They say lightning never strikes twice. When one of your last gigs in Holmfirth has resulted in your coming down with a bad virus and your guitarist suffering a heart attack, including the same town in your next tour schedule is tempting fate a bit. Never one to be intimidated by such an ominous portent, Fish brought the Moveable Feast tour back to the century old Picturedrome on a sunny bank holiday weekend. And there can be no better feeling than gathering for a beer in a superb local hostelry right next to the venue in a picturesque village. Designed in some way to be a chance to try out some new material which has been in gestation for some time now in a live setting, this was a bit of a tour with a family theme, with Fish himself taking on driving duties and his daughter running the merch stall. After a couple of years touring with the ‘Fishheads Club’ – essentially a stripped down acoustic trio of Fish, Guitarist Frank Usher and keyboard player Foss Patterson, it was back in at the deep end with a full electric band. With a much longer and extensive European tour to come in the autumn following the recording of the new material straight off the back of this tour for a September launch, it’s a heavy and stressful schedule which the 55 year old has set himself.
Decked out in his trademark shawl wrapped around his shoulders, Fish remains a commanding presence onstage. When her raises his hands, the audience follow; when he says they clap, they clap (unless you’re busy filming the gig on your iphone – for more thoughts on that topic see Fish’s social network pages). The between song banter is much more than a mumbled introduction to the next song. The relationship between artist and audience is one of a healthy respect – although the banter and catcalls are almost an expected part of a Fish gig and anyone attempting to heckle leaves themselves open to a scathing putdown – it may even be why they do it! An audience at a Fish gig is generally in high spirits and always ready to try to grab his attention and combined with the fact that the Yorkshire folk are known for speaking their minds, it was a heady mix. In fact a recent show drew an open apology from the big man when his onstage comments went a little too far and were enough for some fans to feel offended enough to walk out.
On the other side of the coin, in Holmfirth, when he took time to articulate his thoughts in the lengthy introduction to a set of three songs from the new High Wood suite, inspired by a visit to the battlefields of The Somme, you could not so much hear a pin drop as a pint pot clink. The engagement of the crowd at that point was almost total as he told of his personal links to the area through his grandfathers and related it to the fall of the ‘Pals’ regiments and communities. It felt particularly poignant, particularly when also viewing the archive footage on the back projection which accompanied the performance. Even in its first outings and before the music has been committed to tape, the anticipation that this is going to be a major piece of work is intense.These days though , the gaps between songs are as much for a sip from a bottle of springwater, a pause for breath and a chance to clean the glasses, while the lyric sheets on a music stand are there as a crutch for the new material.
As well as a selection from the dark and lyrically heavy High Wood suite (including Crucifix Corner and Thistle Alley – which will no doubt have some fans scurrying to their computers to find out more of this compelling subject) the set opened with two new numbers – Perfume Garden and Feast Of Consequences as well as including an acoustic Blind To The Beautiful accompanied only by Robin Boult’s guitar and All Loved Up – a more straightforward 4/4 rock number which takes as its subject matter the need and desire for infamy in modern society no doubt influenced by the likes of Mr Cowell and co. Putting the band under pressure to learn a shedful of new material meant that a few well established chunks of the back catalogue could be fitted into the set particularly with guitarist Robin Boult returning to the fold for the current project. Using a rear projection screen to view some of Mark Wilkinson’s classic artwork from the Sunsets on Empire album during What Colour Is God? and Goldfish & Clowns from the same album was a respectful touch and acknowledgement to the man whose partnership and artwork is associated so much with Fish and whose work complements the music so well.
Of course, there had to be an acknowledgement to the early days of Marillion, with the 30 year old title track from the first album Script For A Jester’s Tear being dedicated to ‘the shiny heads’ in the audience – all of whom of course sang along with gusto. A medley which included snippets of both Marillion and solo material finished off with the rousing singalong finale of ‘where are the poets? Where are the visionaries?’ from Fugazi and the uplifting White Feather from Misplaced Childhood. Fourteen albums down the line and five years since the last album 13th Star, Fish confirmed, particularly with is new material, that he’s still a force to be reckoned with.
Review/photos by Mike Ainscoe