Fierce Panda

Quite Cross Wildlife

Supporting independent music our writer, Na'im Cortazzi talks to the legendary Simon Williams who was a founding member of the Fierce Panda label.

We first met him in Camden at the Dublin Castle that played host to a Fierce Panda endorsed showcase for new bands...Club Fandango. He's helped champion more bands than I care to mention, so if your curious compadres, then read on!

AD: Could you tell us a little about how fierce panda began conceptually and then in practice?

SW: Fierce Panda began in The Blue Posts pub in Tottenham Court Road, winter 1993. The label has lasted longer than the venue - The Blue Posts was knocked down a few years back and is now a Boots chemist. The label was started purely and simply to release the ‘Shagging In The Streets’ EP, which was our tribute to the scene called the New Wave Of The New Wave and which featured punky bands such as S*M*A*S*H and These Animal Men. We had no intention of releasing another record after that. Much to our eternal shame we were journalists for NME. I am now the only ex-NME writer involved in the label, and have been so since the end of 1994.

AD: What’s been fierce panda’s finest hour?

SW: Sitting drunk in the Blue Posts deciding to release a single on something called Fierce Panda.

AD: Do you see Fierce Panda as a stepping stone for bands or a comfy home in itself with unique features and conveniences?

SW: It’s up to the bands, really. Some bands like The Music and The Polyphonic Spree obviously just used us a stepping stone, which is absolutely fine, and other bands like Death Cab For Cutie are happy to be hanging around with us because they don’t want to sign to a major label, which is absolutely fine as well.

AD: Can you tell us some of the commercially successful bands that have featured on fierce panda compilations or singles?

SW: Bands which have released bona fide Fierce Panda singles include Coldplay, Hundred Reasons, Idlewild, 3 Colours Red, The Music, Seafood, easyworld, Placebo and Embrace. Bands which have appeared on fierce panda compilation singles and albums include Mogwai, Ash, Supergrass, Super Furry Animals, Green Day, Jimmy Eat World, The Bluetones, Six By Seven, Stereophonics and Lo Fidelity Allstars.

AD: Can you remember the first band you saw live?

SW: Unofficially, The Jam playing on the back of a lorry on London’s Embankment on a CND march in 1980. Officially, The Farmer’s Boys at London Lyceum in October 1981.

AD: Can you remember the first single you bought?
SW: ‘Jilted John’ by Jilted John. 89 pence from Walthamstow High Street Woolworths.

AD: Can you remember the first album you bought?

SW: ‘A New World Record’ by the Electric Light Orchestra. £2.99 from Oxford Street Virgin store.

AD: Can you remember the last single you bought?

SW: ‘Nul Book Standard’ 7” by The Futureheads. £2.50 from their recent Bull & Gate gig.

AD: Can you remember the last album you bought?

SW: ‘Lack Of Communication’ by The Von Bondies. £12.99 from Camden Virgin Megastore last Saturday.

AD: If there was a defining moment that made you decide to pursue a life centred around music, what was it?

SW: Can’t think of any single incident at all - I’m simply not qualified to do anything else so I’ve just ended up doing what I’ve done and it’s all been a terrible accident.

AD: How did you get to write for the NME? Was it good?

SW: Wrote a fanzine, sent in a few live reviews, got a few commissions, ended up staying eleven years having an absolute ball. Left in 1999 with no regrets whatsoever and now cannot turn on the radio or television or open up a magazine or newspaper without coming across Stuart Maconie, Andrew Collins, Danny Kelly, Steve Lamacq, Mary Anne Hobbs, Stephen Dalton, Barbara Ellen or James Brown, all of whom were at the NME at the same time. Great days, obviously…

AD: Do you like to keep in contact with all the many bands that you’ve had dealings with? Or do you prefer to tell them to bugger off!

SW: If a band does become massive then we might pop along and get drunk with them when they headline Brixton Academy, but while they are selling millions we’re back down the Bull & Gate finding the next Hundred Reasons or Coldplay. Or trying to, anyway…With bands who don’t crack it I’d like to think that we have a reasonable relationship but I’m sure there are a few bass players out there who consider us to be gits of the highest order for not managing to get them a deal with Parlophone.

AD: Is the future bleak for bands trying to break through the “old fashioned way” of gigging a lot?

SW: Not at all. There seem to be more and more bands appearing all the time, and if you’ve got new bands playing live then you have a vibrant live scene. If the demos started drying up and the gig guides started shrinking I’d certainly be worried but right now the opposite seems true.

AD: Club Fandango seems like a great way for newish bands to shake their tail feathers right in the nerve centre of the UK’s live scene. Is it your policy to put bands on you like?

SW: Ummm…It’s my policy to put on new bands which I ‘ve never seen before and therefore which I hope I will like! Sometimes I’ve been spot on and it’s a great night and sometimes the bands are bloody awful, but if the prime motive for Club Fandango is acting as a showcase event for fierce panda records then it works an absolute treat. The Dublin Castle is the best venue in London, too.

AD: If you could give advice on new bands trying to do well what would you say mmmm?

SW: Don’t worry about what other people say about your band and always bear in mind that it’s going to be a long, long haul to get anywhere in the music industry. Oh, and don’t worry - if you are anywhere near halfway decent, someone WILL eventually find out about you. True fact: before we did the Coldplay single every single major label had passed on them.

AD: Do you get sent loads of demos? Do you have time to listen to them properly? What turns you on/off?

SW: We get totally deluged with demos on a weekly basis. I play at least the whole of the first song on each and every tape, which isn’t totally ideal but it gives us a pretty good idea of whether or not there is anything in there to pursue. Turn ons are funny letters, sweets and good tunes. Turn offs are glossy packages where the band has spent more time on the artwork and photo session than on the actual music. Another true fact: great music often comes in rubbish packaging.

AD: Have you ever thought of writing a biography? It’s just that I read ‘Going Deaf For A Living’ by Steve Lamacq and you’re mentioned in it.

SW: Sadly, most of the anecdotes used in Steve’s book would have been used in mine so, nope, there isn’t an autobiography on the horizon because it’s pretty much out there already!

AD: Have you any plans for the future?

SW: We’ve got such a reputation now - incorrectly, as it happens - for being a nurturing stable for new talent that after almost a decade I realise that we will never be a Top Ten label. And with a name like fierce panda, that’s probably fair enough. So the label will carry on and on until we finally go bust. We do however have aspirations for screwing up the careers of Will Young and Gareth Gates, so we have set up an imprint label called Temptation. It goes through Universal/Island Records and it grants us the opportunity to sign the next Coldplay or Idlewild and keep them long term. In ten years’ time quite frankly I see myself sitting on a nice Cornish beach celebrating fierce panda’s 300th single release.

Na'im Cortazzi was talking to Simon Williams

Look no further...

Fierce Panda
for all the new Panda releases!
Club Fandango for some hot new live bands!


just some of those...


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