Sunsets on Empire, Raingods With Zippos, Fellini Days and Field of Crows are now available in the Fish Shop!
The breakfast room looked like a casualty clearing station. I wasn’t too bad and Simone and I sat down with Mickey and Sarah for our first breakfast together in a very long time. The other tables were scattered with band, crew and friends, most in distressed states like Muppets in a blender. I was glad I’d kept it toned down and my voice felt surprisingly open and clear. It was 10am and rehearsals / sound check were scheduled for 11 with 12 doors again. Another gauntlet of events to run but It was better paced today. Rehearsals were with Steve Vantsis as again we had new tracks that needed working over as it had been a while since we played them for the first time up at the studio 3 weeks before! “Feast of Consequences” had been originally scheduled for it’s debut on Saturday but I felt it was maybe a song too far and had stuck to the 2. The other new one up for Sunday was “The Other Side of Me”. I knew there would be some awkward moments ahead.
I’d decided to wear my new T-shirt that I’d been given by Paul Bennett the day before. He wanted me to wear one of his designs from his Mr B Was Framed range of shirts. I thought it a perfect design for the Sunday – “The Death Bear!” 🙂
We decided to walk down to the Assembly rooms and take in some fresh air. Down the tree lined avenues, across the empty park to the leaf strewn iron footbridge and into the back stage area to be greeted by familiar faces. The post mortem on the Saturday had been overwhelmingly positive with our rendition of “Grendel” and “Crucifix Corner” singled out for high marks. I knew we had another breathless set list for this night. First task of the day was rehearsals and we spent a bit of time trying to get rid of the bass traps on stage that had caused some wobbling the night before. A bit of twiddling and turning down alleviated the problem but that time ate into the rehearsals. “Feast of Consequences” was slightly shambolic but memories recovered enough to render a passable version before we climbed into “The Other Side of Me”. I still have a couple of issues with this song but this was not time for engine rebuilds and we agreed to take a running jump at it later that night. Doors slipped back a few minutes. Green light!
The dressing room was being filled by “The Reasoning” entourage and it had been funny watching the band playing I-spy for hours on end while parked up on one of the big sofas as they waited on things to happen. They were moving to load in as remnants of last night’s back stage party wandered dazed and confused through the door. Best one was my mate Iain Allen who had been on a a mission the previous night. He came up to me and with a face in all seriousness said “I didn’t do anything with the Dalek last night did I?” I collapsed and loaded it for a stage observation he would regret later! 🙂
A smiley Darren Smith turned up for duty at the backstage door, slightly lost without his lady who’d missed out due to illness. A Skype call in the dressing room later at least sent some smiles North. Darren would come in handy as Yatta’s not so little helper as the chairs went up and downstairs to the stage. He’d help break up my day by distracting me into conversations out with the events and unglue my mind processes that were tied up to the convention. With Simon Moston there it was inevitable we’d talk about the military as soon as he found out Darren was serving! Interesting conversations though 🙂 Vibes were all good and healthy.
The projector had been fixed first thing that morning and was ready for the premier of the “Electric Man” movie. I’d elected for that time for the showing to give the out front casualties some easy going Sunday afternoon eye candy or potential zed retrieval on a chair in a warm room, and to give me in particular an extra hour and a half when I wasn’t talking or singing! I took the opportunity to go for another wander round town and to collect a bottle of cognac I’d retrieved from last night’s dressing room and which I’d stashed in my hotel room. I’d thought it was a present from Danish Karsten but he’d cornered me in the morning and said we had to drink it together after the Sunday gig. I couldn’t deny him! To be honest the walk and the break did me a world of good and I returned to the venue just in time to catch the end of the movie and get ready for the Q and A session I was taking part in with David Barras and Scott Mackay.
They had been on the independent cinema circuit and at various film festivals for over a year promoting the movie so were adept at these sessions. I was quite happy for them to field questions and run the floor and they did a fine job. There was good energy on stage and the conversations moved round to my own experiences with the film and acting in general. I found it interesting as Dave and Scott relayed their own trials regarding putting a movie together and I think it turned into an illuminating discussion for all concerned in the hall. The movie had got a great positive response from the crowd but the blooper reel raised even more laughs than expected. Sadly the projector gremlins were back in the machine and out of synch sound to picture spoiled it a bit. I was off and away and preparing for the second acoustic set of the weekend by that point. I knew already that the Polish movie wouldn’t make the screen later. It had been a huge disappointment on the Saturday to lose the first half of the film to technical issues.
Downstairs I walked straight into Tony Turrell and big hugs. He’d agreed to have a shot at “Raingod’s Dancing / Make it Happen” with me at the end of the acoustic set that Foss Paterson would be taking keyboard duties in. Foss and I had tried to play it on the Fishheads Club tour but for some reason couldn’t make it work. Having the writer in the house made it a lot easier but the singer hadn’t sung this for a while and had no idea of what key we should be working in. We decided to bluff it.
Frank, Foss and I took the stage and were up and running with a chirpy “Somebody Special” and a groovy, broody “Jumpsuit City”, 2 familiars from the old set lists that set us up nicely. We’d rehearsed “Our Smile” for the St Mary’s church gig but hadn’t played it. A difficult wee number as the groove needs to sit perfectly for everything else to fall in place. Frank trapped it beautifully and the version we played was one of the finest in memory. The lyric for me has taken on a different meaning these days and perhaps that was what guided me on a heartfelt delivery on the night. It took a great reaction from the crowd. A bluesy, effective “Torch Song” followed, littered with choice dynamics before we burst into “Slainthe Mhath” with a slight stutter. We drew Foss’s commitment to a close with “Incommunicado”. One we hadn’t played for a bit but should have been like falling off a roof. We fell through it! Frankie phoned me up a week later to say that on one of the sections both he and Foss were playing something completely different in 2 different keys and I sang my part in tune, in time and as should have been right over them, ignoring their brain melting moment! I think they were both relieved to be leaving the stage at that point! 🙂
Tony took the stage and for the first couple of minutes we played round the theme to find the key. I pulled the lyric stand over as I was going to be busking this and staring at Tony for cues. It was fantastic and I really enjoyed singing the song after such a long break. We glided through it, my only slip on the launch of the first “Raingods with Zippos” pitch where I took someone’s eye out in the front row:-) You would never have thought it was the first time we’d played together for over 6 years! An absolute bonus that took a justified heavy round of applause when we drew it to a mutual smiley close!
Down the stairs again, buzzing and battery draining. Next up was “The Weakest Link” with Elspeth taking the part (and revelling in it) of Anne Robinson. Gregor and Elspeth had spent the last week in the office compiling questions knowing who they were to be allocated to. Andreas Dahl, the previous winner knew he had to be on his toes as he was not going to get it easy 🙂 And so Hutch, Sandy Fearful, Mickey Simmonds, Mark Wilkinson, Andreas and I took our seats to be grilled by Elspeth, now in fabulous character! Andreas was quickly relieved of his place after he fluffed a couple of questions even I knew. I was just about holding my own but I think the general brain cell count was low at that point in the festivities! We all fell foul of the mind melt one by one. I was getting to the point where I just wanted to curl up in my dressing room for a bit and was glad my name finally turned on the pages for “execution”. It was a lot of fun and laughter and again the crowd seemed to get off on the banter. It’s tough in that kind of situation gauging the crowd response as a “director” and being a “participant” at the same time :-0 Hutch won in the end after the questions seemed aimed at getting it over and done with rather than milking the time! Another success thanks in the main to a genuine comic performance by Elspeth and the last of my stage interventions before the real deal later on.
Before we left the stage proper I was presented with a cake by Isabelle Burg who’d created a magnificent chocolate cake adorned with the X-ray fish and eclipse design that Mark had put together for the “Feast of Consequences” artwork. It looked beautiful and I was loathe to cut it!( Remains came home with me and I was still gorging on it a week later! 🙂 ) Photo opportunity on stage was taken before it was set upon by chocolate covered mouths of the munchie brigade downstairs.
“The Reasoning” set up their equipment and I headed out with Simone for a curry nearby. It was all going well but I welcomed some “us” time for an hour or so and a chance to recharge as I’d decided to go for big plays again tonight and would need the energy. I didn’t get it from the curry that was left half eaten. I headed back to the venue to catch some of the Reasoning’s set. It was obvious they had a strong following in the audience and people seemed a lot more familiar with their material than “It Bites” ,who had come away with a good result the night before. As expected they got a great reaction and as always they were all smiling and laughing after the set. (One of the happiest bunch of musos I know!) Again as with It Bites they were offered a chance to go for another encore but turned it down both citing “we only have really long songs left” 🙂 Fair comment:-) Been in that position myself a few times! 🙂
Back to my own preparations and the traditional Difflam gargle, another 400 mikes of ibuprofen (second of the day) and a couple of swallies of savvy blanco. I’d had to re-jig my lyric books as “Grendel” had to be moved over as had “The Company”. I’d decided that as we’d spent so long rehearsing the number that it would be churlish not to play it again on the last night and also that to finish with it as an encore would double the hit! There was the other reason that as the entire convention was being filmed and recorded I better make sure that if we’d screwed up the first delivery we had the opportunity for another chance at it! On the Sunday we already new we’d nailed it so this was just a chance to slap the wall a bit higher with everyone more relaxed! I warmed up my voice in the dressing room corridor and waited on the call to stage. I was still nervous despite all.
The long achey haul up the stairs to the ever expectant crowd who’d fire us up when we reached the edge of the stage, lighting the touch paper and putting the spring in our steps as we moved into our positions.
I’d picked “Script ” as the opener on Sunday despite it being one of the most awkward vocals and holding some terrifying memories of stage fuck ups in my past. It’s tough to sing as first number when you are not really warmed up either vocal or performance wise, coming to grips with the on stage sound and mixes that change when a full crowd is in. If you miss the hint at the key given by a lonely chord on the piano you are doomed! Once you’re in the band are taking cues from the vocal and you are hoping they hit all the revolving sections at the right point so you can find the “in” to the next slot to give the next cue! We had a few Les Dawson moments at rehearsals, probably more so than with any other track. For some strange reason it felt right to be performing all these tracks from the early 80’s. The fact that “Market Square heroes” had been released 30 years ago to the month of the convention perhaps had a subliminal resonance and prompted the choices but I didn’t feel awkward singing them as sometimes I had felt before.
No one expected “Script” to open the night and from the first chord that rang out clear and with intent I knew we were in for a gig to remember.
No one in the band has given me such a hard time and complained more about “prog rock” than Frank! He always puts it down as fiddly, too many sections, too long etc etc, most of it in wind up mode! 🙂 It surprised me how much he was getting off on it at rehearsals and when we took to the stage in Leamington I think everyone including me was blown away at his playing! He had some stormers over the weekend and “Script” he excelled on. As he’d done on “Grendel” the night before he soared into the solos with confidence and made them his own on the night. The rendition was spot on and put up a very high benchmark for the night. The audience were with us the entire song and the reaction at the end was as if we’d never left the stage from the night before!
We hit relatively familiar territory, at least for us, with “Long Cold Day” and “Innocent Party” which had been in the May electric sets and in the festival sets that summer. Both big hitters, they did the job after “Script” and lined up “He Knows You Know” for the surprise left field shot. I couldn’t remember if it had ever been in a solo set but again it seemed to feel very natural once we’d got the map and could play it through. It was another smiley moment for us on stage as we carried it off with aplomb. My voice had held up well and I couldn’t care less about the state of it the next day, I was cutting it loose! 🙂
Gavin Dickie was on wine break again and Steve Vantsis took up the bass for “Square Go”. A nice break in for him but we were all focused on the trial offered by the new material. I jostled at the last moment and called “Feast of Consequences”. The energies were there and despite a couple of hairy changes and frantic looks we completed the mission and drew breath as the crowd acknowledged we had another album component. Again it still needs quite a bit of work on the arrangement and as with all the new material there was an “everyone for himself” approach only having a full band for a week to get them convention ready.
Next up was “The Other Side of Me”. Like “Our Smile” it has a feel that has to be spot on to work. Enough groove to sit on without being too fast that the singer falls off while fitting the lyric in to it’s own groove. Of all the songs i considered this the weakest as the end section after Frank’s happening solo just doesn’t move to the right place and the right high. A long explanation of the lyric indicated my nervousness with this number, delaying the inevitable and reassuring myself as to what I was trying to put across. It started smoothly enough, stuttered and rallied round a chorus before the solo which Frank shone on and then that tricky bridge! I nearly tripped up on this on the night as everyone seemed to go missing after the solo and only met up again in the chorus outro. Slightly uncomfortable but we landed on the other side without casualties and as I said no one out there knew the song so had nothing to hold it up against! It was jazz! 🙂 This is one that goes back on the table for surgery in November as Steve and I know exactly where the adjustments need to be, what needs added and what needs removed. Perhaps I sound a bit down on this but it’s just I know how it’s meant to sound:-) Reaction on the night was positive though.
“Dark Star” ended Steve’s convention and it slid sublimely into the big hit choruses and velvet bass outro. I must say it was great hearing Steve’s bass rolling out again after such a long time. This set us up perfectly for the last half of the show and Gavin rejoined for a powerful “Pilgrim’s Address” which had an introduction matching the “Crucifix Corner” monologue. It was a passionate version and the band were fired up. I thought it was in the bag and then Gavin Griffiths for some reason pulled up before the second verse had ended, restarted and clunked back into join us for the last couple of lines. Telling stares to the back of the stage. Into the next verse and he did exactly the same again and we could tell by his head shaking he knew he had screwed up. Nothing worth shouting about and we ended the song Gavin knowing his punishment.
I’d said before the weekend that anyone screwing up a section in a major way would have to wear the Grendel mask for the next number. The helmet was duly brought to stage and to give Gavin the Griffiths his due he didn’t complain! 🙂 It was quite surreal watching him play through the opening sections of “Jigsaw” wearing the helmet and I quickly took pity on him and allowed him to remove it knowing that if he continued playing with it on it could create enough screw ups he’d be wearing it for the rest of his life! 🙂
The “electric Jigsaw” had a totally different vibe to the Fishheads version and I had told Frank at rehearsals to play about with it as much as he wanted. With a longer intro than usual and a more laid back verse the chorus exploded when the full kit joined us. Frank’s solo climbed and flew before floating down into a delicate picking section that set up the vocal in a sweet dynamic. It was better than I could have imagined and the audience responded in kind. A huge roar erupted onto which we launched the opening chords of “Freaks” to take it higher!
It all gets a bit blurry here as “Lucky”, “Internal Exile” and “Market Square Heroes” all fused into each other like the end of a fireworks display when the big bangs echo round the sky like an artillery barrage. The hall was absolutely jumping. Non-stop dancing and clapping, every change greeted with extreme enthusiasm and maximum effort, the band in full attack mode! I can hardly remember anything but a sense of flying through the songs on an immaculate trajectory to the huge explosion at the end as Market Square rallied and crashed in a wall of applause and cheering. We left the stage exhausted, draped in sweat and with beaming smiles.The hall continued to roar approval and the volume didn’t drop but increased as we took to the stage for the encore which we knew already was a killer! 🙂
Just when you think you can’t go any higher! From the opening chords we knew we had the perfect finish. The band, more relaxed with the song having negotiated it with honours the night before slid through the sections oozing confidence. It wasn’t as dark and broody as the previous rendition and had more of a sense of celebration about it. We lapped up the reaction from a hyper enthusiastic all singing and dancing crowd. The Lurker was rampant and the floor bounced, the crowd wide eyed in an almost orgasmic state as Frank let his guitar sing and soar on the last thermal of the night. I cannot remember an end to a gig like we had that Sunday at Leamington. There was an overwhelming sense of achievement on stage and seeing a field of endless smiles before us made it so much more special. A tremendous feeling!
We returned after a brief catching of breath to deliver the final song, the natural encore for the occasion, “The Company”. After all that had been and gone before it was the equivalent of the after dinner mint following a hearty feast. Playful as always and with the sing along element performed with gusto it filled the venue. Mickey joined me for the dancing onstage, our first waltz think! 🙂 The celebration was awesome. The end came too soon.
Resounding cheers and waves of applause, we took our bows, gave our thanks and descended for the last time to the haven of the dressing rooms. I was starting to flat line as my mind began to shut down and the adrenalin pump slowed to a weak pulse. Faces were smiling and congratulating me but all I could do was mirror the smiles and say thanks, a bystander in floating conversations. Long hug with my lady and hugs to the band members for having put on such a fantastic performance over the 2 days; hugs to friends and crew and the knowledge that it was all over, the sense of being on the cusp of exhilaration and the inevitable downer after the realisation of all our hard work and organisation as a team; it all rallied in my head.
I have little recollection of what happened from there on. Maybe it was too much wine ( I missed the cognac), maybe it was just the extreme mental exhaustion? I remember saying goodbye and thanking the security guys as they had been tremendous all weekend and apart from one incident had little to do. They love our crowd and think it’s the best audience they ever have in. Quite an accolade! 🙂 Handshakes and more hugs saw me out and fond farewells to dear friends and fans at the van as the convention spilled out into the Leamington night was all I can recollect. I don’t know how I got back to the hotel.
The bar was starting to fill but on seeing the singular staff member and the onslaught of party animals I elected to retire to the room with Simone for a quiet bottle of wine and peace and quiet.I had a long drive home next morning and didn’t want to get involved in head spinning sessions and dawn patrols that would require an extra night’s hotel to sober me up. I was staring at the ceiling at 4am, bottle of water in hand, my lady asleep in my arms.I couldn’t quite believe it was over.
Yatta woke me at 10.30 and came up to our room to say goodbye. It would be the last time we would see each other for a while. I was bleary eyed as we collected the weekends hotel room debris and packed to go. Elspeth was waiting on me downstairs. We had missed breakfast but scrounged some coffee. There were a few stragglers but most people had already evacuated including Shaun and the band. John Reid, one of the unsung heroes of the weekend, who’d put together the new web site in the run up to the event and who’d set up the competition which in all honesty had completely escaped me and which I had nearly forgotten about until a fan asked me to wear a shrunken medium T-shirt from a Marillo ’86 tour in order to photograph and get his points; was still looking as fresh as ever. He was about to head South as I was about to head North. The last goodbyes and then we crawled into the car, a lot lighter than when it came down 3 days ago.
The Tom Tom squawked directions to Birmingham airport as first sad duty of the day was to deliver Simone to her plane home. We had had a wonderful weekend together despite the demands on me and she’d loved meeting so many of my friends who had been longing to be introduced to my lady. We’d also managed to catch up with family as my sweet smiling sister Laura had made the trek down from York and my cousin’s boys, Paul and Simon, had come over to be part of it all. It had been a fine party! But now we were all making our way home, disappearing over horizons and being reminded of distance. The more Simone and I see each other the tougher it is to say goodbyes and the airport this time was a real tough one after such a fantastic time. It would be another 4 weeks until we saw each other and that morning we didn’t want to let go. It was a real downer as I watched her wave from the terminal and I swung the Volvo out the car park and towards the exit. Elspeth and I hardly talked for the next 30 minutes as she knew what was going through my mind. I concentrated on the drive and drove the pedal home.
It was a clear road north and the passing opportunities hardly broke our flow, only stopping for fuel when we were close to running on fumes. Landing outside the studio after a detour to the town to get some wine was hard. A huge hug to a brilliant Elspeth sent her home and I opened the door to grateful cats and an empty kitchen. I uncorked a bottle and took it through to the control room but couldn’t bring myself to switch on the PC. This was going to be a hard hit and I had to ease myself back into reality. The comments and the reviews could wait and I’d come to drip feed them over the next week in order to keep me buoyed as my system shut down and the defences lowered allowing a virus to grab a hold of me and put me on the floor. I laughed at my luck as a week earlier would have been a disaster of deep dark proportions.
I think that this convention was the best ever in my history and it’s going to be a hard one to beat. I am considering another next year but where? And when? I’d love to return to Haddington but the facilities just aren’t here to cope with nearly 1000 fans. Leamington is a perfect location but is it time for a move? It’s a lot to think about and maybe now is not the time. I have an album to write and record. The next mountain.
I want to give a huge and sincere thanks to everyone that made the effort to attend this years Fishheads convention and who played their part in making it a special weekend for everyone concerned.
To those who didn’t make it for whatever reason you were there in spirit and that matters. Next time we’ll catch up:-)
Special mention goes to Jim Brownlee to whom this convention was dedicated. We missed you Jim 🙂
Finally to everyone involved who put a shift in behind the scenes, on stage and out front. There are too many to mention and I don’t want to omit anyone by accident. You all know who you are and what we did together. You’re special ! 🙂 Thanks from the bottom of my heart for making it all happen and for being there for me.
Love and respect, take care and stay alive