Somme battlefields inspired new album; MUSIC Former Marillion frontman Fish has recorded a 100th anniversary musical tribute to his two grandfathers who fought in the First World War. He talks to Mike Wood about his latest work as he heads out on tour.
IT'S been a tough few years for singer Fish, but he has come back fighting.
He has survived cancer scares, undergone operations on his throat and come through a short-lived second marriage that lasted only six months, but the former Marillion frontman has not allowed himself to wallow in self-pity.
He started off by packing his bags and heading to Costa Rica and Vietnam and says he found peace walking in rainforests and sailing along jungle rivers.
Singing 170 acoustic dates as part of The Fishheads Club tour also helped him gain his singing confi-dence back and he has brought out his first album in six years, A Feast Of Consequences.
The Scottish singer sets out on a May tour called Moveable Feast that comes to The Robin 2, Bilston on Tuesday and coincides with the release of his new single Blind To The Beautiful.
The musician, whose real name is Derek William Dick, also reckons the ambitious five-song High Wood Suite that features on his latest album is the best work he has done.
Indeed, he has gone on record to say: "If it was to be my last album ever then it would be a fine farewell."
He says: "I don't generally sit down and listen to my records but, when I was listening to the playbacks, I was really enjoying listening to the album.
"It was a hell of a demand to deal with subject matter like that and deal with it properly and to get the correct language and imagery and not wander into cliche and not wander into a comic book depiction of World War One."
The inspiration came from a visit to the Somme battlefields on his birthday in 2011.
He spent one night at a bed and breakfast place in Beaumont Hamel and later discovered he had been sleeping a matter of yards from where his maternal grandfather William Paterson, a miner by trade, had dug a trench back in 1916.
He admits that, before then, he had known little about his father's exploits in the war.
"We knew what battalion he was in and we have got photographs of him in his uniform.
"But he never talked about it. What I have read, the horrors they experienced, I don't think they wanted to talk about them."
He says research has revealed that members of William's battalion were killed in gas attacks and he adds: "I strongly suspect that the wheezing man sitting in the front room of my old family home in Dalkeith wasn't just suffering from pit dust."
Visiting High Wood, the scene of a series of desperate battles between July and September 1916, particularly caught his imagination.
"As an ex-forestry worker, there's always been a relationship between me and trees, and this wood had a particular resonance," he says. "I was captivated by the whole scene."
He later discovered grandfather William had helped dig a series of trenches there known as Thistle Alley.
"It's too many coincidences. I just felt I wanted to be writing about the Somme battlefield. I just needed the lightning rod to bring it into focus and High Wood gave me that."
A Feast Of Consequences, released this week, is his first for six years.
And it comes at the end of a turbulent period for the singer.
It was while on tour back in 2008 that he started having problems with his voice.
"One or two concerts were OK; others were a bit of a struggle," he recalls. "I would go to bed in a saintly way and would wake up in the morning with the throat from hell.
"At the end of the tour I was told I had a growth on my chords.
"Having been a smoker and a drinker, it rang alarm bells with me. I sat waiting for two months and my mind was playing devilish tricks with me."
The growth turned out to be benign, but he needed two operations to remove it and the scar tissue. This "dark period" was compounded by a "confusing and damaging personal relationship" that saw him married and divorced within six months.
Fish threw himself into a new lifestyle. In 2010, he rediscovered his love of scuba diving (not the reason he earned the nickname Fish - that came from the amount of time he spent in the bath as a youngster).
"The last thing I wanted to do was sit around with a bottle in my hand," he explains.
He also set off on an acoustic tour. "We went out and did 170 shows," he recalls, "just playing in front of small audiences. They were very intimate performances. You could talk with people, not at them.
"I think it was a great experience for me, a great starting point for A Feast Of Consequences.
"It showed me that it's easy to become very reliant on computer technology. When (songwriting partner) Steve Vantsis came up to my studio, I said, 'No computers. Bring an acoustic guitar'.
"We used 2013 production on top of 1970s songwriting methods."
He is now looking forward to his gig at Robin 2 on Tuesday and has happy memories of playing in the West Midlands.
"It's a fantastic audience," he enthuses. "It's always been one of my homelands.
"I remember playing the Birmingham Odeon and the NEC before I left Marillion. It's a rock audience. It's where metal came from. The audience has always been very supportive and vibrant and I don't expect anything different this time."
Though it's more than 25 years since he left the band, he is still best remembered perhaps for Marillion hits such as Kayleigh, Lavender and the live favourite Grendel, so what can we expect from the latest tour? "There will be a different set-list that we have been rehearsing down south," he reveals.
"The new album has been available to fans since last December and we feel the accolades it has received entitle us to play a bit more of it on this tour.
"It's a good mix of solo material and Marillion songs as well. I don't think anyone will be disappointed."
Beyond that, he wouldn't say, merely adding: "It's like Christmas. You don't need to know what the presents are."
Fish plays Robin 2, Bilston on May 6. For tickets tel 01902 401 211 or visit www.therobin.co.uk
Fish, former frontman of Marillion, is back with a new album and tour
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|Publication:||The Birmingham Post (England)|
|Date:||May 1, 2014|
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