Derek William Dick is certainly a man of many talents! When he is not touring under his electric moniker “Fish” or the highly successful acoustic trio Fish Heads Club, you will either find him honing his acting skills through independent film productions or walking around with his Nikon 300s taking photos that will eventually provide inspiration for albums to come. Being well aware that it was only a few days since his latest Fish Heads Club tour was over, I decided to contact Derek with the purpose of conducting an interview and I was pleased by the kind and accommodating manner with which he approached this activity. 2012 finds this fine Scotsman in good health, positive spirit and appetite for various projects, as this interview will soon prove, so…relax, sit back and take note!
By Yiannis (John) Stefanis
- Hi Derek; there are so many things that I want to talk to you about that I cannot wait – shall we start?
Derek: Let’s go.
- As most people who are seriously in Rock music must know, you are in the process of creating a new album with the working title “A Feast Of Consequences”.
Derek: Yes, but that is quite a way off yet. I don’t really envisage the album being available till September. There are a lot of thing happening this year! I mean, my first priority at the moment is the Fish Heads tour. We recorded a several number of shows during our recent tour and now it is the part where I have to sit down and listen to my own voice for hour after hour which is something that I hate doing! So, I have to listen to all that material, which comes from all over the place; from recordings in Germany, Poland, UK, Ireland and Scotland. I have a lot of DVD footage including sixty hours of material from Poland which will form a part of this film documentary that we are hoping to put together through this Fish Heads project which should be released probably at the end of April. That is going to come out in a number of forms, from an MP3/download new website that I am putting together called www.fishheadsclub.com (note: not up and running before March 2012), physical releases which will range from a best of compilation of a number of shows to a box set which will be filled with recording of different shows and DVD material. So, it is a big project and then, amongst all that, I am starting to put together the writing for “A Feast Of Consequences” as well! And then we’ve got the concerts with Glenn Hughes, one taking place in London at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, one in Manchester O2 Academy, the O2 ABC in Glasgow and we will do another three warm up shows in the UK as well! These will be with a full electric band, a full Rock set, so I will get back into full band mode which will be strange after doing a hundred and eighty shows with the Fish Heads club as a three piece acoustic! After that we are going into summer: June, July and August is the time where I will devote all my time to completing and recording the “A Feast Of Consequences” album which I am not sure when it will be finished. Then we will go out on a full tour in order to support that album and then we’ve got to go back the following year and carry on another Fish Heads tour which will be with a completely different set and with completely different approaches to the songs performed. It will also incorporate material from the “A Feast Of Consequences” album which, because we have been working in an acoustic format so long, and having deconstructed a lot of songs in the process of understanding or re-understanding the mechanics of the song writing so we are approaching “A Feast Of Consequences” writing from an acoustic standpoint; writing all the songs in a very kind of old-fashioned way and then embellishing all the electronic instruments and the drums and all the studio tricks, rather than trying to write it in the studio using all this modern technology which means that it’s easy to get it back to an electric band and that it is also easy to get it back into an electric format.
- Wow, so the idea that I had that the upcoming shows with Glenn Hughes were in order to promote “A Feast Of Consequences” is completely out of the window now! This short tour will take place end of May, right?
Derek: Yes, that’s when the six shows that I mentioned are going to take place which is great as I’ve known Glenn on and off for a number of years. He is a fantastic singer with a great voice and, you know, I have really liked his stuff over the years, from Trapeze to Purple and also the recent Black Country Communion stuff which I think was a fantastic album. I think that it is going to be very complementary as the music on the set list that we are going to be playing are going to be songs like “Long Cold Day”, “Manchmal” as well as some of the heavier Marillion classics, you know?
- So people should not expect these shows to be a form of introduction for the new album.
Derek: They will be. I mean, we plan to play the songs that we’ve written in the run of to these shows – probably the heaviest ones!
- So, you pretty much have an idea of where it is that you want to go with “A Feast Of Consequences”. Is it at all related to the “13th Star”?
Derek: No, not at all! I mean, none of my albums really relate to each other. “13th Star” was an album that was primarily focused really on the breakup of a relationship and I really didn’t want to go down that road again, even though I had a second mariage that went down in 2009 and I had all the voice problems to deal with. The Fish Heads acoustic tour helped me to definitely regain my confidence in my own voice and performance and I think that it’s also helped regain the confidence of the fans in my voice. These things are clear in the reviews that I have read where journalists have commented on things like my voice having come back. The two operations that I did indicated that I have had a problem for quite a long time. The first operation that took place in 2009, the surgeon said that the cyst that they found on my vocal cord has been there at least two or three years so I was singing with a very badly damaged set of vocal chords. So, coming out in the last one and a half to two years of working, or one and a half year of working really, you know, it kind of made me aware that this problem is now gone and that I am now back to a full voice again. The recent Fish Heads shows have shed a lot of positivity on my career. I have been through that very dark period in my life where I wasn’t even sure whether I am going to be able to ever sing again but I wanted to leave that out – I did not want to write any stuff about that. I need to move forward and put that whole thing behind me and concentrate on different aspects and different observations and different experiences!
- Going through that experience did you find that you needed to start utilising your voice in a way that was quite different from the method you had followed so far in your career? Were there certain things that needed adjusting or even changing?
Derek: Absolutely not! I mean, it was interesting because I went down with a virus in Germany about four months ago and now I get very paranoid when something is going wrong because obviously you immediately think back to those dark days and as a precaution I went to see a specialist and he said basically that “if you told me that you have just done a hundred shows and you’ve had two vocal operations then I would not have believed you as your chords are in excellent shape”. I took a photographs of my chords in 2008 which indicated what the problem was and he said “these chords in the photograph are completely different from the chords that I am looking at right now” and also said “you must have an excellent singing technique as there is no trace of damage in your cords whatsoever”!
- Now, that’s what I call great news!
Derek: Yeah, it was! I must admit that I left that hospital with a very big smile on my face (laughs)!
- Let’s keep things like that then as it is very important for us to see you healthy and having more music out under the Fish moniker!
Derek: Yeah; as I said with regards the Fish Heads tour, the positive reviews that we’ve got, the reaction of the fans – everything was great! This is virtually a comeback, you know, and that is why I am very aware that in the next year, I have got to ensure that there is an album out there that is relative and indicative of where I am just now! It’s got to be some album as “13th Star” was a brilliant album for me. I mean, Steve Vantsis (bass) and I have put down together some great tracks in it and I want to make sure that the “A Feast Of Consequences” album will at least reach that same benchmark if not surpass it!
- Is Frank Usher (guitars) again going to be part of the musical team that will put together “A Feast Of Consequences”? I mean, he’s pretty much been involved in the vast majority of your solo albums, right?
Derek: Yes, absolutely and I think that his guitar playing has become gentler these last couple of years! I mean, he recorded some excellent guitars for the “13th Star” but having shifted to the acoustic guitar has made him relearn certain techniques which again will be utilised in the “A Feast Of Consequences” album. He is very comfortable with the acoustic and he obviously prefers the electric. I think that as a guitarist he has grown and grown. He is one of the most underrated guitarists in the UK as far as I am concerned!
- Derek, reading through the numerous fora and people’s opinions on the Internet one cannot fail but appreciate your fans’ devotion and love towards you and your music, especially here in the UK. Their only major complaint really is the time that they have to wait for a new Fish album – something that I consider to be, if anything, a real compliment.
Derek: Yes, but people need to see things in context. “13th Star” was released in 2007 and then we went on the road in 2008 – the same year that I had the operation on my vocal cords. I mean, I couldn’t sing at all for six months after that. Then, I came back and I did five shows and that is when I found out that I had cell growth, unnatural cell growth on the place where the first operation took place. When that took place I literally couldn’t speak which kind of went on until October 2009. Then I had to rest my voice for another six months after I had the second operation in December 2009 so I couldn’t physically start singing again until the middle of 2010. So when you look at the surgical procedures that I had endured over that period that was virtually a year and a half since the release of the “13th Star” where I simply couldn’t write anything. And you know, honestly, my head was not in the right place. When a singer has to go through that mental dilemma, you are not in the place where you can be creative and be positive and write material. And, as I said before, I didn’t want to write something about those dark times and, at the same time, it would have been very easy for me to write and put together an album similar to the “13th Star” but I don’t think that it would have been a very good album! I don’t want to put anything out and give the fans anything that I think is sub-standard or low quality or something that’s put out just to make money! There’s a lot of bands who do that, who feel the necessity to put an album out every one and a half to two years but sometimes you’re just not ready! Sometimes you don’t have an attitude that’s right in order to go into the studio and make an album and so you end up just becoming a sort of a sausage factory and I don’t respect these artists that do that – I would never respect myself for doing something like that, you know? As you said, I’ve got a very loyal fan base, I’ve got a very great following and I don’t want to let them down! As much as they want to hear another album, I want to make sure that I will give them an album that they are going to throw onto their CD player or listen to on their MP3 player and go “wow, that’s fantastic – that’s been worth waiting for”, you know?
- I do know what you mean and, apart from anything else, it is that very same honesty that people like me appreciate in your music. That is what makes us loyal to your art. We love the fact that each album that you release has something new to say, something totally different to offer! You have never released the same album twice which is quite an achievement considering the fact that here is a standard ‘core’ of musicians who help you record your music. “13th Star” was a perfect example of a quite varied and interesting throughout release, with many different musical influences involved in the process. Is that also going to be the case with “A Feast Of Consequences”?
Derek: Yes, I think so! Because it is coming from an acoustic place, we have learned so much about dynamics during the Fish Heads tour. It was very theatrical and you really could pick out the drama within each of the songs and that is something that I would like to incorporate into the writing of the next album.
- I really cannot wait to hear the new material now that I am made aware of all these things!
Derek: Neither can I (laughs).
- You, Sir, are a man of many talents who likes to get involved in numerous different activities & fields, one of which is charity. One such example is the benefit show that you performed for the restoration of the East Lothian Masonic Lodge mid last year. As a matter of personal curiosity and seeing as I was personally quite appalled by what happened to that historic building, did you guys manage to sort things out in the end?
Derek: Yes we did. The damage was not as bad as we initially thought. I think that the press blew it a little bit out of proportion as well, as the media does tend to do. I’ll tell you what: it is great to be able to do charity work but I have to pick and choose them as I get offered to do so many chances to do gigs for such purposes but there is really so much that I can do, you know? I don’t like charging for charity work and when I do, even though I personally may believe in it, I have session musicians to help me and I cannot simply ask them to give all their wages across for that purpose, you know? Sometimes they do but, you know…actually, most of the times they do but, again, I don’t want to abuse the loyalty of my musicians in that way. It is very easy to get tied up in such things. I mean, we have offered so many times to do tracks to compilation albums and things like that but I have to turn them down sometimes because a lot of them might start with very good intentions but, at the end of the day, you just end up…things can get lost in the mix, if you know what I mean. So, I do try to pick and choose what I do get involved with, you know? I also try to keep a low key; I don’t want to make a big thing out of it, you know?
- One other thing you seem to really enjoy doing is acting. You have participated in a number of different films so far, the last being “Electric Man” if I am not mistaken, which was a Bafta nominated movie.
Derek: Yeah, I love acting! I wish I had taken up on it earlier in my career but one of the problems that I had was that I was working in a five piece band. We were five equal members and if the singer is going to take a month off to do a movie then what do the rest of the band do? I think that the pressure that was on Marillion back then in the 80s was quite immense! The manager wanted us to be on the road all the time and a singer that was unable to be on the road was not going to be earning them any money. So, a lot of the acting stuff that I should be doing… I should have been doing “The Bill” and “Taggart” back then. I should have been doing that and learning my craft back then, so that when I went solo, I would have been a few steps up that ladder. What happened was that I didn’t really get involved in acting until I went solo when I did “Jute City” for the BBC (note: 1991) and things like that. Nowadays it is very difficult; there are a lot of young actors out there and there are a lot of very good actors out there and there are also a lot of unemployed actors out there. Independent films are pretty much working the same way with music nowadays.
Technology in the music business has allowed everybody to make an album and the technology in the film industry has allowed a lot of people to make films and I am quite happy to get involved in independent films as I don’t depend on acting to…what can I say, I don’t depend on the income from my acting career to keep me alive, you know? I got the time to do something pretty much the same time that “Electric Man” came about, you know? It came about in the beginning of the Fish Heads tour where we were only playing three gigs a week and, you know, when I spoke to the film company about the possibility to play, he was very happy to accommodate me and I was quite happy to accommodate him. So I got involved with a great bunch of people that all wanted to just make a movie, you know, there was no kind of commercial ethic about it, there were no egos – it was a wonderful group of people to work with! And we made a fantastic movie! Again, the very same way with music, there’s a lot of albums out there that are all trying to get publicity and they are all trying to get distribution and it is exactly the same way with movies: there are a lot of people making movies and so it is quite hard to get yours out. I don’t see that movie becoming a huge hit; I think, though, that the people who are going to go and see it will be genuinely surprised and I don’t think that it is going to get a huge run on major screens by any means. But I think that when it comes out on DVD it will hopefully get the accolades that it deserves! It is an independent movie featuring a bunch of young actors, young directors and it is really a great achievement!
When I was at the original premier in Edinburgh, when the movie was played back to the cast, etc., everybody just got “wow, we did that” and that is a great feeling! I would love to get more involved in independent filmmaking but I think that, as an actor, my ego is not such that I feel that I should be getting bigger roles. I know what I can do, you know, and I do need a lot more experience. In the same way, if you play one gig every six months it doesn’t mean that you’ve got the craft to be a great stage performer! You’ve got to keep on working and building your experience, feel more confident when someone gives you a script as this is a completely different craft from being a singer, you know? I will take the opportunities when they come along but most of these opportunities tend to come from independent sources but I am more than happy to get involved in them. I am learning about a lot more things than just acting.
If I had a dream in that same way when I was seventeen or eighteen years old, when I had a dream of becoming a singer in a band, I would now be sitting here writing a screenplay and directing a film. Screenplays are a very obvious thing for me to be expecting to take up on and one of the things this year, because I’ve got the time, I can indulge myself with some other projects. I am already talking in regards to two potential script ideas with two different sets of people that we can start working on this year because, as you will probably know, a script to go from initialisation through development and then into realisation…it can take between two and three years, you know? If I have something starting now, if I light up the fuse now then there is a chance that we can get something going when I finish doing the “A Feast Of Consequences” tour and, you know, I am writing scripts for which I have got a part (laughs). I am not stupid! I write scripts where there are actual parts for me, you know? Why write a script if there is no place in it for me (laughs)?
When it comes to that, I have always loved words; I have always been excited working with words, working with ideas as I have always had a very strong imagination and you need to apply that to another genre completely. It’s exciting, you know? As I said, this is going to be a very exciting year; I’ve got the Fish Heads projects, I’ve got the “A Feast Of Consequences” album and I am also…we are talking at the moment about putting together a lyric book that is mostly an autobiography than anything else because, as you will know, a lot of my lyrics are written from an autobiographical standpoint – my life is pretty much immersed in my lyrics! To take the thread of the lyrics from script all the way to “A Feast Of Consequences” will be great as I will also be filling all the gaps by explaining things like what was happening at the time, when they were written and explaining what influenced them, why I used these images, etc., so that people can better relate to them – kind of open up the mystery box a little bit more, you know? That is another project that has been lined up for this year, as well as the scripts, as well as Fish Heads, as well as “A Feast Of Consequences” and, as I say, hopefully an independent film comes along. I would love to think that I could get two acting roles at some point this year, just to keep things built up!
- When you are on stage performing your songs, it is that honesty that we get connected to and appreciate in your music. In acting, it is the ability to become convincing when ‘changing’ personality that makes a person good in their craft, so I was wondering how it is that you can actually be a part of such different worlds! Do you find that quite a challenge?
Derek: I like the challenge, yeah; I relish it! Because what you do is that you present the experiences from your own life and the same is when you write a lyric. Say, for example, that I am singing “Long Cold Day” on stage; this is a very bitter and angry song, Ok? Well, I am not necessarily walking on stage feeling bitter and angry, you know, and I may be singing something like “A Gentleman’s Excuse Me” before I do “Long Cold Day” which is a very kind of, you know, melancholic kind of song – a very kind of romantic song and then you kind of have to switch your head around and do “Long Cold Day” which is an angry and bitter song. So what you do is that you learn to adopt a persona; you remember when you wrote the song, you know what the lyrics are about and what you do is that you basically reach back into that area from where the song came from and you pull those feelings out and present them on stage. And then, at the end of that song you switch off again and you go into something else, you know, and I think that is why there is so much humour on stage and I like to talk so much when I am on stage, you know? Sometimes I like to build myself up, for example, in the introduction of “Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors” on the Fish Heads tour; it was quasi-political. There were a lot of references to communism in Cuba to Che Guevara and it kind of sets you up and so in that gap you kind of pull the persona together in order to deliver that song – you become an actor of sorts! Although all the parts are true, what you do is that you just assemble a certain bunch of parts that you are unable to put across otherwise in the way that they should be put across, you know?
- Of course I understand, especially as theatricality was always an important part of your stage antics ever since the Marillion days.
Derek: Yes indeed. I think that, if when I was in school, if I had the confidence back then to become involved in drama, to enrol in the drama school then I could quite easily have become an actor. I could quite easily see myself following that route but I didn’t because the opportunities were not there and when it came down to it, when I was a teenager, when I started singing when I was twenty one, the people I knew were people that were into music. Eventually when the opportunities arose, thy came from the music world, they didn’t come from the theatrical world! Perhaps if I were hanging around with actors or if I had been going to the theatre…I was always into the movies – I have always been into the movies ever since I was a kind. Saturday night was a ritual in our family home! We sat and we watched movies with Kirk Douglas, Robert Mitchum, Steve McQueen an all those guys and also the Redfords and the Newmans – my mum and dad were always into movies. So movies and music have always run in parallel in my life.
The DVD collection that I’ve got here is probably just as big as my CD collection and I prefer it. I very rarely listen to music and it’s only really in the last few days that I said to myself “God, I need to buy some new music” just to get some ideas of sounds and new approaches and things, you know? Like, for example, I just went out and bought the new Gallagher, from Rufus Wainwright I got his new big box set and that is the thing: when I went along to buy it I also bought three Andrzej Wajda DVDs “A Man Of Iron” and I got a trilogy of war films which revolved around the occupation of Poland in the 1940s and “Katyn” which is a fantastic film!
- I actually saw that one in the cinema when it came out back in 2007 and I absolutely loved it!
Derek: Oh it was indeed an amazing film! I love his images as I am the person that loves this kind of European cinema and I always love art cinema more than the well-established Hollywood type of cinema. A lot of World Cinema films have great photography and there are all those images within images. I got a fantastic box set of Tarkowski films a few months ago and Tarkowski is the type of director that I really love and he was highly influential on a lot of the stuff that we were doing, especially my early solo albums! So image has always been strong; I have always used observations in my lyrics. It’s always been the case of me taking photographs with my eyes, absorbing that image and then trying to put that image into words. This has always been my forte – what I have always done, which is again why I have become so much involved in photography. I always carry my Nikon 300s with me when I go on the road and I’ve always, when I get some days off… I wander around trying to capture things, you know? A lot of times when I capture a photograph and then I go back and download it I can imagine exactly what it was like being there, what the feeling was like and there are a lot of memories attached to these photographs which are a great help when I try to write lyrics.
- Derek, you sound very excited when you talk about all those things and that is really the best state of affairs – both for you as an artist and for us as your fans.
Derek: Yeah, I am! I was on the phone with Mark for over an hour and a half yesterday and we were running through ideas and, as I said there is a lot of positive energy involved – excitement of the results of the latest Fish Heads tour. Being off the road now, all that energy is there and now we’ve got to point that energy in a positive direction and into projects that they are…it is funny. I am out there; I am very much under the radar in a lot of senses. Porcupine Tree are very much towards the front, Marillion have a far greater press profile than I have, you know? But we are out there and we played for something like forty thousand people on this Fish Heads tour and as far as I know, most of these people left those gigs with huge smiles on their faces and it is very, very underground. There are a lot of people who know what I do but it has never been commercial, it has never bounced out at the front of the media. Maybe it’s because…I always feel very uncomfortable with high exposure like that of 1985 “Kayleigh” Marillion time when we were at the front of everything. I am…even though I am a public persona, I am a relatively private person. I mean, I like to go to the pub and not to nightclubs! I like to go to football matches – I don’t go to movie premieres, you know what I mean?
- After so many years listening to your music I feel like I know you fairly well.
Derek: Thanks. It’s very easy to get caught up as we did back in the 80s. I think that there was a certain part of my life where I was very badly polluted by what happened back in 1985 and 1986, for various reasons. I like to be kind of in control of where I am at, you know? I don’t…I find it awkward to…I don’t like being false and I am not very good at having what you would call a shallow chit chat – that’s not where I am at, you know?
- Well, there are many interesting things that are coming up and which we have talked about and for which I want to wish you good luck in achieving. I want to wrap things up here by first saying how much I appreciate your time and also to thank you for all the great music that you have given us over the years. I also want to wish you good health and much happiness for 2012 and for all the many years to come and I am really looking forward to listening to the new material once this is ready.
Derek: Thanks man, I really appreciate it. Have a great New Year!
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