Fish: Singer, Scotsman, passionate musician. Written in Music spoke with him about health, present-day touring, his lyrics, making music, politics, but also about his new album and the themes it addresses. A frank conversation with the singer who brought us beautiful albums like Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors , Sunsets On Empire, Raingods With Zippos, 13th Star and A Feast Of Consequences. Unfamiliar with his solo work? You may know him from his days with Marillion, the band he used to front, way back in the 80’s. This is the third part of a three-part interview series. The first and second part are published earlier.
WiM: You have always been clear about raising awareness for social and political items and matters with your lyrics. Forgotten Sons, White Russian, Family Business, and now Waverley Steps. Did you see the world change? Has it improved anywhere?
That question cannot be answered at all. The current political situation, especially in the United Kingdom, is quite terrible. Horrible. I have read a lot of Noam Chomsky’s works. The fear, confusion and chaos we’re living with these days, (e.g. the documentary The Four Horsemen ), the way we are confronted with disruption in society, how the world is in chaos while a few important people exercise control, it’s all very worrying. Donald Trump is not even the biggest concern there is. What happens behind the scenes? What is there that we do not see but controls our lives? That is where the experience of Weltschmerz comes from. Go back to 2001 and September 11, the attacks and the alleged involvement of Saudi Arabia. We are told so much bullshit, there is fake news and fake politics everywhere. Look at what Erdogan does, see what happens to Kashoggi. And then ask yourself, with all that, who sells the most weapons?
I look at Sky News and see an item about Yemen, 14 million people who are starving. Why are people suffering from starvation there? Saudi Arabia bombs the ports. What weapons do they use? Weapons supplied by the British and Americans. The British account for 65% of arms deliveries to the Saudis. And then we, residents of the UK, are asked whether we want to contribute to support those people to end starvation there? Such immense hypocrisy, unimaginable. Yet it happens.
Take the murder of Kashoggi. Americans are eager to accept the money from Saudi Arabia and, in recent years, like others, they have ignored the country’s human rights issues. We are talking about the tensions between the countries in the Middle East, but do we ever consider how much it is a battle between religions? Sunnis versus Shiites. We do not look at that. Iran, Syria: Shiites. We just do not see it. We were happy to support Assad and we first did that with Saddam Hussein as well. Until oil was brought into the equation and suddenly people looked at the playing field differently. Nothing political. That is also what Weltschmerz is about.
Many people do not understand, some people are afraid of what is happening. Other people do not want anything to do with it. There is a feeling of helplessness in people, or apathy. And then there’s Brexit. Truckloads of lies were poured over us about the EU. It has been repeated over and over again that immigrants steal our jobs. The United Kingdom has always had control over its borders. Most people who come in, come from India and Pakistan. The British have always been able to control that themselves. But the issue quickly gets changed and then suddenly it is people from Eastern Europe who are flooding Great Britain. That is nonsense.
I’m Scottish. A majority of the Scots chose to remain in the EU. I think that’s important. If you look at major companies such as Starbucks or Amazon and you want to do something about the taxes we are currently missing out on, benefits these companies have for tax purposes, and if you can let those lost taxes flow back to the countries where consumers now pay for their coffee or their books or their CD’s, and if that missed tax money can be used for society, we would have no problems with health care. Why don’t we do that? Only major institutions like the EU can make these changes. That’s why it is so important to belong. I may be rattling on a bit, but if you are going to talk about this, you’re opening Pandora’s box. This is exactly why there is such a thing as Weltschmerz. People feel helpless.
I didn’t want the Weltschmerz album to be about politics. I didn’t want to talk about the underlying, dark side of politics. It has been tried before and it doesn’t work. What I do on the album is what I do best. I talk about people, about what they’re doing, about characters, characters. That’s what Weltschmerz is about. It’s about human subjects, not about global questions. Waverley Steps is about men suffering from depression, Little Man What Now? is about dealing with difficult situations, Man With A Stick is about dealing with aging, Rose Of Damascus is about a refugee who flees from Damascus to Europe, Market Garden is about a Dutch man with dementia who lingers in images of the landing of the paratroopers, The Cutting Song is about self-mutilation, part of a trilogy about online grooming and The C song is a song about someone who is diagnosed with cancer. All of these songs deal with aspects of daily, social life. But just as in the movie American Beauty, which also deals with serious matters, I tell you about the serious issues through beautiful songs. I want to let these matters speak through the music. Although the songs often deal with dark subjects, people can often relate to it and do something with it. It helps. That is what I am trying to do. This album is not a political statement. It’s a social statement. And if politics do come into play in the songs, it’s only because it touches the social context.
WiM: That is quite clear. Thank you. You have re-released many of your solo albums, although not in chronological order. How do you make those choices?
That’s all part of the plan of being able to stop. Next year I want to tour with Vigil In The Wilderness Of Mirrors and Weltschmerz. As far as I am concerned, Clutching was the last Marillion album that I toured with in the light of the re-release. I will not tour with Script neither will I tour with Fugazi. I want to release Vigil again, perhaps Internal Exile as well. But I don’t want to release 13th Star and A Feast Of Consequences again. They have already been released in an outstanding form. As far as the expenses are concerned, I want to release the best version of everything, with great demos, live tracks, extensive comments. Vigil becomes a very difficult one, and requires coordination with Warner. I myself do not have the rights to it. Warner did not want to sell before. It’s the only album I don’t have. They can do anything they want.
WiM: They took over the rights from EMI?
Yes, they bought EMI, and the rights passed. Or was it Parlophone? Could be. It’s all so confusing. Internal Exile, I have the rights myself. Weltschmerz will be released next year (2019). When it’s done. May be May, June, July. You know, it will be released when it’s ready. I’m not a big record company. It’s ready when I’m satisfied with the end result. This is my last record, and it want it to be just right. We’ll take more time, wait a little longer, if necessary. I think June or July. In September I’ll be working with Ayreon for a week. The tour will run from October to sometime in 2020. The farewell tour starts in 2021.
I planned on retiring in 2020 initially, but I lost time as I said earlier, so it takes longer. I don’t have a pension. So everything I built in the last two years forms the basis for what I’ll do after my career. Whatever that may be. I want to write, scripts or books. We’ll see. Maybe it won’t work out. And if I still want to go touring, it will be ‘spoken word’, acoustic, under the banner of the Fishheads Club. Just having fun, 20 shows a year.
I’m no big spender. Certainly not. For the first time in years I now find myself buying another car. We have a garden that we enjoy very much and where we grow our own vegetables. We could even live from that if we would handle it differently and with what I would earn with writing, we can live a very happy life. My biggest concern is my back in relation to the garden. You never know what happens in your life. There is so much uncertainty these days. You can have the most fantastic job somewhere and earn piles of money and if the banks collapse then everything is gone. You never know. Just take it step by step, day by day.
WiM: That’s a nice last quote. Thank you for your time and for your openness.
Thank you. It was a nice conversation. Thank you for not just asking about Clutching At Straws .
Photo’s: Kai R Joachim, Mark Wilkinson