Fireworks Magazine Online 62 - Interview with Fish

FISH: The consequence of consequences

Six years, thirteen stars and five song suites are amongst the numerous things which have shaped the new album from one of the most endearing and enduring individuals Progressive Rock has ever provided us. Fish is a character, a larger than life figure and one unusually willing to bare his soul and wear his heart on his sleeve. ‘A Feast Of Consequences’ is his latest album and what an album it is, finding the big Scotsman recounting World War One stories of battles, tragedy and ultimately human loss, discovering the battlefields both his Grandfathers fought on along the way. With Fish being one of the most erudite people in music, it is no surprise that his discussion with Rocktopia’s Steven Reid took many shapes and forms across a variety of subjects. Here Rocktopia presents an in depth interview with the enigmatic frontman covering, among other topics, the inner workings of the record industry, the recent line-up changes in his band and a detailed account of the inspiration behind the ‘The High Wood Suite’; undoubtedly the centre piece of one of the best collections of music Fish has put his name to...

It has been six years since you released the excellent ‘13th Star’ and while you’ve remained active musically over that time, did you always retain a burning desire to return with an album of new music, or did the passion ever wane over that time?

It wasn't so much a "waning of passion" more that after the ‘13th Star’ tour, which closed in a fog bank at the end of 2008, events took control of my life. I'd started to hate going on stage as problems with my voice had taken over my head and my confidence, and the joy of singing had been whittled away. It's well known now that I had an operation to remove a growth from my vocal chords at the end of 2008 and which unbeknownst to me I'd been carrying for over two years prior to the op. Thankfully it was benign and turned out to be a cyst which had been kept relatively at bay by antibiotics and anti inflammatory drugs I'd been prescribed and been taking for what turned out to be associated problems created by the infection. It was difficult walking out on stage every night never knowing how the voice would hold up during a gig and the reviews weren't pleasant to read sometimes. I was being written off by a lot of fans. It was very hard to deal with. The first operation was successful and after a six month layoff, during which time I remarried somewhat impetuously, as is my weakness, someone I had only met just over a year before, I decided to return to hit the stages. I came back perhaps too hard and after only a few shows my voice started to disintegrate again. Another operation in December 2009 revealed aggravated scar tissue on the site of the initial operation and I was back to square one. Three days after I came out of hospital my second wife left me after less than six months of marriage and I spent the next five months in an incredibly damaged state dealing with what can only be described as a very "complicated " person. The healing on all fronts took a lot longer than expected and I can honestly say it was the darkest period of my life as I tried to extricate myself from the wreckage. The only burning desire was to get through this period and get back on my feet again.

In more recent times you have begun to perform a lot of shows as an acoustic three-piece, beautifully reinventing your approach and connecting with your music in a whole new way. Where did that idea stem from and why were you so enthused by it?

The acoustic tour turned out to be my salvation. I knew I had to break the voice back in gently and had to rediscover my love of singing and performing. My keyboard player, Foss Paterson and guitarist Frank Usher and myself had played about with keys on songs back in ‘09 before a fan club convention and as we felt our way round the songs in an acoustic format the seeds of the idea for the Fishheads Club tour were sown. In June 2010 I decided to start off with a series of weekend shows in that format and pretty soon the word got out, positive things were happening, reviews were great and I was having fun again on stage in a very liberated format. I rediscovered songwriting again after going through a deconstruction process of my material to bring it on line for the acoustic performances. I got excited again. The space I had in that format to play with the dynamics and theatricality and let the lyrics really shine out as well as discovering new grooves and approaches got me thinking again. I admit that I followed the Fishheads Club format onto the road as an escape from my personal life and it became an escape for a while from writing a new album. The question was asked at every interview and every signing session after shows. It weighed heavy but I wasn't ready to write yet as I didn't want to indulge myself in yet another album about failed relationships and I definitely didn't want to go back and re-engage that period in 2009. I needed to put some distance between myself and that darkness and find new experiences and observations to write about.

Personally I loved these shows and wonder if they influenced your approach towards your fantastic new album ‘A Feast Of Consequences’?

The rediscovery of songwriting was so important. I was reinvigorated and can't emphasise enough just how important that 170 date tour was to my wellbeing on all fronts. There was a huge sense of being reborn again. I re-found my confidence as a writer and as a performer. Having social media also helped me get myself together. At the beginning of 2010 I couldn't write blogs for the web site without quickly submerging into darkness and pathos. The 140 character Facebook posts, as they were at that time, restrained me and made me edit what I was typing to the point of writing Haiku. It disciplined my writing and outpourings and put me back in contact with fans who were also feeding off the Fishheads Club performances. It was a totally positive and upward trajectory. To put it into context I had about 3000 followers on Facebook in the summer of 2010. It's now over 52 000. That wave of support buoyed me and reminded me that I was due them an album that had been waiting for over four years by the time the acoustic tour came to an end at the close of 2011. I was also making an admission to myself that perhaps I'd been out on the road escaping the reality of actually writing an album to follow up ‘13th Star’ which has set a formidable benchmark.

‘A Feast Of Consequences’ has been received with huge praise and enthusiasm. What are your hopes for this album and what it will do for your career?

The reception has been overwhelming and although we knew we were making something very special, the response has been beyond expectations. To come out of all I have come through at the age of 55 having been written off and a denizen of the "where are they now file" in a lot of people's eyes, it's an incredibly great feeling which I am happy to embrace but with the knowledge from experience that it's a passing thing in the main. I am proud to leave this album as part of my musical legacy and what I hope is that ‘Feast of Consequences’ stands the test of time and is appreciated when I'm gone. On a more immediate basis I'd like to think the album will make some people re-evaluate what I do not only as a singer but as a writer. I've no real desire to sell millions or return to those heady, intrusive, complicated 80s days as despite working in the public eye I try and retain my privacy, but at the same time it would be nice to move up a division where I wouldn't have to struggle with gigs making financial sense and more people were coming to shows. It's a weird balancing act I suppose but at the end of the day I am very proud of this album and that to me is very important. It's not just a bit of plastic thrown at the fan base to carve income from the cash cow as part of a biannual process, it mean a lot to me as a statement on a number of levels. The rest in all honesty is a bonus!

The centre piece of the album is the five-track ‘High Wood Suite’. You revealed the inspiration behind these excellent insightful songs when you performed them live on your recent shows. Can you share the story and thoughts behind these songs with our readers please?

This answer practically requires a book in itself! I had been approached by a fan and good friend, Simon Moston, who as a hobby is a WW1 battlefield tour guide. He had suggested in 2011 that I should visit the Somme battlefield as he knew I was interested in military history in particular. He was sure I would find inspiration out there on the fields and we agreed to meet up on April 24th, the day after a Fishheads club show in Paris. Ironically before the show I had held a meeting with Foss and Frank to outline my plans for writing the new album and after a successful gig I headed off in the morning from Paris, Gard Du Nord station by rail towards Arras. I met with Simon and his family and spent the day wandering around Beaumont Hamel and Auchonvilliers taking in the atmosphere and visiting the war cemeteries. It was a very poignant and emotional occasion and I knew right away that I had to write something about my experiences that day. I slept the night in a bed and breakfast built on what used to be no man's land and woke early next day on what was my 54th birthday. We had breakfast at Auchonvilliers where I called my parents and asked them if they could give me any information about the units that both my grandfathers had served in as I knew both William Paterson, my maternal grandfather and paternal grandfather William Dick fought in WW1. It turned out that William Paterson was in the 8th Battalion Royal Scots regiment and William Dick was in the Royal Flying Corps. As the day progressed and we continued our visit to the battlefields we came across a dark foreboding wood at the top of the Bazentin Ridge. This was the High Wood and it had a profound effect on me. Later that day Simon had done some research on regimental records and told me that William Paterson, who'd been a coal miner and therefore attached to an entrenchment company, had actually been detailed to work on a trench line on the road to Beaumont Hamel and I discovered I had been sleeping on the night before my birthday only a few metres away from where William Paterson was stationed. Not only that but my father told me that William Dick was stationed with the RFC in Arras and that night I was spending a night there in a hotel before my trip home. The coincidences were too much to ignore and I was determined to discover more. On my return home after the tour I began researching and in particular I wanted to know more about the High Wood. I wasn't surprised to get a call from Simon to inform me that William Paterson had also been serving there and again regimental records told us that he’d been digging an intermediate trench line called "Thistle Alley". I decided to broaden the scope and rather than try and carry everything in one song I discussed the idea with Foss to write a series of songs focussing on the High Wood and the events that surrounded it in 1916. It became more and more complex and I knew I was dealing with subject matter that required a great deal of respect and demanded a lot of research to get it right. I read books on the High Wood itself, soldiers memoirs, the war poets, especially Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon amongst many others and a plethora of background material relating to the conflict and in particular the Somme battlefield. It became practically an obsession and dominated my thoughts for a long while. The five song suite took shape with ‘Crucifix Corner’ the first song to be completed and played at the Leamington Spa convention to a fantastic and emotional reception. ‘Crucifix Corner’ was about the ill fated cavalry charge, one of the last of the war, where the traditional met the industrial and horse met the maxim machine gun. I'd already decided that the first song would take in a modern view of the High Wood and then drift into the trees to 1916. ‘Crucifix Corner’ would follow and then Foss and I put together ‘The Gathering’ about the homefront and the raising of the ill fated Pals Battalions. The jaunty, jingoistic uplifting track with brass bands would sit perfectly before the dark and heavy ‘Thistle Alley’ which reflected the despair of the assault on the High Wood where over 8000 men, German and British, disappeared from the face of the earth. The suite would end with ‘The Leaving’ which was to reflect the continuing carnage as the same ground was taken and retaken and eventually the troops returned home carrying their nightmare visions with them. It was a tremendous achievement to bring this all together and to not only make some sort of sense of it all but to create what is a movie for people's ears! I admit to crying my eyes out when I heard the first playback of the fully recorded and produced version. Foss was a genius in dealing with it all. I used to sit him down and explain the vision and the images and exactly what I was trying to catch and he rose to the challenge and excelled himself in what is his finest moments with me. It was a very difficult ask and Steve Vantsis stepped up to the plate when we were struggling to find musical ideas for ‘Thistle Alley’ which was born from a song we had already nominated as a piece on "global weirding". It was like finding the magical jigsaw piece that clipped in and made everything fall into place and make total sense. I can't remember the last time, maybe ‘Misplaced Childhood’, when a suite of songs sat so perfectly and took me on such an emotional journey. If I was to be remembered for anything I'd like it to be for these five songs. Calum did an immaculate job on the production and coached me through the vocals to bring out a performance I am exceptionally proud off. The final coincidence raises the hairs on my neck as right at the end after it was completed Simon called again to tell me that he'd discovered that the regiment my grandfather faced at Beaumont Hamel was the only German regiment with records intact, most having been lost during WW2. That regiment was the Baden Wurttemburgers and it's the regiment from where my girlfriend of three years lives near Karlsruhe and where I wrote a number of lyrical sections for the suite. It's a beautiful closing of a circle.

So the moving on of lyrical themes from ‘13th Star’ was a totally conscious decision?

As I said before, I wanted to avoid grave digging in the detritus of the marriage and needed to find new observations to illuminate. I really didn't want to deal with personal relationship issues. They may be touched upon but they don't dominate. I was inspired by some solo journeys I went on in recent years to Vietnam, Costa Rica and especially Cuba where I spent six weeks at the beginning of 2011 on a scuba diving trip taking in 35 dives amidst a flurry of mojitos and cigars. Between the travelling and the reading, which was dominated by environmental and geo politics, I shifted away from broken hearts and towards a broken planet. It was quite an eye opening period! The album title was born then and inspired by a Robert Louis Stevenson quote “Everyone, at some time or another, sits down to a banquet of consequences.” It seemed appropriate on many levels.

Musically this album is as strong, if not stronger than the rest of your catalogue. How did you go about putting the songs together in terms of writing, jamming etc..? 

The basic writing brief given to everyone involved was that all the songs had to be based on acoustic instruments with the songs augmented in the recording process. It was fully inspired by the Fishheads Club tour. I didn't want to rely on “cut/copy/paste” and there was the forward thinking that eventually I want to take the album out on the road in 2015 on another Fishheads Club project. I wanted good old fashioned songwriting approaches and to have all the muscle and bone in place in the early stages. It was a similar approach to the one used on the ‘Vigil’ album and in my early songwriting days with Marillion which was before studio technology was available. I think a lot of bands tend to rely too much on technology these days and I intended to take a more purist route. There were jamming sessions and “doodling” around themes with concentration on melodies and structures. Threads of lyrics grew with the songs and I knew all the time the direction I wanted to go in and the thrust of the subject matter. It was a long process, sometimes frustrating and the personnel changes that occurred added to the chemistry of the writing teams in a very positive way. I wanted Calum Malcolm to continue his contribution after ‘13th Star’ and when approached he was really happy with the appointment, the direction and the intentions. He has become a very integral part of my album making process and has delivered a wonderful piece of work that takes the early 70s style of songwriting and combines it with a very modern production. He has incredible sensibilities and empathy with my style and we have a perfect relationship in the studio.

I saw you on the very first show of the pre-‘Feast...’ tour where you introduced some of the new material to an eager audience. How pleased were you with how well the new songs were received on those dates and did you learn anything about the music playing it front of an audience for the first time?

I discussed with Calum the idea to take the material out on the road before we went into the studio so we would have a band that knew the material inside out and would be far more comfortable in the performances. The first outing was at the Leamington Spa fan club convention at the end of 2011 and I admit that was quite a scary couple of nights even though we only played five songs. They were pretty rough versions and the energy carried them over and disguised the mistakes. The same went with the UK tour in May 2012 as they were still works in progress and we were all still finding out parts and our way within the arrangements. The shows were recorded and those early versions can be seen on the bonus disc with the deluxe package. At the time we thought the songs were pretty much there but in retrospect after hearing those May versions they were still quite a way off. It's interesting to hear the developments and we all knew when we went into my studio where the tinkering and adjustments had to go. It wasn't in any way a rewrite but the tuning up made a hell of a difference. Calum had the best perspective and he suggested quite a few edits that definitely made a difference and to which to a man we all agreed on. It was quite easy on stage to detect the lulls and lapses in concentration where sometimes we'd lose the audience contact and it would become obvious to us when we felt like we'd hit dead air. The idea had been to play the songs live right from the start and with recording delays and tour dates being moved it was by pure chance that it all fell into place at the right time. We definitely appreciated the positive audience reactions, both live and on social media and it reinforced the belief that we had something special. It was a perfect starter for the studio!

Earlier this year I was saddened to hear that your long-term band mate and friend Frank Usher decided to leave your band; can you share the reason behind this with us?

Frank and Foss had elected to come on board with the writing in 2011 but by mid 2012 little had been achieved. It was a combination of coming down off 18 months and 170 shows on the road and the fact that both of them are sometimes hard to get motivated. I have to admit that I was also in a state of limbo and perhaps avoiding the inevitable. It wasn't until Steve Vantis returned to the fold in late summer that real progress started to be made. Steve and I had our differences towards the end of the ‘13th Star’ tour and we needed some time apart. We'd re-engaged after meeting up a couple of times on the acoustic tour and in May 2012 when we went out on a few days joint headlining with Glenn Hughes I asked him to get involved. We put together a few songs and played them at Leamington but I got the impression that Frank wasn't sitting quite comfortably with Steve's presence in the writing team and was appearing less and less at the studio for sessions. The recording intended for February was postponed as we didn't have all the material written and we were missing about five songs. I needed input from a guitarist and called in Robin Boult who'd come to see us at Leamington. The intention then was to resort to a six piece band, Frank having taken over sole guitar duties on the May 12 tour, and hopefully bringing back Frank's old sparring buddy would inspire him to get more involved. Frank had told me at the time that Robin had always been his preferred choice as the other guitarist on stage. Robin arrived around late October and had an immediate impact on the writing introducing a new chemistry and approach to the existing songs and implementing other ideas. Frank was still absent and in January I called him in for a meeting where I had to draw the line in the sand and ask him what he wanted to do. He elected to resign from the band. He wasn't happy with the writing and I was surprised to be told that he hadn't liked the ‘13th Star’ material and thought it too reliant on computers. I was genuinely taken aback but when I thought about it Frank had not been amiable to playing that material on the Fishheads tour. We'd only performed Foss's song ‘Milos’, Frank’s ‘Openwater’, with ‘Zoe 25’ the only regular in the set. Obvious ones like ‘Arc of the Curve’ he didn't want to play. It was an issue that had never been brought up throughout all that time but suddenly started making sense as to previous events. I asked him to reconsider and I called him a few times to get him to change his mind. He was adamant he was leaving. There was no animosity. Frank and I have been best friends for a very long time and we both agreed to part on amicable terms and to take the space. It wasn't the first time he had resigned having left the band during the ‘Sunsets on Empire’ album as he didn't like the direction of that album with Steven Wilson on guitars. He didn't return until the ‘Field of Crows’ sessions in 2004. I respected his decision. As an indicator of where we are at we played together in Mogadishu in June 2013 with Foss on keyboards in the acoustic format. Every now and again we need to take a break from each other and Frank has enough to keep him going with a long awaited solo project and many other demands on his time just now. It's one of the bonuses of being a solo artist when members can come in to the band and leave with others taking their places, changing the chemistry in the process without getting involved in major dramas. He will be back sometime in the future but for now he is on genuine “gardening leave”!

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At the time of Frank’s departure you were heading into the writing and recording stage of the album. How much of a challenge did that create?

It didn't as Frank had barely been involved in the writing process and we were a long way off recording at the time he left. It was relatively easy to readjust. Robin was already on board and although it was slightly awkward for him at first he quickly settled in to the band and the writing and I was overjoyed he elected to stay in for the longer haul. With absolutely no disrespect to Frank, Robin brought something very different to this album and definitely made his own mark on the songs. His connection with Steve and Foss has been superb and everyone is really happy and settled just now. He's a fantastic addition and important component in the current line up and I personally hope he will be around for a while. Not only do I think he is a tremendous musician I really enjoy his company.

However your band, which now consists of Robin Boult, Steve Vantsis, Foss Patterson and Gavin Griffiths, has been performing superbly. You must be delighted with how things have come together for both the album and your recent live shows?

Steve and Gavin have become a formidable rhythm section and Gavin in particular has become an amazing and flexible drummer and the experience he's gained through playing in our line up has brought him to the attention of many other outfits. As with football teams those in higher divisions can offer more wages and profile and I just have to accept that players move on. In all honesty it's a testament to the music and to the scouting! I demand a lot of flexibility in playing styles and anyone who has played with my line ups has been of an incredibly high calibre and just as importantly is a character you want to be around and is a pleasure to work with. I think musicians who've been in the Fishy fold can stand the temperature and demands of any other outfit anywhere in the world. There are very very few musos who've been in my bands over the last 30 years who I would never play with again and I can honestly say you could count them on one hand. Most of those who have been and gone left because of better, more long term and lucrative offers than I could ever afford and all left with my blessing and understanding and we are all still in touch and open to future projects. Drummers in particular seem to be on a revolving stool but that position is the most demanding but when you look at who's been there, John Tonks (Nenah Cherry), Mark Brezezicki (Big Country/Pete Townshend/ Procul Harem), Kevin Wilkinson (Waterboys/ Proclaimers) etcetera it's actually quite an accolade for what is a left field progressive rock outfit! Steve Vantsis is an extremely underrated bass player and a great songwriter and musician across various instruments; Foss is a brilliant keyboard player and an incredibly accomplished musician (John Martyn/ Julia Fordham) and has moved out of the shadows of Mickey Simmonds (Vigil/ Internal Exile) through his brilliant writing on the ‘High Wood’ suite to be one of my all time keyboard playing greats. His work on the Fishheads Club tour cemented his position and he really showed his prowess and talent in the fold. Robin is a vastly underrated guitarist and in my opinion up there in the top ten players in the UK. He is an exceptional talent. As a unit it's the finest I have performed with for a very long time and I would like to keep it together for as long as I can. It is very special!
Many bands and artists have chosen to “self finance” their recent releases through the likes of Pledge Music and Kickstarter. However you chose to bring the album to life through pre-orders on your website. Is fan funding the only way forward for independent artists now?

No it's not the only way forward but it's the way I choose. I was lucky to escape with the benefits of a loyal fan base when I was jettisoned from Polydor Records in ‘93 despite the freefall in sales after the "controversial" ‘Songs From The Mirror’ cover version album that finalised that contract and made me a free man. It wasn't the route I would have chosen but I was forced to make some very hard decisions to financially survive. I wasn't ready to make the ‘Suits’ album and the record company wouldn't support me in the interim where I was going to lose my house, if not everything. It wouldn't have taken a lot to support but Polydor weren't willing and I was left with no choice. At the time I was earning just over one pound an album sold although they took care of promotion and press, distribution and everything else. There was a formula and if you had an immediate hit all was ok. If not you struggled as there was always the other artists with their new albums. It was a conveyor belt and if you were lucky to have an album that “stuck to the wall” then it moved. If not it was “Next!”. Not conducive to artists but that was the machine! Basically you had a six week window or so to “happen”. You pay to make this so. The independent schemes to finance albums take in some cases 20% to just enable artists to get to the seed money. That's a lot of wedge just to finance! I elected to go direct to my fan base and pay for all promotion/manufacturing costs and so on myself. I was lucky I had that alternative. I have no management apart from myself, have a limited backroom staff and our overheads are low. I think we are reasonably effective and remain in control. I have separate promotion teams in different countries that I focus on specific needs and we constantly readjust to demands and “happenings”. It's demanding, exhausting, requires constant vigil and attention but in the end I am maximising my income in an industry plagued by illegal downloads piracy and basic theft and I am finding a balance with all the “leakage”. The deluxe editions are beyond the capabilities of the thieves to copy and I am extremely thankful for a dedicated following who in the main understand the problem and appreciate that if there are no sales there is no functioning artist and therefore no music. The industry now is completely and drastically different from the one I signed up to in ‘82. It's constantly evolving and demands the artists becomes somewhat of a guerrilla fighter to survive. I don't have any huge overheads and have no recognised lifestyle in the media I have to protect without which I disappear into obscurity. I still exist on reputation, output and integrity and am really proud of that. The fanbase keeps me alive as an artist, we communicate regularly through all aspects of social media and they are kept well informed through my website as to the “cunning plans” and progress of projects and I am forthright in opinions, open to discussions on all matters and quite vociferous across a number of subjects too . I think keep it interesting, on a number of levels above the banal. My current occupation is as an assassin of middlemen who are and always have been the plague of the music industry and more so of honest artistry! For example the standard version of the album is on Amazon on our “shop” yet it's on eBay for £30  deluxe is £60 on eBay and on for £30 plus postage. It takes a simple Google search to discover the link! It's cheaper through us direct rather than on Amazon! The deluxe is only £30 plus postage through us and not available through Amazon! Buy direct from the artists, it directly supports the music, the artist and eradicates the middleman! That goes for every band!! Search and support!

There were some well publicised delays to the fantastic deluxe package of ‘A Feast Of Consequences’ and then also to the standard jewel case version. After all your hard work, how frustrating has that been?

The frustration on the delay of the ‘AFOC’ deluxes was white knuckle, jaw breakingly intolerable. I'd allowed, on the advice of Mark Wilkinson, my long time collaborative artist and creative designer of the project, six weeks for the printing and delivery of the deluxe units, two weeks above the suggested delivery time to give the manufacturers some leeway. They eventually delivered them four weeks plus beyond that and the pre-ordering was thrown into confusion. It was so frustrating and created a lot of animosity and bad feeling. It was eventually sorted out but having spent so much time in setting this up and being let down by a corporate company at this stage in the process which had always been under our control and online really stuck in my craw. I really don't want to go into this as it was so close to going legal. The matter was settled and we received compensation for our losses. I have never known Mark get so upset and angry in all the years I've known him. It was sorted out. I don't want to go back there as I was incandescent at the time and in a previous incarnation I would have been in the dock. Case closed, problems solved, moving on!

Having self funded in the way you have, is there now a challenge to get this excellent album out to the more mainstream audience and media?

It's a challenge but one I relish! At the end of the day how much do I want to give away to middlemen who contribute nothing? I've been asked why I don't follow standard distribution methods but where do these distributors distribute? Amazon? I have my own shop there rather than sell to them direct  it works. iTunes will be looked at when I release ‘Blind To The Beautiful’ as a single in March once we have a video clip in place for YouTube. Selling to distributors means I just create my own competition as at the end of the day all retail outlets that are left have an online presence therefore why should I give them heavy discounts, wait over 90 days to be paid and have to deal with them on a sale or return basis when I can sell it direct The big chains sell thousands of titles and can afford to discount heavily as their profit is in the volume. I don't have that luxury. There's no point in spending thousands on adverts and taking a shotgun attitude. I choose the magazines carefully and spend money on promotional teams that can get me coverage in media, both electronic and physical. At the end of the day the best adverts come from people hearing the album and recommending it to others. It's more honest, carries more weight and word of mouth was exactly how Marillion grew from being an unknown band in the early 80s. It's a slow process but I am patient and I know this album is good enough to smoulder for a long time. It only takes a single with concerted radio plays to fan the flames and I think I have a chance with a couple of tracks on this album. In reality I've only just really started to promote the album and there's a lot of running in it yet with a UK tour in May, festivals in the summer and an extensive European tour in the Autumn. Anything could happen over the next year. I just have to keep my eye on the ball and react accordingly and take full advantage when I do get the break. I have a small set up with limited resources so I also have to make sure I make as much as I can out of every opportunity. It's a completely different method of working but I am confident I can break through with this as it's a very special album.

Are you tempted to get involved with a record label again?

Not really. I was offered a couple of deals and I asked them what they could do that I am not doing already. I was told they could get it to retail and online. And? To put it in perspective on a standard version of a ‘Feast’ CD I'd expect to get a royalty that would deliver me just over one pound an album. Selling direct delivers me around eight although I have to pay for all the recording, promotion, my staff and other costs. It's a huge difference and in all honesty it really comes down to whether I am willing to put in the work to make it happen. I am not kidding myself. I am nowhere near as successful as I was when I was with EMI but again to put it in perspective. On the ‘Vigil’ album I sold around 450,000 units for which I earned about £1.10 an album. That's nearly half a million pounds, a hell of a lot of money. But take into account the album recording costs, the cost of three videos all of which I paid for together with sundry charges and I was left with probably around £200,000. A lot of that disappeared in tour support, as the ‘Vigil’ tour lost around 70k. To top it all off I don't even own the copyright of that album, EMI does! EMI however probably made around 2 million from which they paid the promotion and advertising and relevant staff costs and owned the recordings. These are very rough figures but it gives you an idea of how it works. The argument is that not every album makes money but for the artists that do come through it can stick in your craw a bit. I've worked both sides of the fence as I signed artists to my Dick Bros label back in the 90s that did absolutely nothing and cost me a relative fortune so I do understand the equations. For me now I prefer to keep it simple, maximise my earnings and put a good honest shoulder to the wheel.
You recently played at PlanetRockStock, how did that go and how did the newer material go down with a slightly less partisan crowd?

Having ‘Feast of Consequences’ A-listed on Planet Rock was hugely in our favour, as most of the audience listened to the station. A lot of people including the Planet Rock organisers had little idea of what my show was like so we were a bit of an unknown quantity. Going on before Hawkwind and after the Hertzen Brothers on the Saturday night suited me fine and unlike the O2 show where we had only 30 minutes to impress, this time I had a far more structured show of 90 minutes and I planned accordingly. I didn't have the back screen projections available so dropped most of the ‘High Wood’ material apart from ‘Crucifix Corner’ and leaned on the other material we'd been playing on the European tour. The Von Hertzen Brothers did well and set up the crowd for us. Opening with a high octane version of ‘Perfume River’ before ‘Feast of Consequences’ lit up the room, surprised a lot of people and with ‘All Loved Up’ getting the crowd moving our confidence and energy was high. ‘Blind to the Beautiful’ was extremely moving and it's becoming quite a sing along number as the crowd are left with the end choruses to repeat. It's becoming a very special song in the live set. We turned on a lot of people and at the end of our performance Hawkwind definitely had their work cut out. A lot of people were taken aback at our energy and the quality of the band who were on fire that night. From the pledges to come and see us in nearby Norwich on the UK tour it was obvious we had made a very positive impression and the sales of ‘Feast’ on the night and on mail order after the weekend indicated we had gotten over to a lot of new people. It's important for me to get as many of these types of gigs as possible in the coming year as the new material is most definitely switching people on. There's a great sense of rebuilding just now and it's a fantastic feeling that is generating a lot of positive energies around us.
And it still appears to be all go at the moment, with a performance at Baja Prog Mexico confirmed for next year...

It's going to be great getting back to Mexico again and hopefully there will be more South American dates in 2015. North America is still on my wish list but it's a tough proposition and extremely difficult to cut through all the red tape there. We keep on prodding for a break there.

...and there’s also talk of a reissues campaign for your back catalogue - something which would excite me greatly - especially if there are bonus tracks...?

Regarding the back catalogue there's not that much extra material available to be honest but I think with the repackaging and re-mastering coupled with rare live material and demos I can create something worth having for any fan of my music. It's important for me just now to consolidate the catalogue and have a definitive range of releases available as it's been a long time since the entire catalogue has been in print at the same time. I'm actually quite looking forward to building these projects in between furthering the ‘Feast’ promotion. There's a lot of cunning plans in the cauldron regarding touring this year and the May tour in the UK will I think be pretty special as I plan an entire rendition of the High Wood suite with some very special back screen projections.
With such a long wait between ‘13th Star’ and ‘A Feast Of Consequences’, do you plan a quick-fire return with album number 11, or will new music take a back seat for a while once the ‘Feast’ commitments are completed?

For the moment the principal focus in 2014 is on the furthering of the ‘Feast of Consequences’ album. I have some other projects such as an acting role in a movie in Canada in March but the album is my main concern this year. As I said before I haven't even really started working it yet and there's a lot more to come. I'm really looking forward to the journey.


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Comments (4)add comment

grtmagnet said:

I love de unkl fishy! me wants back catalogue in LP formats!
February 28, 2014
Votes: +0

trip^ said:

vinyls would be great!
i only have vigil-vinyl and its not in a good condition anymore sadly.
it was that time back than, everything started to by digital, small and... uns*xy in a sence.

thx for this great interview and your insights, fish!
March 04, 2014
Votes: +0

trip^ said:

i have read and agreed.
post did not work.
March 04, 2014
Votes: -1

Berny said:

@ trip^: "shame"?

As you can see, your comments have been online for days.

Did you notice the "Your post will be reviewed by an administrator" message? Unless you are a member of Rocktopia, no comment will be published in real time.

I am sorry for this inconvenience, but we have to use some basic protection to keep spam*ers out.

Should you disagree, I'd like to invite you to join our site (for free, of course smilies/wink.gif ) and post a complaint in the "Problems using Rocktopia?" subforum.
March 15, 2014
Votes: +1

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