It’s been 30 years since the release of Fish’s final album with Marillion, “Clutching At Straws”. It was a successful release in that it managed to chart at number 2, and contained no less than three UK top 40 singles: “Incommunicado”, “Sugar Mice” and “Warm Wet Circles”. It did, however, unfortunately spell the end of Fish era Marillion. For me, it’s also probably the weakest of the albums that Fish did with his old band mates, but that’s only because “Script For A Jesters Tear”, “Fugazi” and “Misplaced Childhood” were so exceptional. According to Fish however, in an interview he did in 2016, it’s his favourite album that he did with the band. To commemorate this 30th anniversary, Fish is out on the road playing the album in its entirety. It’s obviously an idea that’s much appreciated by his fanbase as tonight’s show is completely sold out.
Unfortunately, due to a mix up with press passes at the O2, I spent part of the support acts set standing around in the foyer, wondering if this was going to be a very short review. Eventually a helpful PR person helped me out, and I managed to gain access to the hall to catch at least some of the opening band’s performance.
Doris Brendel, described on her Facebook page as a modern day Janis Joplin, and who some might remember from the band The Violet Hour, cast quite a striking and memorable presence. She paraded along the edge of the stage dressed in a flamboyant and very theatrical long fur gown. Her eye catching shock of red hair was given extra prominence against the pale colours of her outfit. The rest of her band also follow the steampunk aesthetic, adorning top hats and other Victorian style trappings. Visually, the band looked great, and more importantly, they were going down a storm with this Glasgow crowd. Even though it was an extremely early start (the doors opening at 6:30pm), and a Thursday evening, the band managed a very respectable turnout. They were a good match for Fish, and I could hear some Marillion influences, especially on the piano parts. The use of unusual instruments such as the cello and flute were a nice addition to their overall sound. “I’m very lucky I’ll also be singing with Fish tonight” Doris informed us before the band managed to successfully get a sing along going with the crowd. The band put on an energetic and engaging performance and I’d very much like to catch up with them again at some point in the future.
While the album Fish talked about back in 2016, “Weltschmerz”, hasn’t materialised yet, I’m sure most fans will manage to console themselves with the thought of hearing “Clutching At Straws” from start to finish. A large screen containing a multitude of images, and the sound of “The Voyeur”, serves as an introduction to the band as they take to the stage. A huge cheer goes up for a slightly dishevelled looking Fish as he joins the rest of the band. Encouraged by the Scots born singer, the crowd clap along to one of the more lively songs of the evening.
Before we get to “Clutching At Straws”, the band treat us to a few more songs from Fish’s back catalogue. “Emperor’s Song”, featuring a very nice guitar solo, comes across very well live and keeps the energy going. “You may know this from the Glasgow underground, London underground. We assume the position” says Fish, raising his arm and swaying; pretending to hold onto a ceiling-mounted strap hanger. During “Circle Line”, the backdrop video shows various scenes from underground railway stations and views from a train’s cab. It’s during this track I really come to appreciate the video footage and how it complements the tracks so well. Superimposed upon the video is real-time footage of the band members playing, which is quite clever, and not something I’ve seen before.
“Glasgow how are you? Last date of the tour, and I’m gonna have a sit down. A year and a half of eating pies, what do you expect?”. The show tonight isn’t just about the music, Fish also entertains the crowd with a bit of banter in-between songs. Among other things, he has a go at Theresa May and Brexit. “It’s scary days”, he tells us. “This song is about we, the people”, before the band launches into the still topical and lyrically relevant “State Of Mind”. Fish, now 59 years old, sits for part of this song on a kitchen stool, as his fitness level isn’t quite up to jumping around all night.
Fish regales the audience with a story about his drunken behaviour (falling into a Christmas tree), and how the next song was inspired by hotels. With that, we start on our journey through the classic Marillion album, starting with “Warm Wet Circles”.
I have to admit, I was slightly apprehensive about coming to the gig tonight. I’ve never seen Fish live before, and I love his era Marillion songs. These songs were written 30 years ago, would he be able to sing them still? Had his voice deteriorated, like so many of his contemporaries, and would the band remain faithful to the way the old songs were played? Thankfully, my worries were put to rest, and while Fish’s voice isn’t quite the same as it was, these old classics still sounded great.
Highlights from the album’s set were upbeat crowd pleaser, “Incommunicado”, and also the very touching “Sugar Mice”. For the encore, it was great to hear “Tux On”, as it’s one of my all-time favourite Marillion songs. This was Fish’s last night of the tour, so if you haven’t managed to catch him yet, then I’m afraid you’ve missed out. It was a great night of music, listening to Fish’s humorous anecdotes, discovering interesting stories on the origins of some of the songs, and watching him steadily get through a bottle of wine.
Review: Martin Patterson
Images: Dave Jamieson