Interview by Rob Hendriks, also published in The Web magazine
Fish will perform his own interpretation of Misplaced Childhood.
The Jester returns
Good old days are coming back... In Enschede there is the European Convention, where Fish will do a very special gig. During the 'Night of the Jester' Fish will only perform songs from his Marillion-period, among which Misplaced Childhood in it's entirely. Reason for an interview with the Scottish giant. We talked about his Marillion-period, his contact with the other Marillo's nowadays and what about the release of old material. We also talked about his plans of touring with Marillion, which didn't happen so far.
For many years the subject 'Marillion' was a big taboo for people speaking with Fish. If somebody pushed the Marillion-button, Fish would become the Tasmanian devil. After a meeting with Marillion in 1998, the first one since ten years, there was peace again. But I wasn't so sure if Fish wanted to talk extensive about Marillion with a journalist who is working as a volunteer for the fanzine from The Web Holland, the Dutch Marillion-fanclub. But hey, why not have a try!
So one day I sent Fish a e-mail to do my request for a interview. "I suppose your initiative to play one night only songs from pre 89 during the European convention is a timely and nice special occasion for a interview for The Web Holland about your time with Marillion", I write him. The next day I get his reply: "No hassle with this!", is his answer and he asks me to phone him.
When the moment is there, Fish can't hear me. There's a noisy television in his room and the sound mingles with some loud voices: there are a couple of visitors. Fish asks his friends to put down the volume of the television and he asks them friendly to leave the room for a moment, because he wants to talk in quietness with me. He lights a cigarette and deeply inhales. In my mind I see the smoke around that striking head which became more and more bald during the years. Fish is ready for the interview.
Talking about the first European convention:
RH: You decide to do Misplaced Childhood in it's entirely. Why did you decide to do this album?
Fish: I'm proud of this stuff with Marillion. You know, people have been talking about it and people always come on with this: 'oh, can you play Script' or 'can you play Forgotten Sons' or something like that. And you know, when you are playing a normal touring set, you can't do that. In all reality: you never get the chance to play anything from Misplaced, unless it was just a section of it. And with the European convention I wanted to make it two nights and it was like: well let's play two different sets. Why not actually make a kind of something special out of it. Let's do one Marillion-set and one solo-set. It gave me an opportunity to play a lot of tracks that I didn't play for a long time. Some of which are great to play once, you know. You play them once or twice but when you play them ten times it starts getting boring, you know. Something like Garden Party you know we can play which is... You know I sang it for years you know, and it's quite fun. But I would never take out on a tour and play it on a nightly basis.
RH: It's about 17, 18 years ago since you made Misplaced Childhood with Marillion. During that period your voice changed. How are you going to deal with that?
Fish: You just change the keys. You change keys and you change tones and things, it's with everything it does. Things change, you got to adjust. I've done it previous with Marillion-songs and most people have never even noticed it. I mean, it's a thing all singers do. Phil Collins did it a lot with Genesis as well, when he was singing older material. And the same way as that Roger Waters and David Gilmour played about the keys. You know, it's not a big deal; you just change your key. I think if you put any emotion into it and you catch the feel of it then it's fine, even with a drastically change. For example, we did Chelsea Monday at the church in Haddington and we changed the key and it was beautiful. I have a beautiful recording of that and you know, I actually listened to that last week and I was just amazed how good it sounded, and that key has been dramatically changed. It was so good at the church that there is a strong possibility we're gonna play that at the convention as well. It worked very well, the dynamic was good and I could see that happen with maybe some pieces of Misplaced Childhood where, you know, if we feel we that we wanna extend or something or colour it in a different way then we will do so. I don't feel bound to just duplicate Misplaced Childhood. It means for example I want to use Dave Stewart and John Marter as double drummers at the end of the Heart Of Lothian-session and also Expresso Bongo which cries out for like two drums. And of course, you keep that going a little bit longer and I could see up a new dynamic coming into it. But again, talking about Roger Waters, when you listen to what he did in the In The Flesh-live album, there is some great rendition of the older songs. They have been changed in the arrangement and they're benefited from it.
RH: How do you look back at Misplaced Childhood?
Fish: I really like it. I'll always remember it was great in the old days when you used to listen to an album called Misplaced Childhood. It was like... I'd always wanted to do that since I was a kid. You know. I thought is really cool to play a whole album without any breaks.
It was just one of those things where okay, we're gonna go for it. I played it at Yatta one night and Yatta never really heard it before. And Yatta was going: wow, this is really good...
RH: Is Misplaced Childhood your favourite Marillion-album?
Fish: No, Clutching is my favourite.
RH: Why Clutching?
Fish: I don't know, I think it's just had more edge on it. It was a transition-album that we never actually got to the other point, haha. I like the harder edge that was coming into it, I like the song structures that were in it and I think you can see a lot of Clutching-aspects in some of the material that I do as a solo-artist.
RH: When you are going to play the Marillionsongs this summer and you're on stage, do you think you feel a bit like 'Fish, the singer from Marillion' again or is it different?
Fish: No, I just feel like Fish. It's the same guy, I didn't change. There weren't two fucking different people, like one that died and got a new passport in 1988. It's the same guy! You know!
RH: But how do you deal with the fact that for a lot of people you're still the ex-singer of Marillion? Does it bother you or not?
Fish: I don't think it bothers me as much as Steve Hogarth.
RH: Did you talk with him about this?
Fish: No, not really. It's like you know something you have to do. He's got to put up with this; I've got to put up with it. It's a point of fact.
RH: What's your opinion about the way Marillion developed and the music Marillion makes nowadays?
Fish: I don't really listen to them that much. I tend to listen to all the older material and I don't mean older Marillion but I'm talking about... I mean today I got an album down at the supermarket and it was like 'Girls sings the blues' it was like from everybody like Gladys Knight, I mean just loads of very famous blues singers, Ella Fitzgerald and stuff, Dionne Warwick, it's a great album. The most played album in my house at the moment is a kind of compilation album with just great songs. I tend to listen to songs more than I listen to groups.
RH: Okay, I can imagine you do not listen to Marillion everyday, but...
Fish: I think I listen, when I get a Marillion-album I tend to listen it a kind of once, just to see what they're doing
RH: Are there any songs from after your departure from Marillion that you really like? And for which you would have loved writing the lyrics for?
Fish: No, not really...
RH: Not really?
Fish: No, that's not an insult, I mean: I don't really know them.
RH: When Marillion has brought out a new album, do they send you a copy?
Fish: No. I don't send them an album either. But I sent them demo-copies of albums.. I remember when I spent a night with Mark and I played him Raingods before it came out, because I was interested in what he felt with Plague Of Ghosts. We both do our things in different ways. I mean at the moment I listen a lot to eastern music because it's gonna be quite a big important part at the Field Of Crows-album. And I listen to pipers and I listen to quite a lot of folk music and acoustic-based music and to classical stuff as well, just to get a feel for certain ideas, and in the same time I listen to a lot of Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, you know. If I'm going to be writing something, then I tend to look into sounds. As I said, I tend to listen to older stuff, a lot of the great melodies are in the older stuff, the better songs that ever been written.
RH: Talking about your contact with Marillion nowadays. A couple of years ago there was a first meeting since a very long time. That was a brilliant night, as you described it in your e-mail. Did the contact continue since then?
Fish: Yeah, we still keep in touch with each other. I mean Ian and Steve were down at the SAS-gig last year and they came to see us in London, you know. We see each other and I phoned Ian up when I go to London, when I was there for a movie about a year ago. We're in contact but you know, but they live 500 fucking miles away. And I talk to Lucy Jordache quite a lot. But it's no big deal. I think a lot of people, you know in their little imaginations, would like to see some argue. You have very pro-Steve Hogarth camps and sometimes you have very, very pro-Fish camps. But I think a lot of people would like to kind a imagine that there is some friction between us or there is a rivalry there. But there isn't, you know.
RH: You talked with Steve and Ian about the release of some pre-89 material...
Fish: No, I didn't talk with Ian and Steve about that. I talked to Erik (keyboard-technician from Marillion and staff-member from Marillion's Racket Club, RH) I originally talked with Ian and Steve about this, but in the end Erik made the decision.
RH: Do you still have contact with him about this subject?
Fish: No, absolutely not.
RH: That's a pity. Because you wrote: "If Marillion approach me with another option to release pre-89 material..." (Fish interrupting)
Fish: There's no approach with any option, apart from the one that was given to me by Erik and I turned it down, I wouldn't do it. And the principal reason I didn't do it, was they would charge 80 pound upfront, but they were only go release one pre-89 album in the six albums. Which meant that anyone of my fans, who didn't want to buy a Steve Hogarth-album, would have to spent 80 pound for one album. And I suggested Erik that they let us sell that album at the same prize they're selling out in the same time, and then fine, I would do it. But they would not allow me to sell any of the Fish-Marillion Front Row Club CD's through Fish Information Services Haddington. And let's get it right. I approached Marillion about two years ago, I talked to Lucy Jordache over two years ago, about releasing some older material because I said 'Ah, there's a lot of bootlegs, good bootlegs' and I said 'I've got tapes, I know that Steve and Mark have tapes, we could put something together'. And it was turned down, because the band didn't want to do that thing. It had nothing to with anything apart from the fact that it's like if my fans wanted that CD they were going have to pay 80 pound and they would not allow my fans to buy from the Fish Information Service and that was the full stop, it was the deal-breaker.
RH: I read also that in spring 1999 you approached Marillion about doing a joint tour with both bands performing separate sets, and then playing together Misplaced Childhood.
Fish: Yeah, there was an idea before that years ago as well, but they didn't like to do that. I came with a couple of ideas, but it was wasting time.
RH: Was John Arnison the problem?
Fish: I would never deal with John Arnison anyway. But John Arnison came up to me, he told me that the band had asked him, and there was a lot of confusion in those days. The end-result is: nothing happened. It had nothing to do with me going back to the band or anything like that. All it was, it was purely commercially ventures in order trying to get the press interested and make some money. And it made a lot of sense; you know it would make a lot more sense to Marillion and myself to go touring in America together. But it's not gonna happen. Because they're not into it. They do their own thing and you know, they're fine doing that and I've got no problem with that. I put forward a couple of suggestions, they turned them down, so what? Big deal, I do something else.
RH: In the booklet from the remastered version of Clutching At Straws you wrote: "People are always on about a reunion tour (...) In answer to those who still hold a torch for that era and a reformation of the 81-88 line up I can only say that I'm sure as individuals we'll work together somewhere in the future but as for anything else you would be clutching at straws."
Fish: Yeah. What would be the point? I mean, think about it. If I went back. If-if-if-if, which is not going to happen, right? If I went back and joined with Steve, Mark, Ian and Pete. Say for example that Steve Hogarth left the band and they came at me. I wouldn't be the one to sing Hogarth-songs. And now I should not want to go back and sing old pre-88 songs. Why should I? The only way it would happen is in the same way as the Genesis-thing happened, and then now we are six-stuff. Maybe a special event occurs or there is a special reason. But apart from that, why should I? I have a great band, I can play the Marillion-stuff, I can play my own stuff, I can go and do my movies, my acting, I can do my writing, I can do my gardening, fuck it, what do I need? What do I need to go back to that shit for? It would never sound the same and I think it would just end in a big disappointment. I mean, as I said in the Clutching At Straws-thing, maybe one day I would like to think that Steve come up and play and I would sing on one his solo-albums or something one day. There's no reason why that shouldn't happen. It has nothing to do with Marillion, it would be as individuals and that's what we are after all. Marillion is just the name of a band, it's not a big institution like the Royal Navy or the Red Cross or something like that. It's a rock band. There are five people in it at the moment and I do my own stuff and I'm happy doing my own albums and I can experiment and I can play about with sounds and as I said I'm not trying for hit-singles or even trying for hit-albums. You know, I'm just trying to sell enough albums to be able to make the next one a year or eighteen months later. And it's working really well and I'm having a lot of fun doing that.
RH: Is there something else you want to say?
Fish: Just really sorry, but I won't play Grendel, hahaha :)
RH: Thank you for the interview!
Fish: Okay, it was nice talking to you, right? Oh, there's just one passing thing, right? People have said that I will not longer deal with them or to discuss the pre-89 stuff. The actual answer is: I will, I'm quite happy to discuss the release of pre-89 stuff, as long as my fans can get a deal with this as well. As long as they can get it without having to take part of something else, no problem. And that could be done with a bit of talking.
RH: Okay, I put this in the interview.
Fish: Yeah, please put that in the interview.
Fish: Bye then!
Interview June 2002