Hopefully when Fish plays with the SAS Band at Portsmouth Guildhall next week, it will be with less risk to life and limb than a show he played a couple of years ago – the former Marillion frontman performed in Mogadishu, capital of the war-torn east-African nation, Somalia.
‘It was the scariest place I’ve ever been in my life,’ says the singer.
‘It was a big, big experience. It was just a three-piece, me the guitarist and my keyboard player, and it was to play an acoustic set in their bar on the Mogadishu airport.
‘It was an army friend of mine who said “Would you like to come down if we can sort it out?” I said: “Yeah, all right”. We scooted down to Nairobi, then flew from there straight up into Mogadishsu, the infamous Black Hawk Down airport. We did the gig, and then flew out two days later. In the meantime we were taken out in armoured cars around the city, but it was a scary place. You felt like you were on another planet.’
Fish fronted prog-rockers Marillion through their commercial peak and has been performing as an acclaimed solo act since 1989.
And he is now going to be joining Spike’s All Star Band as guest vocalist alongside Tony Hadley, Toyah, Tom Robinson and Patti Russo. The band plays with a revolving cast of top-notch musicians, and Spike (pictured right) is Portsmouth-born Spike Edney, who has been keyboard player and ‘fifth man’ with mega-rockstars Queen since 1984.
Fish first met Spike when Marillion supported Queen on their now legendary Magic stadium tour.
‘We did a bunch of big stadiums with them in Germany and France. We struck up a friendship then which continued.
‘Spike and I kept in touch, then I got involved with the SAS Band about ’93. When I was able to do gigs with them and they phoned me up, I’d do them. Obviously one of the biggest problems I’ve got is that more often than not I’m on tour with my own shows, I’ve missed the last four-five Christmas shows, because I’ve been on tour at that time, but this year, it just so happens I was taking a break.
Having had to cancel his summer tour due to a back operation, Fish was free when Spike got in touch about these September shows.
When you get in front of the SAS Band, and you’ve got a really, clever talented horn section behind you – it’s “Woah!” It sends a prickle up your neck, y’know?Fish
SAS Band shows are renowned for their party atmosphere, with each vocalist fronting a handful of songs.
‘I play Kayleigh and Lavender – the two big Marillion hits are the obvious ones. It is a jukebox and we’re not there to play new stuff, but I like it because I get the chance to sing songs that I would never ever have done in my own sets. I get to do What Do You Want The Girl To Do by Lowell George and then I think we’re doing Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel, and A Little Help From My Friends – you only do that kind of song when you’ve got a horn section and backing vocals, and I never have a horn section on the road with me.
‘When you get in front of the SAS Band, and you’ve got a really, clever talented horn section behind you – it’s “Woah!” It sends a prickle up your neck, y’know?
‘It’s good fun. I’ve known Tony and Toyah for years as well, so the thing about the SAS Band is when you get back together it’s like having a party with a bunch of old friends.’
On the solo front Fish is putting together what he intends to be his last album. Aside from his health problems, his dad died last May ‘which took the wind out of my sails more than I expected,’ so the gestation period has been longer than originally intended.
The new album is to be titled Weltschmerz.
‘Weltschmerz translates as this feeling of feeling the pain of the world. Especially in the last year, I think a lot of people are confused and bewildered about what’s going on around us. But it’s not an album about the big world problems it’s more about characters – it’s characters dealing with their own problems in this world, not Korean ballistic missiles or blonde-haired lunatics or whatever.
‘I’m not aiming to have this out until next summer, so if I can get a couple of songs ready for my own December shows I’ll be more than happy.
‘On the December shows, it’s also the 30th anniversary of (Marillion’s gold-selling fourth album) Clutching at Straws, so we’ll be playing that album in its entirety, and that’s kind of part of the move to shutting up shop.’
The SAS gigs will also play into Fish’s own ongoing reissue campaign, and there’s an extra reason for his fans to be at the Portsmouth show.
‘These September gigs, I’m going to be recording my bits and then hopefully going to be including them on the remasters of my (1993) album called Songs From The Mirror, which was all cover versions.
‘I’m remastering all of my solo back catalogue, and for Songs From The Mirror I was a bit short of tracks. I went to Spike and asked if we could do this – so we’ll be recording the Portsmouth show. It will be great to have the SAS Band on them, and I’m recording six new cover versions.
‘All of the remasters have so far been three CDs, and I only had two for Songs, so I needed something for one more. The rest of the band were up for it so hopefully when that comes out it will have something from Portsmouth on there.’
As to his reason for making this his final album, Fish says: ‘I’m 59 years old, I’ve got a wonderful garden up here that I really enjoy, I’ve got a lot of books to write, I’d love to get into writing screenplays. I think I’ll still carry on touring, but at nowhere near the level of intensity of recent years.
‘I think when you look at making an album, it’s very difficult – back in the ’80s, the tour promoted by the album, but now it’s exactly the other way around. We sell a lot on mail order and through Amazon and that’s it, there’s no point in going in to the independent retail sector because you’re basically setting up competition for yourself.
‘That said I’m not exactly Beyonce or Robbie Williams, and the other thing is that I don’t tour at the comfort levels that someone like Queen does when they tour. When you’re sleeping on a tour bus at night,and you’re playing to 1,500-2,000 people a night, you can’t really afford to do that and stay in hotels every night and take transport on during the day. I’ve got to that point where it’s a question of: Do I really want to sleep in a tour bus for several months of the year? And the answer is: No. I’ve done it, ticked it off and had a wonderful time, but that’s it now.’
* SAS Band play Portsmouth Guildhall on Tuesday, September 12, doors 7pm. Tickets from £32.36. Go to portsmouthguildhall.org.uk.