So here I am once more … one more entry in a diary self-penned …
I remember a crowd of about 40 of us singing ‘Script For A Jester’s Tear’ outside St David’s Hall, Cardiff on a cold March evening in 1990 waiting to be let into the venue to see Fish on his first solo tour. We felt like the ultras, no floating voters there at all as was evinced by our note and word-perfect a capella version of our musical credo. On Sunday 23rd, a mere 10,406 days later I’ll be seeing him for a second time* it’s all circular, man.
As a smart-arsed clever clogs teenager I loved Fish unreservedly for his charismatic frontmanshipiness and his awesomely clever clogs polysyllabic lyrics. I very much took his side during the Marillion divorce** and so after a bunch of interviews^ I was intrigued to pick up State of Mind, his first new offering to the world. I was happily surprised by the gentle clarion call to revolution it espoused and the laid-back late night feel of the music, very much led by John Giblin on bass and Mickey Simmonds on keys. It wasn’t what I was expecting at all and it was all the better for it. If I could change anything about it I would make the transition into the chorus a little less clunky and subtler, but hey, what do I know?
The A-side is ‘The Presidential Mix’ and on the B-side we get one of my pet peeves, the single edit of the track which is an utterly pointless exercise and a non-LP track, ‘The Voyeur (I Like To Watch)’. This latter is a jittery putdown of TV voyeurism which borrows a trick or two from Peter Gabriel’s solo work, I like it.
Next up we were treated to Big Wedge an anti-consumerist, rather anti-US single wrapped up as Fish’s best pop moment. I loved this one way back when with its’ punchy horns, Carol Kenyon backing vox and real commercial swagger. Marillion had rejected the lyric years before, for fear of nixing their chances stateside^*. There’s even something a bit Bond theme-y about it half way through that I rather love.
On le side du B, as the other half of the auld alliance say, is another non LP track ‘Jack And Jill’ which just isn’t very good and a rather excellent live cover of SAHB’s ‘Faith Healer’ which seems to hold true on all the man’s desires to be more real and rootsy in his music post split.
Listen to me,
Just hear me out.
If I could have your attention?
The cover of the snappily titled Vigil In A Wilderness of Mirrors*^ depicts a berobed couple on top of a mound of consumer electronics, all of which with screens seem to be showing the face of that chap who used to be in that band who sung ‘Kayleigh’. Open up the gatefold and you get Mark Wilkinson’s full creation, all manner of aspirants trying to make the top of the hill, stabbing and shooting each other regardless of the apocalyptic nature of the rest of the world around … trying to get to the top of that great big extended metaphor. I love Mark and his work and this picture is fertile ground for fans who know their onions well enough. I was particularly taken with Picasso’s guitar player sticking out of a puddle.
Opening with the title track Vigil … pulls no punches at all. Fish is in great voice throughout the album but particularly on this one. I think ‘Vigil …’ is a really good track right up until it hits the chorus, which just takes it in too obvious a direction – they go for the big hit when a hit and run would have been better. I am rather taken by the Celtic interlude part way through.
Skipping the first two singles we come to ‘The Company’ Fish’s assertion of independence and dig at his former band mates, always denied by him but we fans knew. It comes over as a great rollicking Celtic sing-song replete with the sort of instrumentation that usually makes me flinch away in a rock song, but sounds great here. We had great fun, as did he, substituting ‘Fuck off!’ for ‘push off’ in the lyrics when saw him live.
The rather lovely ‘Gentleman’s Excuse Me’ opens side 2 of Vigil … but I’ve done that before. So we rattle on to the rather well judged tale of domestic violence that is ‘Family Business’, where Fish plays the guilty man who notices but doesn’t do anything about it when he should. It’s a good, interesting and worthy take … with a good tune too.
The rocker on Vigil … is ‘View From The Hill’, starring none other than Janick Gers (not that I knew who he was then). The grit Gers adds to the track is palpable and you can tell he really coaxed a bit extra out of Fish, although I wish he would really let rip a bit more. I love the message of this track and I really like the way it builds and releases. I read a really good little interview here where Janick talks about his contribution and how his offering was originally a lot rawer and rockier but toned down by producer John Kelly. It was great live too.
For my money Vigil … saves the best until last with ‘Cliché’. I had actually forgotten what a great tune and conceit this was, Fish singing that although some folks thought he was a lyricist and a poet, all he could do when faced with a certain lady’s love was just to lapse into cliché. Frank Usher, the guitarist when I saw him live and who plays here played it so beautifully when I saw him live too, what a melody! The production on this track is a little less of-it’s-time too, allowing Mark Brzezicki’s drums and the backing vocals of Carol Kenyon and Tessa Niles (what a killer team!) to really shine on through.
I have really enjoyed revisiting my past haunts here, Vigil … has stood the test of time much better than I feared it may have done. Fish is never less than good lyrical company, although as always some of it is a little overdone, but that’s his charm. It is great to hear him raging against the machinery of capitalism and indifference so well and so articulately. There are real flashes of emotion here, possibly a bit truer to his character than his often more measured approach previously.
I side with Janick Gers, in that I would have liked a less smooth final product overall but it is what it is. And that is a carefully confected thoughtful pop prog rocker.
I like the view from here.
879 Down and 10,399 days.
PS: I could have sworn I owned the picture disc version of Vigil … too. I must have either sold it for food at some point in the mid 90’s or been the victim of a very specific burglar.
PPS. The setlist from when I saw him. I used to have the ability to memorise a whole setlist until I got home. These days I can barely remember who I saw.
*performing Clutching At Straws in its’ entirety on its 30th anniversary.
**refusing to buy their singles on more than one format (mostly) and only buying their first post-Fish LP 3 weeks after it came out (I bought Vigil … and every single he released off it on the day of issue). That showed those guys!
^later clipped-out and meticulously curated in the Mighty Scrapbooks of Rock; Fish shares half a scrapbook to himself along with King’s X^^.
^^no wonder chicks found me so utterly resistible at the time.
^*sadly, I would argue their subtlety, restraint, considered intelligence and delightfully uncommercial neo-prog song writing (in the main) was already doing a perfectly good job of this without any lyrical input from the big Scottish guy.
*^or Vigil … as it will henceforward be here, in order to save on pixels.