Album Reviews

Various – Decade: Ten Years Of Fierce Panda

(fierce panda) UK release date: 1 March 2004


Before they were famous – it’s a concept that makes very dull, repetitive-as-chewing-gum reality TV fodder, but on this CD it’s anything but uninteresting. Simon Williams obviously honed his talent for seeing future indie superstars in unsigned acts when he worked as a journalist with NME. Later, he put this eye to better use by setting up his own record label, Fierce Panda.

Ten years later, and Williams’ spotting skills cannot be challenged. This collection, simply titled Decade, brings together original recordings of 20 of the most famous rock acts to come under the panda’s patronage since its birth.

The track listing reads more like a compilation of indie hits (like those Shine albums that seem to have disappeared from the record shelves after years of riding the crest of the Britpop wave) than a roundup of the most worthy on a single record label.

Who exactly? Well, let’s see, where to begin. There’s the very first releases in the careers of The Bluetones, Placebo, Three Colours Red, Embrace, Coldplay, Hundred Reasons, and Easyworld, alongside early pressings from Supergrass, Lo Fidelity Allstars, Idlewild, Kenickie, The Music, Polyphonic Spree and current NME darlings, Keane.

It makes you wonder, then, why Simon Williams isn’t a very rich man with a reputation and status equivalent to his namesake in the pop world, Simon Cowell. However, unfortunately for Williams, Fierce Panda has been more like a training ground than a hit factory, with scores of bands using his label as a spring board to a contract with one of the majors.

This disc is an essential purchase for completist fans of any of the bands featured, as unless they have the original 7″s from the time of their release, these songs, some exclusive and all original recordings, cannot be found anywhere else.

Coldplay maniacs, for example, may find the track Brothers and Sisters, never subsequently re-released as Chris Martin reportedly hates it, an undiscovered treasure in this regard. And it’s not even that bad.

For the independent music scholar, if there is such a thing, there are worse ways to begin a study of British indie than by buying this record. For the rest of us, it’s a fascinating lucky dip into the early musical efforts of today’s great and good that leaves us wondering how great the music business would be if Simon Williams ran a major record label.


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