Venue: The Funny Farm Kitchen
Interviewers: Mark & Julie Wynne.
M/J: Whilst putting the Internet World Wide Web pages together, a few questions came to mind. What ever happened to the lyric book that got stolen from the car, did you get it back?
Fish: Yeah, that was a particularly traumatic experience like you would not believe. I am trying to think what birthday it was. There was two books that I was working out of at the same time. I had come back from Scotland on my birthday which meant it was April, which meant it must have been the Fugazi period then - life's a blur. Yeah coz I went back up to Scotland, then I came back with all my presents and stuff from the family and friends. John Arnison had picked me up at the airport and we had driven back to The Marquee club and we parked the car at the back of the club coz we were kicking about in there, so it must have been during Fugazi times. And we came back, and all of a sudden the back window had been piled in and my bags and presents had been pulled out through the back of it.
The biggest thing was, the fact that these lyric books had been stolen and they had been about with me for a number of years, and they had a lot of different bits and pieces in them. They were eventually found, most of the clothes and stuff went missing. But the lyric books were found on a railway embankment down in Brixton. That was it, the rest of it, the rest of it didn't matter and I have still got the lyric books and they have got all of the original writings in them. On the Masque book I was wanting to photocopy them or do scans of them and put them in the book, which is something that I'll probably do on the lyric book that we are talking about doing for Yin & Yang. Because one of the things with Yin & Yang is that I don't just wanna redo the lyrics coz everyone has already got the lyrics printed on other album sleeves. Apart from stuff like The Institution Waltz all the rest are pretty well documented. So I decided on a drunken night to write hand written anecdotes on all of the different tracks and I spent most of the French tour, at least 3 or 4 hours every day writing all of these little bits and pieces on what the songs were about. But Fin Costello had done such brilliant photographs that basically if any of the writings that I had done were put on them it would ruin the photos and at the same time the writing was going to be difficult to make out on top of the photos. So what we have decided to do is, put the two albums, Yin & Yang out, then follow them up with a booklet to fan club members which is going to have more of the Fin Costello photographs in, together with a load of hand written stuff on the different tracks and the other bits and pieces. The idea is to try and throw in some of the old photographs as well. And that's supplied with a box set. So if the fan club members want it, they can actually write in for it. I do not know how we are going to work it yet, we have not thought this one through, but it will be a few quid and basically you will get a booklet that fits in with the box. Rob Ayling who is my label manager is trying to work out how we can individually number and name them. So that any Company member who wants it, gets a box with the lyrics in it and the Yin & Yang albums fit in it, and you have got space for the Radio Edits CD and the Interview CD as well. That way there is a nice concise box set of the whole thing. I would love to actually photostat The Institution Waltz for example and put in the original Punch And Judy, and show the red wine stains and all.
M/J: Do you still use a lyric book now?
Fish: There are about five books now, the two originals which I don't use anymore, they stopped in about 1987 or so. There is a small blue book with my poems in which was really the main book from Misplaced through Clutching and into Vigil. And then it went onto a big black book and there is a big brown book which have got various bits and pieces in. I have always tried to take one out on the road, to sculpt the notes of it all, but it doesn't work. I don't have the discipline to really keep that one going. The Suits material was done in the big brown book with my poems in. But, the stuff I am doing now, a lot of it is in the mind more than anything else. When we go out on the next tour I will probably take a book with me that will be the crossword puzzle. I don't trust computers, I really don't. There is something about word processors and things. You can spend hours working on something and then you just happen to press the wrong button or in the middle of some outrageous lightning storm that has been send down from the Book of Revelations, it suddenly wipes out your past seven months work. So, I still very much rely on the old prescribed method, a bit of papyrus, I love it. There is nothing like the feel of a bit of papyrus!
M/J: I noticed that at the Caen gig you had mic problems and had to swap it for a different one. Do you still use radio mic's?
Fish: That had nothing to do with a radio mic, that was just because there was a lousy monitor engineer, not our out-front engineer. It was the equipment we were using. Because of the way we were working these gigs, we were picking up P.A.'s and monitor systems as we went. I could not have afforded to do a full tour of provincial France with a full monitor system and P.A. system as we would have liked in an ideal world.
The acoustic sets were founded at the HMV in store shows. I remember doing Glasgow with Frank and Robin and they said "What are we going to do?", and I said "Lets try Lucky" and suddenly it was bam and it was wham and it was brilliant! And then we had the obvious ones like Dear Friend and things. We tried to do Internal Exile and it was great. And then I phoned up my agent and said "Lets do acoustic sets" and he said "Well, I don't think it's a good idea, it might not work". And then we went out and did a series of sets which were very happening. The absolute slimmed down, slimmed down, slimmed down version of that was when Frank and I went to South Africa. We had a keyboard player and a guitarist out there who had never played with us before in our lives. It ended up, we were playing an hour and twenty minute sets with seven songs. It was like the stand-up, Fish does Billy Connolly.
The whole acoustic stuff was designed so that we could go out and play areas that we had never been able to play before. You can't go out with a full production, and the back drops and all of the rest of it, in certain places, because you know you are not going to get the people there. In Reims we had about 62 people, in Caen about 52, Strasbourg was about 600, Lyon was about 400 / 500, Marseilles was 600. You have got to adjust things. You have to adopt a sort of guerrilla warfare approach to the whole thing. You have the choice of not doing the shows and relying on the single and the video to try and penetrate the market, or, you slim it down and you go out with the minimum number of guys in the bus, with the minimum amount of equipment to put on a show that is going to be more than acceptable. The acoustic show developed into a show that was an excellent show, and for me, I loved it. As a singer it gave me the space to play about. As I said, the equipment, you sometimes have got to beg, borrow and steal. You can't go in and demand an M4 system and a reverb unit etc. etc.. Part of it, is that you have to work with pretty shoddy equipment.
They changed the frequency of radio mic's a few years ago and there is a lot of different systems. I used to like the Sony system, with a Shure SM58 head. But, there are certain frequencies that just disappear, they just do not transmit across. The whole way that the radio mic works, it tends to pick up frequencies that allow a lot of feed back, and you loose a lot of the body of the voice. The system I prefer nowadays is a line system, and I use the 87 which is actually a studio mic. We bought that on the last tour. Without getting too technical, its a microphone that's got a narrow field of pick up, you have got to be right on it, but, it's quality. I have got a very strange range for a singer, the best part of that range is between about 17 and 22 K. Which is very midi to upper mid. With a radio mic, that's the frequency that's most prone to feedback.
I love the freedom of having a radio mic, I love the ability to do a spin and a turn and not trip up and fall flat on my face. And I like the ability to be able to go into the crowd with it, but the quality goes down, and a line mic will always be the best. And like I say, the 87 that I'm working with at the moment is by far the best microphone that I have ever worked with on stage. The sound engineer and Yatta as well were saying that the quality of voice that was coming through was incredible. If the source is good, if what you are putting down the mic is good then it gives your out-front engineer a better chance, it also gives your monitor engineer a better chance to play about. If there is more substance to play about with, you can manicure it better within the scope and levels of stage work. Its one of the biggest problems that you have got on stage, some of my biggest problems have always come through bad monitor engineers because if you have got a bad monitor engineer or a bad monitor system on stage, you have to over compensate. I am the sort of singer that tends to go for performance. I need to have the light and shade, I need to have the ability to work within the dynamic of the delivery. I like to be able to whisper and be able to hear that whisper at the same time as I want to be able to scream, and pitch a scream. Take for example, in State Of Mind where you pitch it so thin that you are sitting there playing with it. If you have got a bad monitor system, you can't do that, you tend to over compensate. As soon as you over compensate you are straining your vocal chords. If you do a show and the monitor system is not right, you might be singing for two hours, but in the equivalent space of time as far as vocal wear goes, its like singing for six hours. Which means that, the three in a row you are doing suddenly seems like its five in a row. You have only got so much wear and tear, and the more you wear it down, even though you have got a day off, you are only going to get back so much. If you do a five day wear and tear and you take the day off, you go back to four which means that you are starting the next run of three on a four day wear and tear. The idea is to only maybe do two or three shows and get it up to so that you take the day off, and that wear and tear goes down to one day. So you are forever replenishing your vocal, which is why we have sculpted the next tour as it is. There are no fours in the tour. I do not do four in a row anymore. Three in a row, two in a row. I said to my agent that the idea of this, is not short term profit, it's long term gain. That's the way we want to go out. We are talking about doing a three or four months tour, so we have got to play that game, the same as a football player goes into a league championship. You don't go out with a knee injury, every now and then, you have to take a day off for your knee to heal, if you want to see the end of the season.
M/J: In the past, you tended to do four gigs then have a day off.
Fish: Yeah, It frightens me, I look back on some of the old Fugazi tour and Script tour. There were five's in there. I was talking to Roger Chapman at one of the SAS Band gigs in Zurich recently and he said that he hadn't done a four for three years. You just don't do it. They are called fours and ones, four on and one off. Now I do three on and one off, two on and one off. You have to pace yourself, you've got to go for the long term.
M/J: On the catalogue list for The Dick Brothers CDs, I noticed that there is a No Dummy and an Emperors Song / Fortunes Of War promo CD. Was there plans to release these as singles?
Fish: There in no substance to the catalogue number of No Dummy. No Dummy, I really honestly felt that it would have been a great single, I still do feel that it would have been a great single. Perhaps, in future times it will be looked back on, maybe if we do a compilation album. There were a lot of dance mixes done for it that were never released. But I never really felt they were the right ones. No Dummy is probably the track on the Suits album that in years to come, is gonna be seen as probably one of the most advanced tracks. It was probably before its time. The dance mixes that were done, I feel didn't do the track justice. James Cassidy came up to do it with Gaetan Shurrer. Gaetan had worked with James on some of the other stuff we'd done. He'd done Spartacus, he'd done dance mixes on some of the Songs From The Mirror stuff. I Know What I Like, I think he worked on, but it just never worked. By that time the Suits album was waning a little bit, and I didn't feel we could afford to go into the situation were we investigated a load of dance possibilities and spend a lot of money on promotion. Therefor the catalogue number that was allocated was never actually used, although the mixes exist. One of the stories about that was, in the studio the No Dummy master was spinning round and round on the two inch reel and everyone was so involved with the studio that people forgot to look at the tape machine. And what happened was, the tape machine went "Chugga, chugga, chugga, chugga, chugga" and chewed up about the last five minutes of the song. So its doubtful whether that's gonna be used. We actually talked to a couple of guys at MIDEM that were bonafide dance guys to do it. I find its a very violent song, I love it, I love the lyric in it, I love the whole drama of the song.
Fortunes Of War and the Emperors Song, we could never work out which one was going to be the single, so the Germans had an idea to put both songs out on a promotional CD, and see which one the radio picked up. They didn't really pick up on any. I think the problem with the Suits album was the singles were released the wrong way around, we were still learning the business as an independent record company, and I think we perhaps got it wrong. I think if we'd have gone Emperors Song as the first single, then Lady Let It Lie, I think we'd have had a better chance. As it happens, Lady Let It Lie came out, and didn't really do what we hoped it would, therefor it was very hard to get the pick up. I really feel in retrospect that the Emperors Song, the version on the Suits album, having played it live, didn't really have the power and the energy that was there on the live version. So Emperors Song and Fortunes Of War does exist as a very, very, very limited edition promo track.
Its what we were talking about down in the pub, Lady Let It Lie, I reckon European wide it probably did about 30,000 / 35,000 copies, and we are not going to reprint. Therefor, if Just Good Friends happens as a single and we suddenly launch into the stratosphere of the hit single that was in '85. Then a lot of that stuff is going to become valuable. Somebody recently phoned me up and said that The Company CD, which I reckon there was only about 10,000 printed, is already going for 50 / 60 quid. I think that makes it interesting for fans. The people that were the bonafide fans way back, the people who were buying all of this material when it came out. If the major success comes along then the record collection becomes very valuable indeed. I think there are a lot of people out there now days that look upon the record collection as an asset. They will buy two of something, knowing if they can sell one, and still have their one Company CD, or what ever. At the same time they have still got one to sell, if they can sell it for 50 / 60 quid, that means they can buy a couple of versions of the next one or they can go back and buy the Market Square Heroes picture disc that they didn't get. The world record at the moment for, I think the probably most expensive item is held by a Dutch guy who sold the 12 inch uncut picture disc of Garden Party which went for 600 Quid. Which I find absolutely unbelievable. I wish I had a couple of them. The story is, there is only actually 55 of them in the world, so it is pretty rare.
M/J: Earlier on you mentioned the Masque book, will that ever materialise?
Fish: The infamous Masque book. Mark Wilkinson and I have got loads of writings and loads of manuscripts. The original Masque writings, they're really interesting. But, my career is not in the state where it is going to entice, I don't have a profile, that is gonna entice publishers to put serious amounts of money behind a book which contains artwork and whatever, or the scribblings of an artist and an author, or an artist and a lyricist or whatever. I think the Masque idea is gonna integrate itself with a more lyrical, autobiographical work. I have recently done a 78 minute interview CD, with Bill McNie who runs the Company Scotland. It is an introduction to Yin & Yang, its like a potted history. Instead of writing out the standard biography that you send out to papers, we thought we'd take a different approach and make a CD. If we send the CD out, then people get the quotes etc. etc. , without having to get involved in phoning up a lot of local papers, that you would love to talk to, but basically don't have the time to. At the same time it provides independent radio stations, that you have been unable to talk to, the chance to compile a rock show or do something, and put it out for their listeners combined with the tracks from the Yin & Yang albums, and create a show that is going to give me profile and gonna give them an interesting programme. So, Bill and I sat down and did this CD that, as Bill said himself, takes in a lot of information that the fans don't know about. That's actually provoked the idea that maybe we should do a separate CD for every album I have ever made. One for Script, one for Fugazi, one for Misplaced, Clutching, Vigil, Internal Exile, Songs From The Mirror and Suits. You would go track by track through the lyrics, and I could see that overtaking the idea that Masque was intended to become. I could see that being a lot more interesting, rather that just sitting there and reading the black on white about it, you've actually got a CD. We could release it as a box set version, so that people could buy it more like a magazine. It would be GBP 2.50 / 3.00 per CD and that means people get a different perspective on things. I do intend to write an autobiography at some point in my life. For me, it would be a good point of reference to sit there and talk to somebody. Bill and I have just got to go through some dead time in the studio, maybe one Sunday night over a bottle of classic red wine, and sit and talk rubbish at each other. There are a lot of really interesting stories. It would be easy to fill 78 minutes on each album. I think people would get an insight to things. It's not as if I write very ambiguous lyrics. The lyrics are directed at specific characters and revolve around specific stories and meanings. Its not that I have thrown them together, out of my head after a couple of nights on the beer or whatever. They have been sculpted out, so it would be a case of, this is the tour guide to the lyrics. You could still make out what you want, you can still find yourself, and find your own disposition within them, but at the same time there are a lot of reference points, be it Belsize Park, or be it The Bridge Of Sighs in Jigsaw or whatever. There are a lot of map reference points. It would be really nice to lay out the map and go "OK, where do you want to go on it?"
M/J: When we were putting the crossword together, it was very good going through your lyrics, there are a lot of words that you can pick out and put in a crossword with a good clue.
Fish: I am no good at doing crosswords. Foss Patterson is brilliant at crosswords. Him and Davey Paton and Frank will sit and do The Independent crossword. Me, it just infuriates me, I can't do it, where you get these really horrible clues - its like, break this word up and join it with this word, I'm rubbish at it.
M/J: Well we have printed a copy of the crossword out for you, lets see how you get on with it, bearing in mind its based on your lyrics.
Fish: Maybe what I should do is make a prize for the crossword, it could be a holiday in Spain for two weeks, and see if I can win it.
M/J: What are your plans for touring at the moment, especially with reference to the USA, because a lot of people reading the web site will be in America?
Fish: The USA, "Oh God". If there is one territory in the world, that is the most difficult one, to not even get excitement but just get interest in what I do, it's the USA. There are hotbeds of Fish fans who cannot understand why I don't have a deal there, they cannot understand why I don't tour there and the problem is, they are in the absolute minority. I do believe, like they do, that if I had the right record company behind me that was going to work the material, then I've got a chance of making a serious name for myself in the States. I have had offers from independents, but you know they have not got the weight behind them, so all they are going to be doing is exactly what I am doing anyway, through the import services in the States. I need the financial clout, when you look at the fact that you can fit Great Britain into Texas something like eight times, then you realise what the problem is. If you look at the amount of touring I have done in Great Britain, and look at the amount of touring it would entail to actually really cover America properly - then it's gonna be difficult. Therefor you are very much reliant on the video, you are very much reliant on radio play. To get radio play etc. etc. you need somebody with clout, and the people with clout, are not interested in what I am doing at this moment in time.
Every single week, there are phone calls made to the States to try and find the people that are going to provide the golden route to nirvana. But nobody has been forthcoming yet. It might come down to the point where, not this year coz I just don't have the time, but next year, I might go out and do about 10 gigs if I can make it financially worth while and interesting. The same as we have just been to Singapore and Hong Kong. But, it's a really awkward place to work. I do not want to spend the rest of my life touring the States and doing what Saxon did, and many other bands before me. At the same time, a number of bands have spent a lot of money, they have spent a lot of soul, a lot of heart and a lot of energy to achieve nothing. I would rather concentrate in Europe and Eastern Europe where I am actually getting a reaction. I am getting a better reaction in South East Asia and Japan than I am getting from America at this moment in time. But should it happen, I am fully prepared to go there, and I am very aware of the fan base that's out there. I would love to be able to go out and next year at some point and perhaps do a San Fran, San Diego, L.A. gig and a Grand Rapids gig and maybe a Chicago gig and stuff. Maybe we could just confine it to a three weeks tour. I get a better reaction in Canada, and I have still not got a deal in Canada yet. Its awkward, I am 37 years old, when you are 23 it's easy to just wipe out 6 months of your life touring the States coast to coast, but I can't afford to do that now. I would rather make another album.
M/J: You said that you are doing OK in Europe. One of the ideas I heard kicking about was to have a European Company Convention, do you think it would work?
Fish: I think it would be too impersonal. I think doing a European Fish Fan Club Convention, smacks of "Strasbourg and Brussels". It's got that sort of bureaucratic feel to it. I like being able to do a Company Holland, and a Company Germany gig. I appreciate that for the likes of the Company France it's very difficult to set something up. But if you are talking about doing a European Convention, why not just set it up around the tour and allow people into the sound checks? The Haddington Convention works great because of the style it's done in. I can go in, and I can spend all day there. But, one thing I learnt at the last Haddington Convention was, I cannot sit down and start talking at 12 O'clock in the afternoon and talk until 4 O'clock, and be involved in the organisation and expect to go along and sing at the end of the night and still have a voice intact. So, the European Convention, yeah it's nice in the sixties sense of the ideal, but I would be very scared that it would become too impersonal and destroy exactly what the Companies were about anyway. The Companies are not about bureaucratic anonymous people, They are personalised, we do know everybody who works for the various Companies, and it's nice to pay them back by giving them their own convention.
M/J: You said earlier on today, that the Companies are now changing, they are becoming more localised.
Fish: Yeah, its really funny, I find it quite interesting. Maybe the Companies are actually mirroring the political situation here in the UK. In the fact that, the UK or The Company Scotland are breaking down - You've got The Company Scouseland and The Company Midlands and you've got the Newport guys and stuff like that.
M/J: Will you have a Company Scotland convention this year?
Fish: I don't know, the problem has been time. We have approached Edinburgh District Council to do a free open air festival in Princess Street Gardens, right in the heart of Edinburgh. I will find out in the next 24 hours if that's actually came off. If it does then we may tie the convention in around it. If it doesn't work, then we may do it around December and do a Haddington gig at the end of the tour, just before we go to South Africa.
We are talking about starting off the tour in September, if we get it, it would be the 2nd September in Princess Street Gardens, the 4th - I think is going to be an open air festival near Frankfurt in Germany, the 7th is Liverpool Royal Court, the 9th is Willesden Empire. Liverpool and Willesden are going to be a 5 pound ticket price for anybody that's got a UB40, and 7 pounds for anybody who is employed. All the proceeds are going towards The Big Issue, the magazine for the homeless, to help them set up the new Big Issue which they want to open up in the North East of Scotland. So, there is actually a goal to it, and this Edinburgh show would kick the thing off. It's useful, I get the profile from The Big Issue, they get the profile from me. I think we are both pretty well matched, the type of lyrics I do, the type of attitude that I have got, fits in pretty well with the type of attitude that The Big Issue has got. We are both independents and we both do things in our own way. A capitalist base with a very strong left wing socialist bias. Then we go into Belgium, there are two open air festivals there. Then we do one show in Holland, in Groningen way up North, because I said in The Company Holland magazine, I didn't want to do any more gigs in Holland because I felt that we have over played it, but in the North of Holland we haven't really played up there. I never did a gig at Leeuwarden or Groningen with Marillion, the furthest North we got was, I think Amsterdam. So by doing Groningen, I am repaying them for the fact that I wasn't there in the earliest part of the fourteen years. And we go from there into Denmark , Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czechland, Hungary, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, back to Spain, back to France, then back into the UK. Then we will have about a week and a half off, then we will do the six South African shows across Christmas and New Year. They involve two work shops, one in Durban and one in Pretoria with local musicians. We go from there into Japan, then into South East Asia and Australia and then maybe South America.
M/J: So it's fairly major then
Fish: Well we did that show in Turkey that's documented in the gig review, and we sold out 5000 people. They asked us to go back and do five shows there next year. Israel has just opened up for us as well, Greece is gonna open up. Yin & Yang are basically the passports that are gonna enable us to go on tour in territories that I never even toured with Marillion. We are more international now than Marillion ever were.
M/J: Will the higher profile abroad help things in the UK?
Fish: Nah, The UK doesn't give a damn about what anybody thinks abroad. We played the biggest free festival in Germany last year to 250,000 and who gives a damn. I can't even get on the bill at Glastonbury, they are not interested in me. I am 37 years old, which means I am 20 years past my sell by date as far as the British media are concerned. If I wrote the equivalent to Bohemian Rhapsody or Stairway To Heaven tomorrow they wouldn't care, coz he is six foot five, he's bald, he's Scottish and he doesn't wear the right shirt.
M/J: Do you have any more acting roles coming up?
Fish: Well with the touring plans that I just told you about it's kinda hard. My theatrical agent goes absolutely ballistic every time I turn around and say to him "I am sorry, I can't work for three months". Saying that, I have just done an audition for the new Alan Parker film of Evita. I am up for the role of Magaldi. If I pull that, it means that I am going to have to take a few days off to get the recording done in the UK in October. It would mean that I will have to go to Argentine next year to shoot the movie. If I am going to Argentina then it means that I have saved one plane flight, which means that we will do a South American tour.
M/J: Isn't Magaldi the guy who is a singer in clubs?
Fish: Yeah that's him. That's if I get it, I have auditioned for Alien 3, Braveheart, Rob Roy McGregor and all sorts of movies, and it hasn't happened. So I just go along to these auditions. I looked upon it as an opportunity to meet Alan Parker and give him a copy of the album. He's a nice guy. The Wall is the most perfect rock 'n' roll film that I have ever seen. It's great, it's just an opportunity to meet people. I get star struck myself, every time.
M/J: So you appreciate what it's like for other people
Fish: Of course, without a shadow of a doubt.
M/J: I was quite amazed today, by how busy the studio is.
Fish: It's not the studio, if the studio was busy it would be great. It's the office that's really busy. I was sitting there trying to work out the routes for the gigs in Scandinavia, and it's a case of , this ferry is going to cost us so much but we are only getting so much for doing this gig and we are going to lose half of the gig fee because we have got to do three ferry runs. Sometimes, I must admit, it's really hard to be the artist and be the manager and be the record company. In the situation that we are in at the moment, in can be really heavy on the voice. I gave up smoking with the best of intentions and then went on the tour, where there were 8 guys out of 10 smoking, and it was a case of forget it. As soon as the phone goes, it's like Pavlov's dog, and the filter tip is in the mouth. The only difference is, I am not smoking Benson & Hedges now, I am smoking Gauloises Lights. They're milder, and I drink a lot of water now. But at times you are sitting there talking for 10 hours a day and I think that's the problem. In past situations I have had a manager to do that. So I was sitting at home on my backside going "I wish someone would phone me up", now it's like "I wish people would stop phoning me up".
At the moment, we are organising the video, we are booking the tour, we are setting up the colour proofs for the album. We are doing all the stuff that normally about 20 people would do. But, at the same time we are in control of it. At this time, it's just unnaturally intense. My problem is going to be, if Just Good Friends becomes the hit single that a lot of people, including myself, are convinced it's going to be, it could become too chaotic, and I think we will have to bring somebody else in to stand between myself and the outside in order to try and save myself some space. I have got somebody who handles the German management, I've got a consultant who works Germany, Austria and Switzerland - Linda Hill - she's a Scots girl from Glasgow, she used to work with EMI years ago. She is both a great friend and brilliant organiser, She's one of the few people who can deal with it. She has got incredible guts. She never has any nerves about shouting down the phone at me "Make sure you get this done!". Which is great. But at this time in the UK we can't afford to do it, we're not a big enough operation where we can afford to provide another substantial salary. You have got to look at it this way, anyone who gets involved with us, they will be looking for some sort of long term commitment. You can't turnaround and take someone on for the best-of album and then say "Well thanks very much for what you have been doing, but you don't have a job anymore". You have got to commit yourself to them, as much as you are asking them to commit to you. When we pick and choose people to join the organisation, it's very carefully thought about. Without a shadow of a doubt, Jeremy Lawson is the finest asset my organisation has ever come across. We needed a professional business like approach, we needed a figure cruncher, we needed a numbers man, and also somebody that's really interested in it. Somebody who not only gets a kick and adrenaline out of working with the numbers, but is also interested enough from the other side that he can dispose himself to dealing with the creative side of it. Someone who I can sit down and say to "Can I do this?, Is this possible to do?". At the same time he appreciates my bravery, he appreciates the maverick intentions.
M/J: What sort of effect do you think the Internet will have on the music business?
Fish: A drastic effect. One of the biggest things that annoys me is the attitude of the retail sector. Not so much the independents but, more the majors. Some of the discounts that they demand are phenomenal. We have got certain shops that are demanding 50% discount on the singles. A 50% discount on the dealer price of a single means that we make nothing, we lose money, we lose about 30 or 40 pence per single by the time we have paid off the different people, be it record companies or other artists. They have got a stranglehold on it. There is one particular independent who controls over 30% of the UK market, and if you want a single to happen then it's got to be in their shops, and they know that. So they demand a 50% discount. You can't compete with that. The Internet supplies the ability to be able to contact fans direct, so we could maybe start cutting down the price of the albums. Hopefully as our profile on the Internet develops, then it means we can start supplying mail order deals to people. Especially once you can provide the security of being able to supply credit card numbers with the knowledge that they are not going to be infiltrated by a recording system, then it's going to be wonderful. If someone is interested in your music, they can come to you directly, they can listen to it, they don't have to go to the retailers. I think it takes the power away from the retailers, which is wonderful.
I could argue and take the devils advocate approach and say when you are the manager of a retail outlet and you are being approached by six major record company reps, plus four major independent reps every week, who are saying "Do you want to buy the Pink Floyd album etc. etc.". What you want to do is buy stuff that's gonna move. So you are gonna buy the Pink Floyd Pulse album, your gonna take the new Oasis album, you are gonna take the new Blur album, because you know that you are gonna shift them. You turn them into profit, if you turn them into profit, you know you can pay the people who work for you etc. etc.. What you don't wanna do is take a Dream Disciples album just because you like it. You know that it's gonna be really difficult to sell. I fall into that category as well in a lot of cases where people are unwilling to invest in the unit. The dealer price on CD is about 8-25 at the moment. You are putting 8-25 onto your racks and you don't know if you are gonna move it. You want to move that 8-25 and turn it into your three quid profit. The problem is you have got the big chains like HMV, Our Price, Virgin, W H Smith, John Menzies etc. that are demanding a big discount. One of the things that was pointed out in Music Week, which is a big trade paper in the UK, you are actually at a point where Woolworths are getting so much discount that they are actually able to sell albums cheaper than some of the independent shops were able to command off some of the majors. And that's quite scary. That's were I see the Internet doing it, it just takes the power off the retailer.
M/J: What's the situation with Gallup?
Fish: The system nowadays is a lot better than it was, but it's still open completely to corruption.
M/J: Would it still count towards the charts?
Fish: No, but then again who really reads the charts nowadays. That's what it comes down to. In France they don't have charts any more, coz there was so much corruption. So they went "OK - let's not bother with charts". Does it really matter if your album goes in at number 16 or whatever. What matters is that it's a good album. If there is a buzz about the album then people are gonna buy it. I don't really think that people buy an album because it went in three places higher than another one. You buy it because you are into the artist, or you buy it because you have heard a track off the album. I think I would rather have the ability to have the album heard on the radio or heard in the record shops, than have a top 5 album. I really honestly believe that the only people that buy them because it went into the top 10 are DJs. And I don't mean radio DJs, I mean people that run disco's. I don't think that the numbers game matters, because I really don't honestly believe that the people of the UK believe the charts. People disregard the charts, they buy things because it's a good song. I would love it if Just Good Friends got into that area, because it's a great song, it's a great performance. If it's picked up then great. It would be lovely to have a number one, if only for the sake of saying "We were number one". I would rather have a top 40 single and get 25 air-plays a week for the next two months then have a number 1 and get 3 air-plays a week. When it comes down to it, it's down to sales. It's not down to chart place. I don't really think that chart places, especially with albums really effects peoples judgement of what they buy. I think they buy what they want, and they buy an artist because they recognise the fact that, that artist applies a certain standard, a certain quality. They can rely on that artist to provide value for money, which is what you want when you are spending 12 quid on a CD.
M/J: One of the differences between CDs and the old vinyl albums, is that you have to put so much more material on a CD.
Fish: We were talking earlier on about B sides on singles. When I started doing albums, you worked basically to 45 minutes. Yin & Yang are 74 minutes each. Script was 46 minutes, there was a lot of people doing 35 minutes. Both Yin & Yang are the equivalent to double vinyl albums. It's a problem that a lot of artists have. I think there are a lot of artists very much objecting to the fact that people are saying "Why aren't you doing an album every year". Wait a minute, they're asking you to write 75 minutes of songs. I think that's why you have so many bad CDs out there, because people feel obliged to write 70 minutes of music with lyrics, therefor what was the B side of the B side is suddenly getting put on the album. Why don't we just do a really good 40 minute CD? At the same time, if you are doing a 75 minute CD why don't you make it more expensive? The artists corner is a difficult one to fight from at this moment in time, because the record companies are going "If you want to do it, you are going to have to supply at least 60 minutes of music". The artist is going "Wait a minute, five years ago I was writing 45 minutes of music and you were totally happy with it. Now you want me to write another five songs and you want me to do the B sides for the singles" It gets a bit much.
M/J: Was the Outpatients CD a success, and do you intend carrying them on?
Fish: It done alright. I think Outpatients sold about 25,000 units. Which meant that when I decided to put Time And A Word on the Yin album, I didn't have that many bones about it, because there was so many people who didn't have that album. It got a tremendous amount of air-play in the States on a lot of different stations, but we didn't have a record company that were capable of putting the finances behind it, that was capable of working it, or had the incentive to really take it into a heavy rotation, heavy air-play bonafide single. It was difficult for any record company to warrant putting a lot of finance behind it, when it was one of three tracks on a compilation album that had a lot of unknown Scottish acts on it. That was the reason why it came on the Yin album. Its the same with B sides, like we were talking about before. When Just Good Friends comes out, the B sides are basically contained within the album. What I am trying to do with Just Good Friends is to give a track that radio DJ's will want to play - State Of Mind is on CD1 along with Somebody Special (Radio Edit). There is nothing more depressing than having situation like Black Canal, where we did a great song, it's a brilliant song. It was thrown away to some extent. It took a lot of heart, and a lot of soul and a lot of creative attention to make that song happen. And, it disappeared. Songs do not come easy to anybody. I don't want to do sub-standard B sides, I never write a song and say "Well that's a B side, so I am just gonna play about with it.". Even stuff like Jack And Jill, I think is a great song. At the same time, the single is aimed at trying to get into a cross over market, so it made more sense to put State Of Mind on as a full album track, which radio DJ's might play. With State Of Mind, a lot of people who haven't bought any of the albums might go "This is a great track". I prefer to put live and demo versions of the songs out rather than write new songs. If I am going to write new songs, I would rather write new songs for the next album, rather than throw them away on B sides. I know that there are going to be fans out there that are gonna say "Why should we buy the single, when we are just gonna get the tracks off the album", but as I said before, If it doesn't happen then it becomes a collectors item, if it does happen, then it exceeds the fan base anyway. Therefor you get into a territory where people don't know the other tracks anyway. It's very catch 22.
M/J: You are doing the video for Just Good Friends tomorrow, what's the plot for it?
Fish: It's a cross between breakfast at Tiffany's and Diva. The idea is that Sam and I have decided to get flats together in a lighthouse. In order to try and cement our relationship in a very sort of surreptitious way. I have got the flat downstairs, she has got the flat upstairs. We have a house warming party and a load of deviants and bohemians come along. It revolves around us trying to get ourselves together and the inability to communicate. Hamish Barbour, who shot the Fortunes Of War video, is doing it. I am pretty sure it will be an outstanding vid.
M/J: What will be the B sides of Just Good Friends?
Fish: State Of Mind, the version from the Yang album. Somebody Special, from the radio edits will be on CD1. CD2 is going to be Raw Meat, live from the acoustic sets we did in Lyon and Grenoble. Roadhouse Blues being the other track, so both of them are live. Roadhouse is good, coz it shows the band off really well. There is a cassette as well, that's got Just Good Friends and Somebody Special on it.
M/J: On Yin & Yang we have noticed the tracks are a lot heavier and have more of a live feel to them than the originals - Are you pleased that you have managed to put that across on CD?
Fish: I think I am getting more towards what I always intended to do. What everybody always said about the Marillos was that we were always better live than we were on album. I think I am now getting my balance better. OK these are best-of albums and we know the tracks inside out anyway. But even on Suits I think there was a move towards it. I think it's an element I want to continue on Sunsets On Empire, I like the energy that's on it.
M/J: I thought that Mr. Buttons was going to be on either Yin or Yang?
Fish: Mr. Buttons is going to surface, I think, on Sunsets On Empire. Even after all that I have said, it might turn out as a B side, it depends on what happens in the future. Mr. Buttons is very Whoee. It's very Quadrophenia like. It was very much tied within the imagery of Suits. Robin and I had the best intentions to write a couple of B sides this summer, and even to start writing Sunsets On Empire, but it just didn't happen.
M/J: What is the time scale for Sunsets On Empire?
Fish: I couldn't really see the album coming out before January '97.
M/J: Is this because of the heavy touring schedule?
Fish: Yeah, because lets be honest, the world is out there, and I have got to get out and do it. I have got to go out and do the Turkish stuff. If I can create a base on Yin & Yang, it will make it so much easier to launch Sunsets On Empire. At the same time, I wanna have fun, I wanna see the planet. This might sound really weird but there are a lot of places that I haven't been to yet. I have never been to Hong Kong and Singapore before this year but the Suits album gave me the opportunity to do it. The same with Yin & Yang, there is a lot of old stuff on it, which means that the fans are gonna buy it, or I hope are gonna buy it, to hear the re-recordings. At the same time there is gonna be the people that bought Internal Exile, that found us through that album, are gonna buy it to hear the old stuff and hear what we did with that. It zips and zaps between a lot of different categories. It's a passport album, I wanna be able to go to South America, I wanna go and see Argentina, I wanna go to Australia. I never toured Australia with Marillion, in fact I don't think Marillion have toured Australia yet.
M/J: The final question - will you ever play percussion again?
Fish: No, I am really good with my hands, I have got great rhythm, I have got great timing. But, you put a stick in my hand, and something goes missing between the fist and the end of the stick. I love percussion
M/J: It used to be really good fun in the Market Square Hero days
Fish: Yeah, I always remember the crew coming up with this thing "Let's tell him we haven't got enough space in the truck to put his stuff in" or "There is not enough space on the stage". And the band used to hate it coz I used to hit the things really hard. I have still got the original timbales through in the studio. I used to hit them so hard, that I would drown out the drum kit.
Interview 17th July 1995