O2 Academy, Bristol
3rd December 2015
We now live in a post-Bataclan world in which airport security measures screen gig goers. Nevertheless, Bristol O2 Academy was sold out as Fish kicked off his latest U.K. tour, celebrating the 30th anniversary of Marillion’s Misplaced Childhood album. After recent events in Paris perhaps it was apt that support came from a superb French band, Lazuli.
Fish’s decision to bring this excellent progressive rock band along was rewarded with a remarkable performance full of impressive showmanship coupled with plenty of Gallic charm and their unique style. The vast majority of the crowd had never heard of Lazuli so this was quite a challenge for them. Lazuli began with Déraille from their recent album Tant que l’herbe est grasse (upon which Fish provides cameo vocals for the song J’ai Trouvé ta Faille). This powerfully percussive rhythmic anthem immediately won over the crowd. The impressive Le Miroir aux Alouettes, from previous album (4603 Battements), showed their musical versatility as keyboard and French horn player Romain Thorel moved onto drums, whilst drummer Vincent Barnavol played tom toms. Claude Leonetti on a unique instrument, the Léode (invented to allow him to continue playing with a disability), was a star of the show, laying down spectacular and eerie slide guitar sounding lines throughout their set, which included new songs from their forthcoming album. His brother Dominique is a fine vocalist who expressed his gratitude by saying that as Lazuli are from the South of France they needed warmth, which they received in abundance from the crowd. Set closer Les Courants Ascendants showcased guitarist Gédéric Byar in a rousing finale. The sheer musicality and infectious enthusiasm of this band entranced the crowd who gave a rapturous response of the like usually reserved for most headline bands. The crowd were rewarded with an encore of Lazuli’s party piece, the unique 9 Hands Around The Marimba which involves all band members skilfully playing the same marimba with some slapstick moments as heads and derrieres also came into play. They even mischievously included the distinctive riff from Marillion’s Incommunicado much to the delight of the crowd. It is to be hoped that this tour support in front of large crowds will result in much deserved wider recognition for this talented band.
02. Le Miroir aux Alouettes
05. Le Lierre
06. Les Courants Ascendants
07. 9 Hands Around the Marimba (including Incommunicado)
‘Politics’ and ‘Relevance’ are not words those unfamiliar with the realities of progressive rock usually associate with music of this genre. Inaccurate and lazy perceptions of myths and capes still pervade in some quarters. Clearly they have not really ever listened to a Fish album or seen him in concert. On a night in which many concert goers were attracted by the nostalgic prospect of a 30th anniversary performance of Marillion classic Misplaced Childhood, Fish characteristically also chose to use such an opportunity to initially engage the crowd with songs and intros of political relevance and significance, including the tragedy of domestic violence and child abuse in Family Business. In a timely manner, Fish played environmental warning song Feast of Consequences a week after the U.N. Climate Change conference in Paris, a city never far from memory on this night. Fish then commenced with a lengthy and hard-hitting introduction to The Perception of Johnny Punter in which he recalls the fear he first felt in Morocco when he first heard about the terrorist attack on tourists in Tunisia, and moves on to the recent tragic events in Paris. Johnny Punter, based on Fish’s experiences of playing to peacekeeping U.N. troops in Bosnia, torn apart by civil war and hate-filled religious divides, is a powerful and totally appropriate song to emphasise Fish’s impassioned plea to the crowd that we should NOT give in to ‘Fear’. At the end of the fear filled monologue midway through the song the band halts momentarily and the French tricolour is displayed briefly in silence – a powerful and fitting tribute from this thoughtful and thought provoking artist.
The evening then moved on to the nostalgia of Misplaced Childhood as the distinctive opening chords of Pseudo Silk Kimono ring out, and the vast majority of the crowd proceed to sing every single word of the album as a massed choir proclaiming their love for the music, particularly on the hits Kayleigh, Lavender and Heart of Lothian. This was an act of joyous communion between the artist and his followers, with the warmth of the enthusiastic but respectful crowd transmitted to Fish and the band. This is not a note for note exact rendition of the album, particularly as Fish’s voice in his 50s simply cannot hit the same high notes of a man in his 20s. Some sections, such as parts of Bitter Suite, are set at a lower range or slowed to virtually spoken word pieces, which add some darkness and resonance to the performance. Robin Boult wisely does not attempt to copy Steve Rothery’s guitar lines and chooses to express some of his own skilful style on guitar. The crowd know the album inside out and when Boult plays a delicate quiet guitar section on Blind Curve you could have heard a pin drop in the silence, such is their respect for the material. Gavin Griffiths and Steve Vanstis, on drums and bass, provided a solid backing as the album unfolded. However, Fish deserved special praise for Tony Turrell on keyboards. John Beck broke his arm less than week before the U.K. tour, meaning Turrell had only 3 days notice to learn and rehearse the whole set. He put on a remarkable performance, winning special affection from an audience knowing that without him the tour would have been cancelled. It is evident that Fish and the band are overjoyed and relieved by the response, after their tour had looked in jeopardy only days previously.
The dark performance of Blind Curve resonates again with recent events, hours after the parliamentary vote to bomb Syria:
“I see Priests and Politicians,
Heroes in Black Plastic Body Bags under Nation’s flags,
I see Children Bleeding with Outstretched Hands
Drenched in Napalm, this is no Vietnam,
I Can’t Take Anymore,
Should We Say Goodbye?
How Can We Justify and They Call us Civilised…
and They Call us Civilised.”
The emotional pay-off for the crowd comes with the climactic frenzy of Childhood’s End, breaking in to the anthemic White Feather as Fish inserts “Paris Children” into the litany of tragic places: “Jerusalem Children, Damascus Children, Baghdad Children…”. Such topical relevance shows this has not been an exercise in total nostalgia for the artist or crowd. The Bristol O2 Academy virtually to a man and woman chants “I will wear your White Feather, Carry your White Flag, Will Swear I have No Nation, But I’m Proud to Own My Heart” and Fish and the band bring the house down with a magnificent flourish.
The encores show a more fun side of Fish as the crowd bounce along with Market Square Heroes and even indulge in dancing bear routines in ‘drinking song’ The Company. This reviewer has seen Fish many times over the years, with and without Marillion, so it is a testament to the artist’s quality and durability that after so many years this was one of the most remarkable performances I have witnessed by Fish. Sure, the trip down the Marillion memory lane was certain to have an emotional impact for myself and the vast majority of the crowd, but Fish shows that he has always had a lot more to say than merely becoming a hollow heritage act. He has hinted at retiring in 2017, but one wonders with such a successful tour and such resonant shows whether he feels he might just have more to say on stage.
02. Feast of Consequences
03. Family Business
04. The Perception of Johnny Punter
05. Pseudo Silk Kimono
08. Bitter Suite
09. Heart of Lothian
10. Waterhole (Expresso Bongo)
11. Lords of the Backstage
12. Blind Curve
13. Childhood’s End?
14. White Feather
15. Market Square Heroes
16. The Company