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Interview with Sean Price
Talk about a shaky start.
"Since you've lived in London, how many actual Londoners have you met?" queries Fortuna Pop’s self-styled El Presidente, Sean Price, plonking himself into the corner seat of a dark, wood-panelled, Carnaby Street pub packed with excitable, wine-quaffing tourists.
"Not people from Kent or Watford who say they're from London," he adds, "but real Londoners ?"
"Er, isn't it a bit like finding a Manchester United fan who's actually from Manchester and not Nepal or Southampton ?" ventures Pennyblackmusic.
"Don't say that," admonishes the sometime resident of County Durham, Leicestershire and just about every English county apart from Greater Manchester. "I support Man U."
Moving on quickly then…
Fortuna Pop being 10 years old, Sean has been corralled by Pennyblackmusic into talking us through the label’s 10 most significant releases.
Well, that was the idea.
But it turns out Fortuna Pop could be more teen than tween. "I might be lying about it being 10," Sean admits sheepishly. "It’s all a bit lost. It might be 12 or 13 years old. Or even 14."
Then there’s the matter of the conversation getting sidetracked by the "disastrous" state of Radio One's post-Peel evening output (Colin Murray, and all other 'personality' DJs, it's all your fault), and
impertinent questions about how many paper cuts he's ever sustained from stuffing millions of promos into envelopes (an unlikely "none") and who's the most diva-ish artist on the Fortuna Pop roster (wait and see).
Reluctant to single out particular releases ("I only manage about seven a year, which means everything’s good quality") Sean is soon air-guitaring us through the highs and hang-doggedly reliving the lows of heading an independent one-man musical republic. And here, after much prodding, is his essential selection.
Taking Pictures, 'Fallen Angel' (Single, FPOP 1)
"Fortuna Pop’s first release. They're a friend of my brother’s band. We were living in Shepshed, near Loughborough. When you live in a small town you make your own entertainment – smashing up shops or buying an eight-track. I didn’t know anything about running a record label then; we were just trying to do something without knowing what we were doing. I’ve always done everything at Fortuna Pop myself. [Laughs] Saying that, I used to work with a bloke called Matt for a bit, but he ended up driving to the record pressing plant and not doing anything else because I wouldn’t let him make any creative decisions. He left and set up his own label in the end.’
The Butterflies of Love, 'Rob A Bank' (Single, FPOP 6)
"Definitely one of the best seven inch singles we've released. In fact it’s 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.
Jeff Greene from Butterflies of Love is definitely Fortuna Pop’s biggest diva. I remember getting a call from him when they were on tour in Nottingham: 'Man, I’m in Selectadisc, and there are no posters up! No one knows who we are! This is crap, crap, crap!' Jeff thinks he should be really famous by now and he’s quite worried that he’s not. He’s quite right, of course.
Nah, to be honest, the bands on my roster are very un-diva ish. One of my criteria for signing anyone is that I can go down the pub with them."
The Aislers Set, 'The Last Match' (Album, FPOP 23)
"Okay, we’ve had the best single ever released, and this is the best album ever released. Again it’s another American band. When you run a record label you’re always scrimmaging with all the other labels to find new bands. It’s easier to find good bands from abroad and release them because the good UK ones get snapped up really quickly. People know about them before they’ve even released a record. They play one gig in London and they get signed in the sound check. This album sounds like a C86 girl group; a bit ramshackle. It’s got this 1960's Phil Spector thing going on as well. The vocals are mixed quite low but if you keep listening you realise the songs are amazing. The lyrics are quite dark and very clever. Great words. It’s a brilliant album.’
Airport Girl/Butterflies of Love/Comet Gain/Kicker, 'More Soul Than Wigan Casino' (EP, FPOP 49)
"This is a seven inch EP of northern soul covers. The title's nicked from the quote on the Fortuna Pop logo. As I was coming up to 50 records I thought it would be nice to ask four bands to do covers for an EP. They
all said yes straight away, and Kicker went off and recorded theirs in two months. But Comet Gain just couldn’t get their track recorded. They had loads going on. The drummer, who has their recording studio at home, had moved house, and the rest of them were all over the world. I don’t really like hassling bands to record stuff – they tend to just do it in their own time anyway. But after about a year Kicker started giving me a lot of grief, 'When’s our song coming out?' So there’s me bugging Comet Gain and them getting annoyed, and there’s Kicker giving me grief. I very nearly fell out with both bands. It took two years to get the record out in the end. I think we’re all friends now…"
Bearsuit, 'Cat Spectacular!' (Album, FPOP 53)
"This is our best-selling album. Running a label is a bit like running a football team. Some players retire, some join new teams. You go through phases. I was at a point where it had got a bit flat. Some bands were
taking forever to record new stuff, some had split up.[When it comes to finding new bands] there’s this idea that there’s all these great artists out there on MySpace, but that’s a lot of crap. The level of good bands compared to crap ones is infinitisimal. A lot of them are pale copies of the bands they like. Anyway, then Bearsuit emailed and said they were looking for a label and this album turned out to be one of the most successful in terms of sales. It was great working with them. They’re lovely people."
The Loves, 'Technicolour' (Album, FPOP 67)
"I’ve known their singer, Simon, for quite a while. I wanted to sign them the first time I saw them but Track And Field got there first. I always liked them and thought they were a fun band. They’re like a real 60's band and there’s nothing really like them around at the moment. Was I nervous working with Simon [the Welsh Mark E Smith; has seen 20-odd band members come and go-SM]? Well it did all fall to bits the first time around… No, not at all. Simon works really hard. He thinks about music literally all of the time; he lives in a pop music bubble. This is their second album, and it’s only just out, and he’s written the band's third album and half of their fourth already."
The Lucksmiths, 'Warmer Corners' (Album, FPOP 58)
"I met Tali White, the singer, through a friend of a friend, and he gave me some of the band’s stuff as a birthday present. I’m proud of Fortuna Pop - every record I’ve released is really good - but my biggest ever achievement so far has been blagging the Lucksmiths a support slot with Jonathan Richman at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in west London. I just phoned up the booking agents and kept hassling them till they gave in. The band went down really well and to see them on stage at a venue like that… A lot of small bands are considered to be twee indie bands but when you see them on a big stage you can see that, in reality, they’re actually pretty big themselves."
Airport Girl, 'Slow Light' (Album, FPOP 69)
"They’re my brother’s band really; I just play the bass. No, we’re nothing like the Gallagher brothers – Rob’s way too easy-going. We’re really pleased with the way the album was received [it had ecstatic press reviews] and it’s done really well – better than we expected. There was a lot of trouble recording it; it ended up having to be done three times, and it was a change from the first album,'Honey, I'm an Artist'. It is much more country-orientated. We just grew up and started listening to different music.
How do I know something sounds good enough to be released? Well, Dave Robinson, the boss of Stiff records always used to play their stuff through a tinny transistor radio beforehand to see if it would sound good played on
cheap equipment. All Fortuna Pop releases have to sound like they're being played on a tinny radio even if they're on the best hi-fi. I play them on state of the art systems beforehand to make sure they're going to sound like they're actually playing on a transistor. No, just kidding. Really."
Would-Be-Goods, 'The Morning After' (Album, FPOP 55)
"What I like in music is strong melodies and good lyrics. Actually it doesn’t even have to have good lyrics. The new Loves song, the lyrics are, literally, 'One two three, baby you and me, we should be together, one two three.' I genuinely think it takes a lot of skill to write a dumb pop song. I think that kind of thing’s really under-rated, though, and I feel my label suffers because of that. It’s difficult to get press; I don’t get a lot of coverage because my stuff’s quite straightforward. Take the Would-Be-Goods. Jessica Griffin, the singer’s got a great voice, the lyrics are great. There’s nothing about them [that’s inaccessible]. I’ve got friends who only like stuff like Sting and The Beautiful South but I’ve played them the Would-Be-Goods and they love them. They really deserve to be heard."
Finlay, 'The Fall Of Mary' (Album FPOP 62)/Cannonball Jane, 'Take It To Fantastic' (Single, FPOP 64)
"I seem to hang around with a lot of mimsy people, a lot of twee people too [laughs]. No, I just really like jingly-jangly guitar music - but I don’t want my label to be just that one thing. I get off on releasing things that go against people’s conceptions of the label, like Finlay and Cannonball Jane. They’re a lot more noisy but they have very strong melodies, so they still stick to the ethos of Fortuna Pop.
Where do I see the label in 10 years’ time ? I don’t know. Sometimes I wonder why I do it. It takes over your life. You never get any sleep. I always aim to get to bed before 1am but it never happens. I’ve just had a problem with one band where I’ve put a lot of time and money into releasing their stuff and now I feel I’m being marginalised by their management. But then something comes along and it’s so brilliant you fall in love with it. I still feel I’ve got unfinished business with the label and ,until some major life event comes along, I’ll keep on going."
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Indie label supremo Sean Price marks a decade in the business by picking his top of the Fortuna Pops
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