Toyah once sang about it being "a mystery". Scientists remain unconvinced, but we suspect that she may well have been referring to the historical background of the fierce panda recording emporium. The truth lies behind a fug of fibs lurking down a dark cobbled alley. Those who have attempted to break through the Victorian smoke, umbrellas flailing, have never been seen since.
What we do know is this: back at the tail end of 1993 three maverick music journalist sorts - namely John Harris, Paul Moody and Simon Williams - were holed up in a pub called The Blue Posts in Tottenham Court Road, London Town. Within a couple of years the pub had been ground to the, uh, ground and replaced by a chemists, while John and Paul had split from the panda party, leaving Ringo, aka Simon, with a bagful of nuts and a half-empty bottle of egg nog. Before then however there was alcohol to be consumed and plots to be plotted?
On February 24th 1994 fierce panda, with no small assistance from Damaged Goods records, put out its first ever release. The 'Shagging In The Streets' EP featured six 'happening' combos from the suspiciously groovy scene called The New Wave Of New Wave and sold out within a day. The idea was very simple: to release the 'Shagging In The Streets' EP and to retire from the music business. FACT: you don't call your record company fierce panda if you have allusions to commercial success and longevity. No matter how bollocksed you are.
Yet against all of fierce panda's plans and the public's comprehension, more records swiftly followed. In fact, 1994 saw the label release no fewer than four more of these thoroughly popular double vinyl EPs with stupid names (cf 'Return To Splendour', 'Crazed And Confused') featuring a slew of up-and-coming talent such as Supergrass, Ash, The Bluetones, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci and - yes - Create!
Once bitten forever smitten? Weeeeell, yes. Ever since those heady days fierce panda has been marching sideways and backwards like a one-legged drunk at an arse-kicking contest. Free from the traditional constraints of the music business (ie contracts, five album deals, marketing spends, cocaine addictions) the early years saw the label throw forth a veritable va-va-voom of single releases by the likes of Placebo, Embrace, Three Colours Red, Tiger, Idlewild, Ultrasound and loads more to be uncovered over at the fierce panda discography. The stories are legend - how Scarfo featured one Jamie Hince, future tabloid target as beau of Kate Moss; how Kenickie nabbed the Festive 50 numero uno spot and spawned the presenting dynamo that is Lauren Laverne; how 'Wibbling Rivalry' by the brawling Oas*s brothers muscled into the Top 75; how Coldplay got to number 99 with 'Brothers & Sisters'. And were over the moon about it.
Along the way some berk invented the groovy Rabid Badger Recordings, brief home for The Regular Fries and Campag Velocet, and then a couple of years later came the birth of the Livid Meerkat label for the post-rocking delights of Billy Mahonie and Rothko. At some other point (May 1999, in fact) fierce panda embarked upon a worldwide joint venture deal with Mushroom Records, which ended in 2001, by which time the label had also dared to start releasing albums by the likes of Seafood and Bellatrix. Beneath all these happenings, however, the fierce panda ethos of one-single stands stayed firm and true with the likes of Coldplay, Hundred Reasons and The Music all clambering on board the panda gangplank.
Since those hazy days of 2001 the good ship panda has ploughed valiantly through the independent seas. Bold of stern and billowing of sail, our passing passengers ranged across the social scale from weepy Sussex pups Keane all the way over to hairy Oxford stoners Winnebago Deal via the thoroughly mixed bag of delights proffered by The Faint, The Polyphonic Spree and Six By Seven. Meanwhile Seattle indie sensations Death Cab For Cutie stayed the course for three whole albums, leaving us after 'Transatlanticism' to board the Atlantic Records liner. How very bloody ironic. Around this time we also enjoyed / endured an eventful two and a half years with Island: we gave them Temptation Records and Keane; they gave us dead flowers and half eaten chocolates. C'est la vie.
Spring 2004 saw the panda celebrate ten years on the indie ocean waves by releasing a record called Ŕúdecade: ten years of fierce panda?'. In surely the very epitome of doing-what-it-says-on-the-tin-ness, 'Ŕúdecade?' collected together 20 of the mightiest tracks yet unearthed by the panda and it brought forth muchos acclaimos from the likes of Time Out, The Times and The Sunday Times. But not The Radio Times. Sadly.
The second half of the noughties brought a subtle-yet-massive change to the fierce panda A&R approach: after buzz-tastic one-off releases by Battle, Boy Kill Boy and The Maccabees we came to the sad but inevitable conclusion that, no matter how many Death Cab longplayers we released we'd still be perceived as nothing more than a Singles Club if we weren't very careful. So we retired from the world of one-off 7" releases and made ambitious plans to remould ourselves as a grown-up albums label. Did we manage it? Well, over the course of the next few years we released albums by The Raveonettes, Art Brut, The Hot Puppies, iLiKETRAiNS, The Blackout, Shitdisco, The Spinto Band, The Walkmen and White Rabbits, so what do you think?
Still, we're not here for muchos acclaimos, we're here for the music and the beer. And so tomorrow finds us sneaking out of our tip-top secret Highbury HQ and eyeing up yet another clutch of bands at yet another Club Fandango night. Any old port in any old storm for the good ship panda and all who sail in her. For now, that's enough. Tomorrow, however, never ever knows?