Let me transport you back 30 years; in 1985 Progressive Rock was making somewhat of a comeback with new bands like Twelfth Night, Pallas and IQ appearing but, by far and away, the leading band in the genre were Marillion. At that time they were at the height of their fame, with a No1 album and two top 5 singles, one of which would give a name to a generation of girls namely Kayleigh. At the end of the year the band undertook a major UK and European tour which I was lucky enough to attend, along with 16000 other people, at the Birmingham NEC arena on the 19th December. Seeing Marillion was one of my personal highlights as they were a band I had long been a fan of and the opportunity to see them on a major tour was too good a chance to miss.
Fast forward to 2015, Fish has been a solo artist for far longer than he was lead singer with Marillion and is marking the anniversary of the release of Misplaced Childhood by going out on tour and performing the album live for the last time. So, after a gap of 30 years, I find myself going to a live performance of this seminal album once more, this time at the O2 Academy in Bristol, rather than the NEC in Birmingham. Unfortunately, owing to a promotional lorry owned by a well known soft drinks company bringing South East Wales to gridlock I missed most of the support act, French Progressive Rock band Lazuli, but from what I did catch I can quite well see why they were booked for the entire European and UK tour.
Just after 9pm the man himself took to the stage to a rapturous reception from the sold out, 1600 strong crowd. Although the tour was billed as Farewell To Childhood, it was clear from the start that this show was also going to delve into Fish's solo back catalogue, with the opener, Pipeline taken from his 1994 album Suits. The next song, A Feast Of Consequences, was the newest song that we would hear performed on the evening, being the title track from His most recent album, released in 2013.
Fish has never been one to shy away from darker and more difficult subjects in his songwriting and the next two songs in the set were ones very much in that vein. Family Business, from his first post Marillion release, deals with domestic abuse and the feelings of impotence living next door to a family living in the shadow of such violence. The Perception Of Johnny Punter was written in the mid 1990s after Fish went out to Bosnia to perform for NATO peacekeepers and deals with the things that he saw going on but weren't being reported in the press back home.
Fish's vocals may not have quite the range they had 30 years ago but, in these last two songs, both on subjects Derek Dick (for that is Fish's real name, the nickname comes from his habit of spending lots of time in the bath) obviously feels passionate about, the cutting quality that has always been present in his voice came very much to the fore.
Then, with a low key intro, the opening chords of Pseudo Silk Kimono, marked the start of the main event, the performance of Misplaced Childhood in it's entirety. Performing an album live can have its pitfalls for a performer, you can't hold back the crowd favourites to build the audience anticipation and on Misplaced Childhood, the two big singles, Kayleigh and Lavender are tracks two and three respectively. On this occasion though, that wasn't an issue, almost every member of the sellout crowd was pretty much word perfect on the entire album and each track was greeted like a long lost friend. The performance was not a note for note recreation of the album, that would have been impossible. For one thing the Robin Boult, Steve Vantsis, Gavin Griffiths and Tony Turrell have all brought their own style and sound to the compositions and some rearrangement has taken place to take that into account. Having said that, something in my head said "get up and turn the record over" as the closing words of Heart Of Lothian rang out over the auditorium. A Pavlovian reaction perhaps? I wonder how many of my fellow audience members had the same impulse?
And so onto side two, once again that razor edge came back to Fish's voice as the song's subject matter got ever more angry, from the side swipe at 1980's drinking culture in Waterhole through to raging against the drudgery of touring and being asked identical questions day after day by an unimaginative press in Mylo. Some of the lyrics, despite being written three decades ago still remain prescient today Threshold, with its themes on the futility of war and the arms trade, springs to mind.
As I mentioned earlier, much the entire audience were word perfect on the entire album but, perhaps surprisingly, it wasn't Kayleigh or even Lavender that got us singing the most. That honour fell to the defiant optimism of White Feather, a theme for peace bearing the lines "I won't wear your white feather I won't carry your white flag I'll swear I have no nation I'm proud to own my heart" a reference to not accepting the badges of dishonour for conscientious objectors of war and a call for all humankind to unite together to ensure peace, in the same vein as the contempornious hashtag not in my name.To hear the best part of 1600 people singing along does give some sense of hope for the future.So that was it, the last time I will hear Misplaced Childhood performed live. Not quite the end of the concert though, Fish & the band came back for two encores, firstly the rabble rousing, crowd favourite Market Square Heroes and finishing off with one last track from Fish's solo back catalogue. What better way to end but with an ode to good times and choosing good company? The Company is just such a song and was a fitting way to bring to a close a memorable concert.
Apparently Fish's next release will be his last, but three decades on from that night in Birmingham, Fish is still a top notch performer, not just as a vocalist but also as a raconteur, the chat between the songs and the stories behind them are as much a part of the show as the music itself. The only minor point that I could bring up was that, to me, at the beginning the sound was a bit muddy, but that may have been down to where I was standing as much as anything and, anyway, it improved as the show went on. It was a pleasure to be part of a special night, with both the crowd and performers feeding off the good vibes generated. Misplaced Childhood is still one of my favourite albums and it was good to revisit it in a live situation one last time. Not only for bringing back good memories but also for uncovering themes that would have gone straight over the 19 year old me's head. My 16 year old son also accompanied me to the concert the first he had ever been to of this genre and scale and in his own words "it was brilliant"
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