Gig review: FISH – Aylesbury Waterside, 11 April 2016

Fish - Glasgow ABC, 17 May 2013

Who says nostalgia is not what is used to be? On an emotional night in Aylesbury, Fish played to an eager full house, exposing tenderness, passion and humour in a set of powerful songs, personal memories and local connections that meant a lot to both performer and audience.

Fish had returned to this Buckinghamshire town where Marillion were formed as part of his ‘Farewell to Childhood’ tour. He and his band are playing the exquisite ‘Misplaced Childhood’ album in its entirety for the last time, 30-odd years since it was released.

Marillion were the first band I ever saw back in 1984 when, on the Real To Real tour, a few excerpts were played as teasers for the concept opus to come. I marvelled then at Fish’s ability to hold the audience right in the palm of his hand.

A generation and more later, nothing has changed. When Fish thumped a rhythm against his heart with the microphone, we all clapped in time; when he put a finger to his lips, we stopped; and when he invited us to stand as he introduced Misplaced Childhood, to a person we left our seats behind. I’ve seen a heck of a lot of good bands in the intervening 32 years. But none fronted by anyone with more charisma, personality or sheer, naked presence.

In truth, the early part of the gig was patchy.  Opener ‘Pipeline’ from the 1994 album ‘Suits’ lacked a strong vibe and seemed an odd choice to kick off proceedings. ‘Feast of Consequences’ fared little better, given Robin Boult’s persistent guitar trouble (‘put some money in the meter!’ quipped the big man).

‘Long Cold Day’ moved the event up a few gears though. Now settled over a shiny red Stratocaster, Boult served up a spine-tingling, distorted riff around which Fish’s lyric wove a relationship story full of bitterness, regret and ultimate acceptance.

A tight ‘Family Business’ from ‘Vigil…’ gave way to the first epic of the evening. ‘The Perception of Johnny Punter’ was again built around some sharp, angry guitar lines, with Fish painting pictures of a war-torn landscape in an evocative spoken section. The false ending to the song saw him holding a pose with an arm pointing skywards in the pregnant pause whilst scanning the audience. His darting eyes were registering those applauding as if to say, ‘You lot don’t know this song. You’re only here for Misplaced Childhood’.

Maybe that was true. If so, it was a good enough reason. Before we began that journey, Fish took time to tell us about his day exploring old haunts that had inspired the album’s lyrics, from houses to pubs to the Grand Union that gave rise to the line ‘the mist crawls from the canal like some primordial phantom of romance…’  .

The mood changed as he talked about his former girlfriend who was the subject of the hit ‘Kayleigh’, and how he had protected her true identity from tabloid press at the time. He said she worked at the local hospital in Aylesbury and long after the album had been released they were in contact again. She was battling cancer then and died in 2012. Fish turned to the auditorium and said simply, ‘This performance of Misplaced Childhood is dedicated to Kay Lee Atkinson.’

The crowd came alive. And with it the communal sense of theatre as 1,200 people belted out every word: not just to sing-a-long ‘Kayleigh’ and ‘Lavender’, but to the complex lyrical passages of ‘Brief Encounter’ and ‘Lost Weekend’ too.

If I was worried about the reproduction of the album’s crucial, intricate soundscape by a band that had not written or performed the original, my fears were quickly allayed. The mood was set immediately with an atmospheric, almost intimate interchange between Boult and Tony Turrell on keys for ‘Pseudo Silk Kimono’.

The band’s touch was impeccable.  Part of the genius of Misplaced Childhood is the shifting moods created as the story unfolds: the quick and slow, the light and shade, the transitions and the set pieces. Everytime, this company was right on the money.

‘Blue Angel’, with its soaring guitar and vocal tugging at the emotions was a highlight. There were so many others. ‘Heart Of Lothian was anthemic, ‘Lords of the Backstage’ a sublime platform for Turrell’s keys, and the climactic ‘Threshold’ with angry and challenging words spat out as raw as the day they were penned.

Fish no longer possesses the vocal range of his youth and his lung capacity restricts some of the delivery. So the singer has worked out a different way of phrasing the lines, particularly on the big finishes. It added something to the drama and depiction of the songs, always such a big part of the show anyway. The crowd did the rest.

‘Childhood’s End?’ sits a little uncomfortably in the album for me, ringing a touch too much of contrived happiness to be credible. Maybe that’s the point. Tonight, live, it melded with ‘White Feather’ as a triumphant chorus of approval that bounced back and forth across this spanking new venue in sonic waves.  A high octane closing for the main part of the show.

The encore, of course, was ‘Market Square Heroes’, inspired by a confrontation in Aylesbury’s market square in the early 1980’s. A riotous, helter-skelter of a track that cemented the bond between band and crowd. There was one more encore, ‘The Company’. It’s folky jigs and twirls captured the celebratory atmosphere perfectly. The big Scotsman looked reluctant to leave the stage. We were all part of Fish’s Company on this special night. Remarkable.

Review by Dave Atkinson

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