Derek W Dick

REVIEW: Fish – Kettle of Fish 88-98 (1998)

scan_20170105FISH – Kettle of Fish 88-98  (1998 Roadrunner)

Kettle of Fish, the “best of” Derek W. Dick, is the first and only CD I’ve ever had stolen from me.

I got it cheap, something like $7 brand new, from one of our stores.  Then a year later, someone stole the CD player from my car, with the Fish CD inside.  Emotionally distraught, I sought to replace it right away.  The best I could do was $30 for a replacement copy shipped from Fish’s official site.  How crushing.  I wondered with bemusement what the thieves thought of Fish’s progressive rock poetry.  I imagine they tossed the disc into a snowbank.

While Kettle of Fish is no replacement for Fish’s debut solo album Vigil In a Wilderness of Mirrors, it is a fine collection of the man’s first decade as a solo artist and an enjoyable listen through.  It also boasts a nice colourful booklet with all the relevant singles covers, photos, lyrics and liner notes by Derek W. Dick.  Incidentally my original copy was missing pages.  I wonder if that is how it ended up in our store?  A defective run, sent off to a clearance somewhere, that eventually found its way into one of our warehouses.  Missing pages notwithstanding, it’s an excellent packaging job.

Since the album is made up of singles (and two new songs that we’ll get to), you will always find that critical deep album cuts are missing.  “Vigil” was not a single, but it’s one of Fish’s greatest achievements.  There’s no “The Company”.  “I Like to Watch” is missing in action.  Instead the CD is arranged to give roughly equal time to all of Fish’s output to date.  Tracks from Internal ExileSuits, Yin, Yang and Sunsets On Empire are given fair representation.

Some of the best tracks are the lesser known variety.  “Brother 52” is hip and modern, yet still obviously Fish.  The loopy drums are perfect for the track, lending it a 90’s groove with a rock integrity throughout.  The spoken word parts of “Brother 52” are sometimes distracting, but are by and large incorporated as part of the song.  A vibrant violin solo goes for the kill and that’s all she wrote.  The Celtic jig “Internal Exile” is another immediate favourite.  The lyrics evolved from a song Marillion were working on for their unfinished fifth LP called “Exile on Princess Street”.  It was the kind of stuff Marillion were getting sick of. According to Dick, “The lyrics started to follow a more political lean with a distinctly Scottish nationalist tone. The band weren’t happy.”

I saw a blue umbrella in Princes Street Gardens,
Heading out west for the Lothian Road,
An Evening News stuffed deep in his pocket,
Wrapped up in his problems to keep away the cold.

Grierson’s spirit haunts the dockyards,
Where the only men working are on the documentary crews,
Shooting film as the lines get longer,
As the seams run out, as the oil runs dry.

The finished lyrics make you feel it. Yes the music for “Internal Exile” is bright and chipper, with a tin whistle to take your worry away. It sounds nothing like the morose music Marillion coupled it with. Maybe that’s what made all the difference.

Tracks including “Credo”, “Big Wedge” and “State of Mind” are varied and of very high quality.  You might think you put on an unknown 80s Phil Collins single if you play “Big Wedge” unannounced.  Of the two new songs recorded for the album, “Chasing Miss Pretty” is the most enjoyable.  It’s simple silly light rock for the summer time.  Fish seems to have dropped the ball a little bit on the lyrics, but “Chasing Miss Pretty” is still far more poetic than anything Jon Bon Jovi has ever written.

First of all, I caught her reflection in the window of the pharmacy store,
There I was locked up in my pick-up in the rush hour on the Delaware road.
It must have been the scent of her perfume or the glimpse of that French lingerie,
A product of my imagination, I blame it all on a hot summer’s day.

Unfortunately the other new song “Mr. Buttons” is forgettable musically and lyrically.  A song about hackers and e-crime in 1998 is going to sound quaint in 2017.

The weight of Fish’s early career casts a large shadow on everything the man has done since.  Vigil was a triumph in every way for the singer.  The early songs generally outshine the later songs.  You will find favourites in the later material, but the early stuff will probably keep you coming back for another listen.  The new songs are a nice add-on, and the packaging makes it worth a go, especially if you don’t own any Fish.  Proceed!

4.5/5 stars

 

Roger doesn't appear happy with his Fish CD.

Roger doesn’t appear happy with his Fish CD.

REVIEW: Marillion – Early Stages (Official Bootleg Box Set 1982-1987) / The Highlights

This review dedicated to the great Uncle Meat.  Part 1 of a 2 part series!

MARILLION – Early Stages (Official Bootleg Box Set 1982-1987) (EMI)

This is the first of two Marillion Official Bootleg box sets.  The second covers the Hogarth years 1990-1994.  Mine came with an autographed print!

I listened to this box again over the course of a week.  I chose the car as the setting.  I’ve spent a lot of time driving to Marillion in the past (lots of great memories) so this setting works for me.  I enjoy loading long box sets onto my car MP3 player.  I did that recently with the 12 CD Deep Purple Bootleg Series box set.  As soon as I was done with that one, I dove into Early Stages.

I also acquired the recent compilation Early Stages: The Highlights.  Why, you ask?  Well, like many “highlights” packages, they usually stick on one exclusive song to get you to buy the same thing twice.  The bait is “Market Square Heroes” Fife Aid 1988, the final song of the final show with Fish.  OK, I’ll bite.MARILLION_0009

I don’t have a lot to say specifically about any of the concerts included in this box set.  There are a lot of songs from periods before they were recorded on albums, and that’s cool.  There are four different drummers on this set*, representing the rarely documented transitional periods in Marillion’s lineup.  The discs are all of great sonic quality considering the years they were recorded.  Fish is a great frontman, usually funny but occasionally serious, and always entertaining.

Here are some observations about some of the set’s highlights.  From The Mayfair, Glasgow, 1982:  “He Knows You Know” is not quite as slick as we’re used to, a little tentative, but no less powerful.  An early version of “She Chameleon” is quite different musically from what it would become, although the lyrics are mostly in place.

When you get to the Marquee show (December of ’82), Fish is especially talkative and sentimental.  The gem here is obviously “Grendel”, a song which never ceases to amaze me.  Fish’s expressive voice has me hook, line and sinker.  You’ll be treated to the complete workout of “Grendel” again in 1983 (Reading).  The 1984 Hammersmith concert has emotional classics like “Jigsaw” and “Cinderella Search”.  The real treat is an early version of the first track for the forthcoming album Misplaced Childhood; a track Fish calls “Side One”.  It’s an early version, the lyrics still not all the way there, and it’s missing the entire “Lavender” section.  But you can hear the shape of things to come.

Hey Uncle Meat! Who’s your favourite lyricist?

The box set closes with a late period show, and a big one:  Wembley, 1987.  A good chunk of Misplaced Childhood (all of Side One) and Clutching at Straws are presented.  There are only a couple oldies:  “Fugazi” and “Incubus”.  This is a slicker, more commercial-sounding band, much more skilled at writing complicated yet catchy music.

Of note:  there are a whopping 15 pages full of liners notes by one Derek W. Dick, aka Fish, and new cover art by Mark Wilkinson!  If that doesn’t sell this set, then nothing will.

5/5 stars

* Mick Pointer, John Martyr, Andy Ward, and Ian Mosely.  Only Jonathan Mover is not heard on this, although he is on the 6 CD Curtain Call box set.

REVIEW: Marillion – Script For a Jester’s Tear (2 CD remaster)

Hey Uncle Meat! Who’s your favourite lyricist?

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MARILLION – Script For a Jester’s Tear (EMI 2 CD remaster, originally 1983)

“So here I am once more, in the playground of the broken hearts.”

So let it be written, the first words on the first full length album by the singer Fish and the band Marillion. Indeed, early Marillion is so heavily associated with their original singer that it is futile to try to separate them. Early Marillion, meaning the first four crucial albums, is revered for their lyrics as much or even more than their music. Layers upon layers of meanings, tongue-twisting words, symbolism galore, it’s all here for the poetry lover in you. I especially like Fish’s use of homophones for that extra touch of wonder.

Musically, early Marillion were very much in Genesis worship mode, even if they don’t like to talk about it. “Grendel” (appearing here in an awesome alternate take) is essentially “Supper’s Ready”. Many people in my own record store have confused Fish’s voice for Peter Gabriel’s and even Phil Collins from time to time. This is progressive rock for the dudes who love progressive rock. Do you like 8 minute songs with time changes, and ample keyboard & guitar solos? Early Marillion is the band for you.

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Highlights on this album include the broken-hearted and angry title track, and the drug-induced “He Knows You Know”. Part of the appeal of Fish’s lyrics is how he alternately caresses them and then spits them out at appropriate moments. “He Knows You Know” is a great example of this. From high pitched emphasis to mid-range melody, Fish knew how he wanted to express his words.  “Don’t give me your problems!”

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“Garden Party” is, of course, a wry stab at the English class system. These lyrics could only have come from the man known as Fish, and this is one of his most sarcastic and humourous achievements.  It is also one of Marillion’s bounciest songs, one that still creates euphoria in audiences today.

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The bonus disc here is loaded with greatness. Their first single “Market Square Heroes” is present in alternate versions. One of these is the “Battle Priest” version. Fish was forced to change the lyrics from “I am your antichrist,” to “I am your battle priest” (???) and that version is available here. Fear not, collectors, as the original is available on the singles box set, and other compilations as well. “Grendel”, all 20 minutes of it, is also present in an alternate take. It is simply stunning that an alternate take of a 20 minute song even exists. Again, the original is available on the box set as well as the album B’Sides Ourselves. The original take of “Three Boats Down From The Candy” is here, slightly different from the version that would turn up later. Here, there is a slight reggae vibe in the final verses. Fill out the bonus disc with some well fleshed out demos, and you have a very solid listening experience.

Liner notes, by Fish and the others, are of course essential, brilliant, and engrossing. Ample photos and artwork from Mark Wilkinson are also included.

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For the die hard collector who just can’t get enough, there were two singles (“He Knows You Know” and “Garden Party”) plus the debut  “Market Square Heroes” with additional material to enjoy.  As far as live material goes, the six CD box set Early Stages has four discs from this period alone, including not one but two live versions of “Grendel”!  Finally, the beautiful Curtain Call box set included a live album from October 1983 in Germany, featuring new (short tenured) drummer Jonathan Mover.

Script For a Jester’s Tear is an essential Marillion album, but it is not for beginners. Beginners may find such progressive fare as “Forgotten Sons” or “Chelsea Monday” to be a bit impenetrable on first listen. They would be advised to pick up the magnum opus Misplaced Childhood first. Once you are addicted to that music, come back here and feast of the bones of “Grendel”.

4.9/5 stars. A near-masterpiece for this band.