'Gutted' Fish lives happily ever after

THIS time last year rocker Fish should have been a proud newlywed with a pretty wife 20 years his junior on his arm and a new album of upbeat songs reflecting his romantic peace.

His Haddington home would have been the marital abode for Mr and Mrs Derek Dick – the former Marillion frontman's real name – and there might even have been a chance his new wife could persuade him to think about becoming a dad for the second time.

Should have, would have been. Except it isn't.

Today, Fish is sitting outside a cafe, the contents of his packet of Camel cigarettes rapidly being depleted as he smokes one after another, mulling over his personal year from hell.

"Yeah, last year was pretty traumatic, what with the wedding that turned into a record launch party instead," he says, with a fleeting sardonic smile.

"It was rough, it's been rough for a while. But it's a long time ago now, it's gone. Other things are far more important."

He's talking, of course, about the marriage that never was. He wasn't quite left standing at the altar, but it wasn't far from it.

"Fish gutted as fiance walks out after refusing prenuptial" sang the headlines. News that the singer and actor's relationship had hit the rocks came out of the blue, just months after he'd proudly announced he'd found the love of his life.

It was late last May, Fish and singer Heather Findlay had been putting the final touches to their August wedding plans. A spectacular string of disagreements between the lovers followed, however, and the nuptials were off.

Dark days followed. Fish threw himself into rewriting his new album, tweaking all those romantic songs to reflect the sudden dark change in circumstances.

Later, the wedding reception for 250 – already paid for – morphed into the album's launch party and the invitations were clear: "No wedding outfits and absolutely NO ruches!" they declared, referring to the frilly-ruffed collar he'd been expected to wear for the ceremony, Heather's feminine contribution to his specially designed Dick tartan.

Devastated as he was at the time, today he insists it's all history. He's halfway through a world tour and adopting a pragmatic approach to one of the bleakest of personal episodes. "Well," he shrugs, "I suppose it was good lyric writing country."

Certainly for an artist who pours so much of his personality into what he writes, having your wedding collapse around your frilly ruffs and tartan trimmings meant there was plenty of raw emotional material to work with.

Not that he was ever short of a bit of angst in his life. He'd already emerged battered and almost bankrupt from a messy divorce from his first wife, German model Tamara Schnell, which also left him looking after their teenage daughter, Tara. That, along with a string of financial rip-offs including one sting by an employee which cost him nearly 70,000, and the struggle to emulate some of the success he enjoyed with Marillion as a solo artist, mean there have been plenty of traumas and upset to inspire his music.

So when the marriage blow came, Fish retreated to clear his head, seeking sanctuary in the strangest of places.

"I remember being a kid and having German measles," he recalls. "I was lying in a single bed downstairs in the house in Dalkeith and the Vietnam War was going on on television. My Uncle Charlie was there – he was an ex-regimental sergeant major with the Royal Highland Fusiliers. He was watching soldiers firing M16s over their heads and he was saying they shouldn't be doing that, they were wasting bullets."

It made such an impression that, earlier this year, Fish packed a rucksack and flew to Vietnam, to explore a country he'd first witnessed on television in the clutches of turmoil, battered and war-torn – perhaps matching his own mood – in search of solving his own personal traumas.

"Songs are just one side of a diamond," he explains. "When you write songs, you deal with emotions in a lyric.

"It's easy to put all those emotions in a box, but really all you've done is tidied up a bit and stuck it away. You put the boxes in a cupboard and you open the cupboard door one day and it all falls out.

"You think you've handled something but you haven't. You've just dealt with one side of it."

Four months of self discovery appear to have done the trick. Head cleared, Fish is now back at work preparing for the release next month of a new single, Zoe 25. He's well into a 120-date tour that has already taken in America – his first full US tour for 11 years – Canada and Mexico. It will climax in the UK in late November.

It's tough going, but with 27 years of touring and 1700 shows already under his belt, he'll cope.

After all, he's played to crowds of 120,000 people in Marillion's heyday and supported Queen. They had mega-group status, over 15 million albums sold, and every possible excess was on the table, from groupies to drink and drugs.

The present-day Fish might not match any of that, but the "Big Man of Rock", at 6ft 4ins, can manage a little rock and roll indulgence. "Oh, we enjoy ourselves," insists the 50-year-old. "We did a bottle count on the bus in Canada. We had 230 empties between nine of us. We even found some cheese as well, very sophisticated!

"Listen," he adds, "when you're doing three shows in a row you've got to be a bit sensible. It's okay for Pete Doherty and Amy Winehouse who do one show every three months. The rest of us have got to be semi-sensible.

"I've had my share of wild times, there were some class As floating about in the Eighties, but you get to the stage where it just gets silly. From a legal perspective when you need visas to go to America, it's not worth the risk."

No longer only a singer and writer, he's diversified into an actor, with roles in Taggart and alongside James Bond star Daniel Craig in The Jacket, and writing his own movie scripts. He has won awards for his Planet Rock radio show and next year he'll write a novel based in Vietnam which draws on his personal experiences.

His internet blog, meanwhile, has a cult following with page after page of detail about his life which veers bizarrely from day-to-day trivia to sudden explosive drama.

Between that and his introspective lyrics, it's all out there. Well, almost.

Perhaps still stung by those "Fish gutted" headlines from last year, there's one element of his life he'd prefer to keep under wraps.

"I have got a new relationship," he nods cautiously. "Who is it? Hmmm, someone. It doesn't matter who, or what they do."

He lights up another Camel, takes a long, satisfying draw and shakes his head.

"Just don't ask . . ."