Interview 21st August 1997

Consumable Online Interview, Starfish Room, Vancouver, B.C.
Interviewer: Tym Altman and Ron Singer

This review first appeared in Consumable Online, the oldest continuous collaborative music reviews publication on the Internet. Each issue consists of reviews, interviews, tour dates and more music information. Direct e-mail subscriptions are available from consumable-request at westnet.com or their World Wide Web site

Fish, the former lead-singer of Marillion, left the band more than 10 years ago. His first North American tour as a solo artist recently took him through Vancouver, British Columbia, where Consumable was able to catch up with him.
It's about half-way through Mastermind's opening set, when my friend Ron and I, are told that Fish is ready to do an interview with us. We are led to the back door, and into a small corridor, where Fish greets us. We shake hands, and are absolutely in awe of the man who's standing before us - intimidating, yet very friendly.
Fish leads us outside into the back alley, where the tour bus is parked. He looks around, and says, "This is as good a place as any," and sits down in someone's driveway. We join him on the cold pavement, and take out our tape-recorder. The tape starts to roll, and the following conversation took place (as close as I am able to transcribe it...).

Consumable: How does it feel to be back in North America after being away for so long?

Fish: It's very nice. We're having a lot of fun. I never came back for more than 10 years. We never had a record deal. We never had really the opportunity. I mean no promoter would seriously take us on, unless we had the radio umbrella - unless we had some record company working for us over here. It's a strange feeling coming back, and getting the reactions that we've been getting on the tour. Some of the gigs have been extremely moving. It's going to be interesting to see what happens tonight.

Consumable: There are a lot of great fans over here... a lot of hardcore fans have been waiting a long time for you to come back, so I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Fish: I hope so.

Consumable: How does the experience in North America compare to Europe?

Fish: Kind of similar. I'm not as intimidated by the US and Canada as I was. It doesn't seem as alien an environment as it was before. Having been in Chile, and Argentina, South Africa, and Singapore, this is like normal for us.

Consumable: But we see on videos how crowds really get into it, and I don't see the same kind of reaction from North American crowds. No one clapping along.

Fish: No, no...they've been doing that! They've been doing that. It will be interesting tonight, when the crowd's kind of... sparse. But it's to be expected. The record company in Canada has not exactly been active. The album arrived only this week (Aug. 19), so it's a bad situation. But I'm not gonna be like "My god! There's only this many people, so we're gonna do a short show." We'll do a full show, and we'll do it to the best of our abilities. I mean every gig in North America is a showcase, you know? We'll already making plans to come back, including to Vancouver, no matter what happens tonight. I'd like to come back and build on whatever happens tonight.

Consumable: I read about what happened in Quebec, at the Hull gig. How did that situation come about?

Fish: It was a gig sponsored by Budweiser. The production company, the guys who were in charge of it, were given money by Budweiser. There were no tickets. It was a free gig, so there was no real pressure on them to sell the gig. From my information, they didn't really sell it. The production as far as the way it was organised, it was dreadful. We were supposed to be the headline band. We soundchecked, and then they broke our gear down. They took all our mikes off and stuff. And at the end of the day, it went overtime, and they asked us to cut our set. And then we went on. They basically told us that everything was OK, and told us to go on. And then we went on, and the gear wasn't right. We ended up doing "Gentleman's Excuse Me" (from Fish's first solo album _Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors_ ), and "Lavender" (from Marillion's classic _Misplaced Childhood_ ), you know, just to try and break it. But it was difficult. It was a French-speaking audience, and I don't speak Quebequois. It kind of left us in a bad light. We started the set, and about an hour and fifteen or twenty minutes in the set, they told us "That's it". And I was really annoyed. There was a lot of fans that waited a long time for me to come back, and they were just as disappointed as we were. I wanted to put on a full show, and we weren't allowed to do it.

Consumable: Do you regret doing it at all?

Fish: No! Because everybody said "Oh, we're going to do 5000 people..blah blah blah"...and you know, you trust people. In the USA and Canada there is a certain mentality...you come out with figures that are a lot more elaborate than what they actually are. You just gotta deal with that. I think it would have been better if we would have done an indoor show in that area, in Hull or Ottawa than doing the open-air. But it's history. You know, you start blaming Budweiser... on stage I was pretty negative towards the whole corporate idea. But what it comes down to is a bunch of guys who were acting as... you know, they were making their money... they didn't really care about what the fans or the audience were going to get. They had their money, they've done the show, they didn't give a shit. We DID. And that was the problem. But I made my opinions very available on stage. But it wasn't an anti-Budweiser thing. I was just very, very annoyed. It was probably the most aggressive show that I've done... in years.

Consumable: How have sales of _Sunsets On Empire_ (Fish's new album) gone in the US?

Fish: They're good in the US. It's the Canada situation that annoys me - for example in Vancouver, it only arrived this week. The press promo has been very limited. There should have been a lot more of it. Then again, the gigs speak for themselves. We're getting great reviews, and here we're already looking at coming back and doing a big festival, in Quebec, Ontario, and possibly one in this city next summer. And I would like to get into Winnipeg, Calgary, and Edmonton.

Consumable: Do you think a live video or CD will come out from this North American tour?

Fish: Maybe. I think we're going to record the LA show. We're just going to see how it goes. I'm not going to put anything out just because it's been done. It's got to be a relative quality. Let's just see what happens.

Consumable: It's hard. Like our Much Music (the Canadian equivalent of MTV, but cooler) doesn't play any Fish music.

Fish: Yeah I know. I think it's up to the fans to start phoning them up and requesting the "Brother 52" video, and things like that. The good thing is, it's on the CD. It's an enhanced CD.

Consumable: You've always been really good interacting with the crowds. Have there been any hecklers at the shows?

Fish: Yeah, the heckling in North America has been pathetic. What happens is that one guy shouts out, and I take him out, and everybody else goes like, "No. Well I better not say anything because..." Well I've been raised on Scottish audiences, and - I'm kind of sharp.

Consumable: What do they heckle you about? Do you ever get the Phish fans that come in by mistake and realize they're at the wrong show?

Fish: We've had some, but as far as I'm aware they're into it. Nobody's come up and said "I want my money back, because I wanted the band with the other spelling. " You know, I respect the Phish guys. They're like myself - not exactly commercial in the sense of the word, not image oriented. They're very concerned with the live vibe, do a lot of gigs. That's the way they've collected their fans. They take care of their fans; they've got very loyal fans. And there's a lot of similarities in the way they work and the way I work. We've got a lot of contact through people. They know what I'm doing, and I know what they're doing. We've got this sort of mutual silence. There's been no lawyers saying "You can not do this, because it's the same sort of name, and shit like that." In Europe they go out and people think it's me playing small venues, and over here they think it's them playing small venues. And there's a lot of Phish t-shirts at our gigs, and I think there's a lot of similarities, so be it. I've got no problems. I'd love to do a double-headlining tour. To support them would be interesting.

Consumable: Have you had any other new singles released since "Brother 52" ?

Fish: Yeah. "Change of Heart" has come out in the UK, but it's done nothing. Here the difference between Canada and USA, and UK, is that in the UK they're obsessed about image packaging, profile, and the wrapping paper. Not the tapes, not the content. And over here, you've got a vibrant rock radio, and that's the difference. In Scotland we get A-listed on all the stations. In England we get nothing. But I'm thriving off the positive vibes that are around this tour. I'm having more fun on this tour that I can ever remember having on any North American tour. It's just fun. And it's 10 years on, and I've got a different attitude now. I'm a professional musician, and I love the gigs, and the vibes. I love the 2 hour, 2 hour & 15 minute we play. I'm just a lot more mature than I was back then.

Consumable: What was the story behind Robin Boult and Frank Usher. They're not in the band anymore?

Fish: Yeah, they didn't want to tour. Robin wanted to do a lot of work for cinema, and advertising, and stuff like that, and when I said they'd have to come on tour for 10 or 12 months, it intimidated them, and they decided they didn't want to do that. We're all still friends. Robin and/or Frank could come back to the band. J.J. (Belle) is the guitarist at the moment, but J.J. might leave in the next few weeks. But that's the way it is when you're a solo act. Other musicians can leave and decide to do something else. The difference is there aren't a lot of lawyers kicking about, and it doesn't become a big confrontation situation. And in the few years as a solo artist, the chemistry changes which I think is good for the music. For example on _Sunsets On Empire_ , the new album, there's guys that contribute that are not from the outfit that was playing live. Like Steve Wilson did a lot. And it's still got the fresh identity, and the hallmark of what I do, and the chemistry is always positive. {Just a few days ago (Sept. 9) it was announced that J.J. has in fact left, and Robin will take over for him.}

Consumable: How did you hook up with Steve Wilson?

Fish: I was introduced to him through a friend. We had the same ideas about directions.

Consumable: Do you like his Porcupine Tree stuff? Do you listen to it?

Fish: I prefer No-Man. I like the No-Man stuff. I like the _Signify_ album, it's really good. If Steve can commit to a lot more touring, then I can see Porcupine Tree being a sort of noveaux Pink Floyd.

Consumable: I guess the Internet has become a very important part of your life now.

Fish: Without a shadow of a doubt, yes.

Consumable: Do you feel it's expanded the music scene for fans and musicians?

Fish: It's created a new awareness for what I'm doing. The Freaks list (an Internet mailing list for Fish & Marillion fans) in particular has been the backbone of this tour. Without their input and without the vibe they've created on this tour, I don't think this tour would be as successful as it is. I've always been a person who's enjoyed and recognised the importance of a contact with the fans. And our Website is going to be expanded dramatically in the next few months. We've picked up a Sony digital camera.

Consumable: What do you think of some of the new prog bands to the scene, like Flower Kings, Arena, Spock's Beard, and Porcupine Tree?

Fish: Spock's Beard I like, and Tree I like, and eh....Arena I think are total shite. What Mick Pointer (former Marillion drummer, played on their first album _Script for a Jester's Tear_ ) has done... I have no respect for Pointer at all. I mean, he never played drums for ages, because there was more money in the kitchen industry. And as soon as the arse fell out of the Southern English kitchen market, he decided he was going to be a musician again. And I still think he's a shit drummer.

Consumable: So, them doing Grendel...

Fish: All he's done is gone back, and done exactly what I hate about the progressive scene. He went back and picked up a singer that sounded reasonably like myself, and followed the strict formula. It's just a money making thing. His artistic integrity is bunk, as far as I'm concerned. I think a band like the Smashing Pumpkins... Or the new Radiohead album...they're progressive albums. That's what I kind of aspire to, and that's what I try to do. You know, the word 'progressive' became very, very dirty. Like in the film 'Jaws', you've got a bit where the mayor goes to the police guy and says, "Look, just say barracuda, or say jellyfish, just don't say shark. If you say shark everybody is out of the water..." And that's kind of where the word 'progressive' is. It's still a dirty word. You know, the Pumpkins would never say "we're a progressive band". But what it comes down to it, they're pushing things a wee bit further. The _OK Computer_ album, there's a lot of light and shade, there is long songs, there's not a lot of radio songs. But Arena, they're just wanking over an era that's been done. It's like doing Beatles covers.

Consumable: What do you think about Oasis?

Fish: I like what they do. The problem with Oasis, is Oasis stand out because they are a lot better than a lot of the other shites on the British scene. And no matter how much you hate the image, or whatever, or Liam, or the attitude, Noel can still put down some good melodies. The lyrics are, I think, wanting, but the melodies are great, and melodies are what sells the songs.

Consumable: I know you've been asked this probably a million times, but was that true that you tried out for Genesis?

Fish: I never auditioned, I was never asked. There was a rumour that went about on the net, and I think it was kind of an obvious rumour when Phil left. I didn't know what was happening, and I ended up phoning Tony (Banks), and Ray Wilson got the job. Tony said that my name had been put forward, along with, like, Roger Chapman's and others. They wanted someone that was kind of new. They didn't want somebody that had a history. But I would never have worked. Like, you'll see tonight, I like the freedom of speech. And in Genesis I would have been a sessionist. It would have been very difficult to establish a personality within that band. And, you know, Ok, I'm a fan, and all that, and I like a certain era, and certain songs, but when it comes down to it... nah. To be honest, I think the Genesis management would have objected to the fact they would have to make it to a million bars every night. It's not the Genesis image.

Consumable: What's your relationship with Marillion these days?

Fish: It's ok. Well I think that a lot of people try to make it out to be very antagonistic, and very negative, and it's not. We've all aged, there's a lot of time passed. We've got kids, we've got our own careers. You know, they're now indie. When they got dropped from EMI, I've got a lot of sympathy for them. You know, they're the same age as me, and it's a tough fuckin' business. It's a very age-ist (?) industry. And, you know, musically we do very diverse things. But as people I've got no problems at all.

Consumable: Think you'll be collaborating any time soon?

Fish: I left the band 9 years ago. Steve Hogarth has been in the band for longer than that. They've done a number of albums that I don't relate to. It's like saying, "Do you want to go back and have sex with an old girlfriend" that you knew 10 years ago, and expect to recreate the same magic. And there is the added bonus of "Do you want to go back and have sex with an old girlfriend, and with her husband watching." It doesn't work. I don't want to. And I would never go back - God forbid that the band should split. For me to go back and sing "Forgotten Sons" or "Script..." (both from the first Marillion album Script For A Jester's Tear) and stuff, to me it would be boring. I couldn't sing it...I have no interest...I mean I've been doing my own thing. I enjoy my freedom. I enjoy the gigs. I have more fun now than I did back then. And that's not being disrespectful towards the band.

Consumable: When you play Marillion songs...Like tonight you'll probably be playing some. Do you play them more because the fans want to hear them?

Fish: 'Cause I want to do them. I want to play the stuff I want to play.
 

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