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The man who brings light to the shadows


DEEP: Gerard Whelan, who performs as Jerry Fish, singing at Windmill. Photo: Kyran O’Brien

DEEP: Gerard Whelan, who performs as Jerry Fish, singing at Windmill. Photo: Kyran O’Brien

DEEP: Gerard Whelan, who performs as Jerry Fish, singing at Windmill. Photo: Kyran O’Brien

Jerry Fish looks like a spy who has just parachuted in behind enemy lines during World War II and is on the run from the Nazis. His moustache is also presently on the run from each angle of his face.

I could have sworn that the aforesaid bicycle-moustache-on-acid actually vibrates a bit whenever he speaks - which is frequently, as the former mad messiah with An Emotional Fish (the lamented group from the late 80s who were signed to U2's Mother label and went on to have a mini global hit with Celebrate) has a lot to say.

I've often wondered precisely where Gerard Whelan ends and his alter ego Jerry Fish begins.

"To be honest, the lines are blurred," he says in a quick break between takes at The Windmill Lane Sessions for Independent.ie (He has just recorded a sensuous rendition of Daniel Johnston's The Story of an Artist.)

"Jerry Fish has become my professional thing. He's kind of a clown. It is kind of who I am when I step on stage. And Gerard Whelan is really a family man," he says of his wife and kids.

"My mother calls me Gerard. And anybody that knows me, my family, they all call me Gerard. But Jerry Fish, even for me, is kind of a funny character."

"The Pogues used to always call me Jerry Fish when I was in An Emotional Fish. So when I released Be Yourself," he says of his debut solo album from 2002, "and I came out as an Independent artist, I thought: 'Call it Jerry Fish' - because people would remember from An Emotional Fish. So Jerry Fish!

"And my mother - you can't call her Mrs Fish! She'll say: 'I'm not Mrs Fish'. So that's a different thing. She's Chrissie. Not Chrissie Fish!

"The family are from Ringsend. We're from the river. So I imagine that part of my genes were from pirates who were hung on Misery Hill. So that's all rolled into the Jerry Fish character..."

Gory, strung-up pirates notwithstanding, Jerry believes he inherited "the clowning and trying to make everybody feel a bit better about their day" from his mother.

Jerry describes that sense within himself as "a form of insecurity, and I guess that's what a lot of performers and entertainers play on - their own insecurities."

"I am not very good with quiet," he continues - which shouldn't surprise anyone who has ever visited his semi-legendary The Jerry Fish Electric Sideshow at Electric Picnic.

When he comes off the stage as Jerry Fish and goes back into the quiet of being Gerard Whelan, does a sadness sometimes descend?

"I'm very comfortable with who I am," he answers. "They are just different characters. People used to say that when I stepped onstage I turned into this other being, and that was Jerry Fish. I think the two have become one now in a way."

To paraphrase a line from one of his songs, do the shadows follow Jerry Fish?

"I think the shadows follow everybody. I think they are part of what we all are. I think our biggest fear is not of darkness, but of light. But I think it is very easy to slip into the darkness, into the shadows...For me, anyway," he smiles.

"I think it takes maintenance to see the light and focus on positive things."

Is there artistic creativity in the darkness?

"I think that's a little false to be honest. There is definitely something in the shadows as long as you can bring light to the shadows. But I think to go there on purpose - no, I stopped doing that..."

Someone who went to the darkness and sadly didn't come back was Kurt Cobain, a particular hero of Jerry Fish's.

"I think when the world lost Kurt Cobain, the arse dropped out of a lot of things. Everything seemed to get very commercial."

To hear the full interview with Jerry Fish, plus two exclusive songs, see independent.ie/windmill

Sunday Independent