history

It all began in 1988 when golden-voiced guitar-playing Gordon Pollitt and his finely-fingered friend Richard Ward met mercurial fiddler Derek Richardson at the open mic session at The Dame Agnes Mellers pub and got it on. Settling on a name, the band Wholesome Fish was born, the likes of Captain Beefheart, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, old-time Americana and Irish tunes providing shared inspiration. Richard soon left, not being one to revel in the stage lights, but they were soon joined by Jon Davison, an anarchist actor and puppeteer, on accordion, who stirred a bit of Cajun into the mix. Deciding busking was the best way to practice and get paid at the same time, they were regularly out on a Satdee afternoon in Nottingham town centre, which was where Mark Shotter encountered them as he was walking back from a Forest match. Drawn to them by the fact that Gordon’s voice was louder than the chants of the Forest lads (hallelujah, they’d won!), he asked if he could join in on the triangle despite never having played it before, and after a party gig later that night where he also played a handy cheese-grater, he was in the band (a washboard later replacing the somewhat impractical grater, and snare and bodhran also being gradually added to his percussive repertoire). As it happened, they all lived within a few doors of each other on Noel Street, so getting together for practices was not a problem; stopping playing to go to bed was! By now the word was getting out a bit as occasional gigs fell into their laps, and at one do at a vegetarian café, Barry Mullin, just arrived from Ireland with a swagger and a repertoire of Pogues’d up Irish tunes, joined them on banjo. Not long after, Lee Greenway moved in with mates of Mark on Noel Street and was soon knocking on the Fishes’ doors to add his considerable voice, stage presence and song-writing ability, as well as stints on guitar and drum duties (well, snare and drum case for the kick at least)!


After six months of song-smithing and hard practicing, they were more than ready to take Nottingham town by storm and soon installed themselves in a legendary residency at The Albion, a pub frequented by working-class lesbians, Irish and Gypsies, a melee to which they also pulled in crusty-traveller-ravers and smattering of townies, all up for a bit of a frisky Friday night. The Fish sound, now honed by constant gigging and reflecting their common influences (Folk, Punk, The Pogues, The Velvets, The Fall and Captain Beefheart), was a raucous, riotous racket played at a punked up 90mph with the technical expertise expected of those true to the traditions being drawn upon. After one year of weekly revelry, the Fish had found themselves a manager, Aidan, had lost Barry, later to be replaced by the equally swaggerous Tim Spoon on both banjo and vocals, and had got themselves a real drummer, Paul Walker, a double bass player, jazzer Steve Truman, and a tuba player, Val. Now regularly playing out of town as well as in various watering holes of Nottingham, Aidan arranged an Irish tour, which was wildly successful and resulted in a TV appearance and later support slots with Davy Spillane and ex-members of The Waterboys over there. The Fish were to return twice more to the Emerald Isle over the next two years, spreading their mayhem from the North, where they attracted Special Branch attention after hosting a massive after-gig party just off the Lisburn Road in Belfast, to the (almost) southern-most tip of Ireland, Sherkin Island, where they played for seven hours until 5 in the morning, only stopping because the pub had been drunk dry of everything except for Crème de Menthe! Arguably their best gig, however, was at The Anarchy Night Café in Dublin, where their speedball folk even had the Brit-hating, dark-shaded Sinn Fein Youth pogoing! After the first tour Steve left to be replaced by the effervescent and ever-reliable Tricky Danks. After the second tour, Val left and wooly-back Joel Thomas joined on harmonica and after the third tour Derek left, classically trained contemporary artist Beth Noble coming in on fiddle. Aidan also departed at this point, though not before facilitating a successful tour of Scotland and a support slot with The Pogues at The Heineken Festival in Nottingham.


On their final tour of Ireland they met Marguerita, an East German lass, who said she’d organise the Fish a tour there, the Wall having just fallen. To their amazement, two months later she’d put together a 3-week itinerary of gigs in self-managed youth clubs, squatted social centres and several of the vibrant new venues sprouting up in the East, and they gleefully escaped Thatcherite Blighty in their big blue tour bus, newly purchased from the management of a short-lived Nottingham pop-star, Whycliffe (shame on the music industry for passing up such a wonderful voice). The Fish happily returned there once a year for 5 years, adding universities, arts centres, a Folk festival or two and a busking trip to the Czech Republic to the itinerary, making many friends and urging their audiences to hold on to their strong sense of community in the face of the tide of capitalism washing inexorably eastward.


By 1992 the Fish had a soundman, Niggel the hippy, a (short-lived) lunatic Sardinian driver, Marco, and a dynamic new manager, Scotty, who managed to wangle them a band pass into Glastonbury Festival to play the Blaggers’ stages dotted around The Greenfields area. Once again, The Fish were to return several times to this mammoth annual bash, one year being broadcast live on Radio One at 4am by John Peel’s roving team and another year being joined by Rory McLeod on trombone as they played The Velvet Rooms in the performers’ area. All was “cooking on gas” as Scotty would (often) say, with an average of 3 gigs a week throughout ‘92 and ’93, and on New Year’s Eve ’93 Scotty got them on the bill at the prestigious Melkweg in Amsterdam, a coachload of hardcore followers and Nottingham party-heads accompanying them to celebrate in style!


The next year was equally busy, a highlight being The Orkney Folk Festival where they were the Fringe, playing ‘Anarchy in the UK’ in a pub while the bar was literally being demolished around the customers, the landlord bizarrely having decided to begin a refurb at 4am, (which was also the time the sun went down, only to come up again 5 minutes later)! Unfortunately, John had finally left the Fish just before this to become a clown/puppeteer in Spain, though his loss was less and less keenly felt as Joel came more to the fore on harmonica, adding his extra funk to the mix. Not too long after, fellow wooly-back Jim Walker also joined on fiddle (yep, another one!) after jamming through the night and most of the next day with the band as they played 3 consecutive gigs over a weekend in Bath.


The Fish were in their pomp! They were a magnificent wall of electro-acoustic sound, a party waiting to happen, “The Velvet Underground gone Cajun”, as a Time Out reviewer put it. Their set now was mostly self-composed, with 4 vocalists – Lee, Gordon, Tim and Joel – and others in the band all contributing songs. They had released 6 tapes and a vinyl EP, with a combined sales total of over 15,000. Gigs and tours were constant, with regular performances on the summer festival circuit. According to Scotty A&R interest in the band was high; though nobody was biting yet it only seemed a matter of time before a record label saw the potential of the Fish to reach a mass market.


Unfortunately the call never came for reasons only known to the A&R people of the time (though it’s of course never too late for it still to happen, surely?!) It was true that the Fish did like their beer, but which self-respecting Rock ‘n’ Roll band doesn’t? The Fish never missed a gig and only once did they get so drrrunk that they ground to a halt halfway through a song towards the end of the set, when the crowd were ill-advisedly generous enough to buy them not just one but two bottles of whiskey; not that anybody noticed, because the whole bar were as sozzled as they were by then! However, it was true to say that the pressures of constant gigging were getting to the band, a fact re-enforced when they (perhaps prematurely) severed their relationship with Scotty to self-manage themselves. It was perhaps not the best time to take this step, as the constant temptation to over-indulge in alcohol and the interpersonal tensions exacerbated by long periods of time touring together were creating fault lines, and in 1995 cracks started to appear.


Mark was the first to leave the band to travel and pursue his DJ’ing and production of dance music in the free-party scene, which he had begun in 1991. Not long after, Lee left to live in East Germany with a lass he’d met with the Fish in Leipzig, where he formed a band, Blabbermouth. Tim was then sacked for slackness and headed out to join Lee for a time, before travelling to India several times. Though now a pared-down 6-piece, in 1996 the Fish still packed a considerable punch, with the dual fiddle interplay of Beth and Jim and Joel’s funky harmonica all coming to the forefront. At this time the influences they’d increasingly absorbed though their travels east were finding their way into more and more of the Fish’s music, with both adaptations of eastern European traditional tunes and self-penned compositions, particularly from Joel, being added to their repertoire. As well as their annual East German tour, the Fish were now playing dates in West Germany and Holland. Their material was strong and mostly original by this stage and was played with (a slightly more sober) technical brilliance and, of course, the Fish’s ever-present passion and frenetic flair. However, it could be said that in losing Lee, Mark and Tim the Fish had lost their essential edginess, their punk-soul energy. By 1997, ten years old, the Fish were tiring of swimming against the stream. First Beth, then Tricky, then Joel left, and though Gordy, Paul, Jim and Steve, who rejoined on bass, carried on for a short while as Easy Pieces, by late 1998 the band was officially dead.


However…. fast forward a few years, and 2005 saw Beth ‘n’ Tricky, who’d paired up way back in 1995, deciding to tie the knot officially and also deciding that they wanted the Fish to get back together to play their wedding bash. With no other plan in mind than to provide a memorable night for the happy couple, all former band members who were contactable were invited, and Gordy, Lee, Tim, Mark, Joel and Jim answered the call to instruments (along with Beth ‘n’ Tricky of course). The night proved to be spectacularly enjoyable for all involved, and having rekindled the fire the Fish couldn’t keep away from eachother: phonecalls crisscrossed between them and a few days later, the Wholesome Fish was officially resuscitated! A weekly practice was instituted and gigs were sought, soon flowing in from the Nottingham venues who knew the Fish’s pedigree. Jim’s other, more lucrative musical projects meant he was unable to commit to the Fish, and Paul’s decision not to rejoin meant that drum duties were shared by Mark and Lee again, but otherwise the Fish were more or less as they were back in their pomp in 1994-95. Selecting songs carefully from the wealth of tunes catalogued in Gordy’s immortal Fish set-lists book and generating new material with freshly -found joy, the Fish were fast ‘n’ loose and seeking fun once again.


Since then, a few comings and goings have ensued: first James Trickey, then Tom Parratt have been brought in to provide proper panache on drum duties; Joel left for a sojourn into the world of youtube, where his lovely loveboxquartet renditions of global folk tunes on solo harmonica can be found, only to return some months later with renewed fervour for the Fish; the stylish community dada-ist Chris Lewis-Jones (alter-ego: Cyril Seaton, the sexy surrealist from naughty Nottingham) has been added on accordion; and the frighteningly (for the rest of the aging band!) youthful Patrick Mallon has replaced Beth on fiddle due to her increasing work commitments, though she does still join us on occasions when possible. Oops and not to forget Nick Akons, who mournfully was only able to sprinkle his musical magic amongst us for six months or so on fiddle before he relocated to Hereford. The Wholesome Fish now play regularly (fortnightly or so in Nottingham and out of town occasionally), have played a few festivals (Larmer Tree, Broadstairs Folk, Riverside (twice), Rock ‘n’ Bike (twice), Small World, Ecofest, Global Peace Gathering, Festival of Bryan), have recorded and released a new CD and are available for bookings (weddings, wakes and bar mitzvahs included).


Only dead fish swim with the stream!


Fishstory courtesy of Mark; please note that all characters herein bear some likeness to persons still living.


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