email@example.comFishing for answers
Scottish prog rocker Derek W. Dick finally invades the
by Dave Kirby
I couldn’t believe what a bloody circus it was, man,” said Fish, bellowing in his trademark brogue into a speakerphone from his home near Edinburgh about getting the necessary authorization for his upcoming American tour, his first in 11 years.
“I had to grab as much paperwork as I could here, fly from Edinburgh to London, put myself up in a hotel, go through all the papers until midnight, wake up first thing and go down to the American Embassy, and then get in the queue for a couple of hours. I finally get in to see the lady, and she says somethin’ like, ‘Oh, you’re a prog rock singer, how nice, very well then, here’s your Visa’… and that was that.”
All that for two minutes in front of the gatekeeper.
“Yeah. I mean, I understand why and all that, but… y’know, I guess I don’t fit the profile or something.”
It was an exasperation on his part, but you could tell by the energy and crackle in his voice it was a happy kind of exasperation, the first of a series of “what I did on vacation in America” stories, and this from a guy who tells great stories.
But Fish (born Derek W. Dick) has been at this for a while, and knows that bringing a band to America to play club dates for his fans (and rolling the dice that a few of the casually curious may show, as well) is a serious gamble for a guy who works in a genre that hasn’t had much commercial exposure in the States since the ’70s. Doesn’t matter if he’s probably the best lyricist and the single most compelling individual in that genre… on this side of the pond, he’s swimming upstream.
“I’ve been trying to put this tour together for some time. I went to my manager, said, ‘I want to play America.’ And she said, ‘We can’t afford it. No way.’ But, you know, we worked at it, stripped down the equipment list a bit, tried to save on accomodations… the whole enterprise is highly dependent on merchandising. I won’t be gettin’ a cent from ticket sales. I mean, it’s a risk, but it’s not a major risk.”
And the fact is, anyone discovering this guy these days will be getting him at his best. Charged by fan and critical accolades, his latest release, 13th Star, has resurrected a flickering profile in Euro-prog circles and put him back into the best-of critics’ lists for 2007. Behind the gorgeous and elegantly arranged single “Arc Of The Curve,” the album moves between forthright, even slashing rockers like “Manchmal” and “Openwater” to lighter, more introspective fare like “Miles De Besos” and the pleadful “13th Star”.
The singer himself isn’t reluctant to call this the best album of new material he’s done since splitting with Marillion in 1988, and many of his loyal fans are saying the same thing, but he’ll quickly identify his songwriting partner and bassist Steve Vantsis and producer Calum Malcolm for equal shares of the credit.
“Steve’s been my bass player for 10 years, but we only started writing together back in December of ’06. He came to me with some musical ideas he had, and they were really, really good. I mean, it’s pretty rare that you find a bass player that writes a lot of music.
“When it came to recording, we took a very disciplined approach. In the past, you know, we’d find a passage or a vibe somewhere, and we’d just say, ‘Eh, this is good, let’s let this go on five or six minutes.’ But now, it was like, ‘OK, this is good. We’ll let it go three minutes, and that’s it.’ Or where before, the lyrics wouldn’t fit the music — the verse would run too long into the next one, something like that — we’d just re-work the music around it. This time, I’d actually re-write the lyric, fashion it more to the music. Like it’s not set in stone anymore.
“And Colum is amazing. He just produces these sonically incredible records, unbelievable range.”
Meanwhile, the singer himself had started a relationship with Heather Findlay, singer for the British prog/folk band Mostly Autumn, and its ups and downs were shading some of the lyric writing.
“We had a big fight in the fall, and I wrote quite a lot of material — a lot of it was in the hope that we’d reconcile. She wanted to have a family, and I was already divorced once, which is a common thing in this line of work, but we worked it out finally and I asked her to marry me. About half the songs on the album were from that period.
“Then, you know, we spend months puttin’ the songs together, get ready to record the record in the studio, which is basically my house. So we move everything in, rearrange furniture, everything, and this whole time I’m planning the wedding and the reception, the whole thing. About a week into recording, and literally two days after I send out the wedding invitations, we have another big fight and she says, ‘That’s it. Wedding’s off. I’m moving out.’ Next day, truck comes and picks up her belongings… and I haven’t seen her since.”
“I mean, I had two choices. I could lie on the floor and go ‘wah wah wah,’ or I could finish my project and carry on. Really, that was the only choice. I had the producer for six weeks. Everything was in place… I had to finish it.”
We’re thinking of your new musical director Vantsis, who’s just managed to write most of an album with you and now needs to make it real. He must have stepped up.
“Vantsis stepped up. Colum Malcolm stepped up. The bands, all my friends, my daughter. I mean, everybody helped me get through this thing, and the record we made, I think, was just brilliant.
“And the irony: Shortly after she left me, she met a guy, got pregnant, and now she has a baby. And I have a great album. At the end of the day, we both ended up getting what we wanted. I’d rather have a good album than a bad divorce.”
The emotional scars run deep across the CD. “If I could tear away the darkness, pull the stars out of the sky…where do I go from here?” pleads the protagonist in “Where In The World,” or “…Fly our flags together in a heaven full of stars / But you blew me out of the water the first chance that you had,” he wails in “Openwater.”
We wondered if Fish the storyteller, the eloquent reciter of tales and scheming tactician of third-person detachment, was now comfortable with such a personal document.
“It’s a Scottish thing. Wearing our hearts on the sleeve. We can’t help it.”
On the Bill:
Fish will perform with Pindral at 9 p.m. on Thursday, June 12, at the Fox Theatre, 1135 13th St., Boulder, 303-443-3399.
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