Saturday, 13 August 2016

Of Loves, labels and Lexington burgers. Farewell Fortuna Pop

He said Martin Hannett had told him about eight grand, which was a complete lie. I didn’t jump on it because it was a complete surprise, but looking back on it that was the dawn of the British independent movement, all from Rob thinking, well the first single Tony spent £5000, we got £5300 back after paying all the costs and we all made £100. If we made an album we would make real money, which would mean, and I quote Rob Gretton here, “I wouldn’t have to go to London every week and talk to cunts.”

Tony Wilson

The cunts Mr. Wilson (or rather Mr. Gretton) is talking about here are record label people. The big boys who work with record companies with three initials and worry about things like market penetration, audience targeting, and say things like “Yeah, but where's the single?”. They are not record label people like me and you know them, the people who release stuff we treasure forever and soundtrack our very existence. The people we see manning the merch stall and read about in fanzines and witness wolfing down Lexington burgers between bands. People like Sean Price of Fortuna Pop.

Like everyone else who has a passion for indiepop, I was gutted to hear that Fortuna Pop is in the process of being wound up. But, on reflection, it's a bit like when a hero leaves your football team. You are initially distraught, but if you love them you have to wish them well and thank them for the good times.

Fortuna Pop's first release (credited as being issued in 1995, and even by my GCSE maths makes the label 21, but as Mr. Wilson said, always print the legend) was a 7” by Taking Pictures called Fallen Angel. They're a friend of my brother’s band. We were living in Shepshed, near Loughborough.” wrote Price “When you live in a small town you make your own entertainment – smashing up shops or buying an eight-track.” The record made very little impact, but it was a start. Something born of a daydream that you could physically hold and play. The label, Bambi like, began to wobble to it's feet. “I had no idea really about distribution or marketing. I thought we would send one copy to John Peel who would play it and we would instantly get the band on Top Of The Pops and we’d take off and sell thousands of records” he said. “It didn’t quite happen like that!”

Things started to get interesting with the labels sixth release, the lost classic (and it is a classic) Rob A Bank by The Butterflies Of Love. It sounds like The Mary Chain doing Fuzzy by Grant Lee Buffalo, all shimmering echo and heartache. It's a beautiful record. Price himself describes it as “One of the best singles I’ve ever heard in my life. It was one of German Rolling Stone’s top 10 singles of the year, the year it came out. Up until then I was releasing records by friends. That’s the point where maybe I got more serious and maybe the quality of the label went up. It sounded like a real record, rather than one that was made by your mates.”

From that came a steady but solid stream of records that were adored in bedrooms all over the country but failed to bother the radio or the charts from bands like Mark 700, Twinkie, Discordia, and The Chemistry Experiment. By 2000 they were releasing records by bona fide indiepop legends. The evergreen You Can Hide Your Love Forever by Comet Gain (blessed with a pitch perfect talent for writing pop songs and aesthetically a beatnik Brian Jonestown Massacre but with a worse reputation for actually making the gig), ex Loft and Weather Prophet Pete Astor, Why Doesn't That Surprise Me by the Lucksmiths and Milky Wimpshake's Lovers Not Fighters. Soon, they were wielding the big hitters like The Last Match by The Aislers Set (described by Price as the best album the label put out and a proper classic in it's own right) and Amelia Fletcher's outfit Tender Trap. (I think Ten Songs About Girls is the best record she's ever made. An arguable point I agree, but I'll happily argue about it in the pub with you).

Things really started to cook in 2009 with the release of the eponymous album by Pains of Being Pure At Heart “The definitive release for me. Things didn't really work out in the end between me and them, but that was a key point for Fortuna Pop in the way it attracted so many more bands to the label. It increased Fortuna Pop's profile massively. I genuinely don't believe either Herman Dune or Crystal Stilts would be on the label if I hadn't had such success with that record. Before The Pains... it used to be me chasing bands to put their records out on Fortuna Pop. Now it's the other way round with bands chasing me”

The roster from then reads like a Who's Who of modern indiepop. Ex Hefner Darren Hayman, the uke driven dream pop of 'Allo Darlin', the sixties sing along of The Loves, the brittle but beautiful Withered Hand, the literally breathtaking Flowers, (along with Jerv's WIAIWYA label) the absolutely perfect Shrag, Joanna Gruesome, the much underappreciated Evans the Death (the first album is a classic, the latter LP's a byword in pop experimentation), The Spook School (sounds like Billy Bragg after eight bags of cola cubes, looks like three church mice with a Trumpton Tommy Cooper on drums) and Durham folk heroes Martha (ultra intelligent pop punk and Everyman charisma. Incredibly, they seem to get better after every release).

Despite quoting from the Factory label at the start of this, I think Fortuna Pop are more like Creation, one of those labels you just trust. The FPOP catalogue number being a reliable sign of quality, like the kitemark on your condom or the lion on your egg. The label took the best (Iie:pre Oasis. Oasis were playing Knebworth when the second Fortuna Pop record was being released, though being London based it's unlikely Fortuna Pop were afraid of Britpop) bits of Creation, things like putting on packed, thrilling, sweaty gigs above pubs and releasing killer 7” after killer 7”. Caring about what your label was, what it did and what it meant to people. Always trusting your ears and following your heart.

It's difficult to know what Fortuna Pop's legacy will be. It's unlikely FPOP001 will go for £500 quid on Ebay and baffled Belgian tourists will try and find Sean's gaff like Sarah Records, and Sean is probably far too humble (he probably hates eulogies like these), level headed and down to earth (One of my criteria for signing anyone is that I can go down the pub with them) to let a book or a DVD make the label a myth like the Creation and Factory documentaries. (Though I hope he writes his own book, he is a gifted writer. His sleeve notes to the Be True to Your School comp got me into writing about pop). Whatever happens, Sean Price has a label that the kids who dig the new Spooks and Martha LP's can work backwards through and discover gem after gem after gem. And you can't ask for more than that can you?

(Dedicated to Sean Price, with thanks to DiS, Penny Black Music and God is in the TV for the quotes. Special thanks to Paul Richards of Scared to Dance for getting me to write again (it's amazing what a chat over a pint at Indietracks can do). Apologies to any bands I've forgotten. I still love you.)

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