Review – Fish on Friday – 8mm by John Wenlock- Smith

Often it seems to me that I review albums from the same bands on a regular basis. Whilst this may have some event of truth, it’s more because I have found the sort of prog that appeals to me the most. This is probably the reason why I have reviewed all five previous Fish On Friday studio releases, originally for DPRP, latterly TPA and now for Progradar. This can make these reviews a bit similar but then the bands sound has not changed greatly since their debut ‘Shoot The Moon’, although there have been changes, especially when Nick Beggs joined the band. ‘8mm’ is their new album, and the first since 2020’s ‘Black Rain’ album and, whilst that had a darker tone in part because of the pandemic, this one is a lot more upbeat with some great songs.

As with all previous FoF albums, there is a lot of lightness of touch in the playing and, once again, the ghost of The Alan Parsons Project is seldom very distant. This time the addition of Nick Beggs as co-producer has paid significant dividends, as do his vocals that add and weave well with those of Frank Van Bogaert. The additional voice of Lula Beggs on several tracks also adds to the overall consistency of the album.

The album begins with the track 8mm which is a song of memories or loss of a loved one. It is quite gentle and downbeat, although it does build in intensity as it continues. Collateral Damage has excellent bass/Chapman Stick from Nick that powers the song along. Again, this track is about relationships and how we can damage each other at times. Then we have cover from 1970’s band Metro’s self-titled 1977 album that impacted upon Frank and so he chose to highlight this much forgotten band on this album by covering the track Flames. This has been done in a respectful and intelligent way by not changing very much, apart from giving the songs both a platform along with a better production value. Overture To Flames has some chunky, funky riffing and a good bass-heavy part over sequencers. It is mainly instrumental apart from ethereal voices and has a picked guitar and strong bass notes. It is only a short, but very atmospheric and leads into Flames itself and a delicate vocal part.

Then we have a different style of collaboration with a Flemish musician Sofie Dykmans, who heard a piece played during lockdown and contacted the band, offering to write some lyrics for the track, with the song Jump This Wall being the result. This is a bit of an epic with lots of massed keyboard swathes and a strident step to it. Lots of good rumbling bass lines in the song help the song have pulse and pace in equal measure, A delicate flute part from Theo Travis assists in this track before yielding to a saxophone solo, again by Theo, that adds grace. Hopefully they could write together again as this track is great. This is followed by the harder, more propulsive, track Don’t Lose Your Spirit with a good descending riff, Hammond Organ and a busy bass part playing to the audience. A great fluid guitar line is played before the song switches tack and vocals commence. The song is about changes, possibly climate change, and how we wont notice fully until it is too late.

Funerals is actually rather quirky, as it deals with two people who only ever seem to see each other at funerals. It’s a song of unrequited wanting and longing for another. Lyrically it is very interesting and slightly unsettling, although the more upbeat dancing section works very well, as does the acoustic guitar instrumental that floats over it all. The song then returns to its previous tempo but overall this is a winner of a track and greatly impresses. With Fish On Friday you have to dig beneath the surface to get to the heart of the music and it’s a very rewarding listening experience when you do. Silently Raging follows, this has Lula Beggs sharing lead vocals to great effect. Instillers is a quieter, more downbeat, song and is very, initially at least, before a Chapman Stick part is played which increases the volume greatly, adding power to track which is itself a plea for us to instil positive values to our world and peace, grace and love towards each other.

The penultimate track is A New Home, which is another very atmospheric track with more superb bass accompaniment and slide guitar sounds over sweeping synthesisers and keyboards. Again, there is the call for love to be shown and cultivated in our lives. This track has a most effective and fabulous sound where Lula Beggs vocals feature once more and she does a great job. The final song, Life Is Like The Weather, acts as a wonderful conclusion to the album as it recalls past friendships and how they change, hopefully for the better. It is a beautiful and gentle end to another strong album from this extremely talented multi-national band with members from Holland, the U.K and the USA. As with previous releases the artwork, graphics and production are exemplary and add greatly to the look of the album. For me this one is definitely another Winner.

Released 27th October, 2023.

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Fish On Friday: 8mm, CD – Cherry Red Records

Review – Fish on Friday – Black Rain by John Wenlock-Smith

‘Black Rain’ is the fifth full length album from Belgian/UK/US outfit Fish on Friday, although there was a compilation last year called ‘Initiation’ that included a non album track (Wings) but acted as a fine introduction to this little-known band.

I have been a follower of the band from hearing their first album – ‘Shoot the Moon’ – in 2010 which I Reviewed for DPRP and where I was highly impressed by their superior song writing abilities. Their second album ‘Airborne’ (2012) added Nick Beggs on bass and chapman stick which rounded the sound out more evenly.

Their third album ‘Godspeed’ was their first for the Esoteric label. This was released in 2014, their last full album was 2017’s ‘Quiet Life’ which, again, was another welcome set of songs. This release also introduced some longer songs that gave room for the group to stretch out more. It also introduced the world to the fabulous voice of Nick’s daughter Luka Beggs who sang on a track and who adds her vocals to four of the songs on the new release.

Once again, the artwork and sleeve are significantly tied into the themes of the album. As always these are impressive and impeccable, adding real value to the album.

The album is a real grower and will need several spins for it to click, which personally suits me as albums that you grow into tend to be those that have greater depth and resonance.

That is certainly true here, opener Life In Towns has some fabulous bass lines from Nick Beggs and some lovely guitar from Marty Townsend that add shade and colour to a song about the loneliness and impersonality that town life can often bring. The spoken part from Nick tells you much about how he feels about towns and how they smother him. The second track, and the albums longest at 8:13, is a song about living on the edge. On Murderous Island Highway Nick lays down some driving basslines to power the song along and there is also some quite ethereal sounding guitar lines which bring to mind the guitar work on David Gilmour, especially in the solo at the 4.00 minute mark. Marty is really stretching out here and Frank’s keyboards offer strong support to proceedings. The song is a slow burner which really grows the more (and louder) that you hear it, it is a strong, remarkable and imaginative piece of music.

Title track Black Rain is, again, about isolation and also frustration at how life has treated you. This sombre song is lifted by the trio of backing vocalists whose voices lift the song, especially in the chorus of “All you’re giving me is black rain…” . This song again is really impressive and well handled by all. Mad At The World opens with deep synths before switching to piano and taking on a quite strident tone. It deals with the disappointments one faces in life. The wonder here is how this band make such sad songs sound so impossibly joyous and so relevant and enticing and is in itself a real gift, such sad themes and yet such fabulous music. This really is top drawer stuff and, as a bonus, there is some very fluid sweet guitar from Marty to really ice the cake, as it were.

Letting Go of You features some lovely clarinet from Theo Travis, alongside some gentle acoustic guitar from Marty and a great vocal from Luka Beggs. It’s a song that tells us that we could call on every angel and is about letting go of someone that has gone and giving you hope to carry on. Angel of Mercy follows a similar theme, pleading that we are not made to wait too long for heavenly assistance, again another powerful song.

We’ve Come Undone is another stunner, opening with a distorted guitar chord and gentle piano before strong vocals give strident pace to the song. This track also has some powerful bass parts to it, the chorus is also very strong. The urgent pace continues throughout the song with some great dynamics that add a good punch to the music. Another stand out track from the band and with more excellent guitar adding to proceedings making it a fabulous song that ends on some stylish synth notes.

We Choose to be Happy is amore upbeat song both in its pace and in its lyrical content. The track is about choosing to be happy and not letting the past deter you, it’s a choice we can all make and it’s an uplifting, feel-good track. Trapped In Heaven is the penultimate track and this one is about being in love and how that love can trap you and imprison you so beware of such relationships. This song features one of Marty’s best solos in it too and features some great bass flourishes from Nick.

Final track Diamonds opens with keyboards and a sole vocal from Frank until Luka joins in on the chorus, her distinctive voice matching Franks in both pitch and intensity. The musicianship very impressive and the song ends with Luka asking ‘when you are getting me a kitten?’ Presumably it’s aimed at her father but brings this fabulous album to a fabulous finish.

This album really takes the band forward, crafting songs of value and emotional impact. It really satisfies and impresses and I heartily recommend this to all who like the more pop end of progressive rock, the music of the Alan Parson’s Project or simply good music as it offers all that and more.

Released 15th May 2020

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Review – Fish on Friday – Quiet Life – by James R Turner

This is the fourth release from Belgian born prog band Fish on Friday, and see’s them stretching their musical wings even further, having coalesced around the founding members William Beckers & Frank Van Boagaert, the line up now includes one of prog’s hardest working bassists Nick Beggs, Californian guitarist Marty Townsend and Marcus Weymaere.

Following on from 2014s Godspeed (also released on Esoteric Antenna) it takes the musical sound of accessible prog (very much in the vein of the Alan Parsons Project, Big Big Train etc) further down their journey.

With the band being introduced to Alan Parsons, one track, the wonderfully haunting In the Key of Silence, was recorded by Alan at Abbey Road, and he even adds his vocals to the track, whilst another of prog’s hard working men, Lonely Robot’s John Mitchell, adds some of his wonderfully fluid guitar work to the track.

The key to the band’s success is their songwriting, as, whilst it’s obvious plenty of hard work goes into crafting such a well realised album of this, from the outside it is like the swan gliding across the lake, we can see the beauty and the majesty and can’t see all the kicking under water as it glides effortlessly into our ears.

This album is also a grower, it’s one of those records where after two or three listens the hooks work their way into your mind, and you find yourself humming tunes, or singing the lyrics, and each listen you get more and more out of it, like a well written novel or intricately crafted piece of art, it reveals more of it’s secrets the more you listen to it.

It also makes a massive contrast from Nick Beggs’ other album release this year, the far darker and angrier Mute Gods ‘Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth’, and his work on here is the ying to that’s yang. Restrained, fluid, and intuitive, this is Beggs at calm, and just because it’s a calmer album it doesn’t mean there’s no power behind it.

With tracks as emotive as the powerful MH17 all about the downed Malaysian Airlines flight that was shot down over the Ukraine, the lyrics mix the anger and grief, and with some truly beautiful work by both Theo Travis adding his unique sound to the song, and female vocals by Chantal Kashala and Nina Babet, this is remarkable track by anyone’s standards.

Unreal, has shades of Floyd in there with some truly wonderful lyrics and a blinding guitar finale, whilst Nick Beggs daughter Lula adds her superb voice to tracks Sweet Love and Quiet Life.

The female harmonies throughout this album are sublime and add so much to the tracks that they appear on, working so well with Frank Van Boagaert’s understated, yet powerful vocal range, and I’ve known a track that is so calm and chilled, bristling with so much anger in the vocals as You’ve Hurt Me, with it’s mighty chorus and emotive lyrics.

This album runs the whole gamut of human emotion and this is in part due to the finely observed vocals and the superbly sympathetic vocals, in fact it is an immersive album, one you need to listen to and lose yourself in for the whole hour.

Fish on Friday are steadily building themselves a strong following, and you can see why on records as uniformly strong as this, and the calibre of their guests shows the quality of the band.

This is a fine successor to a great album, and should push Fish on Friday up there to where they belong.

Released 26th May 2017

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