Can it really be 30 years since chalk hearts melted on our playground walls? Since we danced in stilettos in the snow? Or since we were wideboys born with hearts of Lothian? Well, as legendary Scottish singer Fish pointed out to his sold out homecoming crowd, the amount of light bouncing off his and the heads of the male members in the audience would suggest so. Hence tonight was a celebration, where the 'big man' performed for the very last time in his home country, the Marillion album which has pretty much set the tone for his wide and varied career. Call it a reason to rejoice, call it a farewell to Misplaced Childhood, but most importantly, call it an utter triumph. "Do you remember…?" Sea of Tranquility's Steven Reid certainly does.
In all honesty I hadn't anticipated mentioning the support act for tonight's show in this review. That is until I discovered it was French progressive masters Lazuli, a band I first encountered last year when they did a co-headline tour of England with their countrymen Moon Safari. I had traveled to Manchester to see the Safaris but ultimately was blown away by bearded, ponytailed, leather clad men in black known as Lazuli. Tonight proved no different. Admittedly the fact that Fish himself came on stage to introduce his tour-mates piqued the crowd's interest, but it wasn't long before the band's songs were doing much more than that. A false start due to a misfiring synthesising 'box of tricks' also seemed to endear léode (an instrument similar to a Chapman stick, but played one handed) player Claude Leonetti to the already packed in crowd. However once "Déraille" and "Le Miroir Aux Alouettes" had rained their progressive/world music goodness down on the audience, the transfixed looks and whoops of admiration were no sympathy vote. With keyboard player Romain Thorel doubling up on a synthesised french horn (which even has little lights which change colour as he blows into it…), as well as drums when percussionist Vincent Barnavol moved over to marimba, the breadth of this band's influences became clear; African inspired rhythms and chants added to a decidedly European prog ideal. French singing vocalist Dominque Leonetti, who also combines superbly on guitar with Gédéric Byar, sometimes sang, sometimes chanted, sometimes wailed in tune with the music. His easy yet focused manner a true focal point as "Le Lierre" and "Les Courants Ascendants" constantly raised, lowered and intensified the atmosphere. Closing with their trademark "9 Hands Around The Marimba" (Claude only has the use of one arm, hence the (utterly integral to the band's unique sound) léode), where the quintet gather round the marimba and generally jape around as they drop jaws through the skill and tightness of the sounds they create in unison on one instrument. However managing to segue into an instantly recognisable five man marimba version of Marillion's "Incommunicado" was a crowd winning masterstroke. It's a long time since I've seen an opening act that the vast majority of the crowd knew little or nothing about beforehand, gain the recognition and adulation Lazuli did tonight. It was well deserved and hopefully will lead to much more success and recognition for the band in the UK and beyond.
As he seemingly always does, Fish came into this 'Farewell To Childhood' show on the back of quite a fraught few days, keyboard player John Beck (also of It Bites) having fallen and badly broken his arm and Fish himself having visited a hospital accident and emergency room after suffering from respiratory problems. However with keyboard player Tony Turrell stepping in at short notice after quite some time out of the band, only a handful of Dutch shows had to be rescheduled. Although it did mean that the sold out ABC didn't quite receive the last ever full performance of Misplaced Childhood it had expected, what with those Dutch shows now taking place in 2016. Not that anyone seemed to care, Fish welcomed to the stage as an already conquering hero, as his band eased their way into the Suits album cut "Pipeline". In all honesty it was an unusual starting point, the slow, almost maudlin pace catching most unaware, although as the song worked its way through the gears, the upbeat closing section saw arms in the air and some frantic sing-alongs from the crowd. The title track of the most recent Fish opus, Feast Of Consequences, was up next, the poignant lyrics sung back word perfect to the charismatic singer. Both "Family Business" and "The Perception Of Johnny Punter" were introduced by stories of how the darker side of the world unfolds against these tough lyrics. Fish, ever the enigmatic storyteller, recounting moments on the tour that brought the hard hitting topics into stark focus, before performing them with the same amount of threat and foreboding.
And with that the first part of the show was brought to a close, the main event being a thirty year trip through nostalgia and affection for an album that clearly meant the world to those in attendance - both in the crowd and on stage. With one or two of the earlier solo cuts seemingly played a little on the slow side to allow an audibly (in between songs) wheezing singer to settle into the show, Misplaced Childhood was recounted in quite glorious fashion, 50 minutes of timeless music, which has stood up to the passing years amazingly well, performed with full vigour and when required no little subtlety. At the outset, Fish had coaxed the crowd to believe the last three decades had never happened and with the noise from the fever pitch audience reaching deafening levels, they took his suggestion so to heart that it visibly moved the imposing Scot. "Pseudo Silk Kimono", "Kayleigh", "Lavender", "Bitter Suite" and "Heart Of Lothian" were performed superbly, the opening to side one of ...Childhood, which spawned three genuine hits for Marillion way back when, as impactful now as it was the first time we heard it.
Guitarist Robin Boult, a long on-off member of the Fish band is an old hand at these tracks now and with the confidence to dance round the edges of Steve Rothery's original solos, he kept the songs fresh and vibrant, without ever stepping too wide of the mark; bassist Steve Vantsis keeping the music firmly rooted to the floor. As what used to be side two played out, the raw emotion of "Waterhole (Expresso Bongo)", "Childhood's End?" and set closing "White Feather" (where the crowd held feathers and white flags (well, napkins) to mimic the lyrics) hit hard, Fish at his commanding best, drummer Gavin Griffiths in thunderously imperious form. In truth no one wanted the recital of a favourite album to end, but when it did, the crowd noise was almost overwhelming, Fish struggling to keep his emotions in check as he left the stage.
As if that wasn't enough, the band returned for a storming version of the song that started it all for Fish and his ex-bandmates in Marillion, "Market Square Heroes" still a reason to jump up and down, punch the air and sing at the top of your voice, even though it's now 33 years old. Called back for one final time, the man everyone was here to see thanked all in attendance, not just for tonight, but for the past 30 years and beyond - this sort of bond shown here between fans and band not one often seen in this setting. Hence "The Company" fittingly brought the night to an end, Lazuli and the crew invited on to the stage to take the adulation of the crowd and to add backing vocals as thanks for their hard work as they brought this momentous tour to an emotional end.
Tonight was a celebration of Fish and his career in music, the fulcrum of the set may well have been originally under a different guise and from many moons ago, however this show proved how vital and important the big Scot remains to so many. He's now put his 30 year old and arguably biggest achievement in music to bed; it may well be Farewell To Misplaced Childhood, but doubtless we will continue to welcome Fish with open arms, no matter what he chooses to do next.