Interview: Wholesome Fish

Interview: Joanna Jakusz-Gostomski
Saturday 26 April 2008
reading time: min, words

"We were accepting anything. We’d do any gig to get anywhere. I remember doing one for a Ginsters pasty."


With a sound that’s been described as everything from ‘Velvet Underground gone Cajun’ to ‘a jumble sale of world music’, Wholesome Fish are genuine local legends, consisting of Lee (vocals & drums), Gordon, (guitar & vocals), Tim (banjo & vocals), Mark (percussion & drums), Beth (fiddle & vocals), Tricky (bass) and James (drums). We met five of the seven Fish to find out more about their unique brand of life-affirming music, and why so many of their songs seem to be about chickens…

So, how did it all start?
Gordon: We started in the pub down the road called the Craven Arms, which no longer exists. I think it was the first open mic night in Notts. Harry Stevenson was there - he’s still knocking around God bless him - and there was lots of local music, used to be a good night. That’s where we started playing. but that was a long time ago. 

And what caused you to split up after 10 years?
Tim: Drugs. (everyone laughs)
Beth: I suppose everybody had a different reason why it stopped.
Tim: There was a lot of change; people’s kids growing up and stuff. It’s hard work because you don’t get paid a lot and we were doing it for a living…
Tricky: …250 gigs a year sometimes.
Tim: We were accepting anything. We’d do any gig to get anywhere. I remember doing one for a Ginsters Pasty. 

What bought about the reunion?
Tricky: Me and Beth got married,
Mark: No, it was Tim and me.
Tim: You said you wouldn’t leak it! Not yet! I’m not ready!
Tricky: We thought it would be a good idea to see if the band wanted to play at the reception. We got together, had a bit of a practice and it was good fun. Then someone at the reception asked us to do a gig for them the following week and that was it.
Tim: And because we all had other work none of us were relying on this, so all of a sudden it was fun again, a hobby. There wasn’t the urgency, or terror, so it’s been just about the music this time. 

You received an extremely warm welcome from both old and new fans when you reformed…
Tim: It’s really good to see the old crowd, because you see them all at once at gigs and everyone’s grown up, but there’s this new generation of younger people. Like when we go play at festivals - the front rows are full of moshing hippy kids and skater kids and that’s brilliant, and at the back are guys with silver beards smoking pipes, you know...
Beth: …not that we like to stereotype people who go to festivals. 

What would you say someone who’s never seen Wholesome Fish could expect from one of your shows?
Gordon: Mayhem. Dancefloor mayhem.
Tim: We try to build it up, so it usually ends with a frenzy of some sort, whether it’s on stage or off stage. You’ll hear bits of everything. We have fun, and we try to tell jokes musically - there’s jokes in a lot of the songs, and it’s usually us attempting to get it right! They can expect a lot of fun. That’s what it’s all about. We’re not trying to be anything more than that. 

Your music is a mix of traditional folk songs, covers of various artists, and then there’s your own stuff. Which do you prefer doing?
Tim: The old stuff is nice to play but in the end, they’re someone else’s songs, so you never get the same kind of involvement. We’ve got real love for the Trad stuff, and doing the covers is cheeky, just wrong really - but it’s nice when you’ve worked on something, and you’ve all put the work in and then you see that it moves people about. That’s a brilliant feeling.

Your gigs are definitely crazy. How do you keep the energy levels up?
Gordon: It’s the music - we literally get high on the music, on people dancing, just the whole thing, it’s lovely. Lee is a brilliant frontman. He gets us going and gets the audience going.
Tim: He’s the master of ceremonies, a kind of magician in a way. 

So is there some kind of Wholesome Fish philosophy?
Gordon: No.
Tim: We don’t usually go that deep. We’re very superficial people, generally, and we try to keep it like that. 

A lot of your songs seem to be about trains and chickens…
Tim: It’s just a passing phase. We went through a whole farmyard thing and the chicken is just about the last animal. There was also a wheelbarrow period.
Beth: Death is a big one. Even if the song doesn’t have death in the title, a lot of them are about murder or untimely endings.
Tim: We do really happy songs about really dark depressing matters. And we love trains. We’re all secret spotters.
Tricky: We love gigs on trains.

We’ve seen your YouTube clip on a train...
Beth: The conductor was completely freaked out because there were so many very drunk people going back on the Skegness train at about half10 at night....
Mark: Where there are normally about 3 men and a doughnut.
Tricky: And there's only one toilet on the train and everyone’s pissed and drinking beer, so when we got off the train, my bass amp was full of wee!

So you’re obviously well travelled, having been all over England as well as a sizeable chunk of Europe, any really memorable gigs?
Beth: We played backstage at Glastonbury, and Rory McLeod joined us.
Tim: It was crazy - these great comedians and people you see on telly were watching us!
Gordon: Definitely Shirkin Island in West Ireland
Tricky: We played a gig for eight hours there. We played every song we knew, which back then was about 200 songs, and the only reason we stopped was because the bar ran out of everything except Crème de Menthe. 

A lot of you hold down full-time jobs as well, so when you do get a second to chill out, what do you like to do?
Tim: When you’re young you go out, but now we’re…older, I like to stay home and ignore the doorbell.

Has the city changed a lot since you started out?
Gordon: Oh God yeah. It’s quite different. I mean, think of how many bouncers are employed round Nottingham now! And you think of however many years ago, say 1986, Yates was still selling huge big barrels full of sweet wine
Tim: It’s still got all that.
Gordon: No, it’s trendy now…
Beth: Alchopops in barrels, then.

Any local bands you rate?
Mark: Old Basford
Beth: Salmagundi and Mas Y Mas.
Tim: There’s a great punk band called Certified,
Beth: ASBO. That’s Joe’s band (Joe is Beth and Tricky’s son).
Gordon: The Last Pedestrians. Nottingham legends! 

What are your plans for the next year or so?
Beth: We’re finishing our new album.
Tricky: We played so much last year that we didn’t really write enough new material, so we’re gonna take at least the next three months to come up with some new songs.
Gordon: And then play those for the next twenty years! 

Is there anything you want to say to LeftLion readers?
Mark: Keep going to see live music in Nottingham!
Gordon: And don’t drink cider. 

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