Fischer Z @ o2 Academy 3, 3 May 2018

There is currently a huge market for reunions and nostalgia, and anniversary tours are all the rage.  Many bands that you never believed you would get to see are coming out of retirement.  As a boy I missed many of the original tours simply by the virtue of being.. well, a boy, so it is a thrill when your heroes return and you finally get to see them, albeit when you’re all 40 years older.

When I first heard Fischer Z in 1979, it was on a 7 inch piece of black plastic from within a beautifully art deco decorated sleeve.  I loved the song ‘The Worker’, and its B Side ‘Kitten Curry’ so much that I played it over and over; placing the needle back at the start of the record as soon as the music faded, to start it again.  That single and later ‘So Long’ from the next album held a special place in my heart for almost four decades.  Regrettably Fischer Z were not promoted well by their label UA at the time and subsequent releases failed to reach my ears, and my pocket money did not allow me to buy singles or albums on a regular basis. So for many years those two singles were all I knew of Fischer Z.  I found out more recently that the band’s main contributor John Watts, has continued to write and record during that whole period, either under his own name or Fischer Z, finding more success and a larger audience in Europe than in his home country.  This is still evident based on the handful of people descending on Academy 3 tonight, something John remarks on when he first comes on stage:  “Spacey… very spacey tonight” indicating the amount of room we all have to stand in.  Fortunately for us and the band, the atmosphere and love created by the faithful few allow for a really special gig.

The Blackheart Orchestra is support and the duo is a strange and bewildering live experience.  They describe themselves as multi-instrumentalists and to prove this they ensure we get to see them playing lots of different instruments.  Although technically playing drums using two fingers on a keyboard is not actually playing drums, so in fact they can play guitars and keyboards, which possibly doesn’t sound quite as impressive.  Unfortunately their live sound is equally unimpressive; if you are expecting an orchestra you will be disappointed.  What you are presented with is a lot of delayed arpeggios on guitar, multi-layered vocals courtesy of the musician’s toy of the moment, the looper, and some plodding minor piano chords.  Oh, and the drums played on a keyboard, which as even a 10 year old will tell you, is hampered by bad samples, poor timing and minimal dynamics.  I spent the whole of their set thinking why they didn’t just play guitar and keyboard and sing live, and place all their other desired sounds on a sequencer.  When the two voices of Chrissy Mostyn and Richard Pilkington are in harmony and treated with loops, reverbs and delays, it is an enveloping sound — countless instrument changes, overuse of repetition of song sections and poor arrangements distract from this and it is a shame.  Their recorded work is very professionally produced so they should be able to transfer that shine to their live show, even if it means rearranging their songs.  Maybe I caught them on a night when their software failed, but even then you should never resort to keyboard drums, always have a bullet proof plan B.

Fischer Z’s set starts with a couple of solo numbers from John Watts in which he breaks something on his guitar and has a forced instrument change early on.  Explaining it is lucky he brings a second guitar – it is pretty obvious that this tour is a self-financed and has no room for roadies or guitar techs, as the broken guitar remains on its stand for the rest of the set.  Thankfully John’s stand in, a baritone Fender Jazzmaster, does not fail him for the remaining 90 minutes. The other three members of the 2018 version of Fischer Z join him on stage and although the bass player and drummer look old enough to have been in the original line up, neither they or the young keyboard player were, also it is virtually impossible to find any details of who they actually are, or how long they have been playing with John Watts on any Fischer Z website – certainly the named players listed on the web are not the ones here tonight.  Saying that, you would be forgiven for believing this is the original incarnation of the band, because they play perfectly.  Remember, Fischer Z may have been born out of the punk explosion on 1976, but they are not a standard punk band.  Therefore the songs are a mixture of influences including disco, rock, ska and reggae, which the band pull off masterfully.

John Watts’ voice is also almost unchanged from those 40 year old recordings and he puts everything into tonight’s performance despite initially being concerned about the small crowd that stands before him.  We are treated to old and new songs, including ‘First Impressions (Pretty Paracetamol)’, ‘Berlin’, ‘Marliese’, ‘The Perfect Day’, ‘In England’ and the two tracks I have waited to hear since I was 10 years old; ‘The Worker’ and ‘So Long’.  The latter is perfect with a faultlessly played bass line, perfectly timed drums and flawless keyboard and backing vocals – John’s voice, bordering on falsetto is still aching with the rejection and pain on the original recording – I could close my eyes and still picture the 45 spinning on my record player whilst gazing in wonder at those faded photo booth prints on the cover.  ‘The Worker’ is confusing, only because John resorts to the album version, in which the keyboard in the chorus that is so prevalent in the single remix, is removed, leaving I feel, one of the song’s main melodic hooks missing (it reminds me of when Theatre of Hate’s remastering of ‘Legion’ totally removed the saxophone).  I therefore found myself singing the keyboard line in the gaping hole left in the arrangement.  That said, nothing could ever actually cause ‘The Worker’ to be anything but special for me.

John’s newer songs, like ‘Wild Wild Wild Wild’ and ‘So Close’ are so exceptional that when I returned home I immediately start investigating all the Fischer Z and John Watts’ albums I missed out on after my pocket money turned into wages and I had no excuse.  It is all excellent.  He is such an underrated writer and criminally overlooked.

Apart from the two songs mentioned earlier, a real highlight of the night is an extended pumping and pulsating ‘Head On’.  Its bass and synth lines, disco hi-hat and raw guitars border on a house/rock/disco fusion, and the band keeps up the vibrancy throughout, visibly energised by their sound and the love coming from the audience.  It is everything I hoped tonight would be and after so many years waiting for this moment, I can honestly say it did not disappoint.

Fischer Z are now moving to Europe to continue the tour, probably to greater audience numbers, and they deserve the attention and recognition because they are one of best bands to come out of post-punk/new wave.  They really deserve more from us here.

Reviewer: Alan Neilson

Photograph: Alan Neilson


About Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *