Islington Assembly Hall has steadily turned into the home of progressive rock in London. This Friday, Fish – former vocalist of 80s legends Marillion – kicked off a three-night residency at the beautiful North London venue.
The evening got off to a slow start as the expected opening set from French proggers Lazuli never came (due to their singer falling ill, as it turned out later) so instead we had a two-hour long build-up of songs from an iPod and teasing as our hopes perked up every time the lights dimmed slightly or a roadie walked on stage. All was instantly forgiven however, once the Scottish bard and his band came on stage and started into ‘The Voyeur’, with Fish smiling widely and basking in the jubilant reception of his followers. He jumped and danced around the stage – and had a sitdown once in a while in his kitchen chair (“My legs are fucked”, as he explained in a delightful Scottish accent).
After several solo tracks came time for the main course of the evening – a 30-years’ anniversary full performance of Clutching at Straws, Marillion’s fourth and final album with Fish. Taken down a few steps to suit how the singer’s voice has altered, the songs sounded more earthy than the bright production of the original recording and the compositions still stand strong, carrying beautiful melodies and technically demanding instrumentals. Fish has never been a virtuoso singer, but his delivery is drenched in honesty and emotion, and, albeit without the masks and costumes of his early days, his performance retains its theatrical quality as he acts out the narratives of his songs on stage.
Privy to this is a choice audience of people very much in the know. The crowd gently heckled him with requests for 20+ minutes opus ‘Grendel’ and threw sweets on the stage (I still don’t know why), and in exchange Fish treated them to a mix of funny anecdotes , reflections on the state of the world and stories about the songs and recording sessions. But during the songs everyone stood transfixed – their lips mouthing along to every word of the poetic lyrics they grew up with, and hands clapping along to the odd time signatures. Altogether, the show had an atmosphere half like a gathering of a secret society, half like an old group of friends exchanging inside jokes at the pub.
After terrific album closer ‘The Last Straw’, the band returned to the stage for an encore of non-album track ‘Tux On’ in a medley with ‘Perfume River’. Not content to let go of their hero, the crowd brought him back for a second encore – ‘The Great Unravelling’ from his last studio album, whose build-up and incredible climax delivered a perfect close to this boutique art rock show.
Fish is performing again at the Islington Assembly Hall on 16th and 17th December, as well as the following dates:
19th December – Corn Exchange, Cambridge 20th December – Wylam Brewery at Palace of Arts, Newcastle 21st December – O2 ABC, Glasgow