Fish is one of the most successful and charismatic figures to have emerged from the British rock scene in the four decades. From his days with neo-prog titans Marillion to his subsequent solo career, he’s kept the celtic flame burning bright down the years. The big man takes a break from recording what he promises will be his final solo album, Weltzschmerz, to talk about 10 of his classic songs ahead of his headlining appearance on Ramblin’ Man’s Prog In The Park Stage.
MARILLION – MARKET SQUARE HEROES (1982)
That reminds of the early days in Aylesbury. I remember sitting with my girlfriend in St Mary’s Church yard in the morning, writing lyrics. There’s been a riot the night before, and there were police doing a sweep of the whole area.
It was originally called UB2,000,001 – a reference to the unemployment thing, which was just about to go over two million at the time. But there was a guy called Brick who was the inspiration – a really charismatic guy who used to drink in one of the pubs in the market square. He was very charismatic – everybody listened to him no matter what he spouted. That was the basis for it.
MARILLION – WARM WET CIRCLES
I remember putting the lyric together for that. I drove all the way up from London to North Berwick, where my mum and dad were. I arrived, and I was basically adrenalined off me nut. I couldn’t sleep, so I went to the bar where there were the phone boxes opposite the bar. I was with a friend of mine and these young lasses were basically trying to call him in the bar. They was one of the parts of the premise of the song and so was North Berwick: all these guys sitting and talking, saying, ‘I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do that’, and everybody just gets pished and does nothing.
MARILLION – INCOMMUNICADO
Every night when we were recording, we’d have a couple of beers or a bottle of Jack and just fuck about. We’d jam and find stuff. One of the jams that kept on coming up was what became Incommunicado. I fucking loved it – I wanted to do more rock stuff, but the band were not into it. To me it was The Who, who underlay a lot of the Marillion stuff, at least for me. But the first lyrics – ‘I’d be really pleased to meet you…’ that was a Mick Jagger, Sympathy For The Devil thing.
MARILLION – SUGAR MICE (1987)
That’s one of the best songs we ever put together. It really was inspired by a hotel in Milwaukee in the rain. We had a day off and they checked us into this Holiday Inn in the middle of this industrial district, freezing fucking cold, nowhere to go, all the people on the street were either drug dealers or people buying drugs. There was an artex ceiling with carvings in it: ‘Jude loves Peter’, wrestling on the TV, a bunch of sad old alkies standing in the bar. I was thinking, ‘Fucking hell, coming all the way from Scotland to start a new life, bringing the wife and kids over, and ending up in a bar like this.’
MARILLION – TUX ON (1987)
That was partly inspired by the movie The Big Chill, which was a bunch of old school friends who got together after they hadn’t seen each other for years. That was a B-side, to Sugar Mice. It was, like, ‘We need a B-side, we better get something sorted out’ – it was just a groove. But every time we wrote B-sides, the band seemed to relax. Because it wasn’t the focus of the album, they’d relax and come up with Lady Nina and this. Great songs.
THE COMPANY (1990)
Bob Ezrin was going to be producing the album after Clutching At Straws. The band the band had been complaining that I hadn’t been writing lyrics up to spec, and I was complaining that they weren’t writing music up to spec. And I had to go and meet Bob Ezrin at Dave Gilmour’s house in Maida Vale. He challenged me to write a drinking song along the lines of Leonard Cohen’s Bird On A Wire vibe, so I wrote the lyric for this. I tried to work it with Mark Kelly at the time but we just couldn’t get it. It wasn’t until [keyboard player] Mickey Simmons came into play that the song succeeded. It’s one of my all time favourite songs, It’s a great gig-ender.
INTERNAL EXILE (1991)
When we were doing the writing for the follow up to Clutching At Straws in 1988, I’d come up to Scotland for weekends, to see Hibs. It was the first time I’d been immersed in Scotland for a long time. It was a very interesting time politically – you had Margaret Thatcher, you had the Poll Tax, which we were the guinea pigs for – and that started to get to me. When I finally moved back up in 1989, I just became very aware of being Scottish again, and this song is how I felt.
THE PERCEPTION OF JOHNNY PUNTER (1997)
We went and played in Bosnia in 1996, the tail end of the war, just as they were disarming a lot of the different factions over there. It was pretty heavy – like visiting a place that had been hit by a hurricane. It was profound effect on me – it was one of my favourite tours.
The derogatory words on there were my Lenny Bruce moment. It was what he did in the clubs: he’d say, ‘Any spics in the audience’ and people would get upset. And then he’d say, ‘Why are you getting so upset about it? They’re just words.’ That’s why I wanted to put that in there – they were just words, derogatory words. They fitted in with the whole Johnny Punter thing.
ARC OF THE CURVE (2007)
The 13thStar album came out of a difficult period [Fish split up with singer Heather Findlay before the album came out]. The music was still being written when the relationship with down. I was in a pretty dark space. I remember Steve [Vantsis, bassist] give me CDs and I’d go out to the greenhouse and write lyrics. I used the whole album as a complete catharsis.
BLIND TO THE BEAUTIFUL (2013)
It’s a bleak subject – the environment. Lyrically, this one was absolutely sculptured – it was honed, polished, as tight as a lyric could get. Everything is very concise and very focused. Originally the A Feast Of Consequences album was going to be a lot more about that, and Blind To The Beautiful kind of wrapped it up. But The High Wood took it away into the Fields Of Flanders thing – that was originally going to be one song that was identified with World War I, then it developed into three, then it went up to five. It ended up being more like a stage play than a lyric.
Fish headlines the Prog In The Park Stage on Sunday July 1