Fish, August 27th, 28th & 29th 1999
Company Scotland Convention, Haddington
By Bart Jan van der Vorst
The ever-growing annual Haddington conventions must have reached a new highlight with this year's edition: A three-day program full of music, food, drink and other social activities and an actual Company Football Worldcup!
The journey from Amsterdam to Haddington wasn't too bad. Only one hour and fifiteen minutes by KLM for 500 miles to Edinburgh, and then two and a half hours by Midlothian Busses for the 30 miles to Haddington. Oh well,
Friday's program was more of a warm-up for the weekend and something for the early arrivals. Fish and his band appeared as Derek and the Badgers in a local pub's weekly jamsession. When we arrived in the pub it was already packed with people. A local band was playing (excellent) rock-classics to warm up the audience. The singer of this band was continuously joking about how popular his band suddenly had become, as attendance had never been *this* high crowded in the pub before.
Just after nine the band finished with an excellent rendition of the Eagles' Hotel California and the band left after they announced this "Derek", after which Fish and his band came onstage. Well, stage, there wasn't actually a stage, just a little corner packed with equipment. The gig was to be a try-out for the weekend shows and apparently the setlist was made up on the spot. There was only enough room to bring the acoustic instruments, so no electric songs got played.
Fish and his band played not bad, but the sound was terrible. There was something wrong with Fish' mike causing the sound of his vocals to be really blurred. It was also way too crowded in the pub to properly enjoy the show, although there was a nice atmosphere. The heckling was actually the best part of the show. Between the songs Fish explained the plans for the weekend and when he announced the starting time of the welcome-barbecue for the next day a girl asked him if there would be any veggies as well. "Veggies?" Fish replied, "no, sorry, but if you know any Veggie, just bring him along and we'll roast him as well!"
The choice of songs was not really surprising - most of these had already been played during the acoustic promo tour in April, so there was nothing new, only this time the songs were played by a full band, complete with drummer and bass-player. I didn't actually notice that Elisabeth Antwi was with them as well, until they played Just good friends.
It was the first time this band played in public together. John Wesly, Tony Turrell, Liz Antwi and Fish had played a couple acoustic gigs together in March and April, but this was the first gig with veterans Steve Vantsis and Dave Stewart playing with them.
The gig was OK, but nothing particularly special - the poor sound mainly spoiled the fun. Nonetheless it was a good hour to warm up for the rest of the weekend.
Saturday's program started quite early (12-noon) so there wasn't really time to sleep in at our comfortable campsite, in our really comfortable tent (erm…).
A local beerbrewer had provided a marquee tent and the barbecue consisting of chicken, sausages and hamburgers. It was a great start of the convention, as everybody was sitting out in the sun, eating their burgers and chatting away.
Fish and the band arrived to meet and greet everybody and everybody had a great time. There was a small exposition of the Mark Wilkinson artwork (smaller than last year's) as well as a way too busy merchandise stand. (with only one person behind it to serve the hundreds of crazy fans who wanted their T-shirts and other goodies)
It was great to meet all the other Fishheads from all over the world: USA, Canada, Spain, South Africa, Australia… there are people far more crazy than us in the world. We also tried to get a football team together for the Company worldcup which was to be held that afternoon. Unfortunately the Dutch proved to be most unsporting people in the world, as of the twenty-some Dutchmen that were there only five were willing to play.
Fish's annual conventional chat was a bit shorter than usual. Nicely situated out in the sun Fish explained about another year of wrong career moves and the problems he had with just another record company. He announced that he would be leaving Roadrunner, as they don't seem to give him enough support, especially in the USA. I take it this will appear in an official statement by Fish soon, so I'll leave it with this.
A question about the drummer Kevin Wilkinson, who had recently committed suicide, resulted in a very emotional Fish, who briefly explained the situation about Kevin and also his friend Doc, who had died of cancer just two weeks before. He quickly asked to change the subject to something else.
One particular hilarious moment was when a fan asked Fish whether it was true that he had so many problems with remembering the words to Plague of Ghosts. Upon Fish's honest answer he continued: "Do you realise that Grendel has actually less words to remember?"
A big laughter, applause and a baffled Fish were the result. This was definitely the best Grendel heckle ever!
After the convention chat John Wesley played a short set and then it was time to head for the football grounds. In the end our Dutch team consisted of 7 Dutch and 1 English player. Because the games were 7-a-side this meant that we would have only *one* substitute player. And then 20 minute games can be extremely tiring for a bunch of unfit guys and one girl (who ran, unsurprisingly, fastest of all)
Fortunately we had a little support from our coach and our two (!!) supporters.
Our first game was against the North Americans. Well, I think this was the first time in history that a North American football team wins anything at all, so we didn't begrudge them that pleasure.
Because we were lacking a keeper we put the biggest guy in our team, Dennis, in the goal. Unfortunately he had his own opinion about being a 'flying' keep, and the Americans scored their first goal by passing Dennis somewhere around the center spot, leaving the ball rolling across the empty field behind him.
Fortunately we were saved by a guy named Dolf, who just happened to walk on by. With him in the goal further humiliation was saved after we were behind with 3-nil. True, the Americans scored another goal, but only because the referee didn't tell us there was no off-side rule *after* the North-American English Madman Jon Davies had scored. And the goal counted… (bastards)
Apparently the referee felt sorry for us, because he granted us a penalty in the last minute. Our best player, Englishman Darren (or Darryl) missed, but fortunately the keeper had moved before the ball was shot, so we got another penalty, which turned out to become our only goal of that day.
The second game was a bit better. We managed to stand up against the North-England team (one of the three English teams present) during the entire first half. Dolf, our hero, was great as he managed to keep every ball that got through our defence (about every minute that was) out of the goal. And the one time he wasn't there Derk (having to cross almost the full length of the field at top speed) saved the goal.
We also had some bad luck. Our female star player Frouke had a clash with one of the English players and couldn't play anymore. She was replace by none less than yours truly, and I can tell you, that did *not* really give us more chances to win.
In the end we did manage to keep the ball out of the goal until the very last minute, where the English finally scored and the referee took that as an opportunity to finish the game.
The football games were great fun, and it was incredible that so many unfit, unprofessional people could play such exciting games (some were really, really good and fun to watch too). The only thing that bothered me was that Fish had urged that morning: "I don't want to see any professional looking players on the field, so go and have a drink or two, because it is not supposed to be anything like a professional." And while everybody had listened, and all teams consisted of fat-bellied, slightly pissed players, most of which hadn't touched a ball since high-school, Fish's team was wearing a custom made outfit and played with a real tactics and fanaticism that even the Scottish national team lacks. So what was that about no professionalism??
It came to no one's surprise that Fish's Badger's team was one of the 4 teams to go through to the semi-finals.
After the games we had just enough time to go back to the campsite (which was completely filled with Fish fans by now) for a quick shower and a bite to eat. In the evening an acoustic gig would be held in a church. Fish got this idea when he saw Rick Wakeman play in the same church a couple of months back and he figured it would be something nice to try for the convention. I must agree that it was definitely something really special.
The stage was set in the middle of the church, with the audience in the pews both sides of the stage. Fish would stand in the middle of the stage, with Liz Antwi, while the rhythm section filled the left side (or the right side if you sat on the other side of the church) and John Wesley and Tony Turrell would occupy the other side of the stage.
Dave Stewart was using the same drum setup as during the 1994 acoustic tour - standing behind his kit which only consisted of a bass and snare drum, some bongos and only two cymbals. Steve Vantsis played a huge acoustic bass, with an incredible warm sound. Unfortunately Tony Turrell had brought an electric piano. I guess an acoustic grand piano would have been too expensive and would never have fitted on the small stage.
The setlist was mainly the same as during the short acoustic tour in March, but it contained a few surprises. The set opened with Tumbledown (the piano-opening excellently played by Tony) continuing with Somebody Special and Change of Heart.
Fish didn't speak as much during the gig as normally. The management of the church had asked him to respect the church and not to swear. You could notice that the good humoured Fish had problems with that, but he managed to keep his language clean, with only a few slips ("bugger" twice, "shit" once and "God" once as someone kindly pointed out to me afterwards).
One of the highlights was the beautifully extended Goldfish and Clowns (without Brother 52 this time). The ending where Fish and Liz shared the vocals just went on and on. A beautiful romantic moment!
Fish felt the atmosphere as well as he changed the setlist around and continued with Tilted cross (originally planned towards the end of the set).
After Tilted cross it was time for another highlight: Elisabeth Antwi solo. At first she refused because she didn't feel comfortable being in the church, but Fish insisted, so she did it. What came next was definitely the highlight of the show (sorry Fish) a beautiful rendition of Kate Bush's Man with the child in his eyes. Hearing this, after an already perfect gig (or half a gig) had me saying a little prayer in this church: Release… Please?
More emotional songs followed, with the return of Dear Friend, dedicated to the recently deceased friend of Fish Doc (who is the voice in the song Brother 52).
Next up was a bit of Marillion content with Sugar Mice before a modest party kicked in with Out of my life and Lucky.
The set finished with the last parts of Plague of Ghosts: the beautiful Raingods Dancing and Wake-up call. At the end of Wake-up call each of the bandmembers got introduced after which they left one by one, while Fish and Liz continued singing "Make it happen, we can make it happen". In the end it was just Fish left, alone onstage, continuing singing. The audience didn't really pick it up, probably because it was still a strange experience seeing a Fish-gig in a church.
Fish and Tony came back onstage for an encore. Fish explained how the next song was his all-time favourite and that when someone would ask him if there was any song he wanted to have written himself that it would be this song. This song of course could be none less than the beautiful Sandy Denny-song Solo, which also appears on Fish's Songs from the mirror album.
Tony played excellently on this song, and Fish managed to catch all the high notes. I had only seen this song once performed live before, when Foss Patterson was still tickling the ivories, and that was the only time I noticed that Foss could play well after all, as long as he wanted to.
The next song was another piano-only song, which I had also seen only once before and at that time it got utterly destroyed by the same Foss Patterson. Tony however managed to save most of the magic in Mickey Simmonds' classical A gentleman's excuse me. Fish had a bit of problems with the high notes at the ending, but the audience forgave him.
After Gentleman's the piano-bit still wasn't over, as the song flew straight into Lavender. (Another song Patterson managed to screw up constantly). Tony played perfectly and the other bandmembers came back onstage after the first verse and the rest of the song was played by the full band. Once again: Excellent!
The setlist showed another encore of Internal Exile and The Company but there was a 10.30 curfew, so this encore was not played. Nonetheless this was one of the best Fish gigs I have ever seen - definitely the best acoustic Fish gig! Now I can just hope my prayers will be heard and this gig will be released on CD.
The Sunday program was a bit shorter. It started with a special "Fish-lunch" in the Waterside Bistro, after which John Wesley played an improvised set for about an hour, outside the bistro. I never really cared for Wesley's acoustic songs, but this was the first time that he impressed me with his emotional songs. And during his introductions he proved to have a great sense of humour as well. This gig was so much better than all the times I had seen him before, supporting Marillion or Fish in a big venue, where nobody in the audience seems to care for his music anyway.
I found myself really enjoying the gig and I bought one of his cd's that same night.
In the afternoon we watched the semi-finals and the finals of the football worldcup, and whatd'ya know: Fish's team won! You'd almost think it was a fixed fight, but I watched both semi-finals and the final and I have to admit that their team deserved to win, they were the best.
Of course the fact that most supporters along the field were mainly cheering for Fish helped as well. Fish scored once - a backward header straight over the keeper into the goal - a damn pretty goal if I may say.
Fish's victory would definitely be the main subject of his chatter during the evening concert - that was for sure!
The evening gig was the annual feast in the Haddington Corn Exchange. It was to be the very first electric gig with this band, and also the first gig of the upcoming Raingods tour. So it could be quite an experience.
The support act was a young band, which made some weird, Brit-pop alike music. Although the music of this three-piece band failed to impress me, the guitarist was quite stunning. Playing with a guitar-synthesiser he created the weirdest tunes in a brilliant way. Too bad the singer stuck to the (apparently popular nowadays) uninteresting, monotone type of singing, which every Brit-pop band seems to use. Too bad, because they are definitely talented.
After they had finished Fish came onstage and asked for some silence. He wanted to dedicate tonight's concert to two recently deceased friends of his: Drummer Kevin Wilkinson (Drummer with Fish between '91 and '94) and Tattoo artist Doc (the voice on Brother 52)
A few minutes later an intro tape for Faithhealer started to play and the band came onstage. When they kicked in Tony Turrell's synthesisers were almost inaudible, but fortunately this got changed quickly. It struck me how good the sound actually was in this old corn exchange annex gymnasium annex whatever it is nowadays.
After Faithhealer the band immediately continued with Lucky which in its turn was followed by Brother 52 - the song dedicated to Doc. These three songs were a great starter for the gig. The overdone Lucky works so much better early in the set, and although I have always hated the 16 minute + version they used to play during the Yin&Yang and Sunsets tours, the new version seems a little bit short. Later I watched the new Polish video, where Lucky lasts about 6 minutes, and that is still the best version I know of the song. Nonetheless I wouldn't mind Fish to skip that song after all.
Tony Turell played remarkably well. Considering that he has no live-experience or whatsoever he did really well. With an electric piano, a Hammond organ and two synthesisers he succeeded the prog-setup. Only during the violin solo in Brother 52 I missed Mickey Simmonds - Tony didn't manage to play it as fast and fluently as Mickey.
I was time to slow down a bit with the ballad Just good friends, with leading roles for Liz and John Wesley. Where Liz had followed her own melody line during yesterday's acoustic version, she stayed loyal to the original melody tonight -all under a great applause from the audience.
Wesley played the Usher solo excellently, running around the stage and pulling faces like a genuine Yngwie Malmsteen - an enthusiasm I haven't seen at a Fish gig since the short appearance of Keith More in 1997. At least it looked a whole lot better than statues like Frank Usher or Robin Boult and the first time I saw him playing on an electric guitar wasn't any inferior to neither of his predecessors.
After Just good friends they played another ballad: Incomplete. Personally I have heard this song a little too often (already the third time this weekend) and luckily Fish didn't play Tilted Cross as well, because that would have been just too many ballads, and too many similarities with last night's gig.
During the Sunsets tour Fish had played a 20-minute medley which had been the highlight of every single show on the tour. The perfect mix of solo and Marillion songs had captured the hearts of many fans, and I can imagine the great task for both Fish and the band to surpass this medley. I had already read that Fish had been working on a new medley and when the intro to Emperor's song started I realised this was it. After the first couple of verses and choruses the song went into the second verse of Credo, which was played until the guitarsolo finished (about two minutes) before kicking into the chorus of What colour is God?. Another guitarsolo and a new bit with great vocals by Liz before it went into the finale of Mr 1470.
Altogether the medley hadn't last longer than a mere 5 or 6 minutes and it sounded way too messy to me. The fragments are way too short (unlike the '97 medley which featured almost complete songs) and none of the songs are the crowd teasers a medley should include - apart from Credo maybe.
Next up was another "medley" but this time one that is a crowd teaser: The Hotel Hobbies / Warm Wet Circles / That Time of the Night trilogy from the Clutching at Straws album. This was to be the only Marillion content in the setlist and the crowd loved it, singing along all the lines. John Wesley had had some private lessons from his friend, Marillion guitarist Steve Rothery, which showed as he played all guitarparts spot-on! Unlike last year's version, where Mickey Simmonds had played many of the guitarparts (even with two guitarists onstage) Wesley played everything himself. It was a pity that there was something wrong with one of his switches and the clean intro to Warm Wet Circles sounded a bit distorted, but for the rest it was perfect.
The show really got going now with Tumbledown followed by an extended Goldfish and Clowns. Like yesterday Fish and Liz shared the vocals during the extended finale and when Fish sang the wrong words Liz kindly corrected him in a hilarious way.
And then the moment of truth: the epic Plague of Ghosts. As Fish had been joking about not remembering the lyrics all weekend, no-one was surprised when he took the music stand Liz had been using all night and moved it towards his own microphone at centre-stage. In the end it turned out that he hardly needed it, only for the spoken lyrics of Digging Deep and the tongue-breaking monologue in Chocolate Frogs.
I was amazed by Fish's voice. It had been good all-weekend, but I didn't expect it to last a full two-hour concert (including the onstage chatter, drinks and smoke) but he sang the high notes in Old Haunts and Raingods Dancing crystal clear - well, crystal clear… as clear as it can be with the current state of his voice. At least his singing was miles from last year's convention, which can be heard on the cd.
Wake-up call finished in the same way as the two nights before, but this time it was much more effective. Fish announced John Wesley, and he walked off the stage under a loud applause. The song went on without guitars and Fish announced Tony Turrell, who walked off as well, leaving the song with only bass, drums and the vocals of Liz and Fish. One by one Steve, Squeeky and Liz walked off as well, and before the crowd could stop applauding Fish urged us to pick up the "Make it happen, we can make it happen" part. Fish left the stage in a Phil Collins a-like way - holding his hand to his ear to make sure we would keep singing. And so we did. The band wanted to come back onstage, but everybody was still singing, so they waited at the side of the stage while we went on singing faster and faster. At the highlight, where singing and applause overlapped Fish and the band came back onstage.
The first encore was consisted of an excellent rendition of Cliché. John seemed to have some problems to cope with the guitarparts, but he did fine, only the end-solo sounded a bit out of time at places and it had a really weird cross-over into The Perception of Johnny Punter, of which less than two minutes was played. Last year these two songs had also been tied together, but that had sounded a lot better, when the fading Cliché-solo flew over into the intro of Johnny Punter. Yet now you had the fading solo and then suddenly THAK-A-THAK-A-BOOM - "Just another village, burning in the hills.."
I really hope they change this cross-over when the tour really starts, as this is even worse than the medley. It sounds so out of place. And before you get over the odd change and into the song, it is already finished. A weird encore, but nonetheless the band walked off the stage under a massive applause.
When they came back onstage Fish announced a special guest for tonight: Co-writer of the Sunsets album and guitarist on Raingods Mr Steve Wilson. Wilson played along with the title-track of the album Fish and he wrote together: Sunsets on Empire. Wilson's appearance was a bit of a letdown. He came up as the big star, wearing sunglasses and all, and he hid behind John Wesley, hardly playing at all. Later I heard that Wilson is a bit of a shy and eccentric person, which explains his not-so-confident stage-appearance, and apparently he had only had an hour or so to study the song - from a tape!
Steve Wilson aside it was great to hear this song being performed live for the very first time. It was only slightly spoiled by that other person in contest for the worst stage-personality ever: Elisabeth Antwi. She seems to feel the need to sit down on a chair aside the stage whenever she's not singing - that's fine with me - but during the short vocal part towards the end she didn't even bother to get up. She just sat there while drawing out the long tones. I must admit that she did a great job singing, but it just looked so unprofessional and arrogant that she just sat there alongside the stage.
When the song finished the crowd continued singing along with a piano-sample that continued while the band walked off the stage.
When the came back once more it was time for something more serious - the results of the Company Football Worldcup. "No, it wasn't a fixed game, honestly" Fish tried to justify, but he couldn’t stop the crowd from booing. He hauled the North-English team onstage to present them the silver medals.
The he awarded his own team (bandmembers and crew) with the golden medals and the trophy. The trophy will be placed in the Company pub in Haddington with "1999 Team Badgers" engraved in it. Next year there will be another Company Worldcup where the team will have to defend their trophy.
Then Fish called another winner onstage. Kenny, the bartender of Fish's favourite bar 'The Tyneside', which is also the first official 'Company pub' is retiring and moving to southern Spain. Onstage Fish bid him farewell officially and presented him with a gold medal as well as a framed gold record for the album Vigil in a wilderness of mirrors. Kenny already had a gold record for the original Vigil-album in his pub, but that one will stay there. The one Fish presented him was a new one, as the recent release of the remaster had boosted the sales over the double gold-mark.
Then there was only time for one more song, and what other song could that have been than The Company - "our" song. Sung mainly by the audience this was an excellent closer for this excellent gig.
I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of Fish' new band. Although they sounded a bit rough and disjointed at times they managed to impress me enough not to miss any of Fish' former players. And since this was only their first electric gig together, I can assume it will only change for the better.
After the gig it was party-time. Last year Fish had had to cancel the planned afterparty due to license restrictions and other legal shit, so this year he simply held the party in his own backyard. Busses had been arranged to transport the few hundred fanclub members to Fish' Funny Farm. A large marquee had been placed in his backyard and the same beer brewer that had supplied the barbecue was now providing lukewarm beer for a reasonable price.
There was a DJ as well, who played classics from the last four decades, so that everyone would enjoy it. I must say that he had a strange taste when he alternated the Venga Boys with Steeler's Wheel, before continuing with the Spice Girls and Elvis, but he created a nice atmosphere. Particularly funny was Fish's reaction when the DJ announced "one of the best rock-songs in history" before playing Kayleigh. Fish curtsied towards him and almost left the tent, were it not for the many fans surrounding him for a chat or an autograph.
I didn't get a chance to meet Fish, apart from a "hi", "bye" and "see you in two weeks", but I chatted a while with John Wesley, who turned out to be a great guy in fact. You would never guess from his depressing songs that he has such a great sense of humour.
Lack of sleep and an overdose of experiences (not to mention alcoholic delicacies) caused us to collapse somewhere around 3 AM. Time to say goodbye to everybody and head back for the campsite, for one more night in a 'slightly' cramped tent.
What a weekend! If Fish continues to have his conventions become bigger and bigger each year, then within a few years we must take a whole week off! Then again, I can't say I'd mind. :-)
Victoria Inn 27-08-99
Change of Heart
Just Good Friends
Out of my Life
Lady Let it Lie
St Mary's Church 28-08-99
Change of Heart
Just Good Friends
Goldfish and Clowns
Man with the Child in His Eyes (Elisabeth Antwi)
Lady Let it Lie
Out of my Life
A Gentleman's Excuse me
Corn Exchange 29-08-99
Just Good Friends
Emperor's Song / Credo / What Colour is God? / Mr 1470
Warm Wet Circles
That Time of the Night
Goldfish and Clowns
Plague of Ghosts
(i. Old Haunts, ii. Digging Deep, iii. Chocolate Frogs, iv. Waving at Stars, v. Raingods Dancing, vi. Wake-up Call)
Cliché / The Perception of Johnny Punter
Sunsets on Empire (with Steve Wilson)