Fish, the former frontman of famous 1980s prog-rockers Marillion, has promised to play a healthy smattering of his old band’s hits along with material drawn from throughout his solo career when he performs in Lerwick next weekend.
The date at Sound Hall next Saturday is part of an extensive Scottish tour Fish is doing with a three-piece acoustic setup to showcase a back catalogue dating from the early 1980s right up to his most recent solo work.
Marillion hit their commercial peak in the mid-1980s when Fish was the group’s singer. They had a trio of major top 10 hits including Kayleigh and Lavender from their 1985 number one album Misplaced Childhood.
The group achieved stadium level success and again hit the upper reachers of the charts two years later with Incommunicado from the Clutching at Straws album – Fish’s last work with the band before leaving to go solo in 1988. His place was taken by Steve Hogarth.
Of his departure from the band, Fish said: “I got bored. The machine became too big and I didn’t feel that the machine was a particularly healthy lifestyle on all levels. The fun was going out of it.”
The 53-year-old, whose real name is Derek William Dick, only recently returned to touring after an operation in 2008 to treat a cyst on his vocal chords. He plans to release his tenth solo album A Feast of Consequences in the first half of next year.
On his first ever trip to Shetland, Fish will be accompanied by two long-term band members, guitarist Frank Usher and keyboard player Foss Paterson. Both toured with the late, great John Martyn. They have around three hours’ worth of material rehearsed to choose from and the set list will depend on the crowd, he says. More than 100 tickets for the concert have already been sold.
“We’ll be doing a mixture of songs from right across the career. It depends on the night, on how the audience are. As a frontman you have to be on your toes because every night is different. There’s a lot of interaction in our show, an intimate vibe, a strong sense of communion between the stage and the audience – more of a happening than just a straightforward performance.”
After his health difficulties and problems in his personal life, Fish says he felt the need to distance himself from those troubles. He has resisted the temptation to write a “dark, self-pitying album” and is getting himself prepared for “something a little bit fresher and more energised rather than doom-laden”.
He does not listen to any modern pop music, instead name-checking a host of legends from the rock pantheon. Recently he has checked out some of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards’ solo material and is also listening to Americana pioneer Gram Parsons and legendary acoustic troubadour Nick Drake.
So far Fish has really enjoyed the current tour, which will see him perform more than 100 times in 2011. Since the operation and ensuing career break, his vocals have been “a lot cleaner than they used to be” and “no gigs have blown out – touch wood” since his return to the music business.
“I decided in 2010 to come back slow,” he told The Shetland Times this week. “My confidence had been a bit shattered by both my personal life and my voice. I wanted to go back and play small crowds, deconstruct all the songs, re-learn how to sing again. It gave me room and I wasn’t fighting on top of the electric band.”
He continued: “I’m really looking forward to coming up there – it’s a great opportunity to get up and see Shetland, see Orkney. I’ve tried a couple of times before but it was too restrictive with the cost of bringing up the full band. With the three-piece band we had a chance to get out into Scotland as a whole. If this one works, hopefully we’ll be able to bring up the six-piece band next year.
“In the last week it’s been great. We’ve been to Arran, Oban, Dunoon and Mull, just stunning, in Tobermory, seeing the country and working with a bunch of guys that are solid friends, not with an employee or session musician vibe at all. They know how to use the space, and with the stripped-down versions there’s a lot of dynamic employed with them, a lot of theatricality and general drama.”
Incidentally, the “Fish” nickname dates back to his early 20s, a time when he was a forestry worker prior to the formation of Marillion in 1979. He used to stay in the bathtub for hours, much to the chagrin of his landlady who restricted him to just the one bath a week and threatened to charge him 20 pence for each extra bath. He used to stay in the bathtub for two hours, bringing beer, sweets and other leisure objects with him.
“She was the stereotypical landlady who was always looking for more money. I used to stay in the bath for ages and ages. She had to go to the next door neighbour for a pee. That was my revenge on her.”