Album Reviews

1990: Fish - Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors

This year, until the year 2000, every week a special album will be reviewed. By doing that we're counting out time ... until 2000.

The albums which will be reviewed are either milestones in the history of progressive rock, or good examples of the catalogue of a certain band. Of course, we cannot review every special album and we cannot satisfy everyone's taste with our choices, which will be revealed over the year.

Our goal with this list of albums, is to show the quality and the diversity of different groups and different styles. So you won't find 6 Pink Floyd-albums, or 5 Genesis-albums, even though these bands have recorded many classics.

On this list, (almost) every week a new year is reviewed. For some years we will use two weeks, but at the end of December we will have reviews of every year, including the "dark" eighties...

We hope you will have lots of fun in the coming weeks with this selection of special albums that had been selected by the DPRP-team, especially for you!

We're Finished Dancing...

On September 16th 1988, Fish announced that he had decided to leave Marillion after 7 succcessful years in the most popular British prog band of the eighties and hits like Kayleigh, Lavender, Heart of Lothian and Incommunicado. After four studio albums, among which their breakthrough Misplaced Childhood (1985) and the follow-up Clutching at Straws (1987), the Scottish singer decided to go his own way.

Marillion explained this decision as follows: "During the process of writing the new album it became apparent that differences, both musically and lyrically, between Fish and the rest of the band were irreconcilable". Fish himself said: "I've had a brilliant 7 years with Marillion; however, recently the musical directions of the band have diversified to such an extent I realised the time had come to embark on a solo career."

Ever since the recording of Clutching ... there had been a tense relationship between Fish and the rest of Marillion. Fish started to demand more input in the musical direction of the band. Not only did the band not agree with his musical ideas, the Scotsman also wanted to spend time on writing a book about the Marillion artwork and play in movies and musicals. Add to this the disappointment of the band with Fish' lyrics for the new album and the fact that his voice had been affected by heavy drinking and smoking and a departure was innevitable.
As a souvenir of the Fish Years a double live album called The Thieving Magpie was released in the end of 1988. The album features material which had been recorded through the years and formed a nice overview of the band's live work so far.

I've Just Gone Solo...

It didn't take long though before Derek William Dick (Fish's real name) got together with keyboard player Mickey Simmonds (of Mike Oldfield's backing band) to compose the material for his first solo album and record some demos. While his former band searched for a new vocalist - who they would eventually find in Steve Hogarth, but that's another issue of Counting Out Time - Fish also gathered some new musicians around him like drummer Mark Brzezicki (Big Country), bass player John Giblin (Kate Bush, Simple Minds), guitarist Hal Lindes (ex-Dire Straits) and Fish's old buddy Frank Usher from his first band Blewitt.

Fish moved back to Scotland where he bought a house that was transferred into recording studio The Funny Farm plus rehearsal and guest rooms. On March 21st Fish played his first solo gig in the Rex Cinema in Lockerbie, where he tried out some new songs.
Mid June Fish finished the work on his solo album in the Townhouse Studios, London. The LP was produced by John Kelly, who also worked with Kate Bush and Chris Rea. Although the album was already finished mid 1989, EMI decided to postpone the release until early 1990.

The Dutch fans got a sneak-preview at their Freaks Fan Club Convention on September 30th. On October 11th Fish started the first part of his Vigil tour through Scotland and England, ending one month later on November 12th. Fish' live band (called 'The Company') consisted of Mickey Simmonds (keyboards), Frank Usher (guitar), Robin Boult (guitar), Mark Brzezicki (drums) and his brother Steve Brzezicki (bass).
The first single from the album, State of Mind, was released during this tour on October 16th. The single had The Voyeur (I Like To Watch) as a B-side, a song that would re-appear as a bonus track on the cassette and CD versions of Vigil. The 12" and CDS versions of the single featured a slightly extended 'Presidential Mix' of State of Mind. The groovy tune featuring interesting percussion and bass was written by Fish, Simmonds and Lindes. The single only reached number 32 in the UK charts and disappeared after three weeks.

A second single, Big Wedge followed just before the end of 1989. This Fish/Simmonds composition had another one on the B-Side called, Jack and Jill. The 12" and CDS versions also featured a live version of the Alex Harvey cover Faith Healer, recorded during the soundcheck for the last concert of the recent tour. A studio version of Faith Healer would reappear on the Raingods with Zippo's album in 1999.
Although Big Wedge with it's powerful rock sound combined with a full brass section and it's critical view on the US of a was a lot more commercial than the previous single, it only made the 24th position in the UK charts and disappeared after four weeks.

Listen To Me, Just Hear Me Out...

And then it was January 1990 and finally Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors hit the record shops. The album turned out to be the masterpiece the fans had hoped and waited for. All of the elements of the album were simply sublime, from the amazing Mark Wilkinson cover art to the marvellous production and wonderful compositions of Fish and Mickey. In general fans will agree that Fish has never been able to surpass Vigil afterwards, although parts of Sunsets on Empire and the Plague of Ghosts suite on his new album come pretty close.

There wasn't a single bad track on the original album, every moment was enchanting, from the versatile title track which builds to a magnificent climax to the best Fish ballad ever written; A Gentleman's Excuse Me. The album had its emotional moments in tracks like Family Business (later to become a live favourite) and the love song Cliché. There were more commercially tending (but no less powerful) tracks like Big Wedge (eat your heart out Mr. Collins) and the news-fetish perversion of The Voyeur. There's a bit of light-hearted folk in the song which would become the anthem of the international Fish fan club, The Company, the groovy attack against the public system State of Mind and the almost heavy metal of View from a Hill with co-composer Janick Gers (Iron Maiden) on guitar.
The lyrics were as splendid as the music of the tracks they belonged to, with Fish at his best; bitter and critical. At the same time the lyrics were more direct and less obscure than in the past with Marillion.

On February 28th 1990 Fish started the second part of the Vigil tour which would take him through England, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, France, Luxemburg, Norway, Scotland, Wales, Holland, Spain and Portugal and would end on July 9th.
The tour would feature a stage design including a backdrop showing part of the Wilkinson artwork of the album and big metal plates, creating a sinister atmosphere. Fish himself used several outfits, like the Uncle Sam suit and a camouflage outfit. Never again would the stage show be this impressive again; in the future Fish simply could not afford props like these again.

The setlist of the tour consisted of the full Vigil album, with the exception of View from the Hill and a selection of old Marillion classics like Punch & Judy (reworked into a powerful rock song), Assassing, Script for a Jester's Tear, Sugar Mice (acoustic version), Slainthe Mhath, Fugazi, Kayleigh, Lavender and Heart of Lothian. The set closed with a track from the next album; Internal Exile. A DAT recording of the concert in Hammersmith Odeon on April 2nd was later released as 'official bootleg' under the title Pigpens Birthday.

On March 5th, the third single was released; the most beautiful Fish ballad ever, Gentleman's Excuse Me. It only reached number 30 in the UK position but became a minor hit in Holland. The B-side of the single was a funny jazzy Fish/Simmonds composition called Whiplash, while the 12" and CDS versions of the single also featured the demo version of Gentleman's Excuse Me.

And then finally on July 18th, shortly after the end of the tour, the fourth and final single was released: The Company, with the live version of Punch and Judy on the B-side (recorded by Radio Veronica for their Countdown show on the 10th of March at Ahoy, Rotterdam).

The Artwork

The LP was packaged in a wonderful gatefold sleeve with a marvellous Mark Wilkinson illustration called 'View from the Hill' on the inside. Mark had already done all of the Marillion artwork, but this piece surpassed all he had ever done, at least in size and complexity. The front of the album showed a slightly different detail of the full picture (this version was called 'Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors').

This piece of Wilkinson art makes it very clear what the major setback of the Compact Disc is. For the CD the painting had to be reduced tremendously, making it very difficult to see most of the hidden details in the picture (of which there are quite a lot).
In the past Fish had always presented cut and dried ideas to Wilkinson, but for Vigil they discussed the global meaning of the lyrics, after which Mark took them home, studied them and started drawing.

The original concept of Fish was to have a big pile of rubbish with two lovers on top, symbolizing hope and love. Fish got the idea from a Gustav Klimt painting called 'The Kiss', while Mark hour-glass and cape idea were based on a book he was reading at that time; 'The Hourglass'. He mixed this with an image he saw in a William Holman Hunt painting called 'The Light of the World'.

On the Something in the Air Brush web site Mark said: "The concept was to portray the greediness that had seeped into British life during the reign of "Queen" Margaret Thatcher. Via the digital revolution of the Internet, and satellite TV, news and information was a 24-hour-a-day instant communication. Life "out there" in the wilderness, whether it be wars, famine, poverty or the latest album by Mad Donna, was meshed together and beamed into our homes. The effect was to distance people from the pain, and it made us feel inadequate unless we purchased the latest gadgets shown in the adverts and blipverts screened between programs. Conventional religion was fading, and spiritual life ended at the supermarket checkout on a Sunday spent shopping.
Thus the "Wilderness of Mirrors" (or world of confusion) could only be glimpsed by climbing the "trash" heap, back stabbing all the way! Still with me?

Various people would try to climb the hill in a useless attempt to reach the two lovers. When the CD was postponed, Wilkinson continued working on the concept, adding more detail to it. Most of this additions are Mark's work, not the ideas of Fish, and were often pasted to the original picture in a collage technique. Wilkinson has admitted that he was inspired by the style and mysterious feel of the Sgt. Pepper sleeve.

Some of the interesting details:

  • according to the bus stop (Family Business) this place is called 'World End'
  • the hill in the left side would be Golgotha
  • the crashed plane in the middle refers to Lockerbie
  • among the people trying to climb the hill you'll find Mark Kelly (Marillion's keyboard player) and John Arnison (Marillion's manager) with swords
  • left of the remote control you'll find a picture of Madonna and Bardot
  • a Picasso painting is sinking into the pool and one of Dali's liquid clocks lies on the old radio ('Madonna or a Bardot, a Dali or Picasso for his wall' - Big Wedge)
  • there's an Uncle Sam poster (Big Wedge) in the lower left corner
  • while the TVs on the front cover show Fish' face, the ones in the full picture show Maria
  • there's several references to the old Marillion jester; his cap is hanging from the toxic waste barrel in the lower left corner, the boy with the UK flag jacket in the middle of the hill is wearing another one and there's a clown picture behind the pool

And that's just some of them...

The Wilderness Lives On

Songs from the Vigil album would remain in the setlist for a long time. Family Business, The Company and Big Wedge were played live quite often, the latter even featured a 'mad preacher' intro during later tours. After the acoustic tour of 1994 State of Mind developed into a long, semi-acoustic version that was re-recorded for the Yin/Yang compilation set in 1995. Vigil, Cliché and Gentleman's Excuse Me also make their occassional appearances in the setlist and even View from the Hill made its short live appearance in the medley during the 'Songs from the Mirror Tour' in 1993.

Family Business (original), The Company (original), Big Wedge (1995 remix), Gentleman's Excuse Me (original) and State of Mind (1995 re-recording) all were present on the Yin/Yang compilation set.
Last year's Kettle of Fish included the first three singles that were taken from Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors.

In December 1997 the remastered version of Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors was released on Fish' Dick Bros label. In October 1998 Roadrunner followed with a European release. The remastered version included the original demo recording of Internal Exile (the title track of Fish' second album, which was not used for Vigil) as well some of the B-sides of the singles from the album; the demo versions of The Company and A Gentleman's Excuse Me plus Jack and Jill and the jazzy Whiplash.
The booklet featured lots of new pictures, extensive open-hearted liner notes by Fish about Marillion's failed attempt to combine their musical ideas with Fish's new lyrics and melodies (5 partially finished songs which would reappear on Vigil), the origins of his first backing band and the development of his first solo album.

After the end of the Vigil tour Fish went on to record his second solo album Internal Exile, which although it contained some real classic Fish tracks missed the strength and consistency of Vigil. More studio albums, official bootlegs and compilation discs would follow, often compared with switches between record company and Fish's independent Dick Bros label.

For the lastest news about the struggling Scotsman, check out the Perceptions of Fish Web Site.

Written by Ed Sander

• SI Pul25 Festivalbijlage
• Various SI and Freaks magazines (among which 'De hoestekening van Vigil' by Kees-Jan Backhuys).
• Original article written for DPRP's Fish Special.
Something in the Air Brush Mark Wilkinson Site.

Album Reviews