how we met: Ian Banks & Fish

Daniel Rosenthal
Saturday 24 April 1999 23:02

Iain Banks, 45, was born in Fife. His first novel, 'The Wasp Factory', was published to critical acclaim in 1984. Eight more novels have since followed, including the bestsellers 'The Crow Road' and 'Complicity'. His science-fiction novels include 'Consider Phlebas' and 'Excession'. Iain Banks lives with his wife in a house

overlooking the Forth Bridge

Fish, 41, was born Derek Dick in Dalkieth, Midlothian. In 1981 he became lead singer of the rock group Marillion. They had a string of hits, including the single 'Kayleigh' and the album 'Misplaced Childhood'. Since going solo in 1988 he has released 10 more albums. He lives outside Edinburgh with his wife and their eight-year-old daughter

FISH: Back in 1990, I was walking away from my lawyer's office in London, disconsolate over the way my foolish litigation against my record company was going. I was drowning my sorrows with the novelist Neil Gaiman, and he asked if I'd ever read Espedair Street, the Iain Banks novel about Weird, a very tall Scottish rock star. I hadn't, and Neil said: ''You've got to read it - the hero of that book is you!"

I read it and thought, "This is really strange," because some of the stuff in it was really close to my experience of the music business. Iain's observations of the betrayals, infidelities and drugs, the way a band can fall apart, were absolutely spot on. I've started acting and if there's one role in the world that I want to play it's Weird in a film of Espedair Street. So I phoned Iain, said, "Fancy a drink?" and he came to my local in Haddington, outside Edinburgh. We got on great right from the start. There tends to be a natural bond between creative people - actor, writer or musician - because you've all kind of opted out of the mainstream. Plus we share the "us against the world" mentality that you get with creative Scots.

When we're together it's, "He's a writer therefore he drinks. I'm a singer therefore I drink" - which gives us an excuse to go further than we would in ordinary company. Not long ago, he came to my house and there was a lot of vodka and Red Bull flying around. Iain had never tried that combination and we just went for it. When we met, Iain was aware of my Marillion stuff, but if I like someone it's not obligatory that they have to like my music. I've invited him to join me on the tour bus some time and I know part of him would have loved to be a musician. I'd read The Wasp Factory before we met, and since then I've really enjoyed The Bridge and Complicity. I see a parallel between Iain's writing and my music: his books have a bit of fantasy, a bit of crime thriller; my new album's got drum'n'bass alongside beat poetry. He's a progressive writer in the way that I'm a progressive musician. He doesn't just follow a Patricia Cornwell vibe, taking the same characters and putting them into different situations. It's been really good to see Iain's profile developing over the years, but I envy the fact that his face does not have to be attached to his work, whereas with what I do that's unavoidable. I'd like to write novels or screenplays. Iain's the first real writer I've met, and through talking to him I've become more aware of the discipline you need, and the mechanics of writing. I think we both take the rough with the smooth pretty well when it comes to reviews of our work - though you can get toothache sometimes. We certainly don't go on about the critics when we're together.

Even though we don't live that far apart it's very difficult to get together as often as we'd like. I was on tour for eight months in 1997 and I thought about sending Iain matchbox-covers which said, "Hey, I'm still alive."

IAIN BANKS: When I created Weird, the rock star in my novel Espedair Street, I think Fish was at the back of my mind as a wee subliminal influence. After Fish read the book, we met up at his local. It was his physical presence that struck me most. I'm 6ft 1, and I'm always very impressed when someone's taller than me - and Fish has a big character to go with his size. He's got a leap- off-the-screen persona.

The friendship has developed on a liquid basis: we're both piss artists who enjoy alcoholic beverages and believe life is for having fun, if at all possible. Neither of us takes life too seriously, but I think Fish suffers fools less gladly than I do. He has a bit of a temper, which I have yet to incur.

I went to "the funny farm" - his home out at Hadd-ington - a while back with my agent and my wife, and got thoroughly sloshed on vodka and Red Bull and had to be sent to bed early by my wife. Dreadful. Fish is definitely a bad influence on me, but I've spent a lot of my life collecting people who I can blame for my own appalling behaviour. If I ever accepted his invitation to join him on tour for a while it would be very damaging for my liver. I couldn't handle the amount of travel he has to do for promotion and tours - 24 major European cities at a stretch. I just do a couple of two-week stints of publicity a year. My wife and I don't have children and I'm constantly amazed at how Fish manages such intensity alongside his family life.

Things have become a bit more relaxed for him now that he's got rid of the business side of his life. Until last year he'd been running his own record label and recording studio for five years, and having to deal with all the incumbent hassles. Now he's gone back to doing what he's really good at: being a singer. After everything that's happened in his career he's still got the desire to make music. In our work, the money we're making is less important than our ideas and enthusiasm. Neither of us wants to settle into an easy formula and just churn stuff out. We both like to show off, I suppose.

Fish was the first rock insider I met and the stories he's told me - most of them unrepeatable - make the music business sound even worse than I'd imagined. There are more arseholes out there than I'd thought. I never wanted to be a rock star, but I still harbour a really vague ambition to write music and find out if the tunes in my head are as good as I think. Unfortunately, I realised recently that if I buy one more guitar I'll own more guitars than I know chords. The lyrics I write aren't very good, frankly, and I've certainly never dared show them to Fish. But if he shows me a completed novel, I'll show him my crap songs.

Fish's latest album is 'Raingods With Zippos'. Iain Banks' novel 'The Business' will be published by Little, Brown in August

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