Interview by Jason Ritchie, republished from GetReadyToRock (with permission).
Fish was, of course, vocalist with Marillion throughout the 80s, recording such classic albums as "Fugazi" and "Misplaced Childhood". Since 1990 he's had a successful solo career and also turned his hand to acting. A very worthwhile 'Best of' double CD "Bouillabaisse" is just out via Snapper Records and he's about to embark on a UK tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of "Misplaced Childhood".
JR: Did you choose the track listing on the new compilation?
Fish: I chose all the tracks on there.
JR: It's a really good package as well.
Fish: Ta. It was a bloody hard album to put together. We went to the wesbite to ask the fans what they wanted and you got the usual obscure B-sides requested. I played them and thought I'd see what it comes off like. Some of then were really good. It wasn't until I had the little light bulb flash above my head to separate the rock songs and the ballads. It's so fuckin' difficult but having a double CD it was going to a horrendous experience getting it all together and getting the running order and rhythms right. Not too much of the same subject matter together. The ballad album was relatively easier to put together because I had a number of edits at my disposal. We're aiming this album at people who aren't really aware of my solo stuff and its going to radio stations who only play "Kayleigh". So - right, lets give them a number of options around about four minutes each so it won't upset programmers and stuff. If someone likes the edit of the song they may be tempted to get the album and that's what its aimed at doing.
The rock side was just a fuckin' nightmare. I didn't want to use too many edits because a lot of those songs can't really be edited. When you're starting of with "Plague of Ghosts" that's twenty minutes gone already. The all times fans favourite!
It was Snapper's idea for the digipack. If some fan is going to buy it who has the songs already let's make it worth their while buying it.
JR: I read somewhere that this album was aimed at the lapsed fans and then you'd also release your new album through Snapper later on.
Fish: That's right. If you look at the millions that "Misplaced Childhood" did and "Field Of Crows" probably did between 40-50,000 there is a big gap there. I don't expect to clock a million sales on this album but if we can get it up to 100-150,000 over the next six to nine months then great! Snapper's attitude has been really great and positive. I am enjoying working with the guys. They are into music and they also have the same guerrilla warfare attack on the music industry I have, you know. "Let's put some serious work into it". With the road work as well I've got the best coverage I've most probably had in years. It's all very well saying "yes we've got the mail order and Internet" but a lot of people don't like buying off the Internet and still like going into a shop. That's who you are aiming at - your casual guy who shops in Tesco and Asda. It's the first time I've got an album into Asda.
JR: Blimey, that is good going as they only have a set number of slots for CDs in store.
Fish: That's right and they have cut-priced it to an embarrassing amount, about £3-4 cheaper than we are selling it through the fan club. We don't want to start stepping on the toes of retail. We need to have them dealing with the album at the same time. I priced the album at £14.99 through the website and we tagged on an offer for a t-shirt as well giving them £3 off.
The way that outfits like myself work - you've got to be hands on and be aware of everything going on. Somebody buying the album off us kinda keeps us alive. Without the Internet and the mail order I wouldn't have been able to do the last three or four albums.
JR: How did you get the original Marillion tracks onto the album?
Fish: EMI kinda went for it. I was nervous about it as I didn't want to be seen to be jumping too much onto that era you know. But at the end of the day a lot of people out there know "Kayleigh", "Lavender" and "Incommunicado" but they might not know the solo material. It's that kinda 35 year old person who goes in and says "wow, this is the Fish stuff". I went into Tescos recently and bought a Robert Plant CD. I have this deal with my 14-year-old daughter that we will buy four albums a month from Tescos. I'll buy two and she'll buy two. I really like the Robert Plant album and ended up buying his new album as well, which was brilliant. At the same time it switches my daughter onto something else. It's interesting to see how it works. If someone knows the "Kayleigh" and "Lavender" stuff it kinda rings a bell and they may say "Hey this is only £10, let's buy it". They like it and they buy the back catalogue online, this is what "Bouillabaisse" is about - a big piece of bait.
I had two e-mails today and one guy hadn't bought anything since 1993, he took a bet on it and he said it was brilliant. He said about the "Balladeer" thing: "I've gotta have a bottle of wine to listen to that" as he's nearly in tears, it reminds him of every girlfriend he's ever had.
JR: It's a well paced album in that the slower songs are all together and then on the other side you've got the rockier and more progressive songs.
Fish: I like an album you can put on in the background like the Bluntie album (James Blunt). I was aware that the ballads side could be played as background in a restaurant (laughs). You're trying to create an album that can be used as background but at the same time somebody can sit down and really listen to it and wrap themselves up in it. It's funny now (laughing) - I used to be a singer, now I am a promotion and marketing guy.
JR: I remember reading interviews in the past and bands would say they don't get involved in the marketing and promotion but now you have to really otherwise you just won't survive.
Fish: Well that's it. The industry has changed so much and the cost of promotion is so heavy now especially now it's all monthly magazines. You're fighting with everyone else for space now and space is expensive. You got use every manner and means at your disposal to get your music above everybody else's. It's all very well having a place on the Internet but you still have to make people aware of that you are on the Internet.
There is an interesting phenomena that's come about at dinner parties. A bunch of people get together at the dinner party and after the meal people are listening to albums and, like the Victorian scenario, the gentlemen retire to the computer. Before they start going onto the porn sites if someone has been going through their collection they go "Oh, Misplaced Childhood" and they wonder what they have been doing since. They reach your site and then start looking at the music and then start buying the albums.
This "Return To Childhood" tour has had a huge effect on things as well. The last tour the figures were up 30% and people were coming along not necessarily because of the Fish stuff but to hear the "Misplaced Childhood" stuff as well.
JR: With the tour you're playing the whole "Misplaced Childhood" album but you'll be doing your solo stuff as well?
Fish: The set's divided into halves. The first half is solo stuff, a kind of 'Best Of' the solo years. Second set is "Misplaced Childhood" plus a couple older numbers. We were up in Norway a couple weeks back in Trondheim. It was obvious to the reaction from the first half of the set they weren't familiar with the solo stuff but knew the "Misplaced" material. Again right after the gig there were big hits on the website ordering the solo stuff and the merchandise stall as well with people asking which albums songs were off.
We're recording a live DVD and CD off this tour and it will be coming out next March. Then we will carry on the "Misplaced" tour from March until the summer and then knock it on the head. It's important to keep yourself energized and revitalized. The metaphor I use for my career is like being on a punctured lilo in seas are that sometimes rough and other times calm and sunny. But what you can't forget is that the puncture in the lilo you have to keep blowing it up again. You can't just sit back and allow your career to happen. Got to keep on pumping up your profile. The acting side has gone on in recent years and it brings people into the music and vice versa.
JR: Could you see yourself purely going into acting or are you happy doing acting and music?
Fish: I like to do both. The problem is tours are set up 3-4 months ahead whereas with acting you get four/six weeks notice. Just three weeks ago I got a call from my agent saying I had an offer of three weeks work in Slovakia with Colin Frith and Ben Kingsley. But then I realized I had the UK tour kicking off at the same time and it would mean six weeks away and being a single parent with a 14-year-old daughter you just can't do it. There will be periods next year when I can slip in some acting. It's a tough one, you are juggling elephants covered in Vaseline sometimes.
I lost out on the "Braveheart" movie due to the "Suits" tour. That could have been a big move in my movie career. I had two days with Mel Gibson in London and he kept asking me to be involved but I said I couldn't as I had this tour lined up. Sometimes you kinda go "Doh!". But other times you say "Thank fuck I missed that one" (chuckles). The "Revolver" movie is one of them. The scripts read really well but the way the chainsaws have come out from the critics I am glad to have missed that one!
JR: How did you get involved in the SAS Band? You're one of the stalwarts of that.
Fish: I got involved back in 1993 after my damn near 'death knell' album "Songs From The Mirror", it was all cover versions. It was about then that Spike (Edney) approached me, I knew him from supporting Queen back in 1986 on their last tour. Spike and I had become really good friends. Roger (Taylor, Queen's drummer) and Spike were putting a charity bash together at the Shepherd's Bush Empire I think. I did a couple of numbers and it just went on from there. Myself, Chris Thomson and Paul Young are most probably used the most by the band. I love it, we did gigs in Cyprus with Roger Taylor and Midge Ure. It's like a Busman's holiday. You fly out, go to a restaurant get completely pissed and tell the most amazing stories which, if a journalist was sitting nearby, they would curl his hair. You're only singing four of five songs and then watch everyone. You don't have the hassle of setting up the gigs.
It just keeps it exciting. I got to change my touring patterns with having a 14-year-old daughter. One week of touring I've got to take off as it's the October holidays. On the "Field Of Crows" tour I was getting worn down by the tour and the tour bus, takeaway meals, all shit like that. Now it's fun again not the drudgery like last year and I am really looking forward to touring again.
JR: Looking on your website you have all these international fan clubs. Are you amazed at how your music travels?
Fish: Absolutely, and its all down to the Internet. In the 80's you'd do an interview with Sounds or Melody maker, then once you've done that - bar a gig or album review - that would be it for at least a year. The contact between the fans and the bands was far removed, there were huge gaps. Now when you do an interview it's up on a website for all to read worldwide. People in Peru, Hong Kong, wherever can find out what you are doing and when you are over there. You're eternally trying to find a balance. I post things up 2-3 times a month to let people know what you are doing.
Mo Warden runs my website and she does a phenomenal job. It's got all the meat and potatoes on it without being too flash.
JR: Did you find with your first solo album, "Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors" there was some record company pressure to get a hit single on the album? Plus of course Marillion had their first album due with the new vocalist.
Fish: "Vigil" was an awkward thing and their "Season's End" album were delivered at the same time. The record company (EMI) knew it would be easier to sell an album by the ex-lead singer rather than an album with the new singer. They asked me to put the album back to January which in retrospect I wish I hadn't done. I was sitting twiddling my thumbs and did the "State of Mind" tour in November/December and it didn't have the same impetus it should have done.
I was sort of coming back from behind the eight ball. After six months touring after the album's release, EMI were after a new album and I was touring with a big production that was often bigger then the venues we were playing. When it came down to it the last three months were the payback for the last six months touring but when the record company pulled the plug on promotion it definitely pissed me off. I disappeared for nearly two years until "Internal Exile" came out - I had so much poison towards the business because of what went on and the legal side.
With the Marillion guys I don't really see them as competition, if anything we feed off each other without being direct feeders if you know what I mean. They did that "Curtain Call" set which is the triple live CD set which had shows from when I was in the band. It worked really well as it was the first thing we'd worked together on. I am in contact with Mark (Kelly) and Ian (Moseley) on an irregular basis and we get on really well together. Geographically we are at other ends of the country so we don't meet up in the pub.
JR: Have you ever been asked to join another band and do you miss being in a band environment?
Fish: The Sensational Alex Harvey Band (SAHB) about 1993 wanted me to come in and front the band. It was just wrong for me. We did a few gigs with me and Dan McCafferty of Nazareth as they were trying to bring in a singer. They suggested a year and an album. I am too awkward a customer to fit properly into a band. I am quite happy with the SAS Band but not in another band, no.
JR: What do you like doing in your spare time away from music?
Fish: I enjoy writing and I've started working on this novel and that's something I want to really move forward in the next three or four months. I did some stuff with Will Smith, not the American one, but the comedian. He did something called "Misplaced Childhood" and I did some writing for his show. He has some comedy projects coming up for TV and he asked me to help. That's something I really wanna do. Acting is going to be coming in a lot more next year.
This book is a very dark comedy. A fictional autobiography so to speak and then I am tempted to take it out as a one man show.
Gardening - I've spent the last couple of years putting this garden together and it's a big organic kitchen garden. When you're on the road it's a fuckin' nightmare. I don't have a gardener, I do it all myself. You see one white butterfly and you know in two weeks you're going to see a whole load more white butterflies and caterpillars. You look in your garden manual and it says pick them off by hand and your faced with thousands of caterpillars its like "Oh shit". I've got a big greenhouse and I like to go out there and dig away and churn away. Home grown does taste better.
JR: I am a keen gardener myself. I love gardening.
Fish: Are you? Funnily enough so is Mark Kelly. Its really bizarre. I had nearly two hundred pepper plants in the greenhouse. The neighbours love me. We have this collective and I go round giving them a bunch of stuff and I get things like carrot cake and strawberry jam in return. It's really cool. Mark and I were talking on the phone about three months ago for some reason I mentioned gardening and then we talked for forty minutes about it. How you go on tour and bring seeds back from different places. Fuckin' bizarre. Gardening is the new rock 'n' roll.
JR: Funnily enough a lot of musicians mention gardening as a hobby or golf.
Fish: No, no - don't mention golf. I have something like 25 golf courses in a fifteen-mile radius of this house and I hate it. I saw what it did to my dad and thought "no way". I've not got the temperament. Someone said golf just spoils a good walk. No, I avoid that. Two of my really good friends have just taken it up and I am not speaking to them at the moment.
JR: Message for your fans?
Fish: For the people that have been missing me for a long time I think "Bouillabaisse" might rekindle their interest in what I am doing now. I ain't quite giving up yet. There is a lot of life left in this old Fish yet.
Interview 1st October 2005