Fish, former lead singer and lyricist with Marillion, chats with Kevin Cooper about leaving Marillion, their Misplaced Childhood album, retiring in 2018 and his forthcoming Farewell To Childhood Tour.

Derek William Dick, better known as Fish is a Scottish singer-songwriter and occasional actor.  He achieved prominence as the lead singer and lyricist of the neo-progressive rock band Marillion.  They released their top ten debut album Script For A Jester’s Tear in 1983.

The band achieved further chart success in the UK, attaining top ten hit singles in 1985 with Kayleigh and Lavender, and again in 1987 with Incommunicado.  Misplaced Childhood was their third studio album and is the group’s most successful album to date.  It immediately entered the UK charts at number one, spending a total of 41 weeks there.

Misplaced Childhood was Marillion’s first full concept album consisting of two continuous pieces of music on the two sides of the vinyl record.  In live performances preceding the album Fish had originally claimed as a teaser that the next album would consist of only two tracks, “Side 1” and “Side 2”.  Then, during the Misplaced Childhood Tour Fish would announce, “Now there is time for one more track…the name of the track is ‘Misplaced Childhood'”, and the band performed the entire album in sequence.

 In 1988, Fish left Marillion to pursue his solo career and has released a number of studio albums. 

Whilst preparing for his forthcoming tour, he took the time to have a very interesting chat with Kevin Cooper.  This is what he had to say.


Hi Fish good afternoon, how are you?

Hello Kevin I’m fine mate how are you today?

I’m very well thanks; thank you for asking and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me.

No problem mate, no problem at all.

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

Its ok but to be honest with you it has been a strange start to the year.  We finished off the Misplaced Childhood 2015 tour in December and ideally we should have had it wrapped up but because of my keyboard player John Beck breaking his right arm in an accident while we were in Holland, together with my own virus attack, we now find ourselves having to reschedule five gigs.  It sounds easy enough but let me tell you it is far from easy Kevin.  However we now have the opportunity to add a few more gigs to the five that we have finally rescheduled so we are now preparing to get back out on the road for another seventeen shows.

Are you looking forward to getting out there again?

I am yes but honestly I am also looking forward to getting to the end of the tour so that I can get my teeth into writing the last album.

So when you announced that you were going to retire, you weren’t joking.  It really will be the end of Fish being out there doing it live?

That’s right, 2018 will be the last time that you will ever see me on the road touring.

We have to chat about the Misplaced Childhood album because of your Farewell To Childhood Tour but being honest, I bet that you are sick and tired of speaking about it now?

(Laughter) it’s not too bad but the thing was that when I decided to retire and I announced that my tour in 2018 will be my last tour ever, I felt that I wanted to play Misplaced Childhood.  However, it is to be a project to play within a normal tour and it would have been a three hour show if I had just played Misplaced Childhood as part of a farewell tour.  So I decided to go out and do the album as a full performance and with it being the thirtieth anniversary of the album that gave me a great opportunity to put the tour together.  Let me put it this way, I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy playing the album and let me tell you, I have had some great fun with the performances during the last few months.

I have to say that I have been playing the album quite a lot recently and I personally feel that it sounds as good today as it did thirty years ago now.

I totally agree with you, the album still feels really fresh.  Even the guys in my band love playing it and all say the same thing; it is over before you realise.  It simply flows so smoothly.  I am really enjoying the dynamics of the whole thing.

After first singing the album some thirty years ago now, have you had to tweak it slightly in any way?

(Laughter) Ok you’ve got me.  We have changed the keys slightly, only slightly though, which means that I can relax a bit more and I am not straining to keep on top of everything.  Having said that we all agree that the key changes have given the album a lot more soul.  I have got a bunch of great musicians with me and they have all been pouring their hearts over it and every single one of them has really enjoyed playing it.

Would you agree that Misplaced Childhood was the bands seminal album?

Totally, a hundred percent Kevin.  For me it wasn’t just the album that broke us, but on a personal level I think that it was the album on which I found my own writing style.  I found that I had more confidence to allow me to be more open with my lyric writing.  It gave me a chance to explore a lot of things especially within that conceptual format.  I think that as a band we really came to the fore with that album.  Ian Mosley had been in the band for well over a year at that point and so the rhythm section had settled down and we all had a lot of confidence in what was behind us.  I think that after we had recorded the albums Script For A Jester’s Tear in 1983 and Fugazi in 1984 we all felt confident as a band in our writing abilities.

Whilst it was great for the band, would you agree that Misplaced Childhood also signalled the end of the band in its then current form?

What I would have to say is that Misplaced Childhood was a double-edged sword in the fact that not only did it bring us the success that it did, but as you rightly say, it heralded the end of that era of Marillion.  The two singles off the album Kayleigh and Lavender took the band into territories which we had never ever been in before.  The gang mentality that used to exist within the band suddenly began breaking up a little bit.

Looking back to 1985 when you recorded the album, did you feel at that time that you had got something special?

To be honest I think that we did.  We all knew and accepted that Kayleigh was a special song and Chris Kimsey who was working on both the production and the mixing of the album,  said that he thought that we had recorded something very special.  We were all expecting the bungee-jump single entry into the chart which we had got used to with previous singles; the bands fan-base takes it into the charts, you then hope that the 12” picture disc would hold it up for one week whilst you try to get it played on the radio.  However when Kayleigh was released we were getting radio airplay right from the word go.

On the subject of Kayleigh, the song still remains Marillion’s most successful single in terms of chart position, being a number two hit.  It was kept from the UK number one spot by the charity single You’ll Never Walk Alone by The Crowd.  Does the fact that it didn’t go to number one disappoint you?

Yes because I think that anyone who has had a number two hit single in the charts always feels disappointed simply because you are so close to the top.  So yes it was disappointing that the single didn’t make the number one spot but I have to say that it was a charity record which occupied the top slot at that point so it is very hard to either condemn that or be bitter about it.  It would have been nice to have had a number one single but we did have a number one album and I always felt that for the band that was far more important than having a number one single.

Classic Rock have described Misplaced Childhood as being one of the greatest concept albums of all times.  Would you go along with that?

I don’t know.  It is a very powerful concept in that the story and the theme are well routed in both culture and history; a boy is heartbroken, he finds himself despondent, he gathers himself, takes stock of his life, he goes through all manner of trials and tribulations, and finally he finds the answer within himself.  The storyline was pretty standard but the way that it was put together was very different.

Am I correct in assuming that it was written about you?

Not entirely but what I would say is that there was a hell of a lot of autobiography contained within that concept because that was what I was going through at the time.

Was it written with a concept album in mind or did that come later?

What happen was when we were all talking about writing the third album, we all agreed that we should go for a concept album.  Once we had agreed on that idea we then went about finding just what concept we should write about.  I came up with the idea from some scattered writings and semi-conscious scribbling in a notebook.   I can remember calling Steve Rothery the next morning shouting “I’ve got it”.

Did the concept really come to you during a ten-hour acid trip?

I wouldn’t say that it was ten-hours.  It was a stupid thing to do at the time and I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody but it was just one of those things that happened.

Is the time right for you to put the album to bed?

Yes it is, absolutely and that is why these forthcoming seventeen dates will be the very last performances of Misplaced Childhood, ever.

Thankfully you are bringing the tour to Rock City here in Nottingham.

Rock City is going to be a very interesting evening as there is a lot of history between myself, Nottingham and Rock City.  I think that it is an ideal venue for me to play the album in.  I can remember us playing it there back in the old days.  Whenever we have played at Rock City they have always been emotional nights.  Every performance is judged on its own magical moments but it is interesting seeing the crowds come together in celebration.  A lot of people identify with that album as being a big part of their lives and you do actually see grown men crying in the audience.  Having said that it is not only confined to the audience.  There have been a few moments when a memory has popped into my head and it has just taken me by surprise and just overwhelmed me a little bit.

Where would you say your favourite venue to play is within the UK?

To be honest with you, I don’t know.  It would probably be The Barrowlands in Glasgow although I have to admit that I haven’t played there in quite some time now.  The O2 Academy in Glasgow has become in recent years a real favourite of ours.

We have all read about the problems that you were personally having with the management when you left Marillion in 1988.  Were things really that bad?

Yes they were.  The sort of person that I am Kevin is that I have never done things for money.  Finances have never been a big drive for me.  Perhaps someone else at my age would have stuck it out; got the bit between their teeth and rode the storm but that’s simply not me.  I was in it for the fun and I wasn’t enjoying myself.  It was having a detrimental effect upon my health simply because of the endless stress.  The night before I wrote my letter to the other members of the band I had drunk a large forty fluid ounce bottle of Jim Beam and I was still standing.  It was at that point that a little voice in the back of my head said ‘warning Will Robinson’ and I thought to myself that this was all wrong.

I didn’t enjoy the tour, the band wouldn’t drop the key to the songs, and I needed help out there.  I was still singing songs in the same key that I had been singing them in the four or five years previously.  Even just half a tone down would have helped out a hell of a lot but they simply wouldn’t help me out at all.  I honestly believe that the manager played a massive part in my decision to leave the band.  At that point he had taken over the band and every time that there were decisions to be made it felt as though it was four against one.  Plus sometimes I felt that the decisions being taken were the wrong ones.

For the size of band that we were, the band were not making the kind of money that we should have been making.  However the manager was making a hell of a lot of money off of us.  I just felt that he was more interested in himself than he was interested in the band.  I just said to the other guys in the band that either the manager went or I went and they made the decision that they would rather replace the singer than the manager.  So Kevin, go figure.  What we needed at that point was a break.  We had been doing an album, touring, album, touring solidly and we had never had any time off.  We had managed to grab a month off here and there but never anything serious.  I think that creatively we needed some space at that point in our lives.

Maybe if the singer had gone off and made his solo album then, and other members of the band had gone off and done their own thing then maybe the band would have continued.  I just felt that it wasn’t going to continue in the way that it was working at that moment in time; it simply wasn’t going to happen.

Do you ever regret forcing the issue?

I have no regrets whatsoever.  I am quite happy with my life.  I have a lovely house with very low overheads, my Volvo is twelve years old with one hundred and ten thousand on the clock, but its fine; it works.  I don’t have what you would call a clichéd rock star life style by any stretch of the imagination.  I go and watch Hibernian Football Club and go to the pub.  I don’t go to nightclubs or carry minders.  I am quite happy with my lot plus I have had some great life experiences.  I have had a great life.  I have never seen myself as a rock star or someone who is particularly special.  I am just lucky in the fact that I have been able to do what I wanted to do.

What are the plans upon your retirement in 2018?

Well what I do know is that in my head there are at least two great autobiographies or stories concerning all of the bits and pieces that have happened to me throughout my life.  I have a great family around me and it’s great.

Is there any chance of a full Marillion reformation?

No.  What’s the point.  I always feel that any talk relating to a Marillion reunion is rather disrespectful to Steve Hogarth who has been in the band far longer than me and has made far more albums than I ever did.  Plus they play music that I didn’t write and to contemplate going back and singing songs from the four albums that I made with the band would mean making massive key changes.  What you have to remember that Misplaced Childhood is thirty years old now.  If I even thought about a reunion then they would have to massively change the keys and Steve Rothery has already gone on record as saying that he will not change the keys.  So I simply think to myself what’s the point.

So whilst that was a categorical no to any Marillion reunion am I right in saying that you and the rest of the band are now at least speaking?

We all at the moment get on great.  Mark Kelly and I in particular are in pretty regular contact with each other.  The thing is that we are all very different people.  At the time the other four guys were all very different people who had grown up in very different ways.  During the period between 1982 and 1988 we all matured in very different ways.  We all found that we wanted different things from our lives.  Some people placed more emphasis on things that I didn’t think were particularly important.  We all just had different attitudes.

What plans do you have for 2017?

I am intending on touring with what will be my last solo album.  I am intending to tie it in with the last album that I did with Marillion, and have them both on the same set list.

Do you still get that buzz out of touring?

I find touring a hell of a lot more difficult these days.  I will soon be fifty-eight and I think that when you are thirty years old on a tour bus it is a lot easier.  I was in Amsterdam two weeks ago getting injections in my spine and also in my shoulder which is simply down to wear and tear and old traumatic injuries.  So nowadays touring is tough for me.  Back in the 80’s we would be playing five shows in a row, whereas now the most that I can do is three because I need the recovery time.  Finding recovery time is difficult when you are trying to sleep on a bus.  Another thing is that the electric band has now  become too difficult and far too big for touring.  It is far too unwieldy and it involves far too many mechanics.  Its organisation has become a pain in the arse.

Playing smaller venues must cause you financial concerns?

Funnily enough that is one of the major reasons why I decided to quit touring.  I found that in reality I need three thousand people per night to financially support the kind of touring that I need to do now to be able to have a prolonged touring life and I simply won’t get those numbers anymore.  I don’t have a problem with that and I accept it.

Does the current state of the music business concern you?

Let’s just say that I am glad that I am not just starting out in the music business Kevin.  The business has changed beyond recognition since we started.  I have just had a publishing statement through and every year the receipts go further and further down.  People are no longer buying records; your radio plays become less and less because people are listening to your music on YouTube and Spotify, both of whom pay such paltry receipts.  It really is horrific.  It means that you have to rely upon live work all of the time.  So if everyone is relying on live work the venues get overpopulated, and at the end of the day your average fan might want to go out maybe three times per week going to gigs, but he simply cannot afford to go out three times per week.

There comes a time when you have just got to walk away and leave the battlefield and that is what I feel like I have got to do.

One thing that I have always wanted to ask is how do you sing in what can only be described as perfect English when you speak with a really strong, broad Scottish accent?

I think it’s because your dialect and accent tend to come from your mouth.  A lot of it is down to the shape of your mouth whereas when you are singing a lot of it comes from your throat.  They are two different sets of mechanics.  If you listen to Jim Kerr for example, Jim doesn’t sound Scottish at all in fact he sounds American.  Another good example is Annie Lennox.  Annie has got a really strong Scottish accent but when she sings you don’t hear it in her voice at all.  It is all down to the mechanics.

When you have retired form touring and recording, will you start seriously looking for acting roles?

This is something again which I am very much looking forward to in 2018 when I finally leave the music business behind.  Hopefully there will be a lot more doors open to me then.  At the moment the main problem which I have when auditioning for film roles is that I am sometimes waiting for anything up to ten weeks to find out if I have got the part and then on top of that I have got to wait for the shooting dates to be announced.  To give you an example, back in 2005 I was in the film The Jacket which was directed by John Maybury.  I audition for the part in August and the original shooting schedule was booked for November and December.  Nowadays you have to book tours at least six months in advance and I had booked a tour to start at the beginning of March.  I had booked rehearsal space and time and all of my stuff was booked and in place.

I got the letter telling me that I had got the part in the movie and then the shooting dates changed, and then they changed again.  On top of that one of the principal actresses had an illness which took her out of the game, and then suddenly we were into January and February.  In my letter they informed me that I would need to be involved in shooting the film for four weeks duration.  Then the four weeks became two, then the two became one, and at this point I had to tell the production company that I couldn’t do it because I couldn’t move the dates of the tour plus the tickets had been on sale for the previous six months.  And so after all of this preparation I was actually filming for one day.

That is a classic example of trying to work within both the life of an actor and the life of a musician.  Up to now it has been very hard whereas in 2018 it will be a chance for me to play about with bits and pieces and to be able to do things.  I know that I am never going to be a Hollywood lead actor; there is no way of that happening, but a good supporting role or a character actor involving three or four weeks of shooting would be great.  It’s fun and it goes back to my point regarding when I left Marillion, we were just hamsters in leather jackets in wheels.  It was just so tedious.  It was the same set every night with the same solos; everything was the same and I just wasn’t enjoying it so I left it.

Since parting company with Marillion have you enjoyed carving out your solo career?

I have to be really honest with you and say that my solo career has been very difficult and there have been times when I have really questioned what I was actually doing.  But at the same time I have had a lot of fun.  I have been to places like Bosnia, where I did a tour for the British Army.  Two years ago now I toured Mogadishu which was a fun and exciting thing to do.  I could never have done those kinds of things if I had still been working within a big band machine.

Your last album A Feast of Consequences received some rave reviews.  Were you pleased with it?

Very much so and I really loved writing that album.  I got a great kick whenever I sat down to write for that album.  I was inspired which really did help a lot.  I really enjoyed playing around with the words and putting the whole thing together.  I think that it was working with prose and the spoken word within that album that got me excited about writing again.  I think that writing the album together with my Facebook page and the numerous blogs that I have written about; well all of that has propelled me forward and given me the focus to get my writing in order.

The bottom line is Kevin I am a writer who can sing and not a singer who can write.  Technically I am not a particularly great singer, I am a soulful singer, a passionate singer but I am not a great technical singer and I accept that.  That is one of the reasons why in 2018 I want to get into writing because I am not the sort of guy who can write whilst he is out on the road.  I’m not the sort of guy who can do an hour here and an hour there; I can’t do that.  I need to concentrate, formulate my day, become disciplined and spend long periods of time working at that and I simply cannot do that whilst I am out on the road.

It’s the same here at home when I come off the road, it takes me at least a month to get myself back into routines again.  Even the basic task of negotiating the corridors of the local Tesco shopping mall, when they have moved everything (laughter).  It really does take me a while and I am the kind of person who needs to be in a place where I can focus on my writing and I can’t do that while I am out on the road.  It is so stressful these days being out on the road because you are so focussed on those two hours that you are doing at the end of the night, that every ounce of your energy, every emotional sinew is wrapped into that two hours.  Once you have finished that it’s like ok onto the next one.

So how are you intending to finally bring the curtain down on your musical career?

Well as we have discussed earlier I have got seventeen Farewell To Childhood shows to complete and that’s my focus.  Once they are done then I’m off and I won’t be on the road again until June 2017 at the very best.  Then I will be back on the road touring my new album together with the 30th Anniversary of Clutching At Straws from roughly September onwards.  We will be playing a few open air events throughout Europe again and then after that we will be moving into 2018 when I will be concentrating on roadwork.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

I don’t really know simply because there have been so many.  It is getting impossible to pin-point any one incident or occasion.  The release of my first solo album Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors and receiving the accolades which that got was a great moment but then again at the same time if A Feast Of Consequences had not sold well and had received an average response, then I wouldn’t be here speaking to you because I would have retired straight after that album.  After A Feast Of Consequences I felt inspired enough to go for one more album and I have got a good idea as to where that album will be coming from.  I just want to do one last album and then leave it.

When you get some time to relax at home who do you listen to?

That’s easy Kevin, my old lady (laughter).  In all honesty I don’t really listen to music that much.  The good thing is that I have had the main recording studio at home totally refurbished in the last couple of months ready for the next album and the good thing is that we have put in some more storage space in there.  My vinyl collection used to sit on a very high shelf, you know the kind of shelf where on a Saturday night after a couple of bottles of wine you would stand on the couch at one in the morning trying to read the writing on the spine of some dusty sleeve (laughter).

I decided that was not really a good idea so I now have bought all of the vinyl down off of that shelf and put it all in a rack that you can now lean on and peer through your glasses and read what is on the spines of the albums (laughter).  The last stuff that I was actually listening to was by Nick Drake.  For some reason I missed out on Nick Drake and so I found myself listening to a few of his albums.  Whenever I do listen to music in the house it is all old stuff; I don’t really follow the charts, the new releases or anything like that at all.

I get all of the music magazines sent to me but to be honest with you, I don’t know half of the people who are in them nowadays.  And most of the other half are the people that you do know and sadly it is their obituaries that you are reading.  More than anything else I tend to watch movies on DVD or TV dramas; that’s where I get my kicks.  Again screen play writing is all part of the package after 2018.

I have to ask you, can you really say never again to touring?

Let’s put it this way, if ever I do want to go out onto the road again, the tour that I have most enjoyed in the last ten years without a shadow of a doubt was the Fishheads Club Tour.  For me to go out with just a guitarist, a keyboard and my voice, and to be able to speak to people in a small venue in front of a couple of hundred people a night and for me to be able to communicate with them, and to have that sense of communion between the crowd and the stage, that I really love.  So if I want to go out after 2018 and do some shows then I can click my fingers, and very easily put together twenty shows in Germany over a three week period.

I think that it would be fun to get into the car and go and visit places, staying in hotels every night, and basically just have a laugh.  Rather than having all of the pressure on to write and record another album, if I have got books out at that point then reading will be a lot easier than singing (laughter).

Do you have any regrets?

I feel that regrets are a waste of time.  Everything that has ever gone wrong or things that have happened in my life where I feel that I have made the wrong decision, it is just a case of learning from it and making sure that you don’t repeat it.  There is a reason as to why things happen Kevin.

On that point let me once again say, Fish thank you for taking the time to speak to me, it’s been great.

Thanks Kevin and I hope to see you at Rock City.  You take care.