I’m relatively new to Fish On Friday, but I’m also happy to admit that as soon as I first heard some of their music it immediately struck a chord, as I drew a comparison with The Alan Parsons Project, in particular the ’80s era. It’s certainly not the first time that that comparison has been made. For those unfamiliar with Fish On Friday, they hark back to circa 2009 and have been described as ‘Art Pop Rock / Progressive Rock’; I might be slightly contentious when I say “far more of the former”, but there is a lot to like here for fans of progressive music, and they would certainly appeal to a wider audience. They certainly appeal to me – a lot.
What we have here is the band’s sixth album, 8mm. Three years in the making and recorded predominantly through the 2020/2021 lockdowns, a period of time seen as an opportunity for creativity, in a new personalised studio space built by Frank Van Bogaert, the creative lead of the band. He delightfully refers to his studio space, not just as the Fish On Friday Studio but also ‘Friends of Frank’. His band colleagues, Marty Townsend on guitars, Nick Beggs on bass and vocals and Marcus Weymaere on drums certainly fall into that category.
At the risk of making more comparisons, much of this album has a Blackfield/Steven Wilson feel to it. The emphasis is on melodic song-writing, supported by sweet-as-a-nut vocal harmonies, very different from traditional prog-rock virtuosity. They’ve even been described as ‘female-friendly’; crikey, more of that please! There are some engaging instrumentals and demonstrations of highly skilled musicianship, all beautifully produced by Frank and Nick in Frank’s bespoke studio. Between them, they have produced a sound that is right up there with the best and I, personally, can only hope that we will – one day – see this as a vinyl release to get the very most out of it.
The album starts with the title track, 8mm. A sentimental and nostalgic track, it reminds us of the pleasures of the early analogue home video/moving image format and memories of family and friends long gone. Rich and deep, I sense a very personal connection, perhaps with a tinge of regret, all the while recognising that one can’t turn back time, with lyrics such as “Does it matter anymore?” Even that line has a sense of positivity about it. It’s an opener that immediately sets the mind spinning before easing us into Collateral Damage, which opens with a tinkle of the ivories, followed by a reassuring percussive beat and steady vocals before the guitar themes take centre stage.
Overture to Flame (written by Duncan Browne and Sean Lyons) and Flame (written by Peter Godwin) deserve special mention. This is the first time the band have recorded a cover, the original coming from ’70s band Metro, and the band have managed to retain the funky vibe of the unmistakeable ’70s original. Whilst it is uncannily similar, Fish On Friday have succeeded in integrating their own modern sound. And it got the seal of approval from Peter Godwin, so it has to be rather special, doesn’t it? There’s lots of instrumental variety, very progressive if you will, all the musicians given their time to shine, before the glorious tender vocals kick in, all the while supported by a fine mix of acoustic and electric guitars, almost in the style of Spanish a cappella. The song has a very Mediterranean feel and I can’t quite work out whether this is a love song, a lament about a sad episode in a young girl’s life or encouragement to break away from prejudice; what do you think?
I feel so sad you got burned so very young
And I wish I had your free freak body
Before any other…”
Well they shiver in their ancient skins and say it isn’t natural
They’re so guilty in their primal sin, their hatred is irrational,
But you’ll undermine that sad disease, although it’s international.”
Keys take over with the recurring theme and the final section has an uplifting racy orchestral beat and extended guitar solo to close. It’s a delightful modern take on a beautiful song from nearly 50 years past.
Jump This Wall is superb pop rock with an infectious beat, quite probably my favourite on the album. The song starts with an anticipatory introduction, before a catchy vocal section referencing lockdown and the escape from it. Nick Beggs takes on the lead vocal: “I’m havin’ a ball…”, that leaves me with a persistent earworm. There’s a lovely instrumental mid-section, note-worthy bass riff (this is Nick all over – remember Kajagoogoo’s Too Shy?), tight drums, rhythmic keys, some sax and flute notes from Theo Travis (but very different from his Soft Machine style), and a balanced mix of lead and acoustic guitar. I love the references to some of our departed friends:
By the way, how is Prince… Prince
And how is Bill Withers doing, are they in a band together, down by the Mississippi River.”
Don’t Lose Your Spirit and Funerals have a close similarity to the rock jazz sound of Acoustic Alchemy (highly recommended if you don’t know of them). Spanish guitar fills the air with the former track breaking into classic AOR rock. It has a steady beat and engaging rhythm. The closing section is a peach, a quiet keys and ethereal vocal solo exclusively from Frank, and one of the best parts of the whole album:
Until it’s missed, until it’s gone…”
The latter track is the longest new song, dominated by rich vocals. It’s about the peculiarity of meeting long lost loves rarely, seemingly only at funerals. It’s not a sad song, far from it, but it is a reminder that we should all try to connect more with the people whom we have a love for. The opening vocals have excellent stereo separation giving the track depth and breadth. The mid-section instrumental is filled with more contemporary Spanish guitar jazz, cocktails on the beach whilst watching the setting sun, closing with spacey synth solo.
Silently Raging introduces spoken word before Nick’s daughter, Lula, shines on lead vocals. I very much like the inclusion of spoken word with sung vocals; it adds a new dimension to the song about how we are all under observation from CCTV cameras and the frustrations and difficulties in preserving our own privacy. The steady repetitive beat sits easily with the theme of moving slowly under the gaze of cameras, as we fume that our every move is being watched:
Yes it makes us silently moving”
Instillers is a song about reflection away from negativity and focusing on the positives in life. It has an engaging digital piano start, with drum machine providing an essential beat and vocals telling the story. Nick’s bass line is prominent and Marcus’ drums drive the song to a satisfying conclusion with echo-infused vocals and more drum machine. This is a very appealing tune. A New Home feels like a suitable album finisher, orchestral in parts, but we’re not there quite yet… The vocals here are the most prominent from both Frank and Lula in a very engaging duet about coming back together and settling down.
Life is Like the Weather is a true delight to bring this uplifting album to a close. Nick again takes on the lead vocals on this short track, acting almost like a coda for the full album theme. It has a folky acoustic background and is a beautiful closeout to an excellent feel-good album. Nick’s other daughter, Willow, has prepared a delightful animated video to accompany the track; a must watch, if you please.
I’ve listened to this album a lot over the weeks and it continues to be more engaging with every listen. Chock full of nostalgia, but with an up-beat theme, despite those themes being peppered with melancholy and tinged with sadness. One is left feeling happy and positive at the end. They have a desire to play live, but are realistic, as there are geographical limitations, what with Marty living in California, Nick in UK and Frank and Marcus in Belgium. They also need a promotor who can take charge of securing a large number of dates to make it worthwhile for this international band. I hope they can find a way, because (with proper promotion) they would attract a full audience. I’d be there like a shot.
01. 8mm (4:43)
02. Collateral Damage (4:19)
03. Overture to Flame (1:45)
04. Flame (7:46)
05. Jump This Wall (5:54)
06. Don’t Lose Your Spirit (5:43)
07. Funerals (7:39)
08. Silently Raging (4:11)
09. Instillers (5:23)
10. A New Home (4:27)
11. Life is Like the Weather (2:29)
Total Time – 54:18
Frank Van Bogaert – Vocals, Keyboards, Electric Guitars
Nick Beggs – Bass, Chapman Stick, Upright Bass, Vocals
Marty Townsend – Acoustic & Electric Guitars
Marcus Weymaere – Drums, Percussion
Lula Beggs – Vocals (tracks 6,8 & 10)
Theo Travis – Flute, Sax (track 5)
Sofie Dykmans – Backing Vocals (track 5)