Tag Archives: Fish

Fresh Fish, for starters…

Standard

I just got back a couple days ago from a lovely 12-day vacation on the east coast of Spain and I loved every minute of it: the temperature hovered around the high 20s, the sea was blue and the sand white, my girlfriend and I proved we could share a caravan for the best part of a fortnight without tearing our – or each others’ – hair out and the food was, even for a vegetarian in a country that resolutely refuses to embrace the notion, excellent*.

A different kind of banquet arrived for me the day prior to my departure. The handsome package accompanying Fish‘s 14th album, A Feast of Consequences is yet to dispatch, but The Company were kind – and canny – enough to include a FLAC download as part of the deal and the link landed in my inbox and I’ve been listening on and off ever since. And (Fish)heads up, it’s great.

One of the main reasons Fish remains on my ‘must-buy’ list of artists is his ability to continually tweak and evolve his sound thru collaboration with other musicians.  each of his records marks a new departure in feel and style from its preceding release, whilst always retaining a distinctive melodic sensibility which by turns grandiose, brooding, wistful and soothing remains undeniably Fish. This is a very good thing; the mark of a serious artist. I don’t like everything he’s recorded by any means, but I’m rarely entirely disappointed by an album, frequently pleasantly surprised and occasionally blown away.

…Feast… represents something of a great leap forward from 13th Star, his last and somewhat flawed release. Where that album’s lyrics often stumbled and clunked like the Sixth-Form doggerel that Fish was sometimes unfairly accused of knocking out back in the ’80s, …Feast… is characterized by a richer, more nuanced emotional palate, with the musical recipe to do the flavours justice. There are more acoustic parts, for starters – guitar, piano and string accompaniments – plus more, and more effective backing vocals (courtesy of Elisabeth Antwi). And whilst there’s little of the naked bombast displayed on that album, there’s as much, if not more of another kind of musical muscle; better toned, more powerful and ultimately more impressive.

Perfume River begins the album in ghostly, windswept mode, replete with bagpipes. It maintains a mid-pace that plays as compelling rather than plodding and there are no big chords until well past the half-way mark when the acoustic guitars kick in and the tone lifts. For a 10 minute song that’s a long time, and it’s to Fish‘s credit that it doesn’t seem so. It’s all atmosphere, really – a touch of Opeth in the minor-key melody around the middle – and yet it utterly gripped me. An instant Fish classic, moody, steeped in foreboding yet perversely cathartic.

The following two songs are probably the least immediately impressive: All Loved Up a bare bones rocker, it’s borderline ham-fisted lyric conveying the sense of recklessness and self-importance engendered in the hoi-polloi by social media platforms. The ‘all fucked up’ fade out is curiously effective, though; and this from one who hates fade outs… Blind To The Beautiful is the kind of ballad Fish could write – and probably has – in his sleep. It’s accomplished enough, but it’s the one moment when the Scot seems to be resting on his musical laurels.

The ‘Symphonic Epic’ is something of a prog cliché – every ‘true prog’ act must produce their ‘Supper’s Ready’-style song-cycle: it’s THE LAW! – and it’s to Fish‘s credit that he rarely falls back on this ruse to prove his progressive credentials. When he does however, as previously with Plague of Ghosts and here with The High Woods Suite he pulls it off with aplomb. Lyrically, it – Crucifix Corner especially – raises the spectre of Iron Maiden’s classic ‘war epics’ such as Alexander The Great and Paschendale: a thrilling, gruelling, impassioned narrative that grabs the listener by the hand and leads them thru musical foggy, explosive, desolate and reflective musical terrains (The Gathering segment bears passing resemblance to Circular Ride by his previous bandmates, curiously). Fish‘s trademark spoken-word interspersions make an appearance too, and remain as characteristic and spine chilling as ever.

The Great Unravelling ends the album as it began; brooding, melancholy, infused with a dread sense of the past being inescapable.

As much as Fish avoids repeating himself, the previous works that resonated most in my mind whilst listening were Fellini Days, Raingods With Zippos and Field of Crows and that’s no bad thing – his Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors solo debut aside, those are by far my favourites and this, if anything is more consistently strong, writing and arrangement-wise. Time will tell, but Fish may have produced his best work to date: the vast majority of the listening public will remain blissfully unaware, but those old farts, the album aficionados, who still hold the career singer-songwriter in high esteem have every right to feel vindicated and content for a while longer…

I’ll probably update this review when the full package arrives, but until then, I’m confident that this will be one of my albums of the year.

(* We also took the opportunity to spend a night and day in Barcelòna on the way down, including a visit to Gaudi‘s La Sagrada Familia which was quite the most extraordinary building I’ve ever entered: like something out of a sci-fi movie, I cried when I saw it for the first time. Astounding – I urge anyone to visit.)

Advertisements

Beaucoup Fish

Standard

There’s just no excuse, really: in these media-saturated days with every spurious celebrity’s fart and squeak virtually trumpeted for the delectation of the masses, I somehow missed the news that one of my long-time favourite artists is – finally – about to release something new 🙂

Fish, for the uninitiated, is the Scottish singer-songwriter who first made his name back in the early ’80s as the flamboyant lead-singer with British, Neo-progressive rock band, Marillion. If you’re over 35 but not a fan, you might nonetheless remember their brief period in the sun back in the ’80s when they scored a #1 album with Misplaced ChildhoodKayleigh and Lavender were daytime radio staples – and opened for Queen and Rush. Like his former bandmates – whose latest, and stunningly-accomplished album, Sounds That Can’t Be Made was released last year – he continues to tour and release music under the radar of the popular music press.

His latest studio recording, A Feast of Consequences has been that long in the writing and rehearsing that thoughts of it had kinda fallen under my radar too; and then suddenly, release day is just around the corner (well, ish – be out August/September apparently). I pre-ordered it last week from his splendid-looking new website. Here are some tasters…

As with Marillion, I’m not a fan of all his output, and his last record, 2008’s 13th Star, whilst fresh and contemporary-sounding musically was let down by some clunky and mawkish lyrics. In fairness to Fish, circumstances around the time of release – his well-publicised split with his then-partner – necessitated some last-minute rewriting on that front and I suspect that the album, as originally intended would have been stronger and more cohesive. The above clips suggest he’s on a different tack this time; less angry and wounded, looking out rather than in. Bassist, Steve Vantsis is co-writing much of the new material, as was the case on 13th Star; whilst lead guitar comes courtesy of Robin Boult rather than Frank Usher this time (the two have, alternately and occasionally together, been Fish band mainstays throughout his solo career). I’m imagining, rightly or wrongly a sound more in line with his Fellini Days/Field of Crows period, which would be no bad thing, since those are my favourite albums since his solo debut back in 1990 with Vigil In a Wilderness of Mirrors.

And the pre-order boxed edition of the album+DVD looks handsome indeed, as good as anything Racket Records or KScope/Burning Shed might produce under the circumstances and a step up from the rather pretty but flimsy packaging for 13th Star. Fish. it seems, has really pushed the boat out (snigger) this time around…

https://i0.wp.com/shop.fishheadsclub.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/3D-Feast-visual-4_3274x300.jpg

The link to preorder is here

And for the unfamiliar, here are a few personal highlights from Fish‘s solo career so far:

Grendel!

Standard

If you’re any kind of Marillion fan – and if you’re a follower of, or regular visitor to musicbugsandgender then you’llknow that I am – then you may know that Grendel is to us what How Soon Is Now? is to hardcore Smithsheads: the b-side that transcended its second-billing to become the most revered, near-legendary song in the band’s catalogue. As anthemic in its own way as the aforementioned How Soon…, Comfortably Numb, Hey Jude, White Rabbit, The Final Countdown …well, you get the idea 😉

For the Marillion novice, Grendel is an extended set-piece from the band’s early years, drawing lyrically upon John Gardner‘s novel of the same name – which re-imagines the Beowulf legend from the antagonist’s point of view – and musically upon the formative years of ’70s symphonic prog, notably GenesisSupper’s Ready and Van der Graaf Generator, with a bit of Floyd thrown in for good measure. It was a staple of the Aylesbury-based band’s early sets, and, if the testimony of die hards is to be believed, something of a highlight. As the fledgling neo-progger’s canon expanded, it was phased-out in favour of newer, more original compositions: but the sentimental attatchment lingered…

Requesting Grendel at both Marillion and Fish gigs has become something of a ritual over the intervening years. When it was announced that ex-frontman Fish was planning to perform the track for the first time as a solo artist at this year’s fanclub convention in Leamington Spa a couple weekends back, Fish and Marillion-related message-boards quickly filled with traffic from both nostalgic long-term fans and aficionados of a newer generation who never had the chance to see the original line up perform.

There was an understandable note of cynicism, too; understandable because the great Scot’s attitude toward the ‘Grendel!’ contingent has been as impatiently dismissive as his former colleagues over the years. Well, on the whole: when I caught him at Brighton’s Komedia on the 13th Star tour, he teased the crowd – or rather, guitarist Frank Usher did – with a few opening bars before declaiming ‘Ahh, fuck off!!’ and moving onto the next song. Well now, albeit probably in the ‘one off’ spirit of his Market Square Heroes performance with his former bandmates, Fish has finally caved in to fan nostalgia. So without further ado, here it is:

Without wishing to derail proceeding into the much-discussed ‘Fish’s voice isn’t what it used to be’ debate, it’s fair to say, that based on this unmixed i-phone type recording, the audience singalong does tend to dominate, so if your nostalgia has been piqued and you yearn to hear it the way it sounded in days of yore (and how ‘prog’ an expression is that?) the try this for size; Hammy-O, ’83:

And as a bit of an added bonus for the symphonic prog freaks, here’s some more epic tuneage from a few more recent bands who have had a stab at creating their own ‘Supper’s Ready‘ moments:

Trio of Fish

Standard

There’s an unspoken agreement amongst Fish-heads that one is too polite to mention that the old boy’s voice ain’t what it used to be. Why? Everybody’s voice changes with age, especially after a lifetime of smoking and hard liquor – the trick is to write material that plays to one’s strengths or transpose old songs into lower keys, rather than lamenting high notes gone by. Presenting songs in a stripped-down format is a brave move: there’s no rock bluster to hide behind, especially beginning with an acapella snippet from ‘Plague of Ghosts’. Quipping between songs that recent X-Factor departee,Frankie Cocozza ‘can’t sing for shit’ might be considered foolhardy, though Fish does at least have the grace to say ‘I do like his attitude’.

With that in mind tonight’s performance can only be judged a partial success. The material is not an issue: with four Marillion and ten solo records under his belt, Fish is spoilt for choice. Performing as a trio, with long-time collaborators Foster Paterson (keys) and Frank Usher (guitar) allows the words and melodies to take centre stage; well, almost centre stage. Everyone who attends a Fish gig knows that the big man’s stage presence and banter is a big part of the appeal.

Fish explains the three rules of tonight’s show: no flash photography, no videoing – well, maybe just a little bit – and no talking during the songs as it ‘pisses off the band and the other guys on your table’. Next to me a woman exclaims how refreshing it is for someone to say that. In between renditions of ‘Somebody Special’, ‘Brother 52’ and ‘Zoe 25’ amongst others, we are treated to stories about cancerous fish (the piscene kind) in the pond at Oxford services and Foss Paterson’s ‘shite shirt’: the latter being a product of the Shite Shirt co. and available online for just £30.Form an orderly queue, please 😉

Pairing ‘Punch and Judy’ and ‘Family Business’ is a calculated juxtaposition that allows Fish to expound on his chequered family life over the years. He chats to a guy in the audience who is about to get married before declaring marriage and himself incompatible (he keeps the rings from his last abortive marriage on a chain around his neck as a reminder ‘never again) and apologising incase he comes across as a ‘bitter, misogynist bastard’.

By way of an antidote his ‘drunken romantic’ side comes to the fore by way of ‘Torch Song’ and ‘Slainte Mhath’  from his Marillion days and both songs work well in the trio format. For all his limitations as a singer Fish has always been an articulate chronicler of rock’n’roll hedonism and on ‘Clutching at Straws’ he struck a fine balance between his then propensity for flowery language and telling it like it is. ‘Incubus’ works less well: shorn of its original rich arrangement the climax falls somewhat flat and his voice cracks badly at the end. ‘Sugar Mice’ is a good choice of closer for the main set and has the crowd singing along rousingly.

The band return for a brief encore, and having drained a box of wine during the performance thusfar it seems fitting that ‘The Company’ closes the show. The audience are invited to stand and raise a glass at the appropriate moment and all are happy to oblige.

And top marks to the barmaid who remembered what I was drinking on my second trip to the bar despite a sizable crowd – such good service is all too rare these days.