Phatfish – A Leading Contemporary Christian Band in the UK
In the late 90s Europe’s Phatfish signed a recording contract in the United States and began touring throughout the country. Keyboardist Mike Sandeman offers an eye-opening perspective of the significant differences between the Christian venues in the United States and Europe. As a Christian musician in the US, I see endless opportunities and directions for Christian artists at all levels of skills and experience. The contemporary Christian music scene is exploding throughout America. Churches are converting and integrating from the traditional organists to full bands and production. The problem in the US is mostly untrained volunteers running expensive PA systems. The European market is very different. I was unaware of the difficulties even renown Christian artists face in Europe’s scarce and changing Christian community.
Mike Sandeman has first-hand experience in both markets and offers his insight into the past, present, and future of the Christian market place across the two continents.
What is the biggest difference you experienced between the United States and United Kingdom markets?
“We got a little taste of the how the American Christian market works. The thing that immediately struck me was the size of the United States Christian market. The UK market is tiny by comparison. The UK has a much more secular culture, and of those who do go to church, many don’t listen to Christian music. Sure, they’ll go to church and sing along with worship on Sunday, but there’s not a large market for Christian bands. Congregational worship albums from the likes of Hillsong, Bethel, and Worship Central are quite popular though.”
“The other thing I really noticed, which was an eye opener for me, was when we signed a record deal with a Christian company, we had two lawyers present and a forty page legal contract. It felt very commercial. There was nothing distinguishing the Christian company from any other secular company in terms of its business practices. It didn’t feel like it was based out of a relationship, but like any other commercial enterprise.”
“My business dealings with record people here in the UK feels much more relational than hard-nosed business. Obviously there’s business involved, but it just seemed to me the way it was set up in the US was more commercial.”
“As an example, in the US we had a “Radio Plugger” to get our music played on the radio stations. That’s not really a model you would use in the United Kingdom, partly because there are not nearly as many Christian radio stations. It’s such small scale you can just pick up the phone and speak to somebody rather than employing professionals to call on your behalf.”
What are the sizes of churches in the United Kingdom? Do you have “Mega-Churches” similar to the United States?
“There are very few UK ‘mega-churches’ of the size that has become quite commonplace in the US. However, we are getting churches that are beginning to grow quiet large, which is great. But it would be unusual of to have a church here with more than 1,000 people. The church I go to in Brighton called Church of Christ the King is part of the New Frontiers Movement and has about 1,400 people who meet at different sites across the town. That multi-site model is increasingly being used here to multiply the churches and attendance. London has some pretty enormous churches with 5,000 plus members, but there are a vast number of churches with memberships of about 100 or less. However, there is a sense that God is on the move and that many churches are growing.”
“Many of the established traditional denominational churches have experienced a devastating decline in the last fifteen years or so. The established churches of England have seen massive losses. I’m not a church growth expert, but I’m always hearing about many of the older, more traditional churches with small congregations having to close their doors. And yet many of the more charismatic churches offering contemporary worship music and a less formal style are growing, which is encouraging!”
Do European radio stations play a majority of US artists or home grown European artists?
“It’s not like the US where you have two or three Christian radio stations for each city. Of the few Christian stations there are, the majority of the artists played are from the US. It would be great if they played more home grown music; however, the Christian market is small here with relatively few Christian radio listeners, so even if they played my record all day and night, it wouldn’t translate to that many sales!”
What advice do you have for a band in the UK trying to become successful?
“I guess it’s a question of how you define success. If you’re in it to become rich and famous then it probably won’t (and shouldn’t!) ever happen. But if you have a genuine ministry and want to see the gospel have impact in people’s lives through music, then God can use that and will grant success on His terms.”
I have been with Phatfish for twenty years now. We tend to do one of two things in terms of “getting out there.” We will sometimes book a tour ourselves. We’ll pick a bunch of venues and take on all the financial risk ourselves. We’ll just sell tickets and hope people turn up! As part of that, we’ll contact all the local churches in the area and send out posters and fliers and use social media to raise awareness with Christians of the coming concert.”
“The second approach is to contact local churches and ask them to pay us to perform. If they get a good turnout, the church will make money. That often works best for us, because we have been around long enough to have built a good reputation. In the UK it is much more about getting out and playing live than trying to get on the radio.”
“Very few UK Christian artists have ever “made it big” commercially speaking—probably the closest has been the band Delirious, who did well in the UK, the US, and globally.”
“However, we know that God has given us a message and musical gifting. Even though we’re not making a lot of money, we sense God’s guidance and have seen lives changed for His glory.”
Phatfish Consists of: Lead Vocalist Lou Fellingham, Drummer Nathan Fellingham, Bass Guitarist Luke Fellingham, Keyboard Player Mike Sandeman, Guitarist Jos Wintermeye, and Guitar Player Ben Hall.
I love this band and hope to get an opportunity to see them live. Additionally, I had the most difficult time choosing a video from this band. Search them out on YouTube. You will spend hours enjoying this band!