Interview by Joe Geesin. Reproduced with permission from Get Ready to Rock.
Legendary (and tall) vocalist Fish found fame in the early 80s prog band Marillion, who in 1985 found unprecedented chart success with the classic album Misplaced Childhood, before going solo in the late 80s. Along the way, Fish made a few appearances the SAS band and also The Party Boys, the latter being the backbone of fellow Scots The Sensational Alex Harvey Band (with occasional pianist Ronnie Leahy), with a rotating crew of vocalists also including Maggie Bell, Dan McCafferty and Billy Rankin.
His solo set Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors is a classic in its own right and featured ex White Spirit / Gillan / current Iron Maiden guitarist Janick Gers.
Last year Fish set out on the Return To Childhood tour to celebrate the album's 20th anniversary, playing a set of solo material and a set of Marillion material, including the entire Misplaced Childhood album.
April 2006, close to the album's 21st birthday, sees a full concert released on 2CD, titled Return To Childhood, an excellent live album and essential listening. There is also the recent 2CD retrospective Bouillabaisse available.
Thanks to Les Molloy for the interview opportunity.
Joe Geesin: How did the Return To Childhood tour go?
Fish: It's still ongoing. It's been going really well. I was a wee bit nervous at first. We played the album at a fanclub convention in 2001, as a hoot, we thought it would be a laugh. I was quite pleasantly surprised at how good it turned out. We came in from this album in 2004 and I kinda wanted to go out on the road again, but I wasn't ready to write a new album. We needed an excuse, some ideas, and I was tempted and I thought, well, let's do Misplaced Childhood.
It's the 20th anniversary and in a sense the fans had been on about it so I thought let's do it as a bone fide tour and do a live album and stuff like that and it's turned out really well. In all honesty I've not heard any particularly negative remarks about it, the interpretation that we've done, it's been stunning. The live album, the Return To Childhood album comes out on the 24th of April and it sounds great. Callum Malcolm did a great job.
JG: It must have felt good to do the whole album?
Fish: It was strange, I mean, it is different. I think there's more a maturity to it, which was ironic. I think my voice has changed, I'm a lot more comfortable with my voice now, maybe dropped it about half a tone or something, to accommodate the gravities of time. I mean I've loved playing it, there were some elements that I didn't like when we first took it out, my part in it, and it was better now. I've actually got a better understanding of it all.
JG: Must have been nice to have the original sleeve designer do Return To Childhood?
Fish: Mark's been doing my solo stuff ever since I left the band. And we wanted it to be something kind of relevant. I think Mark did a great job, and what he did with Bouillabaisse is stunning, and he's done some really nice stuff for the merchandise, for the tour. It's good to have an artist you have a relationship with, a good symbiotic relationship.
JG: Did the success of the original album kind of surprise you?
Fish: I guess in an arrogant sense we knew it was going to be a big album, but that was the arrogance of young musicians, you know, finding where the game was playing, I mean with 'Kayleigh', well we knew it was going to be a big album but we didn't expect 'Kayleigh' to have the impact it did. I think we actually became victims of our own success so to speak, I mean 'Kayleigh' wasn't truly representative of the band. It's a great pop song and fits well with the album but it wasn't what we normally did.
I wouldn't say an oddity but, writing a pop song that is concise, and the design of that was something we never managed to do again. Steve Rothery's riff was kind of exceptional. It was weird having that and then 'Lavender' people had us down as it being a ballad album, they bought the album and were really surprised.
JG: Are there any solo albums you want to revisit in the same way?
Fish: I think the solo material's kinda, it's been serviced quite a lot. You know there's certain tracks we've not played for a while but they do tend to get accommodated via the setlist. There's songs from Vigil or something like that, they come round every couple of years. The thing about Misplaced Childhood is it deserved the attention it got on this last tour, because it's an album piece, it's a whole project you play as a 1-er, so that in itself gave it a gravitas as well.
JG: How did you get to work with Janick Gers on Vigil?
Fish: I first met Janick when he was with Ian Gillan, he played with Gillan before doing some solo stuff, and then a friend of a friend, and we met up and got on really well, a really genuine guy, and also a great guitarist and I asked up to join us.
My first solo gig was at Lockerbie, we did it as part of the Lockerbie support fund, I got a bunch of guys together that were kind of the nucleus of the first band, and Janick came along. We played this hall that wasn't designed for gigs, it was a bingo hall. I remember standing on the stage with Janick twirling his guitar round and I thought 'What the heck?' (laughs), he's a pretty dynamic guy. Then he went onto Bruce Dickinson and from there to Iron Maiden.
JG: Whose idea was it to have (comedian) Will Smith as the stalker?
Fish: Well that was Will's piece. What happened was, Will was always a big fan, a Marillion fan, and a fan of my material, and I was contacted by his agent, and my manager said why don't I go along to this gig in Glasgow, we'd like to talk to you about a possible project. I went along, saw the show and really liked the humour, very off the wall, you know, we met, and as people we got on really well, and he said he wanted to do this Misplaced Childhood project, so I said why don't you come up for a couple of days and we can try write something.
He showed me this thing on his project he did before, he did this thing on Jersey, he'd done this interview with the Bergerac actor John Nettles, and it's all very tongue in cheek, and he said that's what he wanted to do. He came up and we wrote this piece, we basically jammed the comedy.
We're looking at doing something later this year, we're gonna write some stuff, we've got a very similar sense of humour, and the project we're looking at doing works for the two of us.
JG: Any news on the book?
Fish: The book's being kinda tapped about, tinkered with, but in all honesty when I was looking January, February, March to sit down, but for a number of reasons a lot of things kinda happened, the time got sucked away. Every time I sat down and thought let's look at the book and all of a sudden some kind of domestic trauma came up, something that's really gonna require my attention.
So it's moved on from where it was but it still requires a bunch of time. I was basically hoping to be out on the road next week, next two weeks, and because time's elapsed, it's been pushed back. At the moment there's nothing in May and nothing in June which is good but just had a meeting with my film agency and there's a project coming up they think's going to be really good so I don't know what's gonna happen with that. The problem is things start fucking up. You have to decide.
JG: Haven't you got a convention coming up?
Fish: Yes, I think on 25-28 August, I can't remember the dates, it's the bank holiday weekend in August and it's going to be pretty interesting because we've got two acoustic gigs.
We've got St Mary's Church which as got amazing acoustics and we're going to be doing an acoustic set there, all sorts of numbers like 'Chelsea Monday' and some of the more obscure tracks from my catalogue.
We train them up acoustically and we've got my girlfriend Heather Finley, she sings for Mostly Autumn, and Angela Gordon, they're both going to come up, going to have a great dynamic, brilliant, together, and we're going to do two nights at St Mary's on the Friday and the Saturday, playing an electric show on the Sunday night.
But on top of that we've got stuff, we're going to do a spoof version of The Weakest Link, got a friend of mine coming up to play the part of Anne Robinson. There's Odin Dragonfly which is Heather's and Angela's band, they're doing a gig with that. And a gig on the Saturday, a party gig, which is my very first band, ironically it's their 25 anniversary this year and my guitarist plays with them so I'm going to do a couple of numbers with them that night. It's a really good laugh.
JG: Any more solo plans?
Fish: What I'm trying to do is, it all ties in, I'm trying to get a garage built. I've got a container in the garden with all my flight cases in, and the control room in my studio is full of CDs and DVDs, so I'm getting this garage built in the garden and then move all the stuff that's in the container, which is like a skip, and empty the control room so we've got somewhere we can do demos and stuff.
My bass player's involved with it and a new drummer who's just come into the band, and Heather and I are going to do some writing, she's hoping to do a solo album. Do some co-writing, some of it might end up on her stuff, some of it on my stuff. And I've got a garden to look after, I'm a good gardener, it's busy all the time.
And my boiler's been down for the last 4 weeks, and in Scotland it's fucking crazy. Getting the boiler switching over, and on Friday night my kids, there's a power cut up in the studio, kids having a shower with the electric heater, electric shower, and think it's switched off, I come in at 2 o'clock in the morning and she's been out all day, and suddenly my room needs redecorating because it's all steamed up. Fucking great! (laughs)
JG: How involved did you get with this 2CD retrospective, Bouillabaisse?
Fish: I was totally involved, chose the tracks, the artwork design with Mark (long time Marillion and Fish sleeve designer), did the whole bit. It's been good with (label) Snapper. Snapper have given a new dimension to it all, good to see the album through to the shops.
JG: What do you think the landmarks are of your career?
Fish: I dunno. I mean it's really hard, you know, there's lots of special things that happened that in the long term had a real positive effect. The EMI thing when I moved to Polydor and stuff. It's hard, it's difficult to have a perspective on it. You take the commercial angle and say 'This was a great album' but it's all part of the one thing, to identify your peaks and troughs.
JG: How did the gigs with The Party Boys come about?
Fish: Basically Ted McKenna came in and he was drumming for me, we'd all been mates for a while, and they did the Alex Harvey album which didn't work out for number of reasons but we kept in touch and I met Zal and some guys and they said the wanted a front man and what they wanted to do was take the band out and basically oil them up and Dan McCafferty (Nazareth) and I got involved with The Party Boys and they brought in singers, trying out singers, just going out and playing together again.
It just got dangerous, getting in a car and driving up somewhere in the wilds in Fife, do some gigs and get completely blasted in some tour bus and I'd ring my then wife 'Come and pick me up we're somewhere near...' And the guys said 'Maybe you could come in and do it full time', it just wasn't the right move for me. It would have meant putting my entire solo project on pause, and it was definitely not good for my liver.
It was loads of fun (Maggie Bell and Billy Rankin played too), and I did a lot of gigs with the SAS band as well and they had a similar set up but I think with The Party Boys it was a lot more difficult to get into a viable touring situation. There was a lot of really interesting ideas kicked about. I still think it's a really good idea to do like a tribute album using the Alex Harvey Band with a lot of different singers, but it's a lot of money to put up. I'm wary of this with my girlfriend, she does her thing I do my thing.
JG: What brought you to London today?
Fish: Just business, principally I came down to sort out my publishing, been really positive, got some ideas and stuff. I've done a live version of 'Kayleigh' and 'Lavender', obviously, so they'll be coming out as a download in April, just trying to work out the times and what we're going to do, work out what I'm gonna do over the next kind of year. It's really relaxed with Snapper, neither of us are naive enough to think... you have to work together to pick up things when you can.
JG: Do you ever talk to any of the Marillion guys?
Fish: Yeah, I was with them about 3 or 4 weeks ago. We actually went to see the Will Smith Show in London. We all get on pretty well, we've all grown up in different ways, we've all got families. It's not exactly the warm cosy thing we had in 1982 but we're grown men and we respect each other.
JG: Would you ever go onstage with them again?
Fish: Dunno, it's never been put up, Steve Hogarth's the singer and I'm not particularly interested in it. I did four great albums with them, a long time ago. The problem is certain bands have this vanity element about it and their fans talk about gigs, I think nostalgia and time can paper some of the shite off.
My voice has really changed, and my interests have changed, we all change as people and I don't think you'd expect to put all these people back together again with songs that were written 20 year ago and expect the same chemistry. And in all honesty, people have got those memories, why go in and threaten to destroy them. I left the band, a lot of good things happened, let's leave it there.
I know we've had our differences in the past, but if Mark (Kelly) wanted to come co-write some stuff, you never know what opportunities come up, but they're tied up doing their stuff and I'm doing my stuff. We walk in different woods.
JG: Any message for your fans?
Fish: Errrrm. Well, if you want to sample Scottish beer come up to the convention in August. And, I dunno, I'm still working, doing my thing, and hopefully there'll be a new studio album coming out if not the end of this year then the beginning of next year. I'm doing alright.
Get Ready To Rock!
Interview March 2006