Album Reviews

1999 Fish Special

As you might know, Fish has recently signed to record label Roadrunner and has therewith finally achieved a global distribution network. Roadrunner re-issued all of the official studio albums in remastered versions (with bonus tracks), as well as some of the official bootlegs, an acoustic collection and a new compilation album. We thought this would be a great opportunity to put some focus on The Gilled One with his new album Raingods with Zippo's in the near future. We therefore bring you a special Fish Special with reviews of the 12 CDs.

Ready for the dive ?

Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Roadrunner
Catalogue #:RR 8687-2
Year of Release:1990
Info:The Perception of Fish

Tracklist: Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors (8.46), Big Wedge (5.25), State of Mind (4.45), The Company (4.07), A Gentleman's Excuse Me (4.20), The Voyeur (I Like to Watch) (4.45), Family Business (5.22), View from a Hill (6.39), Cliche (7.06), Jack and Jill (4.28), Internal Exile (4.52), The Company (demo) (4.29), A Gentleman's Excuse Me (demo) (3.55), Whiplash (4.21)

In September 1988, Fish decided to leave Marillion after 7 succcessful years in the most popular British prog band of the eighties and hits like Kayleigh, Lavender, Heart of Lothian and Incommunicado. It didn't take long though before he got together with keyboard player Mickey Simmonds (of Mike Oldfield's backing band) to compose the material for his first solo album.

Other experienced musicians like Mark Brzezicki (Big Country), John Giblin (Kate Bush, Simple Minds), Janick Gers (later Iron Maiden) and Fish's old buddy Frank Usher from his first band Blewitt helped out making an album which Fish has never been able to surpass afterwards. All of the elements of the album are simply sublime, from the amazing Mark Wilkinson cover art to the marvellous production and wonderful compositions of Fish and Mickey.

There wasn't a single bad track on the original album, every moment was enchanting, from the versatile title track which builds to a magnificent climax to the best Fish ballad ever written; A Gentleman's Excuse Me. The album had its emotional moments in tracks like Family Business (later to become a live favourite) and the love song Cliche. More commercially tending (but no less powerful) tracks like Big Wedge (eat your heart out Mr. Collins) and the news fetish perversion of The Voyeur. There's a bit of light-hearted folk in the song which would become the anthem of the international Fish fan club, The Company, the groovy attack against the public system State of Mind and the almost heavy metal of View from a Hill with Gers on guitar.
The lyrics were as splendid as the tracks they belonged to with Fish at his best; bitter and critical.

If there's one Fish album which should definitely be present in your collection than it's without a doubt this one. For those who already had the original CD, this new remastered version also includes the original recording of Internal Exile as well some of the B-sides of the singles from the album; the demo versions of The Company and A Gentleman's Excuse Me plus two 'new' songs. The first of these, Jack and Jill, has never been a real favourite of mine. I always thought the melody and the lyrics clashed too much and that the chorus and verses didn't fit together, although the song does feature one of the best keyboard solo's to be found in Fish' solo work. Whiplash might not be one of Fish' best tracks either but it is definitely groovy and features very funny lyrics; I really like this one.

The booklet features lots of new pictures, extensive open-hearted liner notes by Fish about Marillion's failed attempt to combine their musical ideas with Fish's new lyrics and melodies (5 partially finished songs which would reappear on Vigil), the origins of his first backing band and the development of his first solo album. All of the lyrics are present as well.

Highly recommended !!

Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10.

Ed Sander

Pigpen's Birthday
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Roadrunner
Catalogue #:RR 8684-2
Year of Release:1993
Info:The Perception of Fish

Tracklist: Voyeur (6.31), Punch & Judy (5.17), State of Mind (6.17), Family Business (5.50), Assassing (6.41), The Company (7.06), Script for a Jester's Tear (piano intro) (5.34), Script for a Jester's Tear (7.13), A Gentleman's Excuse Me (4.23), Sugar Mice (9.36), Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors (9.00), Kayleigh (4.04), Lavender (2.31), Heart of Lothian (4.42), Cliche (6.46), Big Wedge (7.56), Internal Exile (4.54)
(track timings include applause and introductions by Fish)

Pigpen's Birthday is the first concert in a serie of 'official bootlegs' and was recorded on DAT at Hammersmith Odeon, 2nd of April 1990; part of the Vigil Tour.
I have some great memories about this tour. It was the first time I actually saw the big Scotsman live and the whole atmospheric stage set-up, complete with metal plates and a huge backdrop with an enlargement of the cathedral of the Vigil artowork, was the best he's ever had in his solo career.
The band on this album consists of Mickey Simmonds (Keyboards), Robin Boult (Guitar), Frank Usher (Guitar), Steve Brzezicki (bass) and his brother Mark on the drums.

The CD contains live versions of all of the tracks from Vigil except for one (View From A Hill) as well as some 'golden oldies' from the Marillion period, some of them in alternative versions.

On The Voyeur you can hear Fish play the perfect pervert and the track also includes a slightly extended ending. Punch and Judy has been turned into a more guitar orientated rock tune complete with a bass and drum break. This is my favourite version of this track and Fish liked it so well he re-recorded it in 1995 for his retrospective Yin & Yang albums. Assassing features an amazing vocal/guitar-jam. Script for a Jester's Tear includes a new extended piano improvisation by Mickey and a changed ending.
A Gentleman's Excuse Me is a beautiful version with just Fish and Mickey. Even without the strings it sounds wonderful.
Sugar Mice is a nice version with just acoustic guitar (three to be precise) and bass. It's not as well structured as some of the later acoustic versions but very good nevertheless.
The versions of Kayleigh, Lavender and Heart of Lothian may not be the best versions available (you clearly miss Rothery's guitar sound), but are great to hear side to side with the Vigil material.
The intro to Big Wedge has been extended but does not yet feature the 'sermon' of later versions.
The CD closes with a live version of Internal Exile (which had not been officially released back then), recorded at a different concert in - how appropriate - Edinburgh.

Most of the songs from Vigil I haven't mentioned are basiscally identical to the album versions. Improvistations on these songs did not develop until later in Fish' solo career.

Track coding on disk one is quite sloppy; track 6 and 8 are programmed incorrectly so that you start in the middle of another track when you try to skip to these songs.

The recording is very 'raw' but I like it that way since the live feel is much more 'real' this way. There are a couple of bum notes and maybe not everything is played as fluent as it could have been but these are just minor cases. Fish chats about the Poll Tax, 'domestic problems', the tour crew, his reputation in the Daily Star, the birthday of their bus driver Pigpen (hence the title of the album) and other topics.

A very nice live album with a great backing band. If you enjoy the old Marillion stuff and the Vigil songs, you should definitely check out this disc.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10.

Ed Sander

Internal Exile
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Roadrunner
Catalogue #:RR 8683-2
Year of Release:1991
Info:The Perception of Fish

Tracklist: Shadowplay (6.23), Credo (6.40), Just Good Friends (6.00), Favourite Stranger (5.58), Lucky (4.50), Dear Friend (4.08), Tongues (6.22), Internal Exile (4.45), Poet's Moon (4.26), Something in the Air (5.08), Carnival Man (6.25)

Owing to the long period of time between Marillion's Clutching at Straws and Vigil, the sales of the album had been lower than initially expected and the tour had lost money as well because of high costs. EMI and Fish parted after a nasty legal clash, Fish signing with Polydor for a second solo album. Fish set up his Funny Farm recording studio and work on Internal Exile began. This time not only Mickey Simmonds was involved in the composing of the tracks, but Frank Usher and Robin Boult as well. Chris Kimsey, producer of Misplaced Childhood and Clutching at Straws was hired to help out. The album was released in October 91 and contained a wide range of styles, therewith also lacking a certain sense of direction. Besides Mickey, Robin and Frank, drummer Ethan Johns and bass player David Paton (Pilot, The Alan Parsons Project) were called in to play on the album as well.

Both Shadowplay (possibly the most 'proggy' song on the album) and the single Credo are wonderful tracks. Shadowplay is full of anger and mystery with its rocking intro and the middle part which slowly builds back to a climax. Credo became one of the favourite tracks in Fish' live set and is without a doubt one of the highlights of his solo work.
Just Good Friends is nice but works much better as a duet (the way it was re-recorded in 1995 with Sam Brown). Not a bad track at all though. I never liked the jazzy Favourite Stranger. The 1995 reecording is once again much better.
Lucky is another live favourite and one of the most joyful songs Fish ever wrote. It could have been quite successful as a single but alas, although there were plans (there's even a design for a sleeve cover) it never came to be. The original album version is a bit slower than and not as catchy as later (live) versions.
Dear Friend is another ballad, this time about old friends you haven't been able to stay in contact with because you became a 'family man' (sound familiar ?). It's nice but not one of the highlights of the album.
Tongues is an angry frustrated song Fish dedicated to the Managing Director of EMI UK when they couldn't agree on certain issues. Fish has wisened up and removed the dedication from the album. The track itself is quite good, with Fish howlin' like a wolf.
The rock/folky Internal Exile - a left-over from the Vigil album - was re-recorded for this album and is another wonderful track with a very up-tempo climax which will have you dancing around the room like a Scotsman.
Something in the Air is a cover version of the classic by Thunderclap Newman. It's certainly not one of my favourites; it features a rhythm sample which has been used a hundred times before and this dancey version with cheesy bagpipe samples misses the power it could have had. It would also have fitted better on the Songs from the Mirror cover album.

The remasted version of this CD features two bonus tracks which originally appeared on the CD singles of Internal Exile and Credo; the rocking Poet's Moon and the atmospheric Carnival Man. Lots of fans have said that these should have been on the album in the first place, maybe at the expense of some other, lesser tracks. It's good to finally have them where they belong.

The sound of this album is much more guitar orientated than Vigil and often dominated by Frank Usher's howling way of playing. The drumming on tracks like Shadowplay and Credo is incredibly powerful.

Some of the tracks are (or have been) available in better re-recorded versions, but Internal Exile is still a fine album. Not one of Fish' best albums, but enjoyable nevertheless.

Although the booklet features lots of new pictures and liner notes, somehow nobody took the effort to add the lyrics of both bonus tracks. Also, the booklet contains a picture which clearly originated in the Yin & Yang sessions, no less than 4 years after the release of Internal Exile. The original list of Credits is missing as well. Seemingly the huge 'thank you' list was more important to print.
The liner notes in the booklet go into great detail about the legal clash between Fish and EMI, his financial problems, the development of the Funny Farm Recording Studio, lawyers, Polydor, 'rediscovering' his Scotish roots, the disliking of the Internal Exile single by both DJs and old fans from England, the cover art, the arguments between Simmonds and Kimsey and 'possessed equipment'. Better than your regular prime-time soap opera ! Fish sums it all up: "Lady Luck isn't so much a fickle partner as an ex wife with a sick sense of humour".

Conclusion: 7 out of 10.

Ed Sander

Uncle Fish and the Crypt Creepers
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Roadrunner
Catalogue #:RR 8685-2
Year of Release:1993
Info:The Perception of Fish

Tracklist: Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors (9.26), Credo (7.51), Tongues (7.40), Family Business (6.55), Incubus (11.50), Shadowplay (8.50), Dear Friends (4.16), The Company (5.18), Lucky (5.02), Big Wedge (7.14), Windswept Thumb / Heart of Lothian (5.23), Fugazi (11.07), Internal Exile / Market Square Heroes (11.50), Forgotten Sons (9.29)
(track timings include applause and introductions by Fish)

Another Official Bootleg, this time recorded in Dusseldorf in December 91 during the Internal Exile tour. The band on this tour consisted of Frank Usher (guitar), Robin Boult (guitar), David Paton (bass), Mickey Simmonds (keyboads) and Kevin Wilkinson (Waterboys, China Crisis) on drums.

This was the tour where Fish started the gig singing Vigil in the middle of the audience (just a voice in the crowd), so for those who thought Arena's recent opening for the Visitor show was very original ..... I don't think so. Anyway, the song is played very well and - as much of the other songs from the first album - much tighter than on the previous tour.
Credo, Tongues, Family Business, Shadowplay and Dear Friend are all good versions and Incubus starts with the graveyard story and soundeffects, which unfortunately was done in rather annoying German for this gig. The track itself is wonderful, with tasteful playing by Mickey and a double guitar solo by Frank and Robin.

Lucky was already played with a lot more energy on this album and Big Wedge features the amazing sermon with Fish playing the TV preacher.
Heart of Lothian is introduced by an acapella version of Windswept Thumb (you know, the 'on the outskirts of nowhere, on the ringroads to somewhere ...' bit). Heart of Lothian is played much beter than on the previous tour and isn't inferior to the Marillion version at all.
Before the band kicks off with Fugazi Fish talks out the fucked up situation in the world. Parts of the song itself aren't played as well as on other versions (especially the beginning where Fish misses his cue and the bit at the end) , but it's still good to hear this track again.
A great version of Internal Exile merges perfectly with an enormously energetic version of Market Square Heroes.
The final track (recorded in Paris two days later) is a fine version of Forgotten Sons which unfortunately is dominated a bit too much by Frank Usher's solos (it seems he can only play one style).

The performances are done very well and the band plays tighter than on the Vigil tour. I'm not very fond of Fish' (half) German conversations though, that's why I actually prefer another 'official bootleg' from the same tour (For Whom The Bell Tolls).
Strange enough, someone placed the tag '(live)' behind all the tracks on the first disk, but not behind those on the second disk. Usage of this addition on a live album is rather senseless anyway, as far as I'm concerned.
The 8-page booklet contains liner notes and pictures of the performance. The actual stage show had been lower in budget that tour. I think think it might even have been the last tour with real stage props.

Conclusion: 8- out of 10.

Ed Sander

Songs from the Mirror
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Roadrunner
Catalogue #:RR 8682-2
Year of Release:1993
Info:The Perception of Fish

Tracklist: Question (6.32), Boston Tea Party (4.21), Fearless (6.15), Apeman (5.56), Hold Your Head Up (3.45), I Know What I Like (4.17), Solo (4.10), Time and A Word (4.24), The Seeker (3.16), Five Years (5.17)

Internal Exile hadn't done very well from a sales point of view. Polydor was getting restless and Fish needed more time to write a good follow-up record. To play it safe with Polydor he offered to record an album of cover versions, an idea which dated back to the Marillion period when Fish proposed it to the band as the 'Geisterfahrer' project. It was rejected by the band back then and rejected by the record company now. Polydor wanted a new studio album to finish the current contract.
Against the will of Polydor Fish decided to go ahead with the covers album and delivered it as the one which would fill his two album contract. As was to be expected, the partnership ended then and there.

The album was produced by James Cassidy and the band was the same as during the previous tour, although Mickey had left and Foss Paterson had joined on keyboards. The recorded songs were covers of songs by Moody Blues (Question), Sensational Alex Harvey band (Boston Tea Party), Pink Floyd (Fearless), Kinks (Apeman), Argent (Hold Your Head Up), Genesis (I Know What I Like), Sandy Denny (Solo), Yes (Time and a Word), The Who (The Seeker) and Bowie (Five Years).

Some of the tracks are very good, like Question (Moody Blues), Fearless (Pink Floyd). Five Years (Bowie) is even better than the original (in my honest opinion). The rest of the songs are either just nice or don't really fit Fish' normal style (Apeman) but are still interesting. The only track that really annoys me is the Genesis cover I Know What I Like. The Genesis version is just on the edge of being 'too sweet', that's why I normally prefer to listen to the live versions of this track. Fish took it and made it even sweeter than the original.
Solo is probably the least well-known track on the album. Nevertheless it became one of Fish' best ballads ever.

Time and a Word and The Seeker initially did not appear on Songs from the Mirror but were included on a promotion project CD for his Funny Farm studio, Outpatients (more about that later). The Yes track features Steve Howe on guitar.
T-Rex's Jeepster had been on the original album but seemingly Fish was so disappointed by the result that he took it of this remastered version.

The 12-page booklet does not feature any lyrics (probably because of copyright reasons) but is full of pictures and liner notes about this period in Fish' career, the role music played in his childhood and the selection of tracks on the album.

Songs from the Mirror wasn't a success. Loads of Fish fans consider it to be their least favourite Fish album and although it contains some nice tracks, I would also say that you'd probably be better of spending your money on another CD in this review special. If you still want to hear Fish play some of these covers, check out a splendid alternative: Sushi.

Conclusion: 7- out of 10.

Ed Sander

Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Roadrunner
Catalogue #:RR 8680-2
Year of Release:1994
Info:The Perception of Fish

Tracklist: Fearless (6.48), Big Wedge (5.32), Boston Tea Party (4.13), Credo (7.28), Family Business (5.42), View from a Hill (3.01), He Knows You Know (2.43), She Cameleon (3.58), Kayleigh (4.11), White Russian (9.18), The Company (7.06), Just Good Friends (8.11), Jeepster (3.59), Hold Your Head Up (3.04), Lucky (5.00), Internal Exile (7.31), Cliche (7.03), Last Straw (7.37), Poet's Moon (4.12), Five Years (7.56)
(track timings include applause and introductions by Fish)

Songs from the Mirror might not be the most popular Fish album, but the tour that followed its release was one of the best Fish ever did. Two of the concerts took place in the Vredenburg venue in Utrecht, Holland. The second night was recorded for a live album.
The setlist contained quite a few suprises. Besides some of the Mirror covers and Fish live favourites it featured some Fish and Marillion material which the big Scot had never performed yet during his solo career. The band was the same as on the album.

The concert opened with a great version of Pink Floyd's Fearless followed by Big Wedge which was nearly ruined by Foss Patterson's dodgy keyboard playing. Fortunately it's not that obvious on the CD. After a powerful Boston Tea Party a splendid version of Credo was played, which for the first time included the Credo ! chant between Fish and the audience. After a standard Family Business the first couple of suprises of the evening followed. View From A Hill was played live for the first time, even though it's only the opening section. The tune goes straight into another suprise; the old Marillion classic He Knows You Know. The medley continued with the less accessible old-timer She Cameleon and a good version of Kayleigh (although most people got pretty fed up with this track being played every time). Another unexpected song was the Clutching at Straws tune White Russian. Thus, all the four Marillion albums got a short visit.
The first CD ends with a nice version of The Company with the audience on vocals part of the time. It had initially been intented to be recorded for the single which never came to be; Five Years. When the audience starts the Dutch concert/soccer chant 'Ole, Ole!' after Fish and the band immediately use the opportunity to improvise on it for a couple of minutes.

After a standard Just Good Friends Fish tells the audience about a new dance he just heard about for which you don't really have to move a limb; the Harold. He proceeds to demonstrate it during the next song, an ass-kicking version of Jeepster, which merges with Hold Your Head Up, which in its turn flows into Lucky.
After good versions of Internal Exile and Cliche, two more suprises followed. First, a Marillion track which unfortuntely as never been played live after the Clutching At Straws Tour; The Last Straw. Second, the B-side from the Internal Exile period which should have been on that album in the first place: Poet's Moon. What amazing tracks !
A wonderful extended Five Years closed the magical night.

This is one of the best live albums by Fish. The performances are great except for a couple of fuck-ups (excuse my French) by Patterson. I've never been a big Patterson fan. He might be a good keyboard player but he's never been able to perform well on quicker, older tracks like Big Wedge and has always turned Incommunicado into a disaster. He'll probably play much better in his own, more jazzy style.
The album contains many 'live rarities' you won't find on other live albums and the enthusiastic audience and fantastic production adds a lot to the atmosphere.

There's one thing I'd like to mention though; although the tracklist of the remastered version is exactly the same as the original the cover claims that it's digitally remastered with bonus tracks !! According to the back catalogue list on the Kettle of Fish CD-Rom it's not remastered either. Is this a stupid mistake or intentional scam ?

Conclusion: 9- out of 10.

Ed Sander

Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Roadrunner
Catalogue #:RR 8686-2
Year of Release:1994
Info:The Perception of Fish

Tracklist: Mr. 1470 (6.06), Lady Let it Lie (6.53), Emperor's Song (6.18), Fortunes of War (7.51), Somebody's Special (5.22), No Dummy (6.16), Pipeline (6.43), Jumpsuit City (6.49), Bandwagon (5.07), Raw Meat (7.20), Black Canal (8.27), Out of my Life (3.42)

1993 was a special year. I saw Fish live three times, once at one of the Vredenburg gigs in March, the second time at the first Planet Pul festival in June and again at the end of that year when he visited Holland for his Outpatient Tour. Outpatient was a compilation album with work by various (Scottish ?) artists, recorded in Fish' Funny Farm studio. The two bonus tracks of Songs from the Mirror orginally appeared on that album, as well as an acoustic version of Out Of My Life. Other artists on the album were the Dream Disciples and now-Genesis vocalist Ray Wilson with his fun-band Swing Your Bag.
Fish had been working on material for his next album, Suits, for a while and decided to try it out in front of a live audience. Thus the Outpatient Tour was born. It included some amazing concerts and I bought one of my all-time favourite T-shirts at the gig; the Outpatient shirt with Funny Farm logo on the back and yellow Fish logo on the sleeve.
A total of 9 new songs were played and most of them sounded very promising. I couldn't wait to hear the album. Three songs had actually been performed as early as during 1992's Toile Tour !
Fish and Polydor had parted and Fish would release it on his own independant record label Dick Bros (which had seen the light during a spiritual session with the guy who had come in to examine the 'possessed studio equipment' and which was named after the garage which had been run by his father and grandfather).

Well .... I was in for a bit of a disappointment. Some of the songs which had been played during the Outpatient Tour had lost some of their power and energy. It seemed like producer James Cassidy had 'down-produced' the whole thing. Don't get me wrong, the album contains some splendid tracks but judging from their earlier live versions they could have been much better.

Mr. 1470 is a rock track with a 'groove' as Fish would say. It's rock music but it's got a certain 'danceability' to it. Fish had been wanting to try this direction for a while and Suits is probably an album on which it became very obvious. The track is very good, but like I've said, I've heard better versions than the one on this album.
Lady Let It Lie is a beautiful semi-ballad which was also released on single. It's a fantastic track with wonderful lyrics. One of the highlights of the album.
Emperor's Song is probably the song which suffered most from the 'Cassidy touch'. I remeber this one blowing me away on the Outpatient Tour, whereas this version is more like its shy twin brother. Still a nice track though. They should have made this one a single; it's very radio-friendly.
Although I like the lyrics and basic melody of Fortunes of War, I always thought that the laid-back and jazzy arrangements did not do the emotional load of the subject justice. A good track, but I prefer the acoustic version.
Somebody Special has always been a tough one to cope with. It's one of those tracks you quite like but drags on too much to be really enjoyable. The re-recorded version for the Yin/Yang albums was better in my opinion.
No Dummy is a track which to me is more like B-side material. It's got a silly text, a very un-Fish melody and although it's not a really bad track, it's certainly a song which would be skipped if I would program the CD player to listen to the best tunes. The tune has a definite groove and lots of keyboard samples as well as slightly annoying backing vocals.
Pipeline is another great tune of which the early live versions had much more power. It's still one of the best tracks on the album though.
Jumpsuit City is a another 'groovy' tune with great lyrics about hookers of the Reeperbahn in Hamburg. Nice one !
Bandwagon is a very happy and positive song. Not a bad track, but I don't like the poppy arrangements and would hardly call the song essential in your Fish collection. Another one with a high skipping level.
Raw Meat is a beautiful emotional ballad about the 'hard life on the road'. Although there are some great live versions, this one is very charming as well. Another highlight.

The CD features two bonus tracks which appeared on the Lady Let It Lie CD singles. The first one is the amazing Black Canal which can best be described as Fish doing his own Somewhere Down the Crazy River. And a very smelly river it is ! The other one is another track which goes back a couple of years; Out of my Life. Whereas the Outpatient album featured the acoustic version this one is the studio version with lots of weird percussion and folky instruments. I actually prefer the energetic acoustic version.

The booklet of the remastered version contains new pictures, all lyrics (including those of the bonus tracks) and extensive liner notes about the origins of the album and the various tracks. The logo which has been designed for the Yin & Yang compilation albums is used several times, for instance as a print on the actual CD.

Most of the material on Suits is quite good and tracks like Mr. 1470, Lady Let It Lie, Pipeline and Raw Meat certainly deserve the title of 'Fish classic'. It's just that it could have been even better with different arrangements and production.

Conclusion: 8- out of 10.

Ed Sander

Fortunes of War - Live Acoustic Set UK '94
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Roadrunner
Catalogue #:RR 8689-2
Year of Release:1994/1998
Info:The Perception of Fish

Tracklist: Somebody Special (4.46), State of Mind (7.15), Fortunes of War (6.29), Warm Wet Circles (6.04), Jumpsuit City (5.48), The Company (4.12), Kayleigh (4.29), Internal Exile (4.48), Just Good Friends (6.10), Sugar Mice (6.58), Dear Friend (4.02), Lady Let It Lie (5.54), Lucky (6.08)

During 1994, Fish didn't only do a normal tour to promote Suits (called the Bandwagon Tour) but also some series of performances with an acoustic set-up. A handful of acoustic performances with Fish, Frank and Robin had taken place earlier that year as a promotion for the Lady Let it Lie single. These 'gigs' were received very well and enjoyed by the band as the setlist got bigger and bigger. The Suits material lent itself very well for acoustic versions so before long the decision was taken to play several full 'unplugged' sets, which eventually developed into a whole tour. Because of the lower costs of an acoustic rig it even extended to places like South Africa and Singapore !

The band for this tour consisted of Fish, Robin, Frank, Foss and new drummer Dave 'Squeaky' Stewart. The tracks on the CD were recorded at four different locations, but most of them at The Mean Fiddler in London.
The tracks on this disc were released on a 4 CD-singles set which were supposed to be released one by one and get Fotunes of War in the charts for a couple of weeks. Retailers however made all of the 4 discs available at once and asked the normal price instead of the special reduced price, thus creating a lot of apathy among fans. Another 'cunning plan' failed.

The acoustic versions of these songs sound very good, and in my opinion some are even better than their original versions (Fortunes of War, Somebody Special).
There's a bit of cheating on Warm Wet Circles, which does include a solo on electric guitar. Personally I think this version doesn't even come close to the original.
This tour was also the one during which the extended improvisations on tracks like State of Mind and Sugar Mice orginiated. These new versions were later recorded in the studio for the Ying & Yang albums.
For those of you who already have the Acoustic Sessions CD, beware: this one is much better! Not only does it have 5 tracks which are not on that CD, the whole recording sounds much better and the sounds of the audience give it a more 'live' feeling (except for two tracks which were recorded in the studio).

Unfortunately, none of the keyboard based songs which were played during the acoustic tour appear on this CD and we therefore miss out on great stuff like Solo, Lavender and Gentleman's Excuse Me. Another song which is missing but should have been on this disk is Out of My Life. As far as I'm concerned they could have released a double CD with the full set, which also included the old Doors tune Roadhouse Blues at some concerts.

If you like Fish and acoustic sets, this one is definitely recommended.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10.

Ed Sander

Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Roadrunner
Catalogue #:RR 8681-2
Year of Release:1996
Info:The Perception of Fish

Tracklist: Black Canal (7.04), Jumpsuit City (4.59), Big Wedge (6.07), Emperor's Song (7.06), Lady Let it Lie (6.18), Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors (9.10), Shadowplay (medley) (4.03), Fugazi (3.21), Slainthe Mhathe (5.54), Credo (10.23), Kayleigh (4.43), Pipeline (7.17), Incommunicado (4.24), Internal Exile (5.29), Lucky (16.48), Lavender (7.00), Boston Tea Party (5.49)
(track timings include applause and introductions by Fish)

After the 94 Bandwagon Tour and the 94/95 Acoustic Tour it didn't take long before Fish was on the road again. In the summer he released a two CD compilation called Yin and Yang. The CDs contained a retrospective on Fish' career, both the Marillion period and the solo career. Half of the material was re-recorded (among which all the Marillion tracks), the other half had either been remixed slightly or were original versions.
After having released so many 'official bootlegs' as well as the the 4 piece Fortunes of War single and the Acoustic Sessions CD the fans got a bit fed up with the constant rehash of the same old material. Nevertheless, the two albums contained some of the best of Fish' work and most of the re-recordings were very good.
To support the set, Fish went on another tour which became one of the biggest of his life. It took him all over the world to places like Krakow where this CD was recorded.

I already owned another CD of this tour; Fish Head Curry. I liked it so much, I only played it about three times. Go figure. I didn't think the band performed very well and got really annoyed by Foss Patterson's playing and chipmunck-like backing vocals. I therefore put on this CD with a slight aversion.

The nice thing about this tour was that the whole set was almost played as one big medley. Most of the tracks flowed seamlessly into the next one, thus creating one big piece of music.
After the La Gazza Ladra intro (not on this CD) the first set of songs started suprisingly with Black Canal. After this daring opening Patterson manages to squeak his way through the backing vocals of Jumpsuit City and Emperor's Song and screws up another Big Wedge.
After a fine Lady Let it Lie and a standard Vigil follows another medley. This one starts with a track which has only been played on one tour before; Shadowplay. The version played here is quite nice and powerful. Through a mediocre part of Fugazi we come to a good rendition of Slainte Mhath which ends with a reprise of Shadowplay.
Although the medley wasn't finished here some maniac decided to fade out at this point and fade in on the second disc. Why ? There was still space for more than 20 minutes of music on the first disc !

After a short drum solo by Squeaky the band proceeds with Credo.
Disc two, what can I say .... more backing vocals by Patterson on Credo, Internal Exile, Lucky and Boston Tea Party and some of the dodgiest keyboard playing you ever heard on Incommunicado and Internal Exile. Kayleigh is fine but it's one of those tracks that has been played to death.
A 15-minute version of Lucky sounds more promising than it actually is. Unfortunately this version is not one which includes Roadhouse Blues. Instead it goes on forever with solo's by al musicians; some good some very uninspired.

Lavender is a very nice extended version including Blue Angel and Boston Tea Party a version that builds towards a loud climax.

This is not one of the best line-ups Fish has had. It probably isn't a big secret that I don't like Foss Patterson's playing. Furthermore, the constant howl of Frank Usher's guitar starts to get irritating after so many years. David Paton had sneeked out of the band and was temporarily replaced by Ewan Vernal (ex Deacon Blue), who wasn't familiar enough with the material to really be let loose. Krakow was his 6th gig. Robin and Squeaky are doing a good job but Fish has some problems with the vocals. He doesn't talk much between tracks. Seemingly some 'patching up' was done in the studio to improve the recording.

The booklet contains pictures and liner notes (with typing errors) but can anybody explain me why Pipeline has the tag '(live)' behind it while the other tracks don't ?

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.

Ed Sander

Sunsets On Empire
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Roadrunner
Catalogue #:RR 8679-2
Year of Release:1996
Info:The Perception of Fish

Tracklist: The Perception of Johnny Punter (8.37), Goldfish & Clowns (6.36), Change of Heart (3.41), What Colour is God? (5.50), Tara (5.12), Jungle Ride (7.34), Worm in a Bottle (6.24), Brother 52 (6.03), Sunsets on Empire (6.54), Say It With Flowers (4.15), Do Not Walk Outside This Area (6.29)

After the Ying & Yang Tour Fish decided that it was time for s slight change in directions. After toying with wild plans like a complete album of dance songs (thank God that never happened) he decided to go for a combination of rock music with dance influences and the 'grooves' he had experimented with on earlier albums. Fish was an admirer of Steve Wilson's bands Porcupine Tree and No Man. Steve in his turn had been a Marillion fan in the eighties so it didn't take much to get these two together. Sunsets on Empire was arranged, produced and co-written (6 out of 11 songs) by Steve. You can definitely tell on certain tracks.
Steve also played a lot of the music on the album: lead guitar on two songs, rhythm guitar on four, slide guitar on one and keyboard on all songs except Worm in a Bottle. He also took care of the samples and loops for some songs.
The rest of the band consisted of Foss Patterson (actually playing very well on this album), Ewan Vernal on bass, Dave 'Sqeaky' Stewart (drums) and Robin Boult on guitars. Frank Usher is also present on most songs, but far less prominent than in the past; he only plays lead guitar on 4 songs.
Besides these familiar names, there are another bunch of other musicians playing percussion, cello, violins, french horn, harmonica and doing backing vocals on the album, turning it into a very versatile recording.

The Perception of Johnny Pointer starts with a guitar riff which forms the basis for the whole track. After a lyrically daring opening the rest of the band kicks in to perform one of those venemous tracks Fish is (in)famous for. In the middle there's an intermezzo where the music quiets down and Fish tells a story about his experiences in Bosnia. The track also features good female backing vocals and a roaring guitar solo by Steve Wilson. A great change from the normal howling Usher solo's ! At the end the electrical violence dies down and the song ends with cello and violin. As far as I'm concerned this is one of the best songs Fish has made since the Vigil album.

Goldfish and Clowns is another wonderful track which starts very quietly with a single repeated piano note and guitars. When the rhythm section joins, another powerful song with emotional vocals follows.

Change of Heart is a simple (semi-)acoustic track. Not one of the highlights but a very nice tune nevertheless.

What Colour is God ? is a track in which Fish builds further on the 'groove' he experimented with on Suits. It features percussion with an Eastern feel, samples of religious speakers, drum loops and a pumping bass line. There's even a bit where Fish goes into a rap ! It's still got a lot of anger and power though.

Tara is the only song on the album I dislike. As a matter of fact, I skip it all the time. It's a sentimental song about Fish' daughter. Nothing wrong with that if they would have turned it into a ballad like Gentleman's Excuse Me. Instead they made this song so sweet and soft with a jazzy feel (Foss co-wrote it), female backing vocals and violins that it is completely out of place on the album. It also has Fish trying to go for vocal altitudes he no longer is able to reach.

Jungle Ride is a track which lots of acoustic guitars, percussion and mainly spoken lyrics. It's a fantastic song although I can't get used to the duet with the female backing vocalist in the refrain. Therefore I prefer the live version (see Tales from the Bus) above the studio version. Whereas that version has more anger in the vocals, the album version sounds more mysterious. The track also features violin and harmonica.

Worm in a Bottle is another 'groove' song with a simple but effective bass and drum line and a slightly minimalistic feel. The guitar effects and Hammond Organ add to the atmosphere of the song which gives you the feeling of being in a seedy bar. Great stuff !

Brother 52 is a song in which Fish finally succeeds in combining dance rhythms with rock music. It features a fine bass line, Hammond, ripping guitar and energetic violin solo's and the voice of a friend over the telephone, telling the tragical story of 'Brother 52'. It might sound a bit strange for a Fish song, but isn't that far from tunes like Big Wedge.

The title track of the album, Sunsets on Empire, is track which would not have been out of place on a Roger Waters (ballad with piano) or older Pink Floyd album. The track slowly builds to a climax with a female vocalist trying to create a new Great Gig in the Sky. There's no real guitar solo but lots of rhythm and slide guitar. The song ends rather strangely with a menacing piano melody.

Say it with Flowers is a simple track with just vocals, (acoustic) guitar and keyboards. Lots of people don't like this song but I can't find anything wrong with it. Certainly it's not a highlight, but it's not as bad as some people think either. Maybe it's because I've been in a long lasting relation myself which had its ups and downs and I therefore can relate to the lyrics better than others ? After all, the strength of this song is in the lyrics, not in the music.

The bonus track, Do Not Walk Outside This Area, was the 'B-side' of the Brother 52 CD-Single. As with What Colour is God ? this tune also has a rather exotic percussion loop. I never really got into this tune. It just drags on too long and the vocal melody doesn't really appeal to me.

The album is quite a change from the Suits material. Steve Wilson brought in lots of new (daring) arrangements and the album features new instruments like violin, percussion and Hammong Organ. And what's even better, Fish is angry at the world around him again ! And that's the mood which has always created the best material.
Although Frank Usher plays on the album, his typical howling guitar which has dominated Fish' work since the beginning of his solo carreer is never obviously present on this album. A good change as far as I'm concerned.

In contrast with the other remasters, this one does not feature liner notes, which is a shame because there's probably a lot of interesting stories to tell about the period after Yin/Yang, the recording of the album and the inspiration for the songs. Futhermore, I find it hard to believe that an album released in 1997 would need to be remastered at all !
The album does of course contain all the pictures and lyrics of the original version.

Conclusion: The best Fish Album since Vigil. 9 out of 10.

Ed Sander

Tales from the Big Bus
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Roadrunner
Catalogue #:RR 8688-2
Year of Release:1998
Info:The Perception of Fish

Tracklist: The Perceptions of Johnny Punter (11.41), What Colour is God? (7.21), Family Business (6.23), Mr. 1470 (5.32), Jungle Ride (8.15), Medley (Assassing / Credo / Tongues / Assassing / Fugazi / White Feather) (20.25), Cliche (8.34), Brother 52 (6.08), Lucky (20.14), Internal Exile / The Company (8.52)
(track timings include applause and introductions by Fish)

To the suprise of many fans something happened when Fish went on the Sunsets on Empires Tour. Something which had always been 'out of the question'. Mickey Simmonds returned to the band ! And after having used Keith Moore (ex Arena) and JJ Belle as guitarists, Robin Boult returned on guitar, while Dave 'Sqeaky' Stewart could be found behind the drum kit again. This was the first real tour Fish had just one guitarist in the line-up and personally I thought this was quite an improvement. It made the sound more 'open', less cluthered, and gave more room for improvisations.

The show started with The Perception of Johnny Punter, which had an extended and slightly improvised guitar intro. The guitar solo in the middle of the song is different but not really inferior to Steve Wilson's original. Overall, the live version is not quite as powerful as the studio version though. Nevertheless, the spoken intermezzo is very spine tingling.
During What Colour is God ? a lot of samples and pre-recorded percussion loops are used, which in my opinion doesn't improve the 'live feeling' of the song.
After a standard Family Business (it's a good song but I never understood why this song has been so extremely popular) and a good Mr. 1470 (not counting the backing vocals) a monologue of more than 4 minutes follows in which Fish elaborates on his disappearing hair. Most of this is done in German.

I actually prefer the live version of Jungle Ride above the original because it's got much more power and there's an extremely venemous performance by Fish. The female backing vocals (I never really got used to) are also abscent in this version.
At the end, Jungle Ride merges with the beginning of a medley which starts with Assassing (where the guitar isn't quite right, resulting in a mediocre version which is nearly saved by Mickey's fantastic keyboard solo) and then proceeds with Credo (as good as ever), Tongues, another bit of Assassing, a short drum solo by Sqeaky, the closing section of Fugazi (where are the prophets ?) and White Feather. In the end the music of White Feather is combined with the 'Credo !' chant, which is taken over by the audience, and lyrics from Credo and Fugazi resulting in a very interesting whole. Although not all bits of this medley are played completely flawlessly, it probably is one of the highlights of the album.

The second disc starts humorous but rather long (6+ minutes) view on masculinity by Fish. Nice monologue but it probably gets rather boring after several listenings. The topic serves as an introduction to a fine Cliche in which I don't miss Frank Usher for a minute. Fish has some problems with the vocals but manages to fight his way through the song. Strangely, the ending between Robin and Mickey is slightly chaotic.
Brother 52 misses the power it's got on the album and sounds rather tame here. Mickey's immitation of the violin on the keyboard doesn't sound very convincing.
Another 16+ minute version of Lucky starts with a weird fairy tale by Fish (in German/English) about badgers. I don't care much for this waste of disc space (together with the introduction to Cliche more than 10 minutes) but Lucky itself isn't bad at all. The total lack of backing vocals by Foss Patterson makes up for a lot. Halfway through the song Fish introduces the members of the band. After the song another 4 minutes of audience noise shouting for the encores brings the non-music quantity of disc two to 14 minutes.
Internal Exile isn't one of the better versions I've heard. At one point Fish even stops singing altogether and lets the audience take over. Unfortunately the audience can hardly be heard on this CD so you just get an instrumental version. Internal Exile merges with the folky middle piece of The Company. To my disappointment the violin Mickey tries to emulate with his keybiards sounds pretty pathetic on this song, as well as on the previous one.

I'm sure there were better performances during the Sunsets tour and therefore I'm a bit suprised that this gig was used. It's another one of those 'Fish talking German' gigs and the booklet even contains some summarizing translations of parts of the spoken bits on the album. There are several songs missing which were played during other parts of the tour, like Goldfish and Clowns and Worm in a Bottle. Furthermore, the encores of this gig, being Lavender and Gentleman's Excuse Me, are not on this album either because the sound engineer forgot to put in a new DAT tape. Instead you do get almost 20 minutes of babbling by the Big One. A bit too much for my taste. It's great to hear all those stories during a concert but on the discs I really prefer actual music.

The booklet contains a lot of liner notes and stories but a strange gothic font has been used which does not make it any more readable. The dark background makes this even worse. As far as the lay-out and the pictures of the CD are concerned, it's probably the worst Fish release ever. Blurry photographs and cheesy collages abound.

Conclusion: 8- out of 10.

Ed Sander

Kettle of Fish
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Roadrunner
Catalogue #:RR 8678-8
Year of Release:1998
Info:The Perception of Fish

Tracklist: Big Wedge (5.19), Just Good Friends (with Sam Brown) (5.48), Brother 52 (6.05), Chasing Miss Pretty (4.52), Credo (6.41), A Gentleman's Excuse Me (4.16), Goldfish & Clowns (6.38), Lady Let it Lie (4.12), Lucky (4.58), State of Mind (4.46). Mr. Buttons (4.36), Fortunes of War (7.54), Internal Exile (4.41)

After finishing the Sunsets on Empire Tour, it dawned on Fish that he would never survive as a independant artist. Fortunately he got signed to Roadrunner, who re-released the above reviewed CDs, making most of them available in a worldwide range for the first time. This enabled Fish to completely focus on the music again which will hopefully result in many more high quality releases in the future.
Since most of this material is available on a global basis for the first time Fish decided to release (another) compilation album. Although this was mainly targetted at the US market, it was released in Europe as well. Fish knew that the fans would see this as another cash cow and therefore decided to make the European version a limited edition with an extra CD ROM.

Kettle of Fish contains all of the Fish singles ever released except for Something in the Air, Hold Your Head Up, Change of Heart and The Company (where's that one ?!). It also contains a single which was planned for release but never saw the ligth of day: the 95 re-recording of Lucky. Besides Lucky and the fabulous re-recording of Just Good Friends with Sam Brown all of the songs are the original versions.

In May 97 Fish joined a writers session in France with 23 other composers and co-wrote six songs there. Two of these appear as bonus tracks on this compilation: Chasing Miss Pretty and Mr. Buttons.
Three other songs from the French session will appear on Fish' forthcoming album Raingods With Zippo's, together with other tracks like the 27 minute epic Plague of Ghosts.

The first new track is Chasing Miss Pretty, which might just be the most commercial track Fish ever wrote. To be honest, it's a nice tune actually. Very un-Fish but very joyfull and happy. The best comparison which comes to mind is Emperor's Song (Chasing Miss Pretty even features a part which is very similar to that song). The song doesn't have any keyboards and there's a reprise when you think the song is over. The refrain is simple but very catchy and you'll be humming it for the rest of the day.
Mr. Buttons, the other new song, is completely different. The couplet is rather jazzy and doesn't do much for me. There's a nice chords pattern at the end of the chorus though. The song sounds rather unfinished to me since there are a couple of bits where the singing stops and the song falls flat because there isn't any soloing instrument to fill the gap. The lyrics are about a computer hacker.

The CD ROM of the European version of Kettle of Fish contains three videos (Fortunes of War, Just Good Friends and Brother 52). I've never been very enthusiastic about Fish' videos. Most of them vary from 'okay' (Fortunes of War, Just Good Friends fall in this category) to absolutely horrible (Brother 52 and Hold Your Head Up for instance). Most of the time they don't add much to the songs themselves. People will have to make up their own minds though if they consider these clips a reason to buy the compilation album.
The CD also contains details on the Roadrunner back catalogue and links to the Fish and Roadrunner Web Sites. Nothing you couldn't get with 5 minutes of surfing on the net yourself. I therefore consider this disc to be a very meagre way to 'sell the deal' to long-time fans.

The booklet of the album contains liner notes on Fish's solo career (there is no elaboration on the Marillion period). It's more like 'Fish doing a confession' since the whole story (which could be considered a summary of the liner notes of the remastered albums) consists of explaining one wrong decision he made in the past after the other, thus explaining how he got where he is today. Although most fans might have a certain feeling of 'we told you so' or 'we knew it was wrong' it does take a big man to admit things like that.
The booklet also contains all lyrics of the songs (some with extremely small font sizes !), as well as small images with the cover art of all singles and some of the best promotional pictures taken in the past ten years.

For people who have the various Fish CDs the two new tracks and CD ROM probably will not be enough to justify coughing up the cash. For people who don't know to much about Fish, this is a great way to get to know his more accessible (should I say commercial ?) work.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10 if you don't have much Fish stuff yet, 5 out of 10 if you already own the studio albums.

Ed Sander

Album Reviews