Fischer-Z are a British rock band formed in 1976 by John Watts and Steve Skolnik at Brunel University, Uxbridge. The original line-up consisted of Watts (vocals, guitar), Skolnik (keyboards), David Graham (bass) and Steve Liddle (drums).
The band's name is pronounced "fɪʃə zɛd" (fisher zed), a pun on "fish's head" with the "h" dropped, as is usual in many British regional accents. The pun also relies on leaving the "r" unpronounced as in common British non-rhotic accents.
Fischer-Z's first hit single was "The Worker" from the album Word Salad. In an interview in Record Mirror in 1981, Watts put the single's success down to the remix of the song from the album version, which put the emphasis on the keyboards rather than his guitar.
Skolnik departed after their second album Going Deaf for a Living, leaving Watts to take over keyboards.
Watts' lyrics draw heavily on his experiences of studying clinical psychology and as a mental health care worker. Several songs on their third album Red Skies Over Paradise in 1981, such as "Berlin" and "Red Skies Over Paradise" were about the Cold War and the song "Cruise Missiles" was about the nuclear arms race and the mutual threat of the superpowers with nuclear war. Fischer-Z were more popular in mainland Europe than their native UK, especially in Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Portugal (two top 10 hits and a No. 3 album). Fischer-Z were also successful in Australia, where they achieved two Top 20 hits with "So Long" from the album Going Deaf for a Living and "The Perfect Day" from Reveal.
After the album Red Skies over Paradise Watts dissolved the band in mid-1981, deciding his art could not evolve within a band context.
Watts released his solo debut One More Twist in 1982 followed by The Iceberg Model in 1983. Also during 1982 David Graham teamed up with guitarist Mike Francis in The Yes Men only to part company early the following year. In 1984 John Watts formed the band The Cry with Mike Been, David Graham and Theo Thunder, this album placed an emphasis on crucial groove elements and was produced by Jimmy Douglass. In 1988 Watts released the Reveal album under the name Fischer-Z, a new band with the same name in which he was the only original member, although Skolnik made a minor contribution to one track. The second album in this Fischer-Z period, Fish's Head included the "Say No" single with a politically charged black & white Nick Brandt music video which was banned by their record label on the grounds of it potentially "endangering the lives of their employees worldwide". In this period Watts performed to 167,000 people at a Peace Festival in East Berlin along with James Brown and he was interviewed about Thatcherism on German national news.
There was a 2004 reunion of the original band for one short show which featured on the Garden Party DVD which was released along with the Fischer-Z Highlights 1979-2004 25th anniversary compilation album.
Real Life Is Good Enough (2005) was a noisy two-piece, electric guitar and drums album made with Sam Walker. It was compared with The Black Keys early albums. The sister album, It Has To Be (2006), consisted of tunes drawn from his interaction with strangers encountered in ten different European countries who shared some of their life experiences. He wrote a song for each of them. The album package included poems and short stories written by Watts. The Morethanmusic album (2010) added a kaleidoscope of orchestral and filmic colour to Watts’ work and included the single Head On, inspired by his observation of a seven-year old child watching the live execution of Saddam Hussein on a mobile phone. Watts made a film to accompany each track on the Morethanmusic album.
The This is My Universe album, released in 2016 included the track Martha Thargill where Watts revisits the miners’ strike 30 years on. The title track This is My Universe brings together his music, poetry and philosophy of life to great dynamic effect. He casts a dark and rueful eye over love and marriage in the pop single Just-a-Man and creates a manifesto for the proactive and genuine romantic in Just Like Justice. His recurring political themes appear once again in the songs Tale of Bales and Winston.
Next year is a milestone in the Fischer-Z journey; the 40th anniversary of the band’s first show, the release of a 20th studio album and the pulling together of Fischer-Z in a continuous timeline from 1977-2017. ‘Building Bridges’ is the provisional title of the new work containing songs about the major challenges of our time; to build bridges over religious divides, between political left and right, between rich and poor and the conflicting attitudes toward global migration.