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I just missed the dawn by a few minutes and rather it being a guilty reminder of excesses it was surprisingly from the correct side. Thoughts had been whirring away in the half sleep of early morning, spurred into action by the klaxon wailing out of the iPhone that had roused my girlfriend from my arms and into a shower. I was coming to the end of another retreat; days spent inking in my little black book with it’s colourful peace symbol ; CDs of demos and live recordings tucked in between the pages held by an elasticated band. I was sad to leave for many reasons. The last plunge of the caffetiere and the hit of Columbian coffee racked up with a guilty smoke before I bid my farewells from the balcony to a valley that was just waking itself. Bound for the station and long goodbyes that have become tougher in recent months it was a journey I didn’t really want to make.
I could have stayed longer as the writing sessions had been rescheduled just before Christmas but the flights had been pre booked in advance and the 619 Euros Lufthansa wanted for the change of the return leg neither of us could justify. I climbed into an empty carriage and stared out the window as the landscape flashed by like a badly tinted black and white movie. Bouncing text messages that felt as if they were sonar signals that reminded me of the increasing distance and the 5 weeks until I returned. Frankfurt airport, lonely in the crowds, stolen cigarettes in the cold and flickering destinations on the departure board watching Edinburgh creep onto my timeline. It was a Friday and I knew I had an empty weekend ahead of me when I got home. I was going to be first footing myself.
Within a few days I had commitment from Steve Vantsis and Robin Boult to come up on the 14th January. I’d been concerned that the drift in time would continue and I needed to make inroads on the writing fast in order to keep my own momentum together. Pre Christmas I admit to feeling really down on the whole thing and felt like I was facing a never ending trial. So many ideas and projects had been stalled and left in limbo by the inactivity of third parties I had begun to question exactly what I was trying to achieve. The music business is in the worst shape that I can ever remember and I could hear a tolling of a bell in the distance. I was finding it hard to remain positive and needed something to get me excited again. I’d listened repeatedly to the demos in Germany and was buoyed by listening to them fresh and by the response of my girlfriend Simone who was hearing the sketches for the first time. She is not particularly aware of my solo career and only recently has heard the last couple of albums. She had started playing the demos as background music in the flat and I found myself enjoying hearing them and scribbling ideas even in the middle of dinner. I had begun to hear where we needed to go and gather a better idea of what we needed to do to move everything forward.
I still had a week to go before they arrived which included a visit from Rob Ayling who has been acting as a consultant and distributor for my recorded material. The subject up for discussion was “where do we go from here?”. With the High Street retail sector just about obliterated and HMV the last CD warehouse on the block in it’s final death throes I needed a rethink. My experiences in recent months had made me question just why I was selling to existing independent stores. Through tracking the “pirated” copies of “Internal Exile” and “Songs from the Mirror” it had come to my attention that practically every indy store was selling through Amazon and on line. The idea of small indies selling over the counter is redundant in the main and everyone is embracing direct on line sales. This made me question why I was allowing product to be sold to these stores to allow them to go into direct competition with my own mail order operation! It’s not really as if I get any extra promotion from them and there is certainly no artist loyalty. At the end of the day after I have paid distribution, manufacturing, MCPS and other associated costs they are making sometimes three times more than I am. This isn’t about greed or “profiteering” it’s about survival.
The major record companies are practically redundant and we as artists are being left to the mercy of download sites plagued with middlemen all wanting a cut or the scenario I mentioned above. Even live venues recognise that with the demise of record stores direct sales at merchandise stalls is filling the gap and compensating artists for the loss of outlet availabilities to their fans. It is fast becoming standard at most venues for the management to take 25% of the revenue of the merchandise and just to add to the shit cake we have to eat we have to pay them 20% VAT on top when they take the fee at the end of the night. That just happens to be near what we would pay a retail outlet in the “old days”. Yatta, my production manager and agent refuses to book venues where percentages are taken. It does limit us sometimes but at the end of the day not only are those sales my only earnings but also can make the difference between breaking even and not losing on a tour.
Add to the fact that for example I will only be touring for a total of 9 weeks this year, two weeks in May and 7 weeks in September and October. That is my only live commitment around this next album, not through choice, but what Yatta has managed to pull together and make financial sense of with regard to the costs of a full electric band on the road. The direct sales to fans of merchandise on that tour are important for continued survival and the ability to support my career. It’s getting tougher every year.
The Fishheads Club tour kept my head above water in 2010 and 2011 and in 2012 festivals and the Convention paid the bills. This year everything is pinned on my first album for nearly 6 years! It’s been a hell of a long time coming as we all know but I refused to just throw out a product I couldn’t put hand on heart on and say “this is a great album” as I knew I didn’t have one. “Feast of Consequences” will be the best album I can deliver when it finally is released this Summer and hopefully the fans will judge it worth the wait. The problem is nowadays that albums support tours and not the other way around as it used to be when I was signed to EMI in 1982 when the “Market Square heroes” EP preceded the release of “Script” and the promotion around that tour supported the project. Touring becomes more difficult as costs rise, the venues are overwhelmed by bookings, money becomes harder to find on both sides of the 4th wall, piracy and illegal downloading of recorded product carves artists earnings up and middlemen lurk on every digital street corner!
Despite the “Kayleighs” and “Lavenders” and my history and income with Marillion combined with a solo career, which although never having reached the heights of those heady early days has supported me over the years, I am not particularly well off and can not even consider retirement at this juncture. I still depend on releasing and selling albums. The copyrights we were told in the 80’s would be our pensions have been devalued as sales dwindle and income streams become harder to trace in the digital underworld. I don’t want to be on the road when I’m 60. My touring lifestyle is not that of the “Rolling Stones” or Bruce Springsteen. I looked at the new tour Yatta has put together and flinched. Three years ago I would have been excited at playing some of the faraway cities on the routing but a shudder ran through me at the realisation that on one particular leg I won’t see a hotel bed for over a week! It’s going to be an intense 7 weeks on the road where the only saving grace is the 2 hours on stage 6 days a week!
This isn’t a whinge or a moan it’s a personal reality check that sometimes wakes me up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat or makes my heart beat that little bit faster late afternoon when the phone doesn’t ring when it should. I just have to adjust and deal with circumstances and having read your comments after I posted re the Fishheads Club double DVD release I have to judge how I approach the release of the new album and other product with some degree of caution.
And it was with this in mind that Rob Ayling and I rallied in deep conversation in the second week of this month of the New Year to come up with some sort of cunning plan.
Downloading is something I have not in all honesty come to grips with as I haven’t found a company that has lived up to promises and expectations. The last one I licensed to went into liquidation owing hundreds of thousands of pounds to various parties including majors and I didn’t see a penny.
We are now looking at one respected company to deal with all the studio product including the new album while the live material is sold directly through the fishheadsclub.com web site on a gig or bundle basis which will be easier to deal with from an accounting basis and at the same time cheaper for fans to buy. A meeting is scheduled with John Reid and Rob in the second week of February to move this forward.
This will also include the Fishheads Club DVD audio and the forthcoming convention audio recordings as well as miscellaneous live material past and present. Between the 2 sources my entire catalogue will be accessible for download with the exception of “Vigil” which is regrettably still under control of EMI Records as they own the copyright. (Despite my offers to buy they refuse to relinquish control)
We are also going to be “opening” our own shops on Amazon and on eBay and will no longer be supplying third parties with product. These will carry all the planned re releases/re issues of my solo catalogue this year including “Feast of Consequences”.
With regards funding the new album I looked into a couple of options but in all honesty all these companies wanted was to approach my fan base and in return for “pledges” either as advance sales or investment and for that they charge 15%. I have decided to offer the new album as an advance sale at the end of April through my own mail order system. The “pledge” system I am sure works well for other artists but I prefer to act independently and as they are targeting an existing fan base I don’t think they are really bringing anything new to the table as far as I am concerned. I also think it is highly unlikely that anyone who is not already a fan will pledge money to the project. I will give more details about advance ordering and other ways to get involved as the weeks go by but I do know that I will be preparing a limited edition containing the album, extra tracks and demos, live recordings, a DVD of the “making of” and a 100 page hardback booklet all in specially designed casing with artwork by Mark Wilkinson as the premier release with other cheaper versions also available as well as the aforementioned downloadable version. The booklet will not contain reams of names of “pledgers” as I don’t really think that the artwork needs to have a telephone directory involved! I will however be looking at other ways of raising the 50k budget I need to complete the album the most obvious being releases of other product.
Learning the lessons from the Fishheads Club DVD I have elected not to go with an all singing all dancing DVD from Leamington and will instead be concentrating on the Sunday night performance as a single DVD release that will be available on mail order through the web site and on the merch stalls on the UK tour. The Saturday night will be released with extras in the Summer while we are recording the album which begins on June 17th here at the studio. Both releases will have separate audio available as CD’s and as downloads.
There will also be CD’s from the Haddington St Mary’s sessions and an “official bootleg” from the European tour – again down loadable for those of you who don’t want physical product.
The Polish documentary is still in negotiation and I would like to think I can have this available as a means of income to support the “Feast” recordings.
All these releases will be keenly priced in deference to the responses I received regarding the Fishheads Club DVD.
Promotion also plays an important part in all this and as was pointed out a lot of you didn’t even realise that there was a new live DVD from the Fishheads Club tour! I want to try and overlap and crossover promotion garnered by the touring to bring attention to the web site and will have to take on someone who’s sole occupation is to spread the word and the awareness around the new album. I realise that I may have close to 25 000 “likes” on the Fish pages on Facebook but that doesn’t mean I am reaching that number and I have to find a way to break out of the circle. I still firmly believe that word of mouth has more power than ads purchased in magazines although I recognise that those ads often act as a catalyst. As the year progresses there will be budgets made available for press ads to attempt to bring awareness to more than just one release and bring people into the Fishheads Club website where they hopefully will discover more about what I do.
There is a lot of thinking to be done outside the box and a lot of weaving of threads required to make it all happen.
And the goal? Well it’s not to become a millionaire that’s for sure. Not something I ever wanted even as a fledgling singer! I think it’s like many of us, some sort of partial, temporary security but mainly to enable me to carry on creating, writing and performing in whatever genre I am led into. I think being an independent artist nowadays is about maximising on what you create, “assassinating” middlemen and being as less reliant as possible on institutions that lead you into compromise that is adverse to what you are trying to do and the way you do it. It’s tough and lonely sometimes and as I mentioned to Mark Kelly recently sometimes you miss the camaraderie and internal support from a band. But I chose this route and I am not complaining. Despite all you’ve read so far I am relatively happy and up for a fight. The lyrical subjects of “Feast of Consequences” have worn me down at times and there’s been a feeling of helplessness and resignation especially in the run up to Christmas as I watched and read endless footage and print about global warming, finite resources, collapse of monetary systems, extreme behaviour etc etc in order to get a handle on where I was coming from in order to forge a meaning and a positive outlook on where I was heading. It’s become a lot more personal album than I imagined making and embracing a lot of emotions I didn’t think I’d be touching. I distinctly get the feeling of change in my life and a sense of growing up and out of a cocoon.
When Robin and Steve arrived I was ready and found myself charged up for the writing session. “Can’t see the Beautiful” was first up and almost immediately the title changed to “Blind to The Beautiful” as the energies flowed within the new dynamic and chemistry in the recently decluttered control room. Robin brought to the ball exactly what Steve and I had hoped for and the geography and structure of the song revealed itself quickly to the 3 of us. Over the next 5 days we managed to find the missing pieces of “Perfume River”, re arranged “All Loved Up/Beautiful People” into something far more tight and concise than was played at Leamington, did the same for “Other Side of me” and rechorded and restructured the second half giving us 4 songs ready for band rehearsals. With “Crucifix Corner” pretty much in place and “Feast of Consequences” likewise in good shape I have half the album with more than 3 months to complete the 12 songs I am aiming at for recording in June. Steve has “The Great Unravelling” and “The Weirding” ready to be worked on and they are next on the table when we reconvene at the end of February. We will be floating ideas on MP3’s back and forward in the meantime but with the evidence of the tracks already subjected to this new chemistry I have no doubts whatsoever that the next sessions here will be equally as productive. I am more than happy at what we have achieved so far and it was great to concentrate on the creations rather than the product after all that had been said and discussed in the week leading up to the writing. I am not going to say it’s the “best we have ever done” as when you are in the middle of the energies the perspective is warped. I do know that the few who have heard it are mightily impressed and I also know that I couldn’t have made this album 2 years ago! It will be as it will be and we will do the best we can to make it something we can all be proud of.
In the next week or so you will be able to hear snatches of what we have been creating on the interview Dave Barras filmed for the web site and in March I will put up some demos to give you an idea of the directions we are moving in.
I have 3 weeks now to work on whittling lyrics for the existing tracks and to advance the words on Steve’s other 2 songs. Foss is due for one on one sessions on the “High Wood” suite, 4 parts of which have still to be written to add to “Crucifix Corner” and these will be added to by Robin, Steve and hopefully Frank when we next get together in a month’s time. I can now say the album is on if not ahead of it’s new schedule.
When I next visit my retreat in Karlsruhe with my little black book in just over 3 weeks time I am sure the view from the balcony will be more clear than it’s been for a very long time and I look forward to hearing the church bells in the distance and watching the crows fly to the treeline on the faraway ridges as my pen fills the gaps in the story.