independent music our writer, Na'im Cortazzi talks to the legendary
Simon Williams who was a founding member of the Fierce Panda
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: Whats been fierce pandas 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: Its 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 dont 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 Londons
Embankment on a CND march in 1980. Officially, The Farmers 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: Cant think of any single incident at all - Im simply
not qualified to do anything else so Ive just ended up doing what
Ive done and its 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 youve
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 were back down the Bull & Gate finding the
next Hundred Reasons or Coldplay. Or trying to, anyway
who dont crack it Id like to think that we have a reasonable
relationship but Im 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 youve got new bands playing live then you have
a vibrant live scene. If the demos started drying up and the gig guides
started shrinking Id certainly be worried but right now the opposite
AD: Club Fandango seems like a great way for newish bands to shake
their tail feathers right in the nerve centre of the UKs live
scene. Is it your policy to put bands on you like?
Its my policy to put on new bands which I ve
never seen before and therefore which I hope I will like! Sometimes
Ive been spot on and its 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: Dont worry about what other people say about your band
and always bear in mind that its going to be a long, long haul
to get anywhere in the music industry. Oh, and dont 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 isnt
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? Its just
that I read Going Deaf For A Living by Steve Lamacq and
youre mentioned in it.
SW: Sadly, most of the anecdotes used in Steves book would
have been used in mine so, nope, there isnt an autobiography on
the horizon because its pretty much out there already!
AD: Have you any plans for the future?
SW: Weve 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, thats 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 pandas
300th single release.
Na'im Cortazzi was talking to Simon Williams
Fierce Panda for
all the new Panda releases!
some hot new live bands!