A legacy in music: Phatfish bowing out with a smile after 20 years

Back in the day

After 20 years of recording albums, gigging and leading worship at countless conferences and festivals, Phatfish are playing their last two gigs in March. Claire Musters caught up with founding member Nathan Fellingham to ask what led them to this point and what the future holds for them all.

CM: It has been quite a journey over a number of years. When you first started Phatfish, did you have any idea how long the band would go on for?

NF: No! But I was 16 when we first formed Phatfish and at that age I don't think you can see much past the next month – let alone 20 years! But I had strong conviction that it was right for me to give myself to the band. We were all in 100 per cent – willing to take it wherever it went.

CM: With 10 studio albums under your belt and having penned songs such as, 'Holy Holy, Lift Up His Name', 'There Is A Day' and 'Amazing God', which are sung worldwide in thousands of congregations, how does it feel to stop and look back over the band's career?

NF: There is a mixture of emotions. I feel hugely privileged to have been able to do what we've done. We would all testify to how God's sustained us through thick and thin and provided for us again and again. I suppose if I'm honest there are times when I wish we'd been able to sell a few more albums and seen bigger numbers at gigs. And there are certainly some things that I'd do differently with the benefit of hindsight. But at the same time I genuinely have no regrets.

As you begin to count up the concerts, the places we've travelled to, the people we've got to work with, the lives we've seen impacted and the fun we've had along the way it's hard to be anything but thankful! And I'm certainly also trusting that there will be more songs in the future – from many of the Phatfish members that will continue to have impact both in the church and beyond.

CM: I know you told me that for a couple of years now the band has known that change was coming – so could you explain why you have decided to put on this final gig at this point in time?

NF: Yes, we've certainly felt strongly that things would be changing. And in some respects it would have been easier just to kind of fizzle out without making any sort of song and dance about it. But it feels healthy to be clear to our fans – and also something that we need to walk through to bring proper closure. And as we approach these final two gigs, it definitely feels right to have a chance to celebrate, reflect and define who we've been over the last 20 years, and then who we now are going forward.

CM: If you could summarise what Phatfish's aim has been over the years in a couple of sentences, what would it be?

NF: It's really been to do all we can to communicate the truths of the Gospel and the reality of God through music and song. Trusting that through interacting with our music hearts would be lifted and eyes would be opened to the wonder of who God is and what he has done for us.

CM: Do you feel you have achieved what you set out to do with the band?

NF: Wow. That's a good question. And it forces me to think deeply! When we started we definitely carried a desire to see the music industry changed. We wanted to bring light into what we saw as a dark place in much need of Jesus. But breaking into that world significantly wasn't something that ever happened for us. And again with hindsight I can see certain elements where we just could have been better and would have needed major modification to hit that level.

But as the journey has continued we've felt complete peace about playing predominantly in front of a Christian audience. That's certainly no excuse for being second rate as artists – and we've continued to strive after writing better songs and delivering all we do with as much passion as we can. I guess it is something that did alter slightly from where we first started. But reading letters and emails from people who have heard our albums and come to gigs and been touched as a result is a massive encouragement.

We really have seen God take what to us sometimes feels very small and use it to great effect in people's lives. And we've always been passionate to see those who don't yet know Jesus as their Lord come to faith, which we've had the privilege of seeing many times.

The band's ministry spans two decades

CM: Did you ever feel constrained by being part of a well-known Christian band?

NF: Not really. We've always been slightly oblivious to marketing principles (for better or worse) and just got on with making the music that we've wanted to make!

CM: What do you feel you have learned over the years being part of a band?

NF: There really are so many great principles that you can learn from being in a band: Preferring others over yourself; looking to see others flourish; seeing success for the team as a higher goal than your own personal exploits; learning to encourage each other, to spur each other on, to pray for each other. And how to handle times when you don't see eye to eye. It's a hugely rewarding experience.

CM: Most people know that you are married to Phatfish's lead singer, Lou Fellingham, who has recorded and toured as a solo artist in recent years. Is that something she will be pursuing more now?

NF: Well, Lou will certainly continue to write and record under her own name. It's something we've enjoyed together over the last 10 years actually, since Lou brought out her first album 'Treasure'. We certainly feel that we need to continue to develop things that Lou and I do together – from songwriting to concerts and also teaching and training. Lou will be recording a new album this year with Integrity music.

CM: Could you also let your fans know what plans the other members of the band have?

NF: Well, Luke (my brother) and I have a studio that he runs. He is really developing his skills both as a recording engineer and a mastering engineer and I know that he will continue to grow in that whole area.

Mike is also working at his home studio producing albums and developing the whole area of training worship bands. On top of that he's a massive asset to the community as a school governor and magistrate. He's also a hugely gifted communicator and I look forward to seeing the doors that God opens up for him.

Older and wiser

Jos is now heading up the worship team at a church in Horsham called Kings Church. He and his family moved there recently and he's already doing an amazing job developing the team and growing in leadership himself.

Ben is recently married and getting stuck in at their church in London, developing a community centre with his wife Toni. He's also training to be a teacher.

CM: When I asked if there was anything fans would want me to ask you in this interview, many simply wanted to express their thanks to you and let you know how pivotal your music has been to them either becoming a Christian or moving on in their Christian walk. How does it make you feel knowing you've had that role, and is there anything you would like to say to your fans?

NF: We feel truly privileged to have played some sort of a part in helping them in their journey with God. Thanks for the encouragement, for buying the albums and supporting us with all the live gigs. And make sure you come to Bournemouth on 14 or 15 March. You don't want to miss it!

CM: It has been a real pleasure to start off simply as a fan back in the Purple through the Fishtank days and, more recently, have the opportunity to interview you guys. I'm sure everyone would want to join me in wishing you well for the future – God bless and we hope this isn't the last we've heard from you all!

Phatfish's final gigs are being held on 14 and 15 March at the Wessex Christian Centre in Bournemouth. Former Phatfish guitarists Mike Blow and Alan Rose will be making guest appearances. For more details, and to book a ticket, please click here