Fish, Field of Crows
Published in the Voiceprint newsletter 2004
Former Marillion front man talks openly about all aspects of his career.
Jon Kirkman: I think Field Of Crows is probably your most commercial album to date, but lyrically it is very dark, would you agree with that?
Fish: Yeah, it was a difficult album to approach because I had gone through a lot of disruptions in my personal life in the last two years, moving house and a marriage separation and I was very conscious that I did not want to follow that traditional route of doing the 'exorcist' album. It really came from when I went to Kosovo, where I was doing some shows for the army and we went to see this old battlefield, which was called a field of blackbirds, but the dark side of my brain read it a different way. Basically what happened on the battlefield in the 15th century, there was a huge battle between the Ottoman Empire and the Serbs. It was a Muslim/Christian situation, which was kind of ironic. There were so many people killed on that battlefield that both armies had to withdraw and the war ended because they had lost so many people in the field. The way I saw it was that it wasn't so much the blackbirds but the crows that were eating off the bodies and it was an extremely dark, depressing place and I have remarkable 8mm footage of it. Obviously it is still reeling from the aftershock of the conflict down there and that kind of fed the first image.
I'd like to get one single or the title of the album when I first begin one and everything seemed to crystallise around that. Inadvertently certain themes seemed to pick up. The original idea for doing the concept album, and I wanted to go for a concept album for the first time really since we split up with Marillion in 1985 when I hadn't really tackled a full flow concept piece and I was struggling to find the story to hang it on. During 2001 when I was dealing with a lot of personal trauma I used to enjoy going walking down the back field of the farm where I live and there is an old oak tree stump at the bottom of the field at this place called Hangman's Wood. I used to go down with a dog and sit there. I'd take a book and write bits and pieces and one day it was one of those days when the satellite TV had thrown up another set of horrors and I was sitting in what was really an idyllic situation on this stump contemplating that just up the road on my TV all this other stuff was coming over from other parts of the world and there was a crow flying over the top and it felt like it was laughing and that was where the idea came to spin in a story round nature and somebody who was in a part of the world, far away from that kind of conflict and that kind of horror. But at the same time he was drawn to it.
Eventually in the summer when I was really struggling it just popped in my head one night. The idea came to write the story of a life journey or a life circle where somebody leaves the country and goes in search of the city and this life that he dreams about and forsakes everything else. He goes there, screws up, gets caught up in the machinery and gets spewed out the other end and goes back to the place that he came from realising that what he wanted in life was what he already had. He had been fooled by the visions and fooled by the dreams. Then of course I tagged a lot of personal stuff, there's a lot of very personal lyrics, which I did not realise were that personal until I heard them played back. Once I found the concept, everything flowed very smoothly and I found it very easy to work to the music and develop the stories and arrange the album in a way that it really became a musical. If you look at Field of Crows and another two maybe three songs in there, you've got a solid musical that you could quite easily turn into a musical production. So there is a lot of darkness in it but there is also a lot of positive outlooks and I think that although the ending might sound very dark, there is the awareness that the character discovers at the end that makes it quite positive.
JK: You mentioned Misplaced Childhood and there being a similarity, coming to it as a listener, Misplaced Childhood had a strong theme running through it that carried over into a live set and like Misplaced Childhood; it looks like it could be easy to perform live. The album flows like a live show. How do you put an album like this together or did it just happen how the songs fell together?
Fish: There was certain key songs for example Tony Turrell the keyboard player who played 99% of the keyboards on the album; he came in to replace Irvin Duguid who was with us up until about August and Irvine wasn't very happy with how we were putting the album together. He was very much a session player that hadn't really been around a band and having people like Bruce Watson who was in Big Country in the band. He was very aware of how we build albums and Irvin wasn't very happy at the time it was taking to make the thing and the way we approached it. When Tony came in there was a lot of numbers written and he was told specifically, "I need two songs," and he learned the Lost Plot, which had to be a piano style piece, and the very final song on the album Scattering Crows, both had to be developed by piano pieces, for example in the Lost Plot, he had to realise that he had lost it. He's had his chance and he's blown it, which he has to come to terms with. It is a kind of wake up call, which ironically was a song that Tony wrote with me on the Plague of Ghosts track on the Zippo's Album. But the songs had to clip like jigsaw pieces in order to make sense of the story line and the rest of it fell together in a very natural way. It was just like making a film, really.
JK: If there are two tracks on the album that would make very good singles, The Lost Plot is one and the other track would be Zoo Class. Did you have this in mind?
Fish: Firstly, I don't think in terms of singles. If there happens to be very commercial material then you hope that the stations will pick up on it and it brings attention to the album, which was very much how Marillion operated. We didn't look on getting hit singles, we looked on the singles being an advert for an album rather than being an entity in its own right.
With Zoo Class I played about with this whole theme of animals. I thought I am going to write a very tongue in cheek song using a lot of animal imagery in such a way and I wanted to throw in a really swingy beat. When it came together, we started playing it live and it was a lot of fun. I really like to sing it because it is something that people don't expect from me, they don't expect me to pull something like that out of the box. There is an inherent blues feel to this album that is indicative of where I am in my life as well. I think my voice suits it. People see me as being a dour, dark person because I write these kind of dark albums but I do have a sense of humour and every now and then I like it to poke through into the lyrics. Zoo Class is definitely one where it pokes through rather a lot.
JK: Inevitably you will tour with this album. How much of the album would you like to make the set?
Fish: I have got to be careful and think about the balance. You are aware that when someone is buying a ticket for a concert they also want to hear material that they know and there are points of reference that people need and enjoy in a concert. It would be very arrogant to go out and play 60/70 minutes of brand new music to people, some of which haven't got the album or heard it. Obviously when I go on tour you know the die-hards tend to be at the front of the stage. The rest of the people come along because they're inquisitive and perhaps because I used to be the singer in Marillion. You are still on the night providing a nights entertainment you know. It is not just advertising an album for sale, that's not the main reason for being there; you are going to enjoy yourself.
A lot of the songs we have really enjoyed playing like Moving Targets, Innocent Party, Old Crow, Zoo Class, you can say they are going to work great live because they're going to move people. There are certain dramatic pieces like The Lost Plot and Scattering Crows that are going to work very well in a live arena. There's also the fact that they dynamics are always different. I like finding the new dynamics for the songs for the set live.
Hopefully, it seems very likely that the band that played on the album are going to be with me on the tour which means I've got two elements of Big Country in the band. We've got Mark Brzezicki on drums and Bruce Watson and Frank Usher will be one of the guitarists. There's Steve Vantsis on bass and Tony Turrell on keyboards, that is the band that played on the album and I think that once we start to play live you find new dimensions. That is one of the reasons why I have always done so many live albums because songs are played differently by different musicians. When you are taking it live, it is a completely different mix; people are mixing the album in their own ears, you've got the drums there, they will be loud, they will be brash, and they will be dynamic. Everything will be louder which is just what I need in my stage of life!
JK: Field of Crows is your latest album in a career that stretches back fifteen years as a solo artist now. I have got to ask - does it get any easier or is it as hard as it ever was?
Fish: I don't think it would be very much fun if it was easy. It is quite strange, a friend of mine does palms and horoscopes and she's actually very, very good at it. She is called Lynne Steer and she's been written about etc. etc. She did one of the first ten readings she ever did on my horoscope and she told me normally you get these things called crosses in your star chart and a cross means there is drama and conflict and stress and things like that. You get people with one or two crosses but I have got three of the damn things which, along with a shape called a kite that softens the energy means that my whole life is driven.
All the energies in my life come from this constant conflict and drama and long may it be so. I enjoy it and I do thrive on the stress. I get bored if it is too easy. The whole Field of Crows album is about the stress, conflict and the drama of life. How it is an eternal cycle.
The album ends with the shot and the crows scattered off and the story of a guy who has been buried in a field. It's that generation after generation thing. It doesn't get any easier. We might try to fool others and ourselves into thinking it's getting better but it all just comes in different shapes, different shadows, different forms.