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Saturday, 16 December 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Fish (Live Review By Paul)

Fish - Tramshed, Cardiff

Two years ago I vowed never to see Fish again. An underwhelming show in Bristol left me disappointed. In the year that has passed, the disappointment has eased considerably and the opportunity to hear one of the voices of my youth perform all of Clutching At Straws, the final album he recorded with Marillion, was a tempting draw. Through the year the Scot has had his fair share of challenges, with health and bereavement the biggest obstacles. He also got married again which I am sure has helped with stability in a somewhat chaotic life (purely my observations) from his regular social media updates.

A somewhat traumatic gig two nights before in Leamington Spa had left Fish’s Twitter and Facebook feeds full of angry fans unable to attend the gig due to the heavy snow. To his massive credit, Fish has already arranged a new show at the same venue next year. Kudos to the man, he has some super principles.

French outfit Lazuli (9) are now firm favourites following their support slot in 2015 and for those of us lucky enough to have made the effort to get to The Fleece in November 2016 where they entertained magically. Their appearance was a huge factor in my decision to get to this gig and once again they were majestic. Humble beyond belief, their Eastern fused progressive rock once again went down fantastically, even to a crowd who had in the main not seen the band before. A decent 45 minutes allowed Lazuli to showcase their incredible talent once more and it was no surprise that they exited to a roaring ovation.

Spot on time Fish (9) and his merry band ambled onto the stage with no fanfare and launched into The Voyeur (I Like To Watch) from 1990s debut solo release A Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors. It was immediately apparent that the big man was in decent form, cutting shapes and focused on his craft. Fish does take his music and performance seriously and despite some of his social media outbursts I still admire his approach. The canny inclusion of Austrian singer Doris Brendel allowed Fish to hold his vocals to the lower end of the scale, avoiding some of the miraculously high notes he hit in his youth. Of course, several tracks require female backing vocals and Doris was able to add to the quality.

After Emperor’s Song from 1994’s Suits and Circle Line from Thirteenth Star, a pause to allow some narrative. Fish is a wordsmith, a poet and superb lyricist. He’s also as intolerant of ignorant people as yours truly, and his first words was quite rightly to berate a fan whose constant photographic attempts were accompanied by blinding flash. Three polite requests to put the phone away failed to resolve the issue but a threat of a soaking and the pressure from the crowd finally made said punter see sense. This set the tone for an evening of quite intense heckling from a rather unruly crowd, fuelled by large quantities of lager, Christmas spirit and the inevitable boisterous Welsh approach. A later put down of a screeching female audience member was priceless. In between, Fish did manage to impart some wonderful anecdotes about his career and specifically the recording of Clutching At Straws. Before getting stuck into that marvellous album we were treated to State Of Mind, a song written close to 30 years ago but as relevant politically today as it was then.

And then it was time to return to 1987. A hypnotic hour passed, with the full album played. Not in order, but that somehow made it better. Highlights? The inevitable raucous Incommunicado, the stark and chilling White Russian and the haunting That Time Of The Night stood out but there isn’t a bad song so nothing disappointed. It was a fabulous performance, full of emotion and angst, backed by some clever visuals on the big screen behind the band. Fish is backed by some brilliant musicians, all who can match the quality of the original line up on the album. Robin Boult’s superb guitar work demonstrated how fantastic Steve Rothery’s original playing was, whilst Llanelli born Gavin Griffiths on drums, John Beck on keyboards and Steve Vantsis’ bass playing all ensured that the intricacies of the album were not lost.

Halfway through the set Fish began his routine bottle of wine which he swigged from with alarming regularity throughout the rest of the show. Now, I like a drink, but you can’t help wonder if the man might just want to consider some of his lifestyle choices, given his recent health issues. He certainly carries a girth never present 30 years ago. Anyway, an emotional Sugar Mice was vocally supported by the whole audience before the set closed to a deserved ovation. Encore number one included Tux On, a rarely heard b-side and extended album cut and a trip back to 2014’s A Feast Of Consequences with a truncated Perfumed River. Calls for The Company fell short as it was The Great Unravelling that concluded the evening and I left the gig relieved that some of my early memories had been restored. With a promised new album in 2018 to come, alongside a headline slot at Rambling Man Festival, it may not be the last of the dour but strangely captivating Scot on these pages.

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