Fish 2008 - Facing the music
Dear FishHeads, Freaks, fans and the Company,
I want to sincerely thank you all for all your good wishes to myself and Katie on our engagement. It's been very uplifting reading all your e mails and we are continuing to readjust to our domestic scenario and are redesigning the studio as our home.
I apologise for the lack of contact in recent months but I can now reveal what has been occupying my thoughts since the Summer.
As you probably have noticed I have been hitting an average of around 50 shows a year since "Field of Crows" was released in 2004.
Apart from the 6 months writing "13th Star" in the first half of last year I have been on the road for nearly 4 years and apart from a few weeks off here and there and my trip to Vietnam this time last year, my time and energies have been taken up by promotion and working on the business aspects of my career. It's been stressful and has been taking its toll.
Steve Vantsis and I had already adjusted keys of the "13th Star" material to ranges I was more comfortable with but events of last summer as we began recording added to the equation and I found myself in the middle of principal vocals struggling to get performances together.
Thanks to Calum Malcolm's patience and a staggered series of sessions it all came together and I think I produced my best vocal performances for some time.
I went into the tour without a proper break and the intended holiday before we started was lost.
The promotion activities were demanding and the collapse in Manchester was inevitable taking into account the stress factors.
I took a lot of flak around that time regarding my inability to hit "high notes" and my voice took a lot of criticism.
I didn't need to be told the obvious.
The tour however went really well once I had recovered from the viral laryngitis and I finished the year with a huge sigh of relief and a bunch of accolades from some great gigs.
Vietnam was a welcome break and this year began on a high. I was OK until the O2 show when something started to go. I found myself with an unusual hoarseness in my voice which I couldn't attribute to anything specific.
In Tavistock a couple of days later I saw a doctor who told me my throat was not infected and didn't show any signs of anything untoward. But as a parting shot he told me my thyroid gland was unusually swollen and took a crate of blood samples for analysis with advice to see my own doctor in Haddington when I got back.
The blood works came back clear on all levels, two weeks and a lot of worrying later, and I navigated the tour to it's close with no real difficulties apart from occasional missing high notes. Needless to say I was on double watch throughout and took no chances.
May was an easy stretch with sporadic gigs and adequate recovery time. I saw my doctor and was recommended to see an ENT specialist in Edinburgh for further examination.
The North American tour was being set up and I was locking myself into that obligation when I saw the ENT specialist.
He filmed my vocal chords and then announced that I had growths on my chords.
I wasn't too surprised. It had been a long and demanding tour so far and nodules are not uncommon with all that wear and tear.
I had them twice before, once with Marillion in the late eighties and once in the early nineties during the heavy period of touring around the end of the "Vigil" project.
They can "dissolve" in time and a few months off from singing makes a hell of a difference. I wasn't that worried and was recommended to see a voice therapist on my return from the US. I just had to look after myself and avoid strains and putting myself behind the eight ball.
Again the routing of the North American tour came to my aid and the days off/ travel were more than welcome as stress levels pre tour and on the bus were high.
It all came together and I strongly believe that the fans and the vibes at the gigs did more than anything to alleviate all that accumulated stress.
Within the outfit only Frank and Yatta knew I had problems and only some close friends and family.
I was mentally and physically exhausted when I got back.
I was back at the ENT unit in July, this time to see a voice specialist. It started off pleasantly enough and my speaking voice was deemed to be not too bad considering I'd just completed a tour. She was not surprised to see my ravaged, swollen chords and in her words she "would have been shocked if I had been someone with an occupation other than singing for a living."
She took internal photos of my throat and vocal chords with an endoscope and pronounced that I didn't have nodules.
I thought everything was going to be diagnosed as down to heavy usage and prescribed a rest from singing for a while.
Just as I thought I had an all clear she pointed out a white area on one of my chords and said "But this is worrying!"
As soon as I heard the phrase "irregular cell growth" my mind went cold and focused.
I knew what it meant.
I had a tour on line in September with tickets on sale and fans who had already made travel arrangements. I also had a band and crew who were relying on me for work who had mortgages and families and no other chance of finding alternative employment at this short notice.
And in all honesty I needed the income as well. To go down at this point would have left me high and dry. I needed to complete the tour.
The doctor wanted me in for a biopsy under general anaesthetic but she also knew and admitted that it could put me out for 6 weeks and also potentially irreparably damage my voice.
We made a joint decision to monitor the growth and to reassess in the weeks between the last leg of the European tour and the end leg in the UK. The growth would only curtail the high register where I had to "squeeze" my vocal chords as it hampered their movement.
The rest of my range would be unaffected.
The August festivals went well and my voice was on form after the rest and with ample time to recover between.
However a host of interviews and a stressful run up meant that in Malta I was suffering, and it showed, but I got back to form by Holland after a couple of days off.
The rest of the tour crawled by ever so slowly and a chance vocal infection in Hamburg nearly closed me down early. I made the end thanks to a couple of cortisone injections on the last few shows.
I was surprised on my next scheduled ENT visit to be told my voice sounded better but thanks to a broken endoscope no photos were taken.
I was given the green light to end the tour. I was also told that I would be in hospital as soon as I returned. I was let off for the moment but still had to face the music.
I'd told the others during the European tour and they were obviously in a bit of shock and at the same time worried about whether we would have the 3 weeks work. The news that I had the go ahead was welcomed by all as much as it was to me. I climbed back on the bus.
The voice was holding up and the reactions were carrying me on.
The relief when I arrived home was immense.
I had been in tears in Glasgow on stage and in Buxton I nearly collapsed.
The lurgy that I had avoided all throughout the British dates and that had taken out most of the band (and travelling fans!) had finally got me. I physically couldn't have performed another show.
It was a highly emotional return to the Studio.
130 shows done and dusted!
I've been getting my head round it all this since I first heard the news. It was pretty bad in late Summer as there were so many other issues I was dealing with that were bringing me down. Very few people knew about my predicament and I didn't want to create a load of rumours that I couldn't truthfully answer.
I just had to see it through to the best of my ability. I think we did pretty well! :-)
I was in hospital yesterday and had an examination under general anaesthetic which involved taking a biopsy from one of my vocal chords.
I now wait on the results.
Either way I have come to grips with this as much as I can under the circumstances.
In all honesty I am 50 year old, I smoke(d), drink, have a "colourful" history, have sung nearly 1700 gigs in 27 years and have conducted probably three times as many interviews. It's like standing on the M1 and expecting not to be hit by a car :-D
I am taking at least 6 months off from singing. I'd like to think that I can play some festivals in the summer of 2009 but there will be no arranged tours until 2010.
I don't plan to even contemplate a new album until the end of next year.
It all depends on what happens in the coming weeks. There are no set plans for any musical activity at the moment or in the near future.
Either way I intend to get to work on that elusive novel and start studying and writing screenplays. My acting career I would like to reopen and I definitely want to spend a lot more time at home. There are bundles of unwrapped cunning plans.
It's a bit scary as I haven't had a "blank" year for as long as I can remember and the prospect of being "unemployed" is quite weird!
It's an exhilarating time and not since I left my forestry career behind in 1980 have I found myself in such an exciting and frightening position in my life.
Katie has been a tremendous support as have my family, Yatta, Frank and my band and crew and a strong network of close and dear friends all of whom have helped me deal with the last few months and kept me focused on what is important.
Thanks to them and to all of you who supported me over the last album and tour and made me smile when it was hard to remember how to.
My spirits are high and I will deal with whatever happens in my own inimitable fashion,
See you on stage sometime ;-)
lots of love
Email 17th December 2008