Fish: O2 Academy Bristol
Opening for an established artist is never easy and when the artist is someone as well revered as former Marillion frontman Fish, who attracts some of the most passionate and ‘special’ audiences, the challenge is a large one. French progressive rock outfit Lazuli (9) showed absolutely no fear and provided the highlight of the evening with 45 minutes of something a little different. Their European and Eastern influenced music proved to be a huge hit with the overly packed Academy crowd. A variety of instruments including a French horn, leode (a kind of electronic cello with infra-red strings - Tech Ed) as well as a vibraphone were put to good use. Their mix of progressive rock and electro-pop combined with a humble approach generated a massive reaction from the crowd. Singing entirely in their native tongue, the band closed their impressive set with all five members of the band playing the vibraphone, including a snippet of Marillion favourite Incommunicado. Excellent stuff and one of the finds of the year.
In the 1980s Marillion were the band that got me into progressive rock more than anyone else. Prog was considered the lumbering dinosaur a relic of a bygone age. I was obviously aware of Yes, Floyd, Genesis and the leanings of Rush, but Marillion were new. To say fresh is probably pushing it but to a young lad eagerly lapping up anything with a rock coating, they were exhilarating. From their angst ridden social commentary of debut Script For A Jesters Tear through to the bitter musings of the alcohol soaked Clutching At Straws, I absorbed everything they released. Opportunities to catch them live were snapped up with the live arena the natural home for the wordsmith Fish, whose mere presence was both intimidating and captivating. In 1985 the band release their defining work, Misplaced Childhood. Full of reflection and bitter memories, with a cutting social commentary as relevant today as it was 30 years ago. Childhood also spawned two hit singles, which saw uncomfortable performances on Top of the Pops.
Last year my good lady and I managed to catch some of Fish's set at a rammed Globe. In fact it was a little too busy and having had our arrival delayed due to work commitments, we also left a little early. So when the big man announced a string of UK tour dates which included the performance of Misplaced Childhood in full, we snapped up tickets for the O2 in Academy in Bristol, along with 1600 others. Despite awful traffic we were fortunate to obtain a decent view in a bulging venue. Many others were not as fortunate and this rat hole meant several punters spent the evening listening but not able to see anything. Plaudits for the evening go to stand in keyboard player Tony Turrell, who stepped in at the last minute when the band’s usual keyboard player John Banks broke his arm. You’d never have known. Bravo Tony!
Fish (6) arrived on stage with his excellent band, a collection of stars from many bands in the prog circuit, most noticeably Gavin Griffiths from Mostly Autumn on the drums. A hero’s welcome greeted the Scot, who opened with Pipeline. From the off, it was difficult to hear his voice but I put it down to the acoustics and the mix. After the title track from his last release, the excellent Feast Of Consequences came the harrowing Family Business from his first solo release Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors. By then I was more convinced that it wasn't the mix but Fish's voice that was the problem, as he appeared to have no power to hit the high notes whatsoever. It was time for Fish to do what he does best; talk. A short speech which referred to the recent terrorist atrocities across the world. For a moment, I was extremely concerned at the direction of his rant, but he steered his commentary to the path that I expected it would take; yes folks, refugees are refugees because they are fleeing from bombing. Phew! This speech led nicely into The Perception Of Johnny Punter from Sunsets On Empire, from 1996 and a reflection of his time in Bosnia at the height of the Balkan War.
Fish then introduced the Misplaced Childhood suite; cue Marillion karaoke. For the next 50 minutes the entire album was performed, supported by an audience that knew every word. Yep, Fish might not have managed all the words but the crowd carried every part, including the tone deaf guy behind us who bellowed throughout. Clearly enjoying his annual night out from his bedroom. As Childhood progressed, so my memories evaporated. Kayleigh and Lavender were sung with the expected fervour and the atmosphere built along with the music. An emotional Heart Of Lothian turned into a football chant with Fish allowed to ease the chords and let the audience take over. However, by the time we reached Blind Curve I was despairing, as his voice had all but gone for any of the numerous high parts (I’ll state again that it could have been the mix – but we saw Vintage Trouble from the same vantage point and heard every word Ty Taylor sang). As the heart wrenching Childhood’s End reached its climax, I was already planning my exit strategy, such was my disappointment. Mrs H and Matt were also sufficiently unimpressed and readily agreed to skip Market Square Heroes and The Company. As we headed out of the venue it was noticeable that many others were also leaving although if it was for the same reasons as us I can’t say.
So there you have it. Marillion with Fish was a soundtrack of my youth. Sometimes sleeping dogs should be left to lie. For Fish, I am really pleased that his tour has sold out every date. All of those Marillion fans from the 1980s have re-emerged for a night of nostalgia. I truly hope that the mix was the reason for those poor vocals but for me, my memories have been pretty trampled upon and Fish’s 2017 farewell tour will be missing three punters