The aptly named ‘Sunsets on Empire’ was the final studio album released on the Dick Bros Record Company in May 1997. Steven Wilson was not only the main co-writer with Fish on this album, but he also played guitars and produced it together with Avril Mackintosh who dealt with Fish’s vocals on all the tracks. It was Steven’s first production post outside of his own band ‘Porcupine Tree’ and ‘No Man’ who he worked alongside Tim Bowness who also co-wrote ’Say it With Flowers’ for the album. Originally mixed by Calum Malcolm and mastered by Bob Ludwig back in 1998 this new definitive version has been totally remastered by Calum. CD 1 is the original track listing with CD2 containing demos with Steven Wilson and bonus tracks. CD3 has acoustic versions and live material including songs from the Przemysl, Poland concert in 1997 that have been remastered by Calum Malcolm. The 3CD’s come in a hardback book with photos and artwork by Mark Wilkinson and contain 9000 words of Fish’s own sleeve notes covering the writing and recording of the album.
Deluxe Remaster Edition
Disc 1 (studio album)
01 The Perception of Johnny Punter Dick/Wilson 8.37
02 Goldfish & Clowns Dick/Wilson 6.36
03 Change of Heart Dick/Boult 3:41
04 What Colour is God? Dick/Wilson 5:50
05 Tara Dick/Patterson 5:12
06 Jungle Ride Dick/Boult 7:34
07 Worm in a Bottle Dick/Boult 6:24
08 Brother 52 Dick/Wilson 6:03
09 Sunsets on Empire Dick/Wilson 6:54
10 Say it with Flowers Dick/Wilson/Bowness 4:15
Lead Vocal - Fish
Bass Guitar - Ewan Vernal
Keyboards and backing vocals - Foss Patterson
Guitars - Frank Usher
Guitars - Robin Boult
Guitars - Steven Wilson
Drums and Percussion - Dave Stewart
Additional Percussion (Tracks 2/5/6) - Dave Haswell
Cello (Tracks 1/5) - Chris Gaugh
Violin (Tracks 1/5) - Brian Hale
Violin (Tracks 1/5) - Mark Duff
Violin (Tracks 6/8) - Martyn Bennett
French Horn (Track 9) – Terence Jones
Backing Vocals (Tracks 1/2/5/9) - Lorna Bannon
Backing Vocals (Tracks 3/6) - Katherine Garrett
Backing Vocals (Track 1) - Don Jack
Backing Vocals (Track 1) - Chris Thompson
Backing Vocals (Track 9) - Annie McCaig
Harmonica (Track 6) - Frazer Spiers
String Arrangements(Track 1) - Steven Wilson
String Arrangements(Track 5) - Foss Patterson
Voice on telephone (Track) – Doc
Empires Awakening Pianola played by Tara Rowena Dick
Disc 2 (demos with steven wilson + bonus tracks)
01 Goldfish & Clowns Dick/Wilson 6:39 Demo with Steven Wilson
02 Sunsets on Empire Dick/Wilson 6:53 Demo with Steven Wilson
03 What Colour is God? Dick/Wilson 5:58 Demo with Steven Wilson
04 Do Not Walk Outside This Area Dick/Wilson 6:11 Demo with Steven Wilson
05 The Perception of Johnny Punter Dick/Wilson 8:34 Demo with Steven Wilson
06 Say it with Flowers Dick/Wilson/Bowness 4:12 Demo with Steven Wilson
07 The Perception of Johnny Punter Dick/Wilson 8:38 USA version (with altered lyric - front section)
08 Do Not Walk Outside This Area Dick/Wilson 6:29 Bonus track Japan (full recorded version)
09 Tara Dick/Patterson 4:03 Radio edit
10 Goldfish & Clowns Dick/Wilson 4:13 Radio edit
11 What Colour is God Dick/Wilson 7:02 Remix by Max Rael ‘History of Guns’
Disc 3 (live)
01 Change of Heart Dick/Boult 3:46 From ‘Communion’ St. Mary’s Church, Haddington 2006
02 Tara Dick/Patterson 5:29 From ‘Communion’ St. Mary’s Church, Haddington 2006
03 Worm in a Bottle Dick/Boult 5:19 Company Convention, Haddington Corn Exchange 1998
04 Goldfish & Clowns Dick/Wilson 6:44 Poland 1997
05 Jungle Ride Dick/Boult 8:09 Poland 1997
06 The Perception of Johnny Punter Dick/Wilson 11:17 Poland 1997
07 What Colour is God? Dick/Wilson 5:53 Poland 1997
08 Brother 52 Dick/Wilson 6:06 Poland 1997
09 Sunsets on Empire Dick/Wilson 9:01 From ‘Sashimi’ 1999 recorded in Poznan
Disc 1: Arranged and produced by Steven Wilson
Vocal sessions produced by Avril Macintosh
Engineered by Elliot Ness
Mixed by Callum Malcolm
Mastered by Bob Ludwig
Remastered by Calum Malcolm 2015
Disc 3: the Polish recordings are the multi track versions taken from the DVD ‘Live in Poland’ not released previously on CD.
Thanks to Steven Wilson for the inspiration and motivation
St Mary’s band 2006 Frank Usher and Andy Trill - Guitars, Steve Vantsis - Bass, Tony Turrell - keyboards, Gavin Griffiths - drums, Dave Haswell - percussion, Tara Dick, Anne Marie Helder, Angela Gordon and Heather Findlay backing vocals
Poland 1997 Robin Boult - Guitars, Steve Vantsis- bass, Dave Stewart - drums, Mickey Simmonds - keyboards
Haddington 1998 includes Frank Usher
Poznan 1999 - John Wesley - guitars, Steve Vantsis - Bass, Dave Stewart - drums, Tony Turrell - keyboards,
Elisabeth Troy Antwi - backing vocals
From the Sleeve Notes
“I needed a new album and a new direction as it had been two years since ‘Suits’, the last studio album of original material. I had been banking on the ‘Yin/Yang’ project, released in September 95, to break some new ground and although providing me with a worldwide passport it had been an expensive trip. Sales were good but the cost of promotion had been high. I’d maintained my profile but creatively I’d been treading water. 1996 needed a big gamble on all levels if I was to move forward and keep my career alive. I had to address the daunting prospect of writing as I knew I had been subconsciously avoiding the issue and hiding out on the road for far too long.
I stood on the balcony talking about my problems with one of my best friends, Jon Crawley - a music publisher whom I’d known since my days at Charisma. He suggested I should write with someone fresh and new who had ambition, ability and an empathy with my music. Jon had been sent demos from a band called “No Man” and although he hadn’t signed them he’d been impressed by a guitarist and writer on the project, a young man named Steven Wilson. I admit to being intrigued and Jon told me he would send the demos to me when he got back and put me in touch with Steve. As I walked back to my hotel along the promenade past opulent surroundings now glowing in floodlights I sensed possibilities in the Mediterranean night. There was a sense of old empire in the air.”
“The album title had come to me in a winter’s night and I woke up with it still in my head next morning. It seemed appropriate. Dick Brothers Record Company which I’d formed as my own independent label was under severe financial strain from a combination of costly over ambitious touring and promotion and the compilation albums hadn’t plugged the hole as I’d hoped. Repayments on the studio equipment loans were crippling and Funny Farm studios , as it was then, wasn’t bringing in the paying clients to cover them as I was hogging the studio time. It seemed the dream of being self-sufficient as an independent artist was crumbling in the face of debilitating external pressures. I was throwing everything I could at this new album and taking yet another gamble I couldn’t really afford.
Amidst all that my personal life was suffering badly and my marriage which had come through a couple of very bad years was disintegrating under pressure from the financial stress and my long term absences on the road as I chased down the pennies. It seemed like I was coming into an end game on all fronts but I was going to go down fighting. I think that was what inspired the “desert warrior” image, ancient bloodied knife in hand, a modern war raging behind him in the sands.”
“The most striking and our favourite image that came out of the ‘Sunsets’ project was for the cover of the planned but never released single for ‘Goldfish and Clowns’. It was a very surreal image that could have worked as an album cover and in retrospect maybe should have been. Inspired by my memories from the fairground in Dalkeith it worked on so many different levels with the lyric.
I’d taken up photography again and over the previous year had collected some strong images I suggested could be used together with the lyrics in the album insert. As we didn’t have the time or the budget to create more airbrushed ideas and after Mark saw my photos we chose some of the strongest most relative shots. They worked well with the modern themes and juxtaposed well against the airbrushed image on the cover in the overall layout.”
“The single was released in April ‘97 across a number of formats including dance remixes on white labels and backed with a video shot by the students of Duncan and Jordanstone College of art in Dundee and directed by Steve Flack. Exteriors were filmed at Grangemouth refinery with the interiors in Bim’s tattoo shop in Wishaw where I thought it might be a good idea to be filmed while getting my own tattoo inked. (I believe I was the first ever person to be tattooed on a music video) It picked up some air play and the video reached out on some satellite stations but not enough to register it in the charts outside the independents. The lack of interest from radio and the cost of releasing and promoting a single deterred me from the follow up ‘Goldfish and Clowns’. The cover was a photograph of the actual tattoo gun used by ‘Doc’ on Brother 52 taken by David Darling. I still have the gun that ‘Doc’ sent me in 96 after he told me the story that we recorded for inclusion in the song.”
Sunsets On Empire (CD) Dick Bros. Record Co. DDICK25CD 19 May 1997
Sunsets On Empire (2xCDLtd) Dick Bros. Record Co. DDICK26CD 19 May 1997
Sunsets On Empire (CD) Viceroy Music 54197-2
Sunsets On Empire (Cass) Dick Bros. Record Co. DDICK25MC 19 May 1997
Sunsets On Empire (CD) Roadrunner Records RR 8679-2
Sunsets On Empire (CD) Snapper Records. SDPCD218
Sunsets On Empire (CD,) Chocolate Frog Records SDPCD218
Sunsets On Empire (CD 3 disc) Chocolate Frog Records FHC006CD
Brother 52 (CD, Single, CD1) Dick Bros. Record Co. DDICK24CD1 28 April 1997
Brother 52 (CD, Single, CD2) Dick Bros. Record Co. DDICK24CD2 28 April 1997
Brother 52 (12", Pic) Dick Bros. Record Co. DDICK24PIC 28 April 1997
Change Of Heart (CD, Single) Dick Bros. Record Co. DDICK27CD 11 August 1997
After the Ying & Yang Tour Fish decided that it was time for s slight change in directions. After toying with wild plans like a complete album of dance songs (thank God that never happened) he decided to go for a combination of rock music with dance influences and the 'grooves' he had experimented with on earlier albums. Fish was an admirer of Steve Wilson's bands Porcupine Tree and No Man. Steve in his turn had been a Marillion fan in the eighties so it didn't take much to get these two together. Sunsets on Empire was arranged, produced and co-written (6 out of 11 songs) by Steve. You can definitely tell on certain tracks.
Steve also played a lot of the music on the album: lead guitar on two songs, rhythm guitar on four, slide guitar on one and keyboard on all songs except Worm in a Bottle. He also took care of the samples and loops for some songs.
The rest of the band consisted of Foss Patterson (actually playing very well on this album), Ewan Vernal on bass, Dave 'Sqeaky' Stewart (drums) and Robin Boult on guitars. Frank Usher is also present on most songs, but far less prominent than in the past; he only plays lead guitar on 4 songs.
Besides these familiar names, there are another bunch of other musicians playing percussion, cello, violins, french horn, harmonica and doing backing vocals on the album, turning it into a very versatile recording.
The Perception of Johnny Pointer starts with a guitar riff which forms the basis for the whole track. After a lyrically daring opening the rest of the band kicks in to perform one of those venemous tracks Fish is (in)famous for. In the middle there's an intermezzo where the music quiets down and Fish tells a story about his experiences in Bosnia. The track also features good female backing vocals and a roaring guitar solo by Steve Wilson. A great change from the normal howling Usher solo's ! At the end the electrical violence dies down and the song ends with cello and violin. As far as I'm concerned this is one of the best songs Fish has made since the Vigil album.
Goldfish and Clowns is another wonderful track which starts very quietly with a single repeated piano note and guitars. When the rhythm section joins, another powerful song with emotional vocals follows.
Change of Heart is a simple (semi-)acoustic track. Not one of the highlights but a very nice tune nevertheless.
What Colour is God ? is a track in which Fish builds further on the 'groove' he experimented with on Suits. It features percussion with an Eastern feel, samples of religious speakers, drum loops and a pumping bass line. There's even a bit where Fish goes into a rap ! It's still got a lot of anger and power though.
Tara is the only song on the album I dislike. As a matter of fact, I skip it all the time. It's a sentimental song about Fish' daughter. Nothing wrong with that if they would have turned it into a ballad like Gentleman's Excuse Me. Instead they made this song so sweet and soft with a jazzy feel (Foss co-wrote it), female backing vocals and violins that it is completely out of place on the album. It also has Fish trying to go for vocal altitudes he no longer is able to reach.
Jungle Ride is a track which lots of acoustic guitars, percussion and mainly spoken lyrics. It's a fantastic song although I can't get used to the duet with the female backing vocalist in the refrain. Therefore I prefer the live version (see Tales from the Bus) above the studio version. Whereas that version has more anger in the vocals, the album version sounds more mysterious. The track also features violin and harmonica.
Worm in a Bottle is another 'groove' song with a simple but effective bass and drum line and a slightly minimalistic feel. The guitar effects and Hammond Organ add to the atmosphere of the song which gives you the feeling of being in a seedy bar. Great stuff !
Brother 52 is a song in which Fish finally succeeds in combining dance rhythms with rock music. It features a fine bass line, Hammond, ripping guitar and energetic violin solo's and the voice of a friend over the telephone, telling the tragical story of 'Brother 52'. It might sound a bit strange for a Fish song, but isn't that far from tunes like Big Wedge.
The title track of the album, Sunsets on Empire, is track which would not have been out of place on a Roger Waters (ballad with piano) or older Pink Floyd album. The track slowly builds to a climax with a female vocalist trying to create a new Great Gig in the Sky. There's no real guitar solo but lots of rhythm and slide guitar. The song ends rather strangely with a menacing piano melody.
Say it with Flowers is a simple track with just vocals, (acoustic) guitar and keyboards. Lots of people don't like this song but I can't find anything wrong with it. Certainly it's not a highlight, but it's not as bad as some people think either. Maybe it's because I've been in a long lasting relation myself which had its ups and downs and I therefore can relate to the lyrics better than others ? After all, the strength of this song is in the lyrics, not in the music.
The bonus track, Do Not Walk Outside This Area, was the 'B-side' of the Brother 52 CD-Single. As with What Colour is God ? this tune also has a rather exotic percussion loop. I never really got into this tune. It just drags on too long and the vocal melody doesn't really appeal to me.
The album is quite a change from the Suits material. Steve Wilson brought in lots of new (daring) arrangements and the album features new instruments like violin, percussion and Hammong Organ. And what's even better, Fish is angry at the world around him again ! And that's the mood which has always created the best material.
Although Frank Usher plays on the album, his typical howling guitar which has dominated Fish' work since the beginning of his solo carreer is never obviously present on this album. A good change as far as I'm concerned.
In contrast with the other remasters, this one does not feature liner notes, which is a shame because there's probably a lot of interesting stories to tell about the period after Yin/Yang, the recording of the album and the inspiration for the songs. Futhermore, I find it hard to believe that an album released in 1997 would need to be remastered at all !
The album does of course contain all the pictures and lyrics of the original version.
Conclusion: The best Fish Album since Vigil. 9 out of 10.
Sunsets On Empire, originally released in 1997, is the first of an eight album reissue campaign from enigmatic Scottish singer Fish. As is often the case with the one time Marillion man, it was an album that found him at a crossroads, something his excellent, insightful and candid liner notes go into in great detail. Three years on from his previous studio album Suits and having reappraised his (and Marillion's) catalogue to date through the Yin and Yang compilations, Fish teamed up with a certain young song writer named Steven Wilson, the multi-instrumentalist not yet finding fame through no-man or Porcupine Tree. At first it seems an odd combination and yet with the craft, skill and persistence of the pair, a set of songs from Wilson were slowly broken down and rebuilt into something more reminiscent, if still daringly different, to what the singer's faithful following would expect.
The results were deep, dark, angry and involving, songs like "What Colour Is God?" and "The Perception Of Johnny Punter" covering themes of division and inequality, whether through creed, religion, colour, or social standing and the catastrophic results they cause. Unfortunately the themes hit as hard today as they did nearly twenty years ago, if not more so. Something which can also be said for the loss of life through the police's in proportionate show of force that is "Brother 52". Musically things are equally radical, Wilson, alongside band members Frank Usher, Foss Paterson, Robin Boult, Ewen Vernal and Dave Stewart altering Fish's approach by some distance, loops and samples used to build atmosphere and threat two things this album is positively brimming with in great swathes; "Jungleride" still proving a tour de force. "Tara" and "Change Of Heart" offer a more emotional, heartfelt outlook, while "Worm In A Bottle" is a dreamy space out which shows a glinting, razor sharp edge. Add in the slow build of the album's title cut, tender "Say It With Flowers" and eerie unsettling explosion of "Goldfish And Clowns" and Sunsets On Empire still, for me, stands as one of the three (alongside Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors and A Feast Of Consequences) crowning glories of the Fish solo canon. Here in remastered glory, I have to say it sounds sumptuously magnificent.
As if that wasn't all enough, disc two offers up six of the Steven Wilson demos from which the album was shaped, and while the songs are instantly recognisable, the differences are stark. Wilson's, of the time, Porcupine Tree touch is everywhere, spartan atmospheres bursting with anger and regret, Fish shaping a set of not yet finalised lyrics to match their mood. It's a hugely interesting listening experience, the feel of a set of songs in full evolution strongly evident. I'd also suggest it's as interesting a listen whether you're a died in the wool Fish fan, a dedicated follower of Steven Wilson, or someone interested to see how songs often take on new life as collaboration and fresh ideas set them a different course. Unlike so many reissue bonus discs, this is stuff genuinely worth revisiting over and over, especially with the wonderful b' side/Japanese album cut "Do Not Walk Outside This Area" showing up in both full Wilson mode and final condition. Radio edits of "Tara" and "Goldfish" and a questionable dance remix of "What Colour Is God?" add further value, as does a US version of "...Johnny Punter" which features altered and less controversial lyrics.
Disc three on the other hand finds nine of the ten ("Say It With Flowers" the omission) main album cuts performed live, with two from 2006, one from 1999 and 1998 apiece, while the remaining five are from the Polish leg of the 1997 tour to promote the album itself (these five featuring on CD for the very first time). Therefore we get a variety of line-ups and settings for the songs, the live environment allowing Fish and his band to continue the evolution of the songs, and the listener to track how that affected them. Personally the Scottish date of the 1997 tour (in a ridiculously rammed Edinburgh Venue) is still the most potent performance I've seen from any configuration of the Fish band and that comes across strongly here.
Put simply, this is a stunning reissue of an immense album. I didn't think that it would be possible for a collection of songs that I've long held a true affinity with to be any more impactful. How wrong I was. This is how reissues should be done and that there are another seven to revel in is reason to rejoice.
Audacious, relentless and provocative, "Sunsets on Empire" displays that powerful yet enigmatic musical side of FISH we've never seen or listened to before in previous releases. I determined myself to get this excellent album after watching from beginning to end the "Sunsets on Empire, Live in Poland 1997" DVD, which is a true jewel. The DVD contains five tracks out of the ten contained in here, plus some of his previous solo recordings and a masterful MARILLION songs medley. Over the interview FISH conceded to the German television, also included on the DVD, he describes meticulously the making of "Sunsets on Empire" album, he talks about some of the inconveniences and the changes made during the realization, also he details the relationship he keeps with his fellow guest musicians and the ones that helped in the production of the CD. The opening track, "The Perception of Johnny Punter", had to be lyrically overwritten due the difficulties spotted out by the record company, claiming there could exist some kind of misinterpretation where specific terms may be "offensive and with racist inclinations". FISH, with the equanimity that has always described his personality, took the whole matter as a joke, and playfully referred to situation as "ridiculous", since the label allowed him to keep the swear words to the lyric of the song and for a couple more. Ironic.
Remarkably, and far from sounding pretentious, FISH explores the depths of politics, religion and humankind in a very peculiar way. But amazingly, he manages to keep the romancing, the heartbreaking, the soulful essence and the imperative trademark of his unmistakable songwriting. Proof of that, is represented throughout the lyric and musicianship condensed on "What Colour is God?", which he co-wrote with multi-instrumentalist and anchorman of PORCUPINE TREE, Steve WILSON. The understanding on the creation of this song between such monsters of progressive rock, was outstanding. The song kicks off calmly, where peaceful mystic rhythms flow in between the energetic voice of FISH and the opening chords of what seems to be the thundering rhythm guitar wailed away by Robin BOULT. Eventually, the song blasts off superbly, almost hypnotic, where Steve reveals what he's made of on keyboards, as Dave "Squeeky" STEWART, who two years later would record "An Outcast of the Islands" with Colin BASS; keeps the beat marvelously behind his drum kit. (I know it is not the proper spelling of "squeaky" but this is the way that YATTA and FISH spell it when referring to him).
"Goldfish and Clowns" along "Jungle Ride", are under my perception, the two tracks out of the entire album that set off evidentially because they happen to be very condensed and quickly digested at the time you are listening to them. Not that they lack of direction and purpose, I just pointed out that they don't splatter providentially, convincing your ears at first listen. On the other hand, tracks like "Tara" (dedicated to his now thirteen year-old daughter Tara Rowena) and "Say it with Flowers" (so filled with the essential pointers for successful romancing), reveal a more sensitive touch, where emotions and incarnated feelings distill the scene meaningfully, and FISH certainly knows his way through putting together words, that in the end, would display a poetic view.
All songs in here have a particular point of view, and a characteristic individuality of course, but I surrendered immediately to "Brother 52" (featuring Doc's story), a song that talks about true indelible marks friendship leaves upon yourself and the diamond clear perception of life. The song flows soulfully through a vivid experience, tattooing particular memories inside your head, carving words with repercussive meaning, "we are lover, warrior, magician kings". The musical passage described spectacularly by Martyn BENNETT and Foss PATTERSON, on violin and Hammond organ respectively, leads the song all the way to full enjoyment and appreciation. Irreparably, great stuff.
The self-titled song, carries away the full meaning of the album, it is determined to give away understanding, embracement and cohesion. Presumably, the album is not completely progressive or challenging nouveau, but from upon the hill FISH looked at it, it's only human, particularly really fundamental and extremely disturbing to the simplicities of the common mind. Deservedly, this proposing album stands out as excellent and intrepid. This is the perception of one man through the eyes of the world out there. This is the perception of FISH.