Fish: “I have never bought a house due to financial aspects. Everywhere I’ve lived has been a home, not an asset. And I am a writer who can sing, not the other way around.”
De Schotse zanger en songschrijver Fish werd wereldberoemd als frontman van Marillion in het begin van de jaren tachtig. Later bouwde hij een bloeiende solocarrière uit die eind september vervolledigd wordt met het afscheidsalbum ‘Weltschmerz’. Net als alle artiesten werd hij getroffen door de consequenties na de uitbraak van de coronapandemie met een recente Engelse tournee die abrupt afgebroken werd. Fish zit nu thuis en houdt zich vooral bezig met muziek en tuinieren. We hadden een uitgebreid en hartelijk ‘lockdown gesprek’ met de iconische ‘grey beard warrior’. We publiceren dit in twee delen, verdeeld over mei en juli. In september stellen we onze focus op ‘Weltschmerz’, maar natuurlijk wordt in ons lockdown gesprek al een tip van de sluier opgelicht over dit dubbelalbum. Hier is het tweede deel van onze conversatie in april.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 23 juli 2020
I found out that you are also an admirer of Peter Hammill?
Yeah, I love Peter Hammill’s voice. None of my girlfriends did, all my girlfriends hated Peter Hammill’s voice. So expressive! It was an influence on me and I loved his lyrics as well. I like the dark emotions of Van der Graaf Generator. Especially the ‘Still Life’ album and ‘World Record’. Peter was actually our support act on the ‘Script For A Jester’s Tear’ tour. It was bizarre. All fans hated him. I tried to convince them of his extraordinary qualities. We became very good friends after that and we still see each other regularly. He is a very intense man. Intellectually he is very scary. He reminds me of a teacher from school.
But you also worked together with Dave Jackson, his former saxophonist, isn’t it?
Yeah David Jackson played on a track on the ‘A Parley With Angels’ EP and he also played on another track, called ‘This Party’s Over’. He is a great guy, a lovely guy.
The closest you get to Genesis might be your cooperation with Tony Banks in the past…
Yeah that was in 1986. He was doing a track for a movie called ‘Quicksilver’ and he said to me: ‘Here is a song, but I need a lyric.’ It turned into ‘Shortcut To Somewhere’ and then he asked me back, when he was working on the ‘Still’ album and he had that long track ‘Another Murder Of A Day’ and he said: ‘You’re the only person I know that can write a lyric. Here is the music, you’re the only one for something like that.’ And I wrote a lyric, something about heroin picks. It wasn’t until after I recorded it, I realized that it was about drugs. He is a really funny guy, with a good sense of humour.
The town where you are living is Dalkeith, isn’t it?
That’s where I come from, Dalkeith, but I am living in Haddington. It is still close, four miles away, but again, as I said I am really lucky to live in the country. Only few miles and I am in the woods and if I drive the other way, I am on a beach. I can cycle to the beach. So it is a great place to live. I used to live in Germany. My wife is German, we’ve been back since 2017. We have been together since 2011. I love Germany and she loves Scotland. The decision was difficult, because, you know, I was more than happy to move to Germany, but my wife is a big gardener. She is really into herbs. She grows a lot of Chinese herbs and she loves roses. I do the vegetables and my wife does the roses and she does the pickling as well. She is an expert in it and in bread making. We both love the house where we live. I have never bought a house due to financial aspects. Everywhere I’ve lived has been a home, not an asset. We don’t have so much social contacts, we never go to flashy restaurants. The only thing is a football club, I bought my season tickets to support them. But that’s it, most of the money goes into the garden. We are not in contact with big labels, we’re not into flashy cars, we don’t own houses across the world. I mean, this is our home. We are always looking for waste to develop the garden and build things in the garden.
That can be smart in these times, being self-sufficient…
My daughter always used to laugh with me – my daughter is 29 – because I always kept a cupboard full of fence. My mom and dad did it, right? There is always, just in case, if something goes wrong, we’ve always some food. And I have always done that. I always had a cupboard full of pence and dry food. My daughter always thought I was crazy, but not anymore. It is important to learn to grow your own food. When you understand where it comes from when it gets on your plate, that’s very important.
The first time I saw Marillion, was at Pinkpop 1984. Do you have any memories on that?
Yeah that was a fantastic gig. It was a big breakthrough show for us. When I look back, when I see ‘Fugazi’ these days, the energy that was in the band, it did not sound like a progressive rock band. There was so much energy and attack and aggression and the performance is very different from the albums, you know. The strange thing was that Belgium did not follow. We did Pinkpops and Parkpops and I still have a huge audience in Holland, but Belgium, for some reason… I had a couple of bad tours when I got very ill, in the nineties. We played at the AB and my throat was gone. I think that pulled people off. I still remember when we got signed to EMI and I was talking to someone in Belgium and he said: ‘What do we need Marillion for, we’ve already got Genesis.’ That muddied the waters a little bit, it was strange. Belgium is a place where I always wanted to come back and play, but I’ve never been able to get the offers. I am willing to play, but the promoters don’t give us a chance.
I wondered that you played at Spirit of 66, such a small venue…
Yeah, on the last tour this was the closest gig to Brussels airport to fly on. I got to fly back to Scotland. The funny thing is that my mom and dad went out to Belgium when they were very young. She is from Kapellen, near Antwerp. We have family and friends there and I was in Belgium for the first time when I was about twelve years old. My mom and dad’s friends, they had a flower shop there. Members of the family and friends are still living in Antwerp, but we are still loosely in touch. ‘Black Canal’ was written when I was at Bruges. Nice memories. It used to be a B side, but I used it again when I was doing the remastered edition of ‘Suits’ in 1998. My grandfathers were in Belgium during the First World War as well. When I wrote the ‘A Feast Of Consequences’ album, I did a lot of research about the First World War and I got to know a lot more about my grandfathers. They spent a lot of time partying at the bars in Brussels (chuckles).
Do we still have time, because I see it’s almost 45 minutes?
Don’t worry Vera. I can see my wife in the kitchen, preparing spaghetti bolognaise, so… I can see her moving in the kitchen from here. My office is in the control room of the studio, because where we live, it was a studio that I built in 1991 and I used to live next door, but when I got divorced, I lost the house, a part of my property. I managed to keep the studio together and the studio has become like a house over the years. I still record here. The ‘Weltschmerz’ album is recorded here. Every album after ‘Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors’ was recorded here, but now it is a house, so when we are going to record music, we just move the chairs and table. Through the big glass I can see the whole house.
When the album comes out, I hope we are going to have another conversation, isn’t it?
No problem. I think it is imperative that you hear the album, before writing about it.
Yes, I am old school and agree. You are the only one I have a lockdown interview with…
Wow, I think the album is going to blow you away. It is a very different album. It is a double album. It is the first release in seven years and I have never been the sort of musician that wants to make a classic every two years. I don’t work like that. After that, when I make an album, it is what I want to make, how I am going to make it and say what I wanted to say and it comes when it is ready. My producer Calum Malcolm is an absolute fucking genius. He worked with Prefab Sprout, Clannad and Blue Nile. He has a Greek classical background, a jazz and folk background and he loves the way I make music. When I make music it is very eclectic and I wanted real brass and real strings on this album. He asked: what’s the budget? I said, well, there is no real budget. This is not working with a major record label. All I wanted was a massive album. The sounds are just so different. Nobody does this anymore. If we need an accordion player, then we bring the musician in. I don’t want synthesizers or electronic samples. If I would be on a major record label, I would not be allowed to make an album like this, because there is no way that I can recoup the money I spent on the recording of this album, if I was selling the same amount of records through a major record company. Of course by selling it directly, there is no middle man. By sacrificing those middle men I can invest more in an album. It is more work for us here. Of course with every album release, this house goes crazy (laughs). I have to bring students or people to help me.
But that means you are really committed to releasing an album…
It is a great feeling, making an album!
Aren’t you going to miss that, since ‘Weltschmerz’ happens to be your last album?
I go back to what I said before: I am a writer who can sing. I am 62 years old this year and, you know, I am a realist. I mean, the music business has changed. Back in the eighties and nineties you did an album and the tour was there to promote the album. Now it is the other way around. And I don’t want to be doing that when I am 65. Physically it is getting harder and harder. I did six weeks on the road in 2018. The gigs were fantastic and I loved the shows. The two hours we were on stage were great. But everything else that goes around it just wears you down. When we have a day off, the young members of the crew still go out for a beer in town, walking twenty minutes for a couple of beers and back, but if I do that, I pay for it in the morning and I am supposed to play the gig. In 2022 is going to be my farewell tour. It will finish just at the beginning of 2023 and that’s enough for me. To support the album. And then I go back to what I said: I am a writer who can sing. Sometimes – actually many times – I get very frustrated, because I want to see more, I want to express myself more than what you can find in the song vehicle. I’d like to try and write some screen plays, in a way like Netflix brought series to us. Screen play writers are working with other writers on the same series. Back in the days when you and I were kids and you watched Kirk Douglas or Robert Mitchum or whoever, all the films from Humphrey Bogart. They are an hour and a half long. It was a three act play, but then it became a five act play and in the nineties it was becoming a seven act to ten act. Even the Irishmen, the other day I could not watch the Irishmen. I could not watch the whole thing in one time. It is too much. And you look around… and you look at ‘Breaking Bad’ for instance – which was absolutely genius – but you were able to explore characters. The characters are not just linear. You loved them, you hated them, then you felt sad for them, you have sympathy for them again, and that is the reality of the human condition, that is a real person. The characters are real persons. The series are bringing things to people where they are able to develop characters and different stories and scenarios. And dealing with more complex storylines and not just that old three act thing: Use the set-up, use the dilemma and here is the solution. That excites me: those more complex series, that interests me and that is what I’m trying to do when I am retiring from singing. After ‘Weltschmerz’ that’s what I want to do. I may be successful, I may fail, I don’t care, that’s what I want to do and we’ll see. I want to write, work in my garden and be with my wife.
That is smart. One of my favourite quotes is: Life is no race between the cradle and the grave, take your time to park in the sun…
That goes right back to where we came in, when I said that with this Covid19 shutdown, we are re-examining the rhythm of our lives. Haha my wife is answering fan emails in the office.
Have you ever been in Iceland?
No, I have never been to Iceland. It is a country I have always wanted to go to. I wanted to go there in 2010 and then the volcano exploded. But that is a place I would like to visit. I have seen so many films which has been shot there on location and that’s why I want to go to that place at least. It seems I got Viking genetics.
Have you seen ‘Trapped’?
I think I did see that. My wife loves ‘Scandi Noir’, crimi noir and I love it too. I think there are brilliant series coming from Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark… ‘The Bridge’ for example, there’s so much fine series, like ‘The Dark’ that came from Germany. And I love it, because as I said, they’ve got great perspectives. There are some of the themes that you may have seen before, but the way they approach the characters, the way they interact, it is interesting you know.
I am not such a fan of American things…
There is still coming great stuff from America, but again it is on Nexflix. I love to explore that. I watched it for the acting I have done. Occasionally when I got the chance to act, it is in independent movies. I invested in some independent movies. Very small movies. You learn a lot from that and the business. It is very difficult to get the movies in the theatres. All they want is vengeance. Netflix and other streaming services are giving the opportunities to independent film makers to let them be seen. As you probably know, amongst friends, when you see something, you tell your friends to watch it when it is fantastic. We watched the other day from Ben Kingsby ‘Perpetual Grace Ltd’, fantastic independent series. I think independent directors are going to survive. The cinemas are closed at the moment, but everybody’s on Netflix.
That’s maybe also an opportunity for you when you have more time, pick up your career as actor again…
Yeah yeah… I loved acting and I was a big guy but I am not physical enough to do action stuff anymore (chuckles). That would be the big nasty Scottish gangster haha…
What about the clips? I heard there would be more clips, but maybe that also stopped?
Yeah, ‘Garden Of Remembrance’ is a very moving song and it was going to be the third release from the album, after ‘This Party’s Over’. The clip of ‘Weltschmerz’ is the current song which is pushed. ‘Garden Of Remembrance’ should be coming in September. This song is about dementia. It is about a couple. One part of that couple has got dementia and the other one not. It is still a couple, but together and apart at the same time. We started working on it, filming a video. It is a song about loss. It is really a brilliant, piano based song. It is my wife’s favourite on the album. We’ve done a video for it with a guy called David Lamb and he’s shooting that during the next week. We filmed some of the stuff just before the shutdown. I think it will be a perfect song for the times we are living in. It is very sad, but it is very moving and very relative.
What do you think of the NPO mini reportage about ‘Kayleigh’?
Yes, I was very moved by that and I think it moves a lot of people. It was the first time I talked about Kay. When I wrote this song, the band did not want me to put her name to that song. I always said that we had an unspoken agreement that I was never going to bring out her name in public, because of the media. Especially the British media. You have seen the clip, you know the story. I never talked about her and I was really moved when I finally did. When ‘Kayleigh’ came out, maybe a lot of people were breaking up, I don’t know. It was a song of the moment and I think ‘Garden Of Remembrance’ will be a song of the moment as well. And the other song ‘This Party’s Over’, the one with David Jackson on it, is a strong one too. My wife came to Aberdeen to see the first show and she loved the set. When she doesn’t like something, she says it, but she was amazed how well all the new songs sat in the set. The response from the fans to songs they have never heard before, was huge. Even the 16 minutes version of ‘Rose Of Damascus’ went well. We were very nervous about the idea whether fans want to listen to something of 16 minutes they’ve never heard before, but it worked!
Unbelievable, people in the street are clapping their hands for the health service at this very moment…
And now my wife will be clapping her hands for the spaghetti very soon. We’ll talk again once you have heard the album, okay? It was very nice to talk to you. Take care, stay alive and watch out what you’re doing, okay?
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