“I soon realised that to earn a living what you do is sit behind a desk and not on the other side”: Fish On Friday know the rules – but they’re still trying to break them

Fish on Friday
(Image credit: Press)

It’s been four years since Fish On Friday released the acclaimed Black Rain; and after a challenging period in his personal life, mainmain Frank Van Bogaert has returned with the heartfelt and atmospheric 8mm. He and bassist Nick Beggs discuss the unexpected inspiration behind what they describe as a milestone record.

Six albums into their career, multinational prog band Fish On Friday may well have just served up their finest effort to date. 8mm is a superbly crafted set, its expansive soundscapes shot through with beguiling hooks and sparkling melodies. 

Speaking from their respective homes in Belgium and England, Frank Van Bogaert (vocals, keys and guitars) and Nick Beggs (bass, Chapman Stick, vocals) are clearly excited about the band’s latest project.

“It was a pleasure to make,” enthuses Beggs. “It’s very hard to get music over in this day and age, because everybody’s making music. The media is saturated with new artists. But Fish On Friday have a core fanbase, which seems to be growing, and I think this album will really help.”

Before Beggs’ work in Steven Wilson’s band, Iona and Mute Gods, his big musical break came in the 80s. “I started playing for fun when I was 10 in a band at school,” he recalls. “It wasn’t until I met the guys that were in Art Nouveau, which went on to be Kajagoogoo, that the four of us decided to be professional musicians.”

It was their biggest hit that led to Van Bogaert contacting Beggs several decades later – signalling the start of their creative, and very productive, relationship. “We finished the first FoF album, Shoot The Moon [2010] and after that it evolved from a studio project to more of a band,” the guitarist explains. “I contacted Nick because we needed a bass line that was reminiscent of Kajagoogoo’s Too Shy.”

Van Bogaert’s roots are in prog and he’s been involved in the Belgian music scene since he was a teenager. He was just 18 when he founded the cult band, 1000 Ohm. “I grew up listening to Yes and Genesis,” he says, “then the new wave came along. By that time, we weren’t technically skilled enough to play prog: we had to evolve. So we started with simple new wave.”

With 1000 Ohm, he found himself spending more and more time at the mixing desk. It felt like a natural step, and having a degree in electronics didn’t hurt. “The band split in ’87,” he continues. “I soon realised that to earn a living what you do is sit behind a desk and not on the other side.”

Van Bogaert’s ACE Studio – where part of 8mm was recorded – soon became one of the busiest in the country; but the urge to create his own music never faded. Fish On Friday emerged after seven solo albums, quickly gained a reputation for elegantly crafted prog, with assistance from Californian guitarist Marty Townsend and Belgium-based drummer Marcus Weymaere.

Frank will put an arrangement together and ask me my opinion. I’ll usually throw a spanner in the works!

Nick Beggs

A great deal of FoF’s appeal stems from the quality of their songwriting. For Van Bogaert, building from firm foundations is the key. “We could easily play the songs acoustically, with piano and upright bass, and the song would still be there,” he says. “The idea is always that the song in its basic form has to be strong. Then you can make it sound big or small – whatever you feel it needs.” 

Beggs outlines the process: “Frank’s the chief songwriter. He’ll put a thumbnail of an arrangement together, fill it out with parts from Marty or Marcus, and ask me my opinion. I’ll usually throw a spanner in the works! He’ll very graciously say, ‘OK, I’ll take that under advisement,’ and rework it.”

Listening to the flowing lines on 8mm, it’s not surprising to learn that Van Bogaert starts compositions on grand piano. “It’s the kind of feeling,” he explains. “I can feel it upfront: this is going to be a creative day. I have to have some kind of idea about what I’m going to write. If I don’t, nothing will happen.”

One of the record’s most striking tracks, Collateral Damage, was inspired by the tragic and unexpected death of the his younger brother. “He died during the Covid lockdown,” says Van Bogaert. “If it hadn’t been lockdown, he would have gone to the hospital and would still be alive.”

I found a lot of old family movies. I started watching – the opening piece was written in half an hour

Frank Van Bogaert

Inspiration struck while clearing out his brother’s apartment. “I found a lot of 8mm tape reels of old family movies. I started watching – and I think the opening piece was written in less than half an hour. I’ve always tried to write about things that really happen around me. Most of the time it’s emotional things.”

The striking Don’t Lose Your Spirit, says Van Bogaert, “is about all the wars going on right now,” adding: “but I always tend to write lyrics that are open for interpretation, because I don’t like them to be straight in your face – that’s not my style.”

A contributing factor is the presence of singer Lula Beggs, who also featured on both Black Rain (2020) and Quiet Life (2017). “Frank asked me if I knew any good backing vocalists,” recounts Nick Beggs. “I said, ‘Well, there’s my daughter. She’s got a great soulful voice and I think she’ll fit in.’” Lula’s affecting vocals enhance the atmosphere on several tracks. Overall, the mix of light and shadow is striking and, for FoF, there’s a sense that they’ve captured something special.

Beggs Snr recalls: “I said to Frank, ‘You know, this is the best material you’ve written. These songs are really strong. This is really going to make a difference.’”

I loved Sabbath; I thought punk was incredible… it was all informing my ear. Everything you listen to is an influence

Nick Beggs

Van Bogaert, too, views the record as a milestone. “I can feel it right now,” he says. “I see reactions – everybody loves the album. I feel the fanbase is really growing. When we started making it, I was a little bit afraid that we wouldn’t make an album that was on a par with Black Rain. That’s why it took a bit longer, and that’s why I trusted Nick in his judgement. That’s why he’s been crowned co-producer!”

Beggs’ eclectic influences undoubtedly contribute to FoF’s singular sound. “My first hero was Olivia Newton-John,” he says. “I was totally in love with her. And Chicory Tip. Tubular Bells blew my mind; when you pick up that thread and follow it you get to prog and heavy metal. I loved Sabbath, I thought punk was incredible: The Sex Pistols, The Stranglers, The Slits – it was all informing my ear. Everything you listen to is an influence, either consciously or subconsciously.”

At the mention of Tubular Bells, Van Bogaert nods enthusiastically, adding: “There’s the Alan Parsons Project, which I’ve always admired – not only because of the writing of the songs, but the technical production. I’ll never forget the first time I heard their debut album, Tales Of Mystery And Imagination. That record opened things for me that I hadn’t heard before – the mix of big arrangements with pop and a sound that’s a wall.”

Listeners appreciative of that combination will find much to enjoy on 8mm, with its expansive and yet intimate soundscape. The music is crystal clear but never cold – and there’s a bit of magic at play, too.

“We’ve got a secret tool,” Van Bogaert says. “I mix everything on an analogue desk with all analogue gear. There are a lot of people who say, ‘Yeah, but I can do everything in a box on my laptop.’ It’s not the same. Going back to Alan Parsons, he still works this way also. I’m convinced it makes a difference.”

Chris Wheatley

Chris Wheatley is an author and writer based in Oxford, UK. You can find his writing in Prog magazine, Vintage Rock, Longreads, What Culture, Songlines, Loudwire, London Jazz News and many other websites and publications. He has too many records, too many guitars, and not enough cats.