Fish at Islington Assembly Hall, London – live review

“This is actually the stool from my kitchen,” says Fish, as he eases his frame into said piece of furniture, situated in front of John Beck’s keyboard stand on the stage.

(Image: © Will Ireland)

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“My back’s still fucked,” he continues, referring to the ailment and surgery that sidelined him after his last tour. True, he does sit down occasionally, but the Fish we see on stage tonight seems in fine fettle.

There’s a bout of dad dancing as he and band ease into opener The Voyeur (I Like To Watch), and his voice, a worry on occasion over the past few years, is as robust and tuneful as this reviewer has heard in many a year.

It’s interesting to note that as Marillion seem to have found a new lease of life and are reaping rich commercial rewards, Fish is winding down his musical exploits. We have just one studio album to come, the much talked about Weltschmerz – of which, tonight at least, he professes to having written “Fuck all” – and, one assumes, a tour to back it up. And then, who knows? However, tonight he is on fine form.

Bass Communion: Steve Vantsis.

Bass Communion: Steve Vantsis. (Image credit: Will Ireland)

The first of three nights at this venue, the place is packed to the rafters, the crowd boisterously expectant and clearly invested in festive spirit. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that, because support act Lazuli have had to pull out of the tour, with frontman Dominique Leonetti having been taken ill, there has been little to do pre-Fish but hit the bar.

The venue throbs with the hum of loud conversation throughout – not one for those prog fans who demand utter silence for their live performances, and to be honest, we’re amazed that social media wasn’t awash with complaints.

Emperor’s Song and Circle Line precede the prescient State Of Mind, but in all honesty, they seem to fall just a little flat, serving more as a chance to get the sound levels right for the main event which we all await with baited breath. And then, with some words advising the purists that he’s changed the running order – “It’s not the same as on my cassette” he jibes, pointedly but with humour – the warm, lush opening chords of Hotel Hobbies ring out and the cheer that emanates almost takes the roof off the venue.

Time has treated the music of Marillion’s 1987 album well. Misplaced Childhood might have got to the No 1 slot and spawned those big hit singles, but the dark mystique of Clutching At Straws and the resultant mayhem that unfolded in its wake seem to have cemented its reputation among fans as a seminal work. Is that because, all these years down the line, more fans can associate with Fish’s moribund ruminations?

Fish: when the big man shines...

Fish: when the big man shines... (Image credit: Will Ireland)

Unlike Misplaced Childhood, Clutching At Straws offered no sense of redemption, a factor that played out in real life in its wake. Whatever, the chorus of Warm Wet Circles resounds with several thousand voices and the bullish rush of Incommunicado sees air keyboards aplenty. It is, in some ways, most warming to note that this music, now 30 years old, didn’t just mean something to you, but to thousands of others as well.

True, it’s not all a perfect nostalgia trip. The sound at times is occasionally and irritatingly muddied. Robin Boult is a fine guitarist, but he falls well short when it comes to that searing solo in Sugar Mice, while Steve Vantsis’ bass is more than perfunctory, yet never quite as buoyant as the music demands. Backing singer Doris Brendel is also a bit too far down in the mix at times, but when there’s sonic clarity, she is jaw-droppingly good.

Of Mice And Sidemen: Robin Boult.

Of Mice And Sidemen: Robin Boult. (Image credit: Will Ireland)

But these are minor quibbles, for when the big man shines, he shines most brightly, these words and this music clearly holding as much intent for their writer as they do for his adoring crowd.

Quite frankly, following that, how the crowd had enough energy to bellow for more we don’t know, so emotive was the experience of hearing much of this material for the first time since those 1987 shows at Wembley Arena. But not only do Fish and band reappear for Tux On, the B-side to Sugar Mice, but also the lengthy Perfume River and The Great Unravelling from 2013’s A Feast Of Consequences. The band and audience depart, basking in the glow of a night where you were reminded of a time when one man ruled this kingdom with aplomb. It was good to see him in such great form again.

Jerry Ewing

Writer and broadcaster Jerry Ewing is the Editor of Prog Magazine which he founded for Future Publishing in 2009. He grew up in Sydney and began his writing career in London for Metal Forces magazine in 1989. He has since written for Metal Hammer, Maxim, Vox, Stuff and Bizarre magazines, among others. He created and edited Classic Rock Magazine for Dennis Publishing in 1998 and is the author of a variety of books on both music and sport, including Wonderous Stories; A Journey Through The Landscape Of Progressive Rock.