So there I was, setting out to write a gig review and it's gone down a slightly odd path, as you'll see. On Friday last week, I was privileged to be able to see Fish, one of my oldest (as in longest-running, rather than in the geriatric sense) musical heroes playing to his home audience in Haddington, East Lothian. I've posted before about my youthful fandom for Marillion, and my enjoyment (modest understatement) of their music in their early days. Marillion's "Factor X" for me in those days was their frontman(mountain) Fish, Derek William Dick, all 10 foot tall of him (a bit like Mel Gibson's portrayal of William Wallace in the film "Braveheart" - "blowing fireballs and lightning from his ..." - media coverage of Fish's height has extended to the somewhat hyperbolic at times).
To my teenage progressive rock school friends and I, Fish was something of a rock legend - local (a Lothian boy from up the road in Dalkeith), even more deeply uncool than us (he wore kaftans, ferchrissakes!), and he played with this new band that everyone else thought was completely uncool (although surely the Tolkien reference in Marillion should have been worth a bit of street cred for teenage self-discovery - imagine if they emerged now, post Peter Jackson's Lord of The Rings!), playing prog rock music that we, the true cognoscenti, recognised for its instrumental virtuosity, its clever lyrics with their knowing puns, multiple entendres, strong personal, social and environmental messages and propensity to last more than four minutes per track.
At the time, for a generation of young prog rock fans who'd missed out on first-hand live experiences of Peter Gabriel's Genesis, the pre-nutjob ("The Wall") era Pink Floyd, and the classic Yes line-ups of the early and mid-1970s, Marillion were our new hope for complicated prog rock music, great live performances and high quality non-mainstream rock. And Fish, all 12 feet of him, was right up there, front of stage, all enigmatic , greasepaint-mask glowers, theatrical performance and exuberant exhorations to sing along ("You take the High road..."). We even had our own gig culture. Jethro Tull fans may have been given a big balloon to bat about the hall, but we threw buns to Marillion on stage (shouting: "Geezabun! As in "how does an elephant ask for a bun?" No, I don't really know how or why it started but I think it started at Edinburgh Marillion gigs, although I'm happy to be contradicted by evidence). We didn't know why we did it but it was our silliness and we loved it. Not sure if the enjoyment lasted as long for the band though!
Anyway, eventually, as music industry history and media coverage has recorded, Fish left Marillion and went "solo in the game" and has for some 20 years, ploughed his own furrow with a merry band of great musicians, turning out a series of great albums, as well as successful forays into acting, as an award-winning rock DJ on Planet Rock and, if you believe the Scottish Sun, a recent reinvention as an Action Man (welcome to my world, Big Man!)... allegedly giving up on women into the bargain ("I get my thrills from keeping fit now - I've had it with women" - Fish, there's something gone wrong here - I spent my young life keeping fit BECAUSE I couldn't find a woman!). Anyway, it was good to see him looking so fit and well last week!
So, after buying his first three solo albums and loving them, I kind of lost touch with what he was doing for a few years, but picked up again on his solo career a couple of years ago, when the epic 13th Star was released (Thanks for the heads-up at the time Pete M!). I was excited to discover recently that he was embarking on an acoustic tour, with just the three F's - Fish, Frank Usher, long-term guitar collaborator and Foss Patterson, long-term keyboard chum. I was even more excited to find that Haddington in East Lothian, Fish's base these days, was on the tour itinerary. I last saw Fish playing live, donkey's (15? 20?) years ago (what have I been doing?), with his full band (including Frank Usher and Robin Boult on guitars) in the Corn Exchange in Haddington. Last week, he was playing along the road in St Mary's Church, the largest church in East Lothian, even bigger than St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. Two gigs, Friday and Saturday nights, with the word on his Facebook site for fans being that both shows would be filmed and recorded for subsequent release, and that the production god Calum Malcolm (who produced Scotland's other finest atmospheric big space music guys, The Blue Nile) is lined up to weave his magic on the recordings - fantastic!
I could only make the Friday night and, even with a side visit to see my folks who live only a few miles away, I still managed to be in the first few to arrive before the show (just like the old days - we had so much spare time as teenage rock fans that Pete, Simon and I used to arrive at gigs HOURS before the show and just hang around - it worked out occasionally, we met Rory Gallagher once, which was great). I was beaten to the venue by four great Dutch folk and their German pal. Their presence confirmed what I've long suspected. The Dutch are (maybe) crazy. They came over for the long weekend FROM HOLLAND, just to see two Fish gigs in East Lothian. Crazy, but lovely and knowledgeable and absolutely devoted to Fish's solo music and his earlier Marillion material. You have to love proper fans, don't you?! Well done guys, I hope you had a grand weekend! Anyway, we were all there early enough to secure front row seats - brilliant! It was a very simple stage, pared down lighting rig and sound system, single chair for Frank and a Roland piano with stool for Foss (along with 15 foot high mike stand for the Big F). The backdrop of the church was, by contrast, quite magnificent, with high vaulted ceilings, tall stained glass arched windows and LOTS of wood and stone:
|St Mary's Church, Haddington - Fishbowl for the evening!|
I don't think the Friday gig was sold out and despite the size of the space above our heads (see above!), it felt quite intimate, perhaps on account of it actually being quite a narrow space (although long!). Fish opened the show with an unaccompanied version of Chocolate Frogs ("for a heid full of chocolate frogs what can you give to me?"). Now, I can't and won't give a track-by-track listing of the whole show - look elsewhere for that - I tend to live and enjoy live gigs in the moment and quite often can't remember afterwards exactly what I've heard song by song. In fact, I never intended to do so anyway, as the tour continues and I don't see why I should spoil all the surprises for folk still to see the show. But - impressions of the gig - Fish was clearly delighted to be back live in front of a home crowd and revelling in the special stripped-down approach. Some of the material, the other two F's were clearly happy with but Fish joked about some of the older material and how nervous it made them... Indeed, some of the tracks were so old that it is clear that Channel 4's Time Team must have been drafted in to help recover them. I assume this to be the case as there were so many bald heads and big beards in the crowd that it was clearly a Time Team night-out! Anyway, it won't spoil the tour too much to share a site-specific gag from Fish - he was actually married in this church in the late 1980's and recounted standing at the front with his two Best Men, a few feet from where he was performing, waiting for his German bride to arrive, slightly worse for wear from brandy in the hip flask, terrified by the thought of all the marzipan from all the weddings that had taken place in the church, imagining that it would fill the whole church. More on marzipan later...
|Another poor picture from me but I love the effect - my phone camera couldn't cope with the bright stage lights reflecting off light coloured clothing and skin and it makes the three F's shine like inverse silhouettes - weird but really rather nice!|
|Sorry abut the poor quality pic - my phone camera isn't the best!|
Fish, Professor of Angst-Filled Bravado at the University of The Broken Heart takes a seat and has a chat!
And to recount the sum total of Fish's swearing for the night - it was ... none - he was a good boy and didn't swear (at all!) in church! And so, on the subject of marzipan...
Fish recalled, during Friday night's gig, his wedding day thought that all the marzipan from all the weddings that had taken place in the church might fill the whole church. I thought that deserved more attention so... I've done some calculations. Stick with me ("Listen to me. Just hear me out. If I could have your attention?"). We need to know: volume of marzipan per wedding cake and hence per wedding; number of weddings per year; how long weddings have been held (i.e. number of years = age of church), and the volume of the church. I've had to make some assumptions... I assumed that marzipan is sold in packs that are 15x10x10 cm (0.15x0.10x0.10 metres) in size, and that 10 packs are used for the average wedding cake. That means that the volume of marzipan per wedding cake and hence per wedding is 10x(0.15x0.10x0.10) = 0.015 cubic metres of marzipan per wedding. I've assumed that there are 400 weddings a year, which seems high but is only 8 per week in East Lothian's biggest church. Here's the fun bit - Google Brothers Inc. reveals that construction of St Mary's Church began in 1380 so, assuming people started being wed there from that date (in anticipation that it would be finished one day in the future, as indeed it was), that means there have been weddings for 630 years!
So, we have a total volume of marzipan over the lifetime of the church, equal to:
Volume of Marzipan per wedding x Number of Weddings per year x Number of years =
(0.015x400x630) or a total volume of 2835 cubic metres of marzipan. So, to see if that would fill the church (it does sound like a lot of marzipan, doesn't it?), we need to know the volume of the church. Where to find that? Luckily, being a popular tourist location, there is lots of information on the church to be found at the excellent Google Brothers Inc (other infromation providers are available). The church is 63 metres long and 35 metres wide, but alas, no information is provided on the height (volume of the church, being roughly right-angled at the corners - it is 630 years old after all - is length x width x height). But I was there on Friday, and I would estimate that the average height might be 8 metres. the total volume would therefore be 63 x 35 x 8 = 17640 cubic metres.
Oh... but that's a lot more than the estimated volume of marzipan. In fact, we can calculate the depth of marzipan by dividing the volume of marzipan by the floor area of the church (because depth = (volume/(length x width)). So, that would be 2835/(63 x 35) = almost 1.29 metres. So, a paltry depth of marzipan that would barely reach Fish's waist (he is quite tall). What a shame! But ... wait one minute - all may not be lost!
When did you ever go to a wedding and see the marzipan in blocks. At the wedding, it is ALWAYS already on the cake! So, I think we can have another go at this, assuming that all wedding cakes have three tiers (they do, don't they?). I reckon the following dimensions are more than reasonable for the three tiers of wedding cakes: upper - 20x20x10 cm; middle - 30x30x20 cm; lower - 40x40x30 cm. Yes, that would be a great wedding cake. Now, instead of the volume of marzipan (we can still assume 10 packs are used, but it doesn't matter now), we have a volume of (0.2x0.2x0.2)+(0.3x0.3x0.2)+(0.4x0.4x0.3) = 0.07 cubic metres. The wedding cakes are effectively marzipan boxes filled with cake and we need to know the total volume of marzipan boxes. That means our new calculation would be:
Volume of Marzipanned cake per wedding x Number of Weddings per year x Number of years = (0.07x400x630) = 17640 cubic metres which is equal to the volume of the church - fantastic! So, Fish, the church would be marzipan filled SO LONG AS IT WAS ON THE WEDDING CAKES (and assuming my very reasonable assumptions are correct...)
Interestingly (if you are a bit sad), this figure was calculated to 2010 so, when Fish was standing at the altar in the late 1980's awaiting his bride, there was in fact a small gap somewhere at the top of the metaphorical marzipan-filled church awaiting the next 20 years (approximately) worth of marzipanned cakes.
PS If you thought that a headful of chocolate frogs was bad (see above), I found this while looking into marzipan: marzipan frogs. Help!