Local musician Pat Fish is quite possibly the quintessential English eccentric artist. As a solo performer and with his band The Jazz Butcher Conspiracy he has released a string of critically acclaimed albums whilst circumnavigating the mainstream. Tours and adulation followed in North America and Europe yet he remains criminally underappreciated in his native UK. Peter Dennis spoke to this most enigmatic artist.
Can tell me about you early musical memories?
‘When I was three we used to visit my grandfather’s bungalow in Twickenham. He had just brought a single by The Shadows, ironically enough, titled ‘Walk, Don’t Run’ and every time they played the thing three year old me, barely capable of speech, would go haring up and down the corridor of this bungalow from one end to the other, like a mad thing. So there was that, at the age of three, the sound of a guitar made me go bonkers.’
How about in your teenage years? I understand Syd Barratt was a big influence on you.
‘I guess Syd was one of those guys, I guess everybody has one, who goes: ‘It’s alright to write songs and be English.’ So Syd was an influence, not so much the psychedelic fairytale but Syd to me is one of the ten most important guitar players of the last century, he’s posed questions that no one’s even started to follow up yet.’
You also cite Brian Eno as an inspiration.
‘Again he kind of said: ‘Look you can do this if you want, it doesn’t have to sound like Bad Company.’ I got really desperate in the early to mid seventies with all that cowboy booted long haired music, it was doing my head in and I didn’t get the glam thing because I was too much of a football hooligan, you know? I loved the first two Roxy Music LPs. I followed Eno away from Roxy Music and I just found those first two albums really liberating.’
On your website you lament the fact that you were too old for punk.
‘I saw the Pistols in 1976 when I was 18, so I wasn’t too old but I didn’t see a lot of those groups at the time. I used to see The Stranglers, I saw Patti Smith which was a life changer. I saw Patti Smith at the beginning of the week and the Pistols at the end of the week. I felt conspicuous because I was at the front with long hair, I looked to my left and there were two other people with long hair. It made me feel better when I realised it was Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye.’
What impact did punk have on you at the time?
‘That night in ’76 when I saw the Pistols I went because I’d read about them and heard they were something different. I wasn’t sure what I was going to see but what I saw was a perfectly efficient four piece band with a slightly peculiar singer. But what did they sing? They sang ‘I’m Not Your Stepping Stone, ‘Watcha Gonna Do About it’ and ‘Roadrunner’. At no point in the evening did one think ‘Oh, this is some groundbreaking new thing.’ It was more like ‘At last, some common sense rock n’ roll played properly.’
From where do you draw lyrical inspiration? I guess you like lyricists who tell stories?
‘I do enjoy that, Tom Waits and people like that. Bob Dylan of course, but I find I’m useless at it. Can’t do a story song for love nor money. I just find story songs really, really hard and the reason is, I’ve got no imagination. The thing you’ll see if people bother to write about our act, you’ll probably see ‘astute social commentary. Well not really, I’m just writing down what happened because I’m incapable of conjuring up little gnomes and fields.’
In the 1980s you were very successful in places like Germany. What do you attribute that to?
‘You’d have to ask the Germans! I’ve spent so much time over there that in one town I’ve actually identified the school where it started, where ‘Butcher-mania’ swept this school in Hamburg!. [laughs] I think what they like about it is that it’s unpretentious. We used to give it some in the 1980s, we used to play fast.
You’ve recently had two box sets released ‘The Wasted Years’ and ‘The Violent Years’. How involved were you?
‘I was pretty much involved all the way really. I supplied a lot of photos for artwork, sleeve notes, supervising the mastering. There’s a third box on the way, unbelievably. It’s got all the singles, b-sides, radio sessions, all that sort of thing.’
Looking back do you have an album that you feel really encapsulates your sound?
‘I must point you to the most recent album ‘Last of the Gentleman Adventurers’, obviously it’s closest to where I am now. The other one’s I’m really proud of are ‘Sex and Travel’, ‘Cult of the Basement’, ‘Condition Blue’ and ‘Waiting For the Love Bus’. The one everyone else likes is ‘Scandal in Bohemia’…I’ve made a lot!’ [laughs]
What are your future plans?
‘It must remain a little under wraps but basically I’m thinking of turning myself into a product. The thing about music is that it’s not scarce. On the other hand to people in places like America and Japan who can’t get to see us I am scarce so I’m trying to set up an internet thing where you pay a little subscription and for that they’ll be podcasts, they’ll be blogs, they’ll be little living room gigs, all that kind of thing.’
Finally, have you a thought of a new album yet?
‘I think 60 to 70% of the songs are written but how that will come to pass I don’t know. I may just keep it as part of that package so my paying customers will get access. We’re not going to be asking a lot of money for this but it involves a little bit of commitment and it also gives us some kind of income we can depend on. That’s the idea but it may not work out.’