An Initiation (2010 – 2017) is a new compilation from Fish on Friday and serves as a fine introduction for those unfamiliar with the band. For the ‘uninitiated’, the most well-known member of this international band based in Belgium is Rock bassist extraordinaire, Nick Beggs, whom has played with Steve Hackett, Steven Wilson and the Mute Gods. His recruitment as a full band member for the two most recent Fish on Friday albums is testament to the quality of their material as Mr Beggs clearly has quite a pedigree and can pick and choose with whom he collaborates. The two main creative figures driving Fish on Friday are lyricist Frank Van Bogaert and fellow keyboardist William Beckers, with whom Bogaert writes most of the music. They met at Bogaert’s studio in 2009 and discovering their shared love of progressive rock led to them forming Fish on Friday. Ten years and four albums in to their career is a good time for the band to take stock and showcase their best material.
An Initiation takes songs from all four albums but has more of a focus on their two most recent albums with four songs each taken from Godspeed and Quiet Life. Their first album Shoot the Moon is only represented by two songs and 2012’s Airborne is represented by three songs. The final song on the album is the previously unreleased song Wings. As with all compilations there is a clear intention to attract those unfamiliar with the band with a selection of their best songs, and to present something existing fans may also appreciate.
So is it worth getting this compilation?
Bogaert’s experience as a producer and his drive for perfection are shown in the sonic clarity and quality of all the well-crafted songs. For those wondering what sort of music this band produces then it may help to point to the fact that the renowned producer and artist Alan Parsons produces one of the songs, In the Key of Silence, taken from 2017’s Quiet Life album. Parsons also provides backing vocals, alongside a fine cameo on guitar from John Mitchell of Frost* and Lonely Robot (amongst others!) for a song recorded at the legendary Abbey Road studios. Henry Ylen’s subtle saxophone adds to this atmospheric and melodic song, and one can hear why Fish on Friday have often been compared to the Alan Parsons Project. Working with Parsons was probably a dream come true for Bogaerts and Beckers and it is understandable why a song associated with such a figure as Alan Parsons was placed on this compilation, but in my view there are even better songs on Quiet Life, such as the more expansive Unreal or the elegiac Mh 17 , that were probably more worthy of inclusion on this compilation, but that’s a minor quibble. It is always the quandary of a compilation – no two people will agree on which songs belong on a definitive selection! If readers of this review are curious about those other songs they can also go on to explore the excellent Quiet Life album in full.
An Inititiation is not strictly chronological but does start with a trio of songs from their first two albums Shoot the Moon and Airborne. The songs from these two earlier releases are personally of more interest to this reviewer as I have yet to hear those albums, and what I have heard on this compilation encourages me towards obtaining those albums. That will not be an uncommon reaction for fans who have only more lately discovered them on their two more recent albums as Shoot the Moon and Airborne do not seem as easily available.
The opening trio of songs help to exemplify what is attractive about this band. Welcome from Airborne appropriately welcomes us in to the melodic rock world of Fish on Friday as the clockwork industrial noises intro develop in to a loping piano roll and then opens out in to a bright and happy space. Horn sounds, writhing synths and female backing vocals add to the celebratory feel of this love song, which has hints of Supertramp. In contrast the remarkable Shoot the Moon, from the 2010 debut album of the same name, is a much darker piece which commences with sound clips of a 911 emergency call over a driven, throbbing backing. Soft vocals and a slide guitar take up the melody which focuses on domestic violence and dreams of escape and revenge. This is a bitter sweet song dealing with a negative issue but presented in a fine melodic framework. This fine song builds and builds in power with tremendous backing vocals from Dany Caen and Chantal Kashala and then it recedes to a fading acoustic guitar under their vocals. Angels Never Die from Airborne completes the fine opening trio of earlier songs with a chunky bass from Bert Embrechts and a tinkling piano opening. A hypnotic melody and earworm chanted hooklines, with echoes of Talk Talk, are of a sadly prophetic nature in a world of fake news and environmental concerns:
Living in a World where the Angels Die, Living in a World where our Bed’s on Fire
Where do we go when our Angels Die, What do we do when our Truth’s a Lie
The quality gets even better with perhaps the best song on the album – the gorgeous She Colours the Rainbow about the fantasy world imagined by a person watching his loved one in a coma. It’s simply heart-breaking. Their third album Godspeed is additionally represented by the excellent Godspeed, Sanctuary and Callin’ Planet Home. Godspeed is the most expansive song on this compilation with some hints of Yes and excellent harmony vocals. The swooping flutes of Theo Travis and the interweaving soaring guitars of Marty Townsend feature on the catchy and stirring Callin’ Planet Home. Defiant ‘mini-epic’ Sanctuary is one of the most ambitious pieces on Godspeed driven along by the powerful and measured drumming of Marcus Weymaere and the now trademark fine harmony vocals. Yet again Townsend excels on guitar and Beggs contributes great bass guitar. This set of songs from one album also underlines why sometimes a compilation helps to highlight the more outstanding achievements of a band as they are fine songs and undoubtedly the best songs from Godspeed, but we have also been spared the far less impressive Godspeed album songs such as Just a Nightmare, Radio and the sentimental My Dog.
Quiet Life is undoubtedly their most consistent and most emotional album, apparently inspired by personal loss. Apart from the aforementioned Alan Parsons produced song there is the surprise inclusion of Nick Beggs’ daughter, Lula Beggs, on the lovely rolling rock of Sweet Love, whose more indie rock type voice gives more substance to rather lighter Gilmour-esque vocals from Van Bogaert. Lula Beggs comes in to her own when she sweetly takes over the vocals on the slowly building Quiet Life. This lovely song balances forlorn words over a strangely but captivating positive backing, suggesting the solace of withdrawal to a quiet place in times of sadness. Get Up is the final song from Quiet Life and feels like a fairly simple and unremarkable soft rock song which for this reviewer reflects another aspect of this band. Similarly to other songs like Airborne and All Falls in to Place sometimes Fish on Friday can feel almost too smooth and they could occasionally benefit from a little more ‘grit’ to give some of their songs more substance to develop in to ‘pearls’. However, to be fair they are far from poor songs and many will take more pleasure from them.
The question remains – is it worth getting this compilation?
For existing fans who may have all four albums there is only one unreleased song on here called Wings… it’s ‘OK’ but not outstanding (and sometimes songs are ‘unreleased’ for a reason.) The artwork on the album by Michael Karcz, which incorporates elements of previous album covers, is very attractive. However, the nice but simple package does not have lyrics or sleeve notes, (which may have helped explain the origins of Wings for instance?) Sleeve notes may have also provided interesting insights for old and new fans. Therefore, for already fully committed fans one may have to conclude this is not an ‘essential’ release, (although the ‘completists’ will inevitably be keen to complete the collection). As mentioned previously, this album may encourage some listeners without some of the albums, particularly the earlier releases, to explore those other albums.
For new listeners interested in well written catchy melodic progressive rock songs, with echoes of Alan Parsons, Supertramp and even Tears for Fears but their own distinctive smooth style, then this collection is definitely worth entering into as an ‘Initiation’ into this band. Fish on Friday delight in producing fine melodic progressive rock music and clearly have the talent to write and perform accessible, enjoyably layered and fine rock/pop songs with a progressive edge… what more would you want?
01. Welcome (5:26)
02. Shoot The Moon (5:10)
03. Angels Never Die (4:14)
04. She Colours The Rainbow (3:38)
05. Airborne (5:15)
06. Godspeed (10:16)
07. Sweet Love (4:40)
08. Sanctuary (8:08)
09. In The Key Of Silence (5:36)
10. Quiet Life (6:08)
11. Callin’ Planet Home (5:19)
12. Get Up (5:54)
13. All Falls Into Place (4:50)
14. Wings (3:45) (Previously Unreleased)
Toat Time – 78:34
Frank Van Bogaert – Vocals, Piano, Hammond, Keyboards, additional Guitars
William Beckers – Keyboards, Percussion
Nick Beggs – Bass Guitar, Chapman Stick, Backing Vocals
Marty Townsend – Electric and Acoustic Guitars
Marcus Weymaere – Drums, Percussion
Lula Beggs – Vocals (7 & 10)
Alan Parsons – Backing Vocals (9)
Theo Travis – Flutes (11)
Henri Ylen – Saxophone (9)
John Mitchell – Guitars (9)
Bert Embrechts – Bass Guitar (3 & 14)
Robin Aerts – Bass Guitar (2)
Dany Caen – Backing Vocals (1, 2 , 3, 5, 6, 11 & 14)
Nina Babet – Backing Vocals (6, 8 & 12)
Chantal Kashala – Backing Vocals (1, 2, 8, 11, 12 & 14)
Quiet Life (2017)
Shoot The Moon (2010)