As you could probably haver guessed from my review of Sounds That Can’t Be Made, I am quite a big Marillion fan. So when I discovered, back in May 2012, that their former lead singer Fish would be performing in Exeter that month, I jumped at the chance to see him, despite only owning one of his solo albums – the rather brilliant 13th Star.
I went to the concert unsure about what I would find. Would Fish’s other solo stuff be any good? Would he play any Marillion so that I could at least sing along to something? Would Fish himself turn out to be some sort of pretentious poet type? Luckily, the answer to the first two questions turned out to be a resounding “yes”, and I ended up experiencing one of the best concerts of my life so far. Every song he played was amazing, even though I only recognised a couple, but it wasn’t just the music that impressed me, it was the man himself. Rather than the conceited showman I had feared, Fish turned out to be most charming, funny, compelling, and self-deprecating performers I have ever seen, and it was an absolute blast watching him work. After leaving the gig, I immediately signed up to his newsletter and quickly scoured eBay, Amazon, and even Fish’s own website for his back catalogue and it wasn’t long before I had acquired his other eight solo albums, and each one was as brilliant as the last.
So when history repeated itself and Fish’s latest tour – The Moveable Feast Tour, in support of his upcoming album – brought him to South Devon again, this time to Tavistock, I once again jumped at the chance to see him again.
He opened the concert with a new song, Perfume River, a heavy, brooding song with a great chorus. It was accompanied by a projected slide-show of footage of war and poverty, and seemed to send a pretty clear message to the audience – the new album, A Feast Of Consequences, is going to be a dark and serious affair. But that didn’t mean that the concert itself was, with the big man happily aping around on stage between songs, interacting with the audience in good humour, and even suggesting to sell his sweat and snot soaked tissues on eBay.
The gig seemed to be a celebration of the old and the new,with the band playing seven songs from the new album, and filling the rest of the set-list with old classics from both his solo career and his days with Marillion. Script For A Jester’s Tear was the second song of the night and was brilliant, as was He Knows You Know, which came accompanied by a funny story about how, while working at the job shop and tripping on acid, Fish had scrawled the lyrics to the song over the entire surface of his desk.
Other new songs played were the blistering title track, A Feast Of Consequences, which featured astoundingly raw vocals from fish, a hauntingly acoustic number called Blind To The Beautiful, which came with a warning to take any antidepressants available, and a quirky little song called All Loved Up, a scrutinising look at the modern ‘celebrity’, which clearly had a ball performing. As for the old classics, we had the excellent Goldfish and Clowns, the explosive What Colour Is God?, and the brilliantly melancholic Family Business, which was truly jaw-dropping live.
The real highlight of the night came when Fish announced that they were going to play the middle section of the upcoming and much-anticipated High Wood Suite, a five song epic from the new album. Before playing Crucifix Corner, The Gathering, and Thistle Alley, Uncle Fish shared a story with us. He told us about how both his Grandfathers had fought in, and survived, the First World War, and how, on his birthday, Fish had visited the places that they both saw action. Inspired by the whole thing, Fish set about writing The High Wood Suite to honour not just his Grandfathers, but everyone who fought for their country in the Great War.
Crucifix Corner started slow, all dim lights and and drawn-out keyboards, while the footage of the First World War started being projected on the back wall. The mood and tone of the piece had been set, and just as the guitar was about to enter the fray, all the instruments suddenly went silent. The audience all shared a look, unsure as to whether or not this was part of the song. Then a voice from the back of the room called out “The fuse has blown!”
The problem was quickly traced back to an amp with had given up the ghost, and while the roadies quickly tried to fix it, Fish and his band deliberated on if they could play a song with only half their equipment working. They eventually decided that they could, and that Lavender would be the song. Despite the guitarist having to be reminded what key it was in, it was an incredible moment, mainly because it was just so spontaneous. It was beautifully performed, and the audience loved it, belting out the lyrics as loud as they could.
Once a replacement amp had been set up, the band was ready to start Crucifix Corner again. The slide-show flickered back into life and the song picked up from where it had left off. Crucifix Corner was great, it’s slow opening giving way into a deceptively heavy anthem. The Gathering was just as good, with a rip-roaring chorus and lyrics that really made you think. Thistle Alley was fantastic as well, a dark and brooding number that really got the blood pumping. It was no surprise that the trilogy of songs got the loudest applause of the night.
After that, the band went into a medley of his older songs, which started with Assassing, before segueing into songs like Credo and Tongues, before eventually making its back to Assassing, then finally coming to an end with the closing section of Fugazi. It was a brilliant medley, with Fish given each song his all, not matter how small their part, and he had the audience clapping their hands, stamping their feet, and singing along in joyous euphoria. Just as the applause was dying down, the band immediately launched into White Feather, which was another great little number. Fish started to shout of the names of his musicians, each one to a roar of applause from the audience. Just as Fish reached the keyboardist, the stage went silent again. Another amp had shorted out.
With a shrug, the band put down their instruments and left the stage, all to a thunderous roar of applause. Fish stayed put though, and leant out into the audience, his voice commanding enough to reach us all, even unaided by a microphone, and said “Now that’s what you call the end of show!” Then he started to sing the chorus of White Feather again, conducting the audience with his hands as we sang along. After that, Fish left the stage. It was clear that there would be no encore, but after a concert like that, no one was bothered.
Despite the technical gremlins, or possibly because of them, Fish once again cemented his reputation as the big man, and proved that he is one of the best performers out there. Able to make an audience laugh or cry, and able to shrug of technical faults like a true professional, he clearly loves what he does, and his enthusiasm is more that a little infectious. Once again, Fish succeeded in blowing me away with just how good he really is.
And based on the performance of the new songs he played, I’ve already pre-ordered my copy of A Feast Of Consequences.