Former Marillion singer feels like a fish out of water
Herman Grech (reproduced with permission)
First published in the Times of Malta
Fish: "I sing with my heart..."
Sitting relaxed in a Mellieha coffee shop, former Marillion frontman Fish ponders his next career move.
"I want to start writing novels and screenplays and do more acting in films. It's daunting but it excites me," he says, musing over his cappuccino.
After nearly 25 years in the music industry, Fish is seriously considering switching to films and writing, though retiring from the music world is not yet on the cards.
With a reputation for being a musical poet, and after having penned some of the most theatrical songs of the last 20 years, the 46-year-old Scotsman might actually be making a smart move.
In the meantime, Fish is determined to prove he's still got what it takes when he plays live at the Manoel Island Classic Rock festival on Saturday.
Songs like Kayleigh and Incommunicado will remain known as all-time rock classics.
After he severed ties with his band mates in 1988, Fish went solo and wrote songs like The Company and Internal Exile, which clearly confirmed he was the brain behind the band. His latest offering - Field of Crows - was also one passionate album.
But both as a solo artist and with his former band Marillion, Fish was not the most fashionable rock figure and the music was never directed at the masses. And that is why Fish has felt increasingly crushed by the wheels of the industry.
Unshaven, wearing a vest, and with a Rothmans cigarette dangling from his mouth, the 6ft 5in singer could easily have been mistaken for a builder. But in an interview with The Times, Fish (real name Derek William Dick) comes across as a reflection of the complex lyrics he has penned. What's more - he is completely honest.
"My sales have gone down but it seems so have everybody else's. It's become an extremely difficult business to work in - the record companies have shot themselves in the foot."
Fish has more than one bone of contention with the corporate mentality of the music industry, which he blames for refusing to invest in long-term bands since the early 1990s. Instead, he claims, they have opted for dance acts that were cheaper and easier to produce, started making compilation dance albums, and forgot about musicians.
"It's a disposable society. The MTV generation is partly to blame for the short attention span among a lot of young people. It's detrimental to bands that are making real music."
Even legends like David Bowie were finding it difficult to get airplay let alone young skilled musicians who don't have his profile, he says.
"When the dance scene was over they realised there were no stars but just spotty kids that couldn't play."
In reality, Fish points out, you do not expect musicians to release a masterpiece by their debut album. Misplaced Childhood, considered by many critics as Marillion's finest work, was their third.
"In those days, fans grew with the band. Nowadays there is so much more pressure by the record company to come up with a hit. The executives don't take chances. And everyone's playing safe and to the formula.
"A lot of musicians are making so many compromises that they are destroying all their artistic qualities."
Fish recalls that he was practically ordered by the record company to stop touring his debut album - Vigil - and get back to the studio to start working on his next album. This was one of the reasons why Fish decided to set up an independent record label back in 1994.
Nowadays, it takes sales of just some 7,000 and radio airplay to get a single into the Top 10. Back in 1985, Marillion's classic Kayleigh sold half a million!
"When you've got a situation in the UK when ring-tones are selling more than singles, that's ridiculous," Fish laughs.
He lambasted most of the musical press which, he said, was overzealous when it came to switching to the next big act.
So how has Fish progressed over the years?
"I've digressed more than anything else. In the last few years I've become more disillusioned.
"I watched City of God and that film did more for me than any albums in the last 10 years. If people ask me whether I'd be doing an album or a movie in 10 years, I'd opt for a movie!"
However, Fish will not retire from music. He says he will still be creating music but his sabbaticals will be longer. He also intends to cut down on touring but not before he takes Misplaced Childhood on the road next year for a 20th anniversary tour.
Asked whether he has ever been tempted to abandon his complex lyrics and musical arrangements and jump on the commercial bandwagon, Fish is categorical:
"I sing with my heart. If a song does not move me then it won't go on the album. I wouldn't say I'm going against the stream. I'm going downstream and taking different little side streams."
Fish is happy with the evolution of the internet, which has helped him inch closer to his fans.
Lapping up the sun, Fish has had a love affair with Malta since his first visit in 1989. Suffice it to say that this is already his third visit to the island - this year!
He compares his ring of Maltese fans to the Polish or the Italians. "At least in Malta, music is not a fashion statement, but a passionate affair," he notes.
Fish is fully aware that a good chunk of his Maltese fans would keep clamouring for Marillion songs rather than his solo stuff.
"The last thing I want to do is drown in nostalgia. What I don't want to do is walk on a stage and perform songs that I don't feel close to, even if songs like Market Square Heroes have really fitted in beautifully into the set list.
"The voice of Fish on Fugazi in 1983 is very different to the one in 2004. Ask Ruud van Nistelrooy in 20 years' time to keep playing up front for Man. Utd and see what he thinks. There is no point in going back and reliving that period."
Interview 29th July 2004