Having taken the decision that his next record will be his last, Fish reflects on his illustrious career, explains why he is enjoying bringing it to an end and looks at what his future might hold.
The big man explains why he is enjoying bringing his illustrious music career to an end and looks at what his future might hold.
It’s a sunny day in June. Fish picks me up at Edinburgh airport in a Land Rover Freelander 2. He tells me he has an old Volvo, 16 years old, in for repair. “People say: ‘What are you driving that old thing for?’ I say: ‘There’s nothing wrong with it. It may be old but it’s still going strong’.”
It’s tempting to draw a comparison here. Fish turned 60 in April. But, he insists, he is going stronger than ever.
His driver takes us to the spacious bungalow where he lives with his wife and stepson some miles outside Edinburgh. The last time I was here was in 1993 when he was recording Songs From
The Mirror. Different days. He was married to the girl from the Kayleigh video and their daughter was two years old. His daughter is now 27, the same age Fish was when Kayleigh was a hit. The girl from the video is long gone.
In his loo, one wall is decorated with dozens of old concert tickets from Fish’s misspent youth – Genesis, Mott The Hoople, Camel, Elton John, Yes etc – all with a price of £1.50, or 90p or thereabouts. Different times.
He proudly shows me around his extensive gardens – vegetables, fruit, herbs, the full pasture. He shows me into his home studio, where he and his main musical collaborator Steve Vantsis are working on material for what Fish is claiming will be his last ever studio album. More of which shortly.
We’re here, ostensibly, to discuss his solo career. Fish’s entire solo catalogue is coming out over the coming months in various rejigged forms. There’s also the new anniversary edition of the final album he made with Marillion, Clutching At Straws, which is released with an accompanying DVD in November. There will also be various tours, including, he says, a farewell tour, sometime in 2020-21.
You officially began your career as a solo artist with the release of your single State Of Kind in 1989. As a kid, though, buying all those concert tickets now in your loo, did you fantasise about your future as a solo artist, or as the lead singer in a band?
I never thought about being a solo singer. The objective was always to find a band that I relate to. I preferred the kind of gang mentality of a band, which I really enjoyed in the early years of Marillion. But that gang mentality went out the window in 1985 because we became victims of our own success.
Was it just the success of the Misplaced Childhood album that changed things, or was it going that way anyway?
In 1985 I was really happy. It was great. We were achieving everything we set out to achieve – number one album, hit singles, playing to big crowds. But at the same time, the demands I wasn’t enjoying so much. You know, the success was starting to really intrude on everything I was doing in my private life. It was very difficult to find spiritual space. By the time we got to Clutching At Straws , I was past it. The guys that were the gang were now full businessmen.
I wasn’t enjoying the gigs. The gigs were getting big. There were times when you go: yeah, the production was wonderful and it was great having loads of playthings. At the same time, as a frontman you were walking out on stage and you had two Super Troupers [powerful spotlights] in your eyes for the next two hours and you couldn’t see anything. You couldn’t really interact with people. When you’re playing to ten thousand people a night, you couldn’t have any repartee, which we’d always had before. Then coming off stage, the people you wanted to meet you couldn’t meet, because you were having to shake hands with the guy from the local retail place, or talk to this journalist or this record company executive. You noticed that all the people that were coming backstage, two years before they wouldn’t have had anything to do with you.
Behind the scenes, you were also unhappy? The management thing was driving me insane, the money side of things. We were playing huge gigs, and nobody in the band was living the lifestyle that you might think was reflective of the level we were on. I’d met my first wife as well, in 1985. She moved across [from Germany] in 1986. By the time we got to ’87, I realised I was really fighting in a marriage. My wife wasn’t happy with me being on the road. She didn’t trust me on the road. It was a very stressful situation. That was part of the reason to bail [out of Marillion] and to move up here [to Scotland]. To dislocate myself from it all. I wasn’t enjoying that level of fame. I still don’t like it. I played a gig with Mott The Hoople at the O2 arena and I hated it. I went on stage and I was reminded of those days.
What would have you convinced you to stay with Marillion, instead of leaving when you did in 1988?
If they’d got rid of the manager. It wasn’t about anybody in the band. It wasn’t about getting rid of Mark Kelly [as was later rumoured]. It was the manager. I wanted new management.
So if the rest of the band had agreed to that, you would have stayed?
Probably, yes. If we’d also had a break. We were forever scrabbling to pay mortgages and all the rest of it. But we were
“The gang mentality went out the window in 1985 because we [Marillion] became victims of
our own success.”
Marillion in summer 1988, working on the follow-up to Clutching At Straws shortly before Fish’s departure.