At least one UCB Cross Rhythms presenter considers 'Neworldisorder' by PHATFISH the best release of '96. Louise Hunt, singer with the university circuit favourites, spoke to Steve Cox.
Those hip to the pulsating acid jazz rhythms of Phatfish will no doubt be striving to get to the front of the Cross Rhythms '97 Mega Tent crowd come July. For during their three-year career, they've caused quite a ripple on the University scene and with the great mass of Stoneleigh Bible Week devotees. But, herein lies the dilemma for any pigeon-holing journalist: Phatfish, acid jazz, funky 'music-with-a-groove' university band, or contemporary worship pioneers of the Stoneleigh kind? Hopefully, all will be revealed but, before confronting such weighty matters, I asked 22 year-old lead singer, Louise Hunt, the question on everybody's lips - why the name Phatfish?
"We used to be called Purple Phatfish," Louise began. "It came from a key ring of a big fat fish which was purple, and we thought that would be a good name for a band. Then, we dropped the name purple and became Phatfish, so there's no deep spiritual significance."
Usually, this ice-breaking question is consigned to the waste bin of useless trivia, but the name contributes to the band's apparent schizophrenic musical identity; should they combine their Stoneleigh Worship Band persona with their funkier, Phatfish sound so popular on the University circuit? To put this into some kind of spiritual context, Louise took me back to the birth of the band.
"Four of the guys were going to Church Of Christ The King, which is a New Frontiers church in Brighton. About 20 years ago renowned worship leader and songwriter, Dave Fellingham, had this vision about a band who would go into pubs, clubs and Universities to be salt and light. About September 1993, he felt it was the time to start. So, the four guys got together and began looking for a keyboard player and a singer."
Louise was 19 and working with Youth For Christ when Dave Fellingham noticed her fronting the YFC house band, TVB. In January 1994, Louise gave up her job in Crawley to join the band and work, full time, in the church on the worship side. Ironically, Plymouth-based Mike Sandeman was a member of the same Youth For Christ house band in the previous year. After meeting Dave Fellingham he, too, moved to Brighton to become the band's keyboard player.
The Fellingham dynasty is well represented with Nathan on drums and Luke playing bass. But the band is not just an extension of the Fellingham family tree. Adrian Watts plays percussion and writes most of the lyrics, while Mike Blow is lead guitarist. Yet, with a famous Christian figure lurking in the background, I couldn't help wondering what role Mr Fellingham Senior played.
"We actually rehearse at Dave's house, so he's around quite a lot," Louise replied. "He's kind of a spiritual overseer, but he doesn't interfere too much. Every now and again he'll pop up and we'll have a prayer time and talk things through with him. We discuss big decisions with him. Obviously he's involved because we do a lot of worship with him."
Any misconception I had of the band's musical and spiritual direction was further exacerbated when I caught up with Louise during the middle of a recording session for a brand new worship album, which should be available in time for this year's Stoneleigh Bible Week. So, does this indicate a permanent move into contemporary worship for Phatfish, or yet another brief incursion under the guise of the Stoneleigh Worship Band?
"No, all of us have said we don't want to give up doing the secular stuff," retorted Louise. "None of us feel like we should be doing worship full time. We just feel that for this phase this is the next thing God wants us to do and then we'll see what happens. Things with Phatfish are still happening. In February, we did about seven or eight Universities in two weeks and that went down a real storm. The last thing we want to do is spend our life in a Christian environment.
"When we originally started out it was to go into universities and pubs to play good music, be pure and raise questions about Christianity rather than saying Jesus is the answer. But, from there the worship side of things has grown a lot. We've been the Stoneleigh Worship Band for the past three years and we're doing that again this year.
"We're doing both sides of things at the moment and writing all of the songs, so we're not representing anyone other than ourselves. We just felt that God had put an anointing on us on the worship side of things and wanted us to do an album in our style. Something that's full of a lot of truth and, musically and lyrically, relates to a lot of people especially if they're new in the church. God's called us to do both. I haven't a clue how it all fits together at the moment." And this brings me back to my opening dilemma.
As our interview came to an end, both Louise and I agreed that only God could bring together a bunch of talented young musicians with such diverse personal musical tastes to make a harmonious, resonant sound and, more importantly, to learn to listen to his voice, be obedient and grow in his likeness. Despite my pathetic prompting, we could agree upon a suitable musical description for the band, and concluded that it was impossible to slot Phatfish into that cosy, musical box so revered by writers, music critics and Christians in general.
Perhaps this is God's intention as the band respond to his call to play at this year's Cross Rhythms festival, Stoneleigh and, in late August, travel with Dave Fellingham to Nova Scotia, Canada; an eclectic mix of events and musical styles that might shatter our structured view of ministry but is part of God's plan for Phatfish.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.