Monday, 14 May 2012

27th April 2012: Tinyfish - The Peel, Kingston-Upon-Thames

You know when you have some mates who are in a band? And you're very happy for them and go to see their gigs out of friendly duty, but they're actually a bit rubbish? And you can't tell them because it would hurt their feelings, so you just play along with this charade until one day you decide that the only option is to pretend you've moved to Kyrgyzstan and can't see them anymore?

Well, that has absolutely nothing to do with this review.

Ooh, arty. 

It's a Friday night and it's time for another gig at The Peel, my first in a while. Clearly you can't start on The Peel's famous Tyskie beers without any food inside you, so Karin and I quickly pop into Zizzi in Kingston (I like to think of it as the Italian Nando's), whereupon I am immediately text-accosted by Bob of the Dead Nobodies podcast to ask where the heck I am. 

Bob: Are you at the venue yet?

JH: No, we just sat down to dinner.

Bob: Dinner?

JH: Yeah you know, it's like lunch, but in the evening.

Bob: You're so posh!

Of course I've forgotten that up north in Norfolk they call it 'tea', so I am mercilessly ribbed upon arriving at the venue for my bourgeois ways. Still, I'm distracted soon enough by the turnout, a veritable 'who's that?' of the prog scene. Musicians, podcasters, photographers, bloggers, merch ladies... even the odd music fan. 

We walk directly into a conversation which has been going on for some time, about Steven Wilson being seen with Jordan. Both participants are as incredulous as each other, even though the person telling the story is talking about Jordan Rudess from Dream Theater, and the person listening to it thinks he is talking about, well, Jordan. 

The thought of Steven Wilson hanging out with Jordan
makes me nearly as happy as this GIF. Nearly.
(By the way, this picture is at its best if you listen to
one of Steven's most "serious" tracks whilst watching it.)

Soon enough (as often happens at these things) the doors are opened, and we're allowed in - but not before the 'Only Way is Essex' wannabe manning the desk checks our names off the list ("Hello, James, is it just yourself this evening? Have a wonderful time") and gets into the biggest row ever seen in prog circles with poor Sarah A, who only wants to go to the bar but is forced to apologise like a naughty schoolgirl before she can even collect the tickets she's paid for. "There was no need to talk to me like that, Sarah. Now are you going to ask nicely?"  Ginger George she is NOT. I mean, she reads Heat magazine whilst the bands are playing.

Once we've all negotiated the cryptkeeper, it's straight down the front, and we don't have long to wait before Tinyfish wander out on stage and start fiddling with things, as is their wont. It eventually becomes apparent that they'd like to start playing, so down go the lights and the band take their places. It's at this point that I remember that the Peel stage is not terribly high, there is no gap between band and crowd, and my eyes are on a direct level with Simon Godfrey's crotch.

Thankfully, Bo is able to get a bit further away. Unlike a lady
 I don't recognise, who spends the entire gig trying to make sure
 Simon and his appendages are in all her photos.

Wonderful photos for this blog provided by the amazing Bo Hansen at

You know when you see a band live in 2008, and enjoy them quite a lot, and then you go home and start listening to their CD, and get into it, and become a proper fan? And you join up to their website forum, and start chatting with other fans, and you see them live several more times and buy their other CDs? And then you meet the band in person and find they're also bloody nice people, and you chat to them at gigs, and they start to recognise you? And then you and your girlfriend end up going out for curry with the singer and the lyricist, and the bass player comes over and says hello every time you're at the same gigs, and you visit the guitarist's house in Sweden and walk his dogs in the forest, and you do live Facebook running commentary on 'Embarrassing Bodies' with the drummer?

Yeah, that. 

Hideously deformed freaks... and some patients, too.

It's possibly no secret that Tinyfish are one of my favourite bands, and I don't know quite how it came to be, but it just did. (Maybe there are some clues above.) Their brand of good old-fashioned quality songwriting, mixed with the quite unique (and bonkers) spoken word interludes (and, yes a dash of prog-rock) makes them one of the most unique bands around at the moment. It's helped immensely by their on-stage rapport which makes the gig seem like exactly what it is - some old friends getting together for the first time in a while to play some first rate music.

The gig kicks off with 'The Sarcasm Never Stops', a somewhat underrated track from the bonus disc of their last album, but a suitably upbeat and menacing start to a thrilling 45-minute set. Vocalist and main music-writer Simon Godfrey gets the vocal chords warmed up nicely, whilst also playing haunting keyboard sounds with his guitar effects pedal (no keyboard player here), and Marillion merch guy and guitarist par excellence Jim Sanders completely nails the first of many Gilmour/Rothery-esque guitar lines alternated with furious, sawing chords (not that many people can hear him thanks to the dodgy mix...)

It's followed up by 'Rainland', my personal favourite Tinyfish song and an early highlight from 2010's album 'The Big Red Spark'. It's got everything, including an absolutely thunderous bassline which sounds sequenced until you realise that rock-solid bassist and beekeeper's husband Paul Worwood is playing it over and over again with unwavering precision, as he does all night. (Well, not just the 'Rainland' bassline, that might get a bit boring after a while - though I wouldn't put money on it.)

Whilst the rest of the band are onstage at the gig venue,
 poor Paul is hermetically sealed inside a giant milk carton.

It's also a tour-de-force for drummer, 'Not Going Out' star and Dolmio puppet lookalike Leon Camfield. 

Much like God, if Leon Camfield did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him. Regular readers will be aware that I'm a bit of a fan of drummers, often giving them several more inches than the rest of the band (...), but even when stacked up against the other amazing percussionists I've reviewed here so far, Leon has to be the shortest- um... I mean the most entertaining to watch. Shame I can't see him, then, since Simon's crotch is in the way for most of the gig.

He hits things so hard he needs to hold his stick in both hands.

It's a much overused cliché to say that drummers look like Animal from the Muppets, but I think you'd have a case with Leon. If there's a more physical drummer in the world then please keep him the heck away from me, lest body parts come flying in my direction. With every single beat, he lunges in the direction of what he's about to hit, when there's a quiet bit he moves slo-mo towards every cymbal crash as if pointing out "yes, I'm going to hit that one there... you see? that one.. here I go... TSSSSH!", and when he moves to his electronic pads he hovers over them and prods away like a cat pawing at its twitching prey.

And then, halfway through the song, a man walks on in a Biggles outfit and starts reading a monologue about the power of creation. Yes, it's the 5th member of the band, behind-the-scenes lyricist and self-proclaimed "audience frightener" Robert Ramsay. If there's one thing that sets this band apart from the prog pack with which they have been identified, it's this tall, scary looking figure who suddenly appears mid song dressed as a scientist, or an army general, or an undertaker with a stash of cocaine under his hat (ok, that was just once) and delivers the spoken word element of the giant melting pot that is Tinyfish's music.

Love it, or hate it, or just find it downright confusing, you certainly can't ignore it, and it was the defining feature of the 'Big Red Spark' album, inviting flattering comparisons with 'War of the Worlds'. And 'Rainland' is just the first of several tracks we get from TBRS this evening. There's also time for 'I'm Not Crashing', and the title track, during which Leon proves he isn't made of felt by gashing himself on a cymbal and then bleeding on The Peel stage (hey, anything to break up that unremitting white wash...). 

Not that the back catalogue is ignored, oh no - there's plenty of time for all the old classics - 'Nine Months on Fire' sounding better than ever, and 'Driving All Night' as haunting as it has ever been, even if we are informed that the whole premise of the song is a lie before it starts (but then you could say the same about Grendel, and who would refuse to listen to it on those grounds?) 

All too soon, though, we are at the last track of the evening, and its most epic and best received - the superlative 'Wide Awake at Midnight'. Opening with another Ramsay monologue about "infinite pagodas" (no, me neither), it showcases the best of the entire band, with Jim Sanders in particular getting in some effortlessly fluid solos. But to a great extent it's vocalist Simon Godfrey's time to shine, owning the room and belting out the high notes with a supreme confidence, although from my vantage point I can clearly see the trouser tricks employed to achieve this. Still, at least he's actually wearing trousers on this occasion (don't ask.)

There's a huge roar at the end, and a shout out for more, but more there is not (despite there being additional songs on the setlist which they thoughtlessly deprive us of.)

It's been a cracking gig and in fact one of the best, if not the best, I've seen them play. It's tantalisingly short but everything is spot on, making it the perfect balance between the ramshackle but hilarious gigs from their earlier days and the professionalism of the 'One Night on Fire' DVD. There's enough banter to keep us all entertained but when they get down to it, the music speaks for itself. I ponder, as I head off to the bar, just how good this band could get if they were able to tour more regularly.

Spot the songs they didn't actually play.

Which is why I am so disappointed, halfway through writing this review, to log on to the band's website and find Simon explaining, in his own inimitable style, that due to quite serious health issues, he will have to retire from touring after the currently booked gigs in July. It's a blow because this band is seriously good, and the prog scene needs them - a band who don't take themselves seriously, who don't insert widdly solos into every song, who know when a 4 minute traditional song structure is more effective than a 13-part epic, who don't wear silly costu..., well, you get the point.

Hopefully, they will be able to continue as a studio concern, since Simon still has a lot of music to write, and we are just on the verge of the others bringing their material to the table as well. After all, not touring works for Kate Bush. And XTC. And Kings of Leon. (Or that might just be a beautiful, blissful dream.)

Whatever happens next, to my mind Tinyfish have made it acceptable to be a prog band and still write proper songs, and for that they deserve a lasting legacy. Go and see them at the Celebr8 Festival in July in case it's your last chance.


It has been pointed out that I failed to mention the excellent DeeExpus, whom Tinyfish were supporting. This is an excellent point, and I had indeed intended to review their half of the gig as well but after Simon's news I wanted to get this finished as soon as possible. However, I will say that I enjoyed them a lot, that their new album is ace, and that if you would like to know more about their set, you should head on over to JamesA's Notebook and read all about it!