Irish bar near the hotel and our beloved keyboard player was suffering a bit. He'd allowed his hair to grow into a near Einstein-like barnet and was sporting a couple of day's growth under satanic eyes.
Thankfully he had a couple of hours to get himself presentable before his wife and daughter got home. If they saw him in that state he would probably be sectioned! :-D
The cats circled me at the front door as I dragged my big grey "Sammy" out of the car. Only a 20 quid excess baggage charge at Toronto by US Airways. That seemed like days ago!
We'd flown to Charlotte before connecting with the Gatwick flight where we had to wait three hours for the Edinburgh flight. The last US Airways flight was a trial. I ended up in an aisle seat with zero leg room, battered by every passing trolley pushed by the most overweight stewardess I have ever encountered. She waddled up and down the aisle, her ample backside brushing me on every pass. I wouldn't have liked to have had her in front of me if we had to evacuate the aircraft via the safety exits.
Add to that she was short and bordering on rude. I asked if I could sit at one of the vacant exit row seats at the front of our cabin area and drew withering looks and a big negative. That was where the crew rested behind curtains. I pointed out that I would never be able to hit the brace position as I was so cramped. Her bitchy-looking fellow steward fixed me with weasel eyes and said that if I was unhappy I could get off the flight and contact my agent. (Give them a uniform!) I managed to get out of his immediate area of jurisdiction when a young kid with an athletics team en route to Poland from Barbados for a track and field event asked if he could sit next to his girlfriend. He'd been staring at me for about ten minutes when we got on board, winking and smiling at me. I thought at first he was a fan or that he'd taken a shine to me. I got talking with some of the team members, all young black kids being looked after by a man mountain who had the same dilemma as me - how to survive the flight without accumulating too many blood clots! I didn't mention anything about Poland; the airline food would give them some preparation! ;-)
So I swapped seats with the kid in the name of true love and to get out of the area of control of the "helpful" steward.
He'd marked my card and much later in the flight when I requested to buy a couple of bottles of wine (five dollars or three quid for a warm plastic bottle of something that gets left behind at parties?) I was told that he couldn't serve me as we were flying over water? :-|
I know not to screw with these people as they can gang up on you fast like feral dogs and next thing you are being tazered, in cuffs and on your way to jail with a hood on. I maintained best behaviour and was sugary polite at all times.
I felt like I was in the old Eastern block being guarded rather than served. The stewards and stewardesses stalked the plane and looked like they were there under sufferance. I don't know what it is but the US Airways female cabin crew seem to be all middle-aged plus and look like the scary aunties you never wanted a kiss from at Christmas when you were wee. I never saw a pretty, flighty young thing on any of the flights. Not that I am being sexist but it seemed as if the airline had a policy of hiring more "mature" women. And ones with attitude.
I'd flown with that airline four times previously on the trip. Every time I found the cabin crew were authoritarian and genuine smiles rare. They always shine when they are selling something though! And boy do they like to sell!
The in-flight movies were free but you had to buy headphones. I'd bought a pair on the way out to Charlotte weeks before for $5. On the Charlotte-Miami flight they were free, on the Toronto-Charlotte flight they were $3 and now they were $5 again. A pair of earphones that probably cost less than a dollar in Taiwan they were absolutely basic, made from blue plastic and seemed designed to inflict pain and deliver a dreadful sound quality. They were sturdy though and would last a lifetime! (Frank put his through a washing machine and they still worked)
I'd left mine in my luggage but decided against purchasing another set on this flight.
I'd snaffled a pill to knock me out and despite that and a couple of bottles of "wine" I kept on waking up as I was bumped by trolleys and cabin crew and taking cramp in the stress position I was crammed into. The hours dragged by intolerably.
I'm sure I heard a heavenly choir when we landed at Gatwick. Passport control was another trial but nowhere as bad as when we checked through in Toronto. It's strange to enter American soil when you are in Canada. We went through the whole interview process there and again in Charlotte. Security needless to say was a pain in the butt - every time!
The first three hours in the UK were spent wandering the terminal and occasional Bloody Marys at the bar. I wanted so badly to get home and stop moving.
Katie had been up at the Studio for a couple of weekends while I was away and had been tending the garden. I'd been getting reports throughout the tour as to what was growing and what had been planted. I was desperate to see it.
When I finally got home it was eye-popping. The place had completely transformed into a Garden of Eden. My Mum and Dad and newly acquired gardener, Davie, had combined with Katie into a formidable garden force. The place was immaculate.
I wandered around in awe and jetlag taking in all the growth and the total change across the entire space.
It was wonderful being home again.
Taz came up to see me and we had a chat about her college course and about her move into Edinburgh where she is looking for a flat with some mates. She has become very independent in recent months and it's strange not being "Daddy" anymore. Life moves on too fast sometimes!
Katie had cooked a meal for us and we sat and ate it in the garden in the dying sun and round a smoky brazier. It was perfect.
Taz went back into Haddington and we were left still and alone in the house with only the cats pandering for attention.
Katie flew back to London next afternoon and I fought my way back into domestic life with a visit to Tesco's.
I might have been on a different planet.
Spike had organised a hotel room for me in Southampton as the only flight I could get there that would allow me to make the gig was at 9am. I was throaty and exhausted and hit the hotel room around 12 after flight delays. I had told Spike already that I wasn't sure if I'd be able to sing at the Brook and we'd agreed on a late call on my performance.
I slept most of the day after lunch and a haircut and woke at eight. The band was due on stage at 9!
I turned up to huge hugs and kisses as I hadn't seen Spike, Jamie or Chris T since last August and hadn't worked with the full band since January 2007. As well as Chris Thomson singing there was Madeleine Bell, Tom Robinson and Kiki Dee.
Spike again did the Ka bit and talked me into coming on stage to explain to the crowd that I'd just come back from the States and was too banged up with cold to sing... but if I felt OK "we could maybe do a number". I should have known better!
I watched and heard the set unfold and warmed up for longer than usual. I was still thick with cold.
My time arrived and I waited at the door to the stage. "Please welcome on stage a man who has lost his voice but is here for you tonight... Fish!" I walked on to talk to the crowd and explain my predicament when Jamie Moses started playing Sweet Home Alabama and we were in!!
I croaked through the song, acutely embarrassed and not wanting to be there. My system was shot. I could hardly raise or put together a funny quip at the end and stumbled off stage.
I came back and mimed the BVs on the encores. That was more like it :-D
I spent a while talking to the promoters of the Hayling Island gig on the balcony backstage.
The band were heading up to Heathrow that night as we had a 5 o'clock wake up for the first flight of the day to Stockholm.
I was to get a lift up with one of them to the hotel at the airport.
I said goodbye to the promoters and asked the guy at the venue where the band were. "They're downstairs in the bar area" says he.
I went down and couldn't identify anyone I knew. The band had done and left me!!! I know I didn't sing well but this was over the top! :-D
The only people left from our mob were Vince (my trusty sergeant who had been with me in the States and who was also kyboshed) and Bevo.
They had to cross load gear and were doubtful if they would make the hotel in 4 hours. I called Spike hoping he was close. No chance.
Get a taxi says he. He'll sort me out for it.
95 quid later and an amazing discussion with my 23 year old Afghani driver who was telling me all sorts of stories from his country and about how he was trying to get his 10 year old brother across to the UK as both their parents were dead and he was being looked after by a vicious stepmother. It was quite Fellini being driven through the night by this young warrior as the jet lag left me in a semi psychedelic state and we zipped through the endless street lights that seemed to strobe our journey. His stories were like modern fairy tales. I just listened.
I died in the hotel room till 5am.
Next day was a blur of travel. 14 of us with over well over 20 pieces of equipment and luggage navigating terminals on the bus in Stockholm to shack up in a Boston Sports Bar (Fellini) and a schlep to Lulea. We arrived at around 2pm, had lunch then I hit the sack and zedded out for 14 hours with only a fag break outside at 2am in the emaciated sun of a Northern Swedish night!
My voice and body needed the rest and I hadn't really accepted just how exhausted I was.
The hotel was only about 15 mins from the airport but was 45 from the gig. And there was nothing in between. The beer was 5 quid a pint and the only entertainment was the sauna in your room, the kids slide and swing in the car park for an adrenalin surge or where you could pass the time counting pine cones (I managed 2146!). It was flat, flat, flat and the only greenery was pine trees. There was a lake behind the conference complex and Sergeant Vince O'Malley went for a walk only to return minus a couple of pints of blood unwillingly donated to the particularly unpleasant clouds of mosquitoes that plagued the area. I had put the screaming down to a feral cat in a blender!
(The mosquitoes even had their own postcards in the hotel shop!)
Saturday pre-gig was mind numbing.
I rechecked the pine cones. 17 more had fallen in the night!
The roadies commandeered the swing and slide. They looked in an ugly mood. We stayed clear as they played.
It was cold, gloomy and a breeze was about. Perfect time to play a gig on the beach.
As luck would have it Gary Moore had played the night before to 7000 people in glaring sunshine. I'd picked up an award for him in NYC for his brilliant blues programme on Planet Rock. I caught up with him at lunch and hadn't seen him for a few years. A good crack was had and I retired to my room to bide my remaining time in my personal sauna, throwing a menthol mixture onto the hot coals to clear my chest.
The rest and the heat had done the trick and my voice was gig-worthy.
We boarded the minibus for the 45 minute trip to the festival site. The headline act - The Hooters - were sound checking on a stage that faced the length of a windswept freezing beach. All the crew and band wore fleeces and jackets. It didn't bode well for the turnout that night.
The beach belonged to a massive holiday resort similar to Butlins or Pontins. It was high season and the place was very popular. Most of tonight's audience were in their cabins or using the huge amount of facilities in the complex. Our dressing rooms were part of a multi-room sauna facility housed in a massive wigwam shaped building built from pine. It was isolated from the rest of the facilities and was down by the water. Obviously in the winter months hardy Swedes could run from the searing heat of the sauna and plunge into the icy sea. Not for me, thanks!
The vans were parked inside the building next to around 50 or so snow ski bikes. It was a big place. We had a couple of spacey chill out lounges and big drinks rider! Oh dear! :-)
I caught up with the Hooters band and crew as we strung around backstage while the crew set up our equipment. I came across them in the '80s when I heard their song 'Satellite', one of my favourite songs of theirs. I had the 'Nervous Night' and 'One Way Home' albums and when they started to tour regularly in Europe in the '90s I kept on missing them on our endlessly spinning tour cycles. It was great to finally get a chance to see them. The band and crew were open and friendly as you expect from veterans of the road. They'd effectively retired in '95 and apart from touring in Europe from 2003 onwards hadn't really done anything as a band. They'd decided to go for it again and were now pushing "Time Stand Still", their first album since '93.
I got talking to their drummer David Uosikkinen and John Lilley, one of their guitarists and opened the story box.
All seriously accomplished musos in their own right; keyboard player Rob Hyman and guitarist Eric Bazilian had both worked with Joan Osborne on the Grammy award winning "Relish" album, Eric having produced it as well as writing the immense "One of Us" for her.
Cool guys and real pros.
They watched our sound check which as always is long due to their being 4 singers and material that Spike always throws in at the last moment. This time Kiki and Chris had been nominated to sing "Under Pressure", a tricky wee number. Madeleine Bell wasn't with us on this trip. Neither was our trombone player who had gone down with food poisoning the night before. The rest of the horn section had flown out that morning with Tom Robinson and were shattered from the early flights. There was only one connection to Ulea and to hit it they had to check in at 6am in London with a 3 hour holdover in Stockholm.
We had our meal after check at one of the resort restaurants. I couldn't but help noticing an indoor Crazy Golf course and a ten pin bowling alley next to where we were eating and so immediately after with the aid of a few glasses of "vino collapso" members of the Hooters and SAS band and crews were swarming all over the course. I opted for the bowling alley.
Sometimes you go back in time and link with your past in weird ways. Edinburgh Playhouse September 1976 and I was down the front throwing my tartan scarf to Elton John who was atop his grand piano directing the crowd through "Crocodile Rock". He wore it bandana style.
("Remember Elton, remember?" :-D) I was 18.
He'd performed the then current number one single, "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" which was a duet between himself and Kiki Dee. I'd seen Kiki's show a couple of nights before at the same venue and had been blown away. To be honest I had a bit of a crush on her at the time.
If that 18 year old could only have imagined that 32 years later he would be ten pin bowling with her in Sweden! :-)
She is a beautiful and very funny lady, sexy and elegant with a tremendous voice. I would never have believed she was just over 60. We had a brilliant laugh on the alleys as we tried to remember how to bowl.
It was a great set up for the gig. A bit of adrenalin and exercise to give us a lift.
It was still cold outside and the sun was smothered by cloud cover. We were due on at 9 but with 15 mins to go there were only 20 or so people there. The rest were in the massive tent at the other side of the beach sheltering from the weather. There wouldn't be 7000 people tonight! Most were in their chalets or in the bars.
It wasn't too bad. We pulled a thousand or so to the stage when we did go on 20 mins late. The reaction was tremendous and despite the numbers everyone who was there showed their appreciation and got well into it.
Chris T had "Davy's on the Road", "Since You've Been Gone" and "Blinded by the Light" to kick start the show, Tom R had "Rock the Kasbah", "2-4-6-8 Motorway" and a Hives song which was brilliant and which I can't remember the title of ("You Can't Make me"?).
Being a Swedish band the song went down well with the locals and Tom was giving it his all. I wasn't the only one feeling 18 again! :-D
Kiki had "Don't Go Breaking..." with Chris and then performed "Valerie" and "I've Got the Music in Me".
Next up was yours truly and I was worried that I was leading with two ballads in "Kayleigh" and "Lavender". I needn't have worried, the reaction to the intro chords let me know the crowd were up for it. I closed my contribution with "Sweet Home Alabama", a far better version than at the Brook! :-) I got a great reception and left the stage to allow Terry Jacks to be introduced for his solo acoustic guitar and vocal set of two songs, one of which was the biggest selling single in history in Scandinavia, "Seasons in the Sun". It was his first gig since he had played with us in Tromso last August. (It turns out Terry's brother, Scott, is a huge Marillion/Fish fan and he sent some albums and a "Clutching" programme over with Terry to be signed. He also sent me a happening Fish waistcoat! Terry had been taken aback as he had no idea who I was in Tromso! His brother went crazy when he was told Terry had met me! :-D)
Terry was full of the joys of spring (and half a bottle of Aquavit) and was in boisterous mood by the time encores came round and all the band went on stage for "We Will Rock You", "We are the Champions" and "The Voice". Chris had sung "Mighty Quinn", "The Show Goes On" and the duet on "Under Pressure" with Kiki. As we bunched round the mikes for the choruses, Terry wandered around the stage offering his bottle to one and all, talking to us as we were singing. He was going to wake up with someone else's head in the morning!
We paraded the encores and the show ran through to the end and a huge, warm roar from the beach.
The Hooters loved it. It was a great result and we certainly left an impression with the locals who want us back next year.
It was a zappy night. The Hooters were a real treat as well, slick and great sound with a set full of happening up-beat numbers that got toes tapping and heads nodding. A mutual appreciation society.
We hung around back stage demolishing the rider until the bus back to the hotel in the wilderness to prop up the bar for an hour before bed.
Up for breakfast and more counting cones (42 extra!), coffees and cigs outside with Hooters chappies and then onto the bus to the airport. As you would expect, we had our own airline to take us home! SAS Airlines! :-)
I was tired of travelling and the three hour delay at Heathrow for Edinburgh after the Stockholm flight wasn't welcomed.
I didn't get home until midnight on Sunday.
It's a great feeling emptying your luggage out and throwing the bags and cases in the cupboard for a while.
Yatta had been up to the studio while I was away and had dropped off the US equipment that had been shipped back to the UK.
I cleared all my mishmash of junk and goodies from the American trip and the washing machine ran though its cycles with an extra prewash on my stage clothes from Toronto which had been in the flight case with my other dirty washing for over a week. I used tongs to get them out of the bag!
Elspeth was straight on to me on Monday morning and I was signing the long delayed vinyl versions of "13th Star" which had just arrived the previous Friday. It took me back a few years to EMI days and signing vinyl albums for US giveaways on the "Clutching" release.
The new albums look and feel great and I'm really pleased with the sound quality. The remastering worked well.
The US tour seems so long ago.
We all had a terrific time and I can honestly say it's the most fun I have ever had in North America. The audiences were outstanding and every night was special. I get the feeling something is moving out there for me.
Yatta and I had talks with Larry Webman, my US agent, and he is looking at possibly linking some Mexican dates in December to a tour of the Southern States finishing in Florida. It's a big "maybe" as I don't really have previous history in that part of the US and the figures may be too difficult to juggle and make sense. At least we have our visas now so a big chunk of expense is dealt with as we have documents to cover us for 3 years.
When we were in Quebec the promoter was so blown away by the show that he offered us a festival there next August. If this works out then I plan to put together another coast to coast Canadian tour, take a couple of weeks off over there and then follow roughly the same routing as we have just notched up in the United States. (I promise I'll get T-shirts with Maple Leaf designs next time :-!)
This time the idea is to take the "Return to Childhood" programme out on the road again with perhaps the new album combined with a "best of" set. Larry thinks that promoters and venues will be well up for this idea and if it means that I get another chance to get into North America and raise my profile then I too am well up for it. It could be a great opportunity to get things moving over there and especially with Koch records behind me now.
I don't expect to "break" America but it would be great to get to a stage where I can go out there more regularly knowing that I have an audience that can support a tour financially.
I didn't take a kicking on this tour thanks to your support at the merchandise stalls and on line through the mail order service.
Without those sales I would have been seriously struggling and explaining myself to my accountant and bank manager!
There is a great vibe over there for me and everyone feels that "13th Star" is just beginning it's journey.
I want to sincerely thank everyone who bought tickets for the shows and the shirts and albums as you made it all possible. I especially want to thank Mo and everyone who put together the meet and greets which added another dimension to the tour. Special mention goes to Carlos Loera, Steve Cozart, Larry Schorr, Scott (Fish forum: raingod42), Steve Navarre, Jeff Kuhns, George Soltis, Rich Catena, Brian J. Walton, Denise (Fish forum: jigsawangel), Frederic Thaure, Richard (Fish forum: ranger), Shanley Driscoll, Mel Huang, David Gargano and everyone else who played a part in setting up and organising the meet and greets. I thought they were a huge success overall and I sincerely appreciate all your efforts.
Thanks also to Lori Hehr for working the media so well and giving us the umbrella coverage and the reporting on the achievements we managed on the tour.
A huge thank you goes to Rob LaDuca and Chad Hutchinson and all the guys at NEARFest without whom we would never have been able to get across, to Larry Webman for putting together a great tour and to Yatta who did a fantastic job holding it all together in the paper and form blizzard and in organising all the nuts and bolts that kept the ship together when we were out there. He is the master! =D>
Finally thanks to Frank, Gavin, Foss, Chris, Vince, Paul, Billy and Steve, who went through the pain barrier to create some memorable shows on an unforgettable tour!
Let's all do it again next year! ;-)
And now I immerse myself in the business end of it all again.
Yatta has already got a string of tour dates together for the end of September through October in Europe and we have the UK shows in November. I hold my breath on the proposed December shows in the Americas.
Next up is a return to Loreley where we will be filming the show for a DVD project which will include the multi camera shoot and multi track recording from NEARFest to be released much later this year.
I am in discussion with Trevor White about another series on Planet Rock and it looks a very strong possibility that I will be back on air in August with "Fish on Fridays". I'm really looking forward to compiling more programmes especially after my raid on the CD stalls at NEARFest! :-D
I will be glad of a break from touring for a while as will the entire band. The last year has taken its toll on us.
At least I'll get a chance to savour the garden and harvest the crops for myself for a change. My neighbours used most of last year's as I was away on the road when everything had ripened. I don't think I will be visiting the veg aisles at Tesco's for a while! :-)
I will be writing up the rest of the American tour in the coming weeks in between gardening, sorting out the new accountants, the new publishing deal with EMI, re-registering my entire catalogue with PPL, planning the repackaging of the back catalogue which has now returned from Snapper and is in direct control of Chocolate Frog Records again, promoting the upcoming touring and back working the ripples from the recent dates. It's going to be great just being home for a couple of months and being relatively normal! :-D
Off to see the Blue Nile in Glasgow tonight and my girlfriend is up from London in a couple of days so we can spend a rare week together going on adventures and cycling round East Lothian with lashings of ginger beer. I'll try and forget about the storm clouds for now!
At the moment all is sunny in Scotland :-)
lots of love
Onkel Fish xx
Email 11th July 2008