Just Friends

Band members                             Related acts

  line up 1 (1980)

- Eric Berth -- drums, percussion

- Robert Deblauwe -- vocals, guitar

- Helga Van Hellem -- vocals, flute


  supporting musicians

- Daniel Deloof -- backing vocals

- Willy Denmeyer -- backing vocals

- Michel Denduyver -- backing vocals

- Serge Feys -- keyboards

- Roger Legroe -- backing vocals

- Vic Legroe -- backing vocals

- John Phillpow -- bass




Leenders & Co (Eric Berth)





Genre: rock

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Just Friends

Company: Holy Hole

Catalog: HH 830141

Country/State: Belgium

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: includes lyric insert

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 2142

Price: $250.00


Too rare to even label obscure ...  Dag Erik Asbjornsen's Scented Gardens of the Mind reference book devotes 14 words to the band's album.  Hans Pokora gives it a xxxx rating.   Last time I looked on Popsike, exactly two copies had been sold over the last decade.  Supposedly only 300 copies were pressed and most were sold at a 1980 concert the group did  in the UK - here's your chance to own one of them !!!  


Given that background, there's virtually no biographic information to be found on this outfit.  Even the release date is subject to debate.  I've seen 1970, 1979, and 1983.  Based on the syndrums and synthesizer washes, I'd go with the 1983 release date.  Regardless, what little I can tell you is largely derived from the liner notes.


The band featured drummer Eric Berth, Robert Deblauwe on vocals and lead guitar, and Helga Van Hellem on vocals and flute.  Released on their own Holy Hole imprint, "Just Friends" was produced by Christoff Wybouw in Onadisc Studio in Varsenare, Belgium.  Deblauwe and Helga Van Heffem were credited with writing all twelve tracks. Deblauwe handled the music and Van Heffem provided the lyrics (all in English).  Musically the album was a bit of a challenge to get your arms around.  Exemplified by 'Divorce', 'Deborah' , and 'Johno' there were plenty of ballads (I'd argue too many ballads), but the collection also featured a couple of rockers and pop numbers and those were the album highlights.  The mid-tempo rocker 'Nervous' and 'Subway Mistery' both had a slightly lysergic feel, while 'Man Behind the Scene' was the album's most conventional and commercial track.  Deblauwe and Van Heffem performing all of the songs in English certainly helped with accsesibility and while they both sang with heavy accents, it really wasn't all that noticeable accept on slower tunes like 'Divorce' and the Donovan-styled ballad 'Sad Young Girl'.  Deblauwe's voice was interesting, occasionally reminding one a bit like Pavlov Dog's David Surkamp ('Man Behind the Scenes').   Technically I'd argue Van Heffem actually had the better voice, but with the exception of the sweet ballad 'Regret' and the pop tune 'Magic Day' she was saddled with inferior material and really didn't get to display her talents. My biggest gripe was reserved for drummer Eric Berth.  Berth was more than competent, but frequently his obvious affection for syndrums just didn't fit the overall character of the album.  Surprisingly enjoyable and you can only imagine what the album might have done if it had included a couple more up-tempo tunes; especially on side two.


One of those bands you'd love to know more about - what happened to these folk?  Hopefully they went on to wonderful lives.


"Just Friends" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Nervous (Robert Deblauwe - Helga Van Heffem) - 3:42   rating: **** stars 

'Nervous' started out sounding like it was going to be a country tune, but what I thought was pedal steel guitar turned into some highly melodic Deblauwe electric guitar with Serge Feys adding nice synthesizers to the arrangementJudging by the lyrics, this lysergic soaked mid-tempo rocker was one of the most interesting reflections on stage fright you'll ever hear.  As for Deblauwe's accented vocals - no problems here.  Cool opener. and one of the album highlights. 

2.) Free (Robert Deblauwe - Helga Van Heffem) - 2:58   rating: **** stars 

With Van Heffem taking lead vocals, the fok-rock tinged  'Free' sounded a bit like a Belgian version of Fairport Convention; albeit without a singer as good as Sandy Denny.  Actually a friend of mine said they sounded like a mash-up of Mark Knopfler and The Free Design.  Given the country-rock Telecaster moves and the sweet harmonies I could actually hear the comparison.   In spite of her heavy accent, Van Heffem had a nice voice and the song had a breezy melody, smiley-face backing vocals, and some very nice Richard Thompson-styled lead guitar.   

3.) Divorce (Robert Deblauwe - Helga Van Heffem) - 3:40   rating: ** stars

Opening up with some delicate Serge Feys electric piano, 'Divorce' was a hyper-sensitive ballad that didn't do a great deal for me.  Deblauwe sounded like he was straining to stay in tune in the song's high register. 

4.) Sad Young Girl (Robert Deblauwe - Helga Van Heffem) - 3:58   rating: ** stars

'Sad Young Girl' was a folk number that sounded like  a mash-up between Donovan and Fairport Convention (with a heavy Belgian accent).  

5.) Regret (Robert Deblauwe - Helga Van Heffem)- 4:01   rating: *** stars

On the ballad 'Regret' Van Heffem displayed a surprisingly impressive voice.  Yeah, her heavy accent was a mild distraction, as were Eric Berth's overwhelming drums, but the song had such a sweet melody, you tended to overlook those shortcomings. 

6.) Man Behind the Scene (Robert Deblauwe - Helga Van Heffem) - 4:10   rating: **** stars 

Who would have expected to hear surf guitar on an album like this?  Okay, that may have been a stretch, but 'Man Behind the Scene' was another album highlight with an interesting lyric, a breezy top-40ish melody, and a great Deblauwe vocal.  This was one of the songs were the David Surkamp comparison was apt.  


(side 2)
1.) Deborah
 (Robert Deblauwe - Helga Van Heffem) - 2:13   rating: *** stars

Can a song be labeled fey?  Well, if can, then the breezy acoustic ballad 'Deborah' would fit under that category.  There was just something about this one that was just so whispy it made me cringe "even when she broke my train I couldn't be mad ..."    I will admit I liked their blended voice on this one.    

2.) Johno (Robert Deblauwe - Helga Van Heffem) - 3:28   rating: ** stars

Stark ballad with Van Heffem on lead - imagine an overly sensitive, stripped down ABBA track.  Because the song was so slow and quiet Van Geffem's accent was very noticeable.

3.) Envy (Robert Deblauwe - Helga Van Heffem) - 3:59   rating: ** stars

Another fragile ballad with Deblauwe straining to get through the track in a falsetto ...   stop already.    

4.) Magic Day (Robert Deblauwe - Helga Van Heffem) - 2:46   rating: *** stars

Van Heffem on the album's most commercial tune.  The syndrums and synthesizer washes were dated and outright irritating.

5.) Subway Mistery [sic]  (Robert Deblauwe - Helga Van Heffem)- 4:48   rating: **** stars 

Kicked along by some tasty John Phillpow acoustic bass, 'Subway Mistery' (their spelling) had a cool film noire feeling. Interestingly, Deblauwe's high, fragile, accented voice seemed perfectly suited for this one.  In fact the only thing out of place was Berth's rock and roll drumming - he was good, but just kind of overpowered the rest of the song.  

6.) Blossoms (instrumental)  (Robert Deblauwe - Helga Van Heffem) - 3:42   rating: *** stars

The closing instrumental 'Blossoms' was probably the album's prettiest tune, with  a relaxing, slightly new-age-ish vibe (credit Van Heffem's flutes).