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Interviewed by Steve Alspach
Interview with Fish from 2005
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 4 at

Regarding your last album, Field of Crows, how did the songwriting process go?
Well, Field of Crows was mainly written by Bruce Watson. I've come up with some melodies, and there are many different ways of doing this but there's no strict rulebook, you know what I mean? I'll have the start of a melody or a feel or rhythm or something like that, and Bruce may come in with a riff and say "Well, I've got this rough idea" and I'll go "Ah! I know exactly where that goes." And occasionally we'd work with the band, but that's a rare kind of thing. They tend to be one-on-one writing sessions or two-on-one writing sessions. I'm quite comfortable working one-on-one and taking an idea with a band.

MSJ: The idea of crows as a theme - was that something that came out of the writing or was that a concept you had going into the sessions?
The whole crows thing was - ach! - so bloody long ago I can't even remember! I have this thing about Van Gogh and his wheat fields, And I've always loved the idea of crows. It's sort of a mythical thing in Scotland; it's kind of associated with the devil. There's a bit of spirituality that kicks around.
MSJ: One step removed from the raven.
Yeah! Well, they're from the same family. But there were a couple of conceptual ideas that moved about in the early days, one of which was to do this whole concept about a kid growing up in the woods and he shoots his first bird, then he graduates from that and he's kind of isolated from society. He goes to the big city and he views a lot of people there as vermin and decides to get rid of them. With the Washington sniper situation it's a difficult subject to deal with. The explanation I've given you sounds more like a film script than an idea for an album. Songs like "Moving Targets" and "The Rookie" were leftover from those kinds of ideas.

MSJ: I was just going to ask that. You have songs like "Moving Targets" and "The Rookie" that deal very much with the world in 2005. How do relate songs like that with the theme of crows?
From past experiences or things that I'm observing from the television or whatever, there's a number of reference points between what happened on the "Field of Crows" album and what was happening in the world today. I tend to do that - I've never been a fantasy writer. Some would say "Oh, he was in a band called 'Marillion', there's a Tolkien reference, therefore he must write fantasy lyrics." I've never really been interested in that. I just saw a brilliant film recently by Gus Van Zant called "Elephant" which was kind of based on the Columbine shooting and kids buying guns. It's a very, very scary situation, that. My daughter is moving back from Berlin to Scotland and I'm very happy about that situation. One of the things that she could have done was gone to the JFK school there and I was just wasn't happy about that. You have a situation there where you have armed security guards at the school gates. That threatening environment doesn't seem too conducive to a child's education so I'm quite happy that she's coming back.

MSJ: Back to the CD. I liked "The Field" very much. I thought it was a good choice for a CD opener. I kept waiting for the bagpipes to kick in, though!
Yeah, we tried to avoid that. We decided to go completely the other way and bring in a brass band, a New Orleans kind of brass band in place of the bagpipes. It's a good song to start with but I listen to it and think "It's too f***ing long!" It's a very long, slow build. I think that in hindsight you might have benefited by having a minute or two minutes taken off of it. It's just one of those things where we did it and went "f**k it."
MSJ: I think the song works as is!
I like the build in it. We tried to cut it when we were doing it, but we found it rather difficult to take sections out. But the song just seemed to jump. We tried to edit it, and it just didn't work. It would have sounded like a jump cut and I wanted more of a slow, transitional move. But I like the way it peaks. Again, it's one of those Scottish or Celtic-based things which obviously came from Bruce Watson and the Big Country stuff. There's a lot of cross between Big Country and Fish. I really enjoyed working with Bruce on this and would like to work with him some more.
MSJ: So, you're going to be in South America in May.
Well, that's the idea! Dealing with American promoters is just a joke. We've been talking to this guy for six months and we still don't have the actual dates where we're playing yet. The way they work is that they book the hall, and then they can all hang about and nobody believes that any acts will come along until four weeks or when the band actually steps off the tarmac. So you have a situation where none of the promoters kick in until the last three weeks. When you're putting a band together and rehearsing it's not exactly conducive to a stress-free existence. I've got nine warm-up shows in the U.K. before we go because obviously, it's completely different sets of material.

Ah, it's a pain - I just despair of it these days.

It just costs so much money to tour and to put things together, it's infuriating. I'd love to come across and play the states but it's just the cost of coming out. And then you're dealing with clubs that are getting twenty-five percent of your merchandise and that's what you have to survive on, ya know? I mean, you come all the way from the U.K. and you've got some fat geek who's sitting in a club and says, "Oh, wow, man, you wanna play in a club?" We've had instances where the guarantee of the club - what the club was paying the act - we'd make more off merchandise than the guarantee.

MSJ: It happens!
But that sucks, and I just won't subscribe to that kind of action. I don't give a f**k. I'd rather not play.
MSJ: One wonders where bar owners get the idea that "it's okay to stiff the musicians."
Right. People tend to forget when I come to America that I've got a fourteen-year-old kid. I have to clothe and feed. I've got a mortgage I have to pay. I had a club owner give me a gig in Goteborg, Sweden where I got a thousand euros, which comes out to about seven hundred pounds. From that I'm supposed to pay a seven-piece band, fly them to Goteborg, put them in a hotel, and feed them - for seven hundred pounds. And I'm like "which planet is he on?" There are too many people who think that the love of music is what feeds us, and it doesn't! I mean, we get offers from American progressive rock festivals and it's "well, come on across, you'll love it, we'll treat you really well." And it's "Great! Who's gonna pay the band? Who's gonna pay for this? Who's gonna pay for that?" And it's easy if some guy is a postman and you all have nine-to-five jobs, and the drummer works in the bank. And guys like myself who are 47 this year. And we are still trying to make a living at 47 years old. And I'm sorry, I just can't do favored gigs anymore. And it sounds terrible - you can come across as sounding very mercenary, but I lost a house on tour. And there are some fans who really do forget about that. They say "Oh, why don't you come down to our area? Why don't you come to Colchester? Why don't you come to the States?" And there are a lot of fans in the States, but there aren't enough fans to make sense of a tour.

I've been on tour where I've lost a house, I've lost a number of companies, and you do a gig where you get a thousand bucks, there weren't many people there, and your voice was s**t. I'm sorry - I'd rather do a movie.

I'm not blaming you, by the way...

MSJ: It's quite all right! I understand!
It's just that there is a passion for this. There are people who say, "why don't you tour more often?" and it's because - even touring Europe - it really wears you down! I've got the start of arthritis in my right knee, and that comes from jumping up and down, doing that five nights a week. It comes to the point in your life where you really have to start making some serious choices. And with my daughter coming back I have to make some serious choices. I can't tour anywhere near as much as I used to. And I'm quite happy with that! When it comes to touring for six weeks and sleeping in a tour bus, I'd rather start an organic garden in the back yard.
MSJ: Hey, you're 46, I'm 45, we're not the same people we were twenty years ago!
I got an email from a fan the other day, and she said "you're voice is completely different than it was", and I said, "wait a minute!" She was comparing it to the Marillion material and I said "F**k! It was twenty years ago!" I've been to gigs where a fan will come up, and he's lost his voice from just singing along to one show, and you've just done four shows in a row! It's a tough gig, and you have to be responsible. Sometimes I wish I was a drummer - you just change sticks all the time.
MSJ: So what made you decide to become a singer?
I saw Rod Stewart and the Faces on a TV program when I came back from a soccer match and I said, "That's what I want to do. I want to be a singer in a rock and roll band." It's just one of those things - I love music, and honestly I think it was the emotion rather than all the peripheral stuff, like the women or the drugs. It was just the feel of it - I identified with it, I just love doing it. I get the same kind of kick out of acting as well.
MSJ: So when did you feel that you made the big time? That, back in the Marillion days, when was it that you felt "This is it - we're past Aylesbury"?
Oh, when "Kayleigh" happened.
MSJ: So, how goes the acting?
It's really tough! I've got no misconception about what I'm doing. I don't get any special treatment. I have to go in, learn my lines, meet the director, and nine times out of ten you don't get it. The things that you do get, if it goes well, then you're reputation grows, even on a small scale. I did a few things last year, and I did "The Jacket" as well. And there was tiny role in "The Jacket" but I got more money in one day doing that role than I did six weeks of the ticket price on tour, just to put things in perspective. But I got such a rush doing it and I love doing it! I've always loved movies. Ever since I was a kid I've been mad about movies, from Audie Murphy to Kirk Douglas to all across the whole spectrum from the '60's and '70's, to the Sean Connerys and Michael Caines. And had somebody suggested that I go to theatrical school or acting school rather than becoming a singer, then my life would have turned out very different. But I love doing it, I love the writing, I love the machinery as well. When I was sixteen, seventeen years old I thought I wanted to front a rock and roll band. What I'd love to do now is write and direct a film. Back then, when I was sixteen or seventeen I had no idea how I was going to front a rock and roll band - no f**king idea! I feel that way now. I think I'm at a very distinct crossroads in my life going towards writing. It's something I've always had a vivid imagination and I've always had the ability to tell stories. There's a natural impetus that's occurring in my life now that's pushing me towards cinema and towards writing, whether it be a novel or a screenplay or whatever.

The music business I don't find particularly exciting anymore. I love doing gigs, as I said, but the business itself doesn't hold the mystique it used to for me. I'm going into London on Monday to meet with some record company guys and get a deal for a record label, but my heart's not really in it. I'm far more interested in writing.

As I mentioned, when I lost my house and my wife and I separated over a year ago and I kind of "went to the floor," but what's been happening in the last two or three weeks is that the main studio room is split into two parts and I've completely deconstructed one part of the room and it's no longer a music room but a place where I can go in and write. And it's an interesting psychology going on in the moment.

I've put up some pictures on one of the walls but there's still all the dust and f**kin' s**t all over the place. And since I live on my own I have to do all the f**king cleaning, too! It's fun, it's f**kin' rock and roll. I'm very much a homeowner. I was talking to Mark Kelly a few weeks back and we were talking about gardens - landscaping and designing and all that. It's bizarre - in the old days it was "where's the broads, where's the booze, where's the drugs" and today it's "where's the f**kin' alpine plants because I need to get some for the garden." You're all grown up now.

MSJ: I saw on your website that you're going to be at the Cavern in Liverpool. Is that just another venue for you or is that something special?
Well, it's a really good warm-up show for us. With warm-ups the last thing you want to do is be on a big stage. The first few gigs that we'll do are these small, intimate gigs where you can laugh it off, you can experiment a bit. And the Cavern...I've always had strong connections with Liverpool anyway. I wasn't a huge Beatles fan but I do respect the history.
MSJ: You said that seeing Rod Stewart and the Faces kind of "jump-started" your music career. Were there any other bands as well?
The Who, Led Zeppelin, and then the progressive rock stuff of Genesis, Yes, and Floyd. I have "Close to the Edge" on the player in my car. I remember seeing Genesis on the Lamb tour and Yes on the Relayer tour, and that was within 48 hours of each other. That was my baptism - a rather significant start!
MSJ: So what have you been listening to or reading lately?
Literature! I've got Eminem's new CD in the car which I think is f**kin' brilliant, "Close to the Edge", Roger Waters' "In the Flesh."

In all honesty I'm buying more movies than anything else. I got the Godfather series on DVD which was an amazing deal, um, (laughs), that Ben Stiller film where you throw the ball at people...
MSJ: "Dodgeball"?
"Dodgeball", right! F**kin' predictable and brilliant. Let's see what's up on the DVD shelf. Um, "Happiness," "Being John Malkovich," Magnolia," "Donny Darkhorse," "Shawn of the Dead," "Collateral" which is pretty smart.
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