VENUE o2 ritz, manchester DATE 03/12/2018 SUPPORT doris brendel
It’s never easy to be the opening act for an icon like Fish, but nothing seems to faze Doris Brendel. The woman who’s been described as “the modern-day Janis Joplin” brings a quirky sense of purpose to her six-song set, adding touches of personality and staging to music that has elements of folk with an alternative rock tone. She has a bold steampunk dress sense, and uses intriguing items such as a glove sending out beams of laser light to enhance what is offered on a musical level. Brendel deserves a lot more attention, and the warmth of the audience reaction is encouraging: she clearly has the ability to appeal to a wide cross section of fans. This performance, though, is merely the start of the night for the lady. She’s soon back onstage alongside Fish, as his backing singer.
The man himself is now showing signs of creeping age. He admits to having problems with his back and knees, and feels the presence of a bar stool to be a vital prop. Moreover, he has a book of lyrics on a lectern. But it’s a refreshing honesty compared to those who hide worries about their memory by surreptitiously referring to a carefully concealed screen prompter.
But nobody here tonight cares that Fish isn’t in his physical prime. The giant Scot has so much charisma and command, and his voice still carries that narrative nuance through which he first made his impact. This is a performance that looks backwards in a reflective mood, while also striding forwards with confidence.
The latter comes through four tracks that are to appear on new album Weltschmerz, underlining that Fish retains the ability to tell human stories with dignity. Man With A Stick and C Song are especially convincing markers of his enduring and individual creativity: the latter even prompts an outbreak of – ulp! – dancing in certain sections of the crowd. What the new material proves is that the man has lost none of his innate ability to tell a story that holds everyone spellbound.
However, many are here to commemorate the 30th anniversary(ish) of Clutching At Straws. Fish knows people want to wallow in nostalgia, so he doesn’t make the mistake of revamping these special songs, contenting himself with getting lost in the swirl of memories that they evoke for all of us. This approach is emphasised by old band footage playing on the screen behind him.
The album isn’t played in sequence, but this hardly matters. Fish and his musicians offer more than effective renditions. He plays the Clutching… tracks in bundles, with each of these broken up by one of the new songs. This works well, giving fans a chance to catch their breath before the next batch.
Both guitarist Robin Boult and keyboard player Foss Paterson show throughout they are far from being faceless backing musicians. Their input immeasurably adds to the joyous atmosphere here.
Fish shows an irritation with those who go along to gigs these days and spend their time filming the stage on their phones. In fact, he insists that those present should desist from such behaviour. “I want you to enjoy what you see and get into the spirit of what we do, not get distracted by technology.”
Inevitably, Warm Wet Circles and Sugar
Mice get a big reaction. And it’s also good to hear songs from that period such as Tux On, which did not make it onto the original album. Incommunicado, saved for the encore, draws the biggest cheer and singalong. However, people leave not with a feeling of merely reliving the past, but celebrating a talent who’s been unique for nearly four decades and is still out on his own. He may be suffering some aches and pains, but Fish is still a massive presence, both in stature and persona.
“HE MAY BE SUFFERING SOME ACHES AND PAINS, BUT FISH IS STILLA MASSIVE PRESENCE, BOTH IN STATURE ANDPERSONA.”ROBIN BOULT: FAR FROM FACELESS.FISH: CANE BUT ABLE. THE LECTERN MAY REMIND US OF SCHOOL, BUT SCHOOL WASNEVER THIS MUCH FUN…