Pop: A Fiercely competitive business

Fierce Panda has an almost preternatural knack for signing bands on the way up - and it's all down to one man, Simon Williams

Once upon a time, there was a band from Manchester on Creation Records who many believed, despite the fact they were only a fledgling little outfit, were destined for great things. The day of their first major interview with the NME arrived. But instead of answering the questions put to them, the two brothers in the band, Noel and Liam, bickered violently and endlessly but to great comic effect. They swore at each other and threatened to punch the other's lights out. The tape machine kept whirring. A few months later, Oasis were busy becoming the biggest band Britain had seen for a generation. And the tape became a single called "Wibling Rivalry" on Fierce Panda Records, owned by the interviewee John Harris (now editor of Select) and NME cohorts Paul Moody (now in Campag Velocet) and Simon Williams (still at NME, also a DD at XFM). The label is now owned by Williams alone, who is probably the sharpest A&R man on the planet, with early records by Supergrass, The Bluetones, Placebo, and Baby Bird all baring the Fierce Panda stamp.

So it is no surprise that, at this time of year when the focus is on the new shoots in the music scene, many a band who have graduated from the Fierce Panda Finishing School are getting a lot of attention.

Top of the hopefuls are Regular Fries, a motley crew which includes designers and film-makers as well as musicians, all boasting a bewildering range of influences.

Their Fierce Panda single surfaced in November, called "Dust It Don't Bust lt",and the Richard Fearless produced newie, "Supposed To Be A Gas" is out on 12 January. "The Dark Side Of The Racoon" is the name of a Fierce Panda EP single out in mid-January, and the lead track is "Sick Of It All", by The High Fidelity (right), who also headline a Fierce Panda Records Night.

Plainly then, the picture is of a label forever on the move, with new bands passing through the ranks ceaselessly. Yet that can lead to resentment and suspicion.

Ultrasound, Campag Velocet and Unbelievable Truth all play the NME Brat gigs at the Astoria later in January, and all have had Fierce Panda singles. And the fact that a former Fierce Panda single by Embrace, "All You Good Good People", was re-released on a major label in the Autumn and became a top-five hit might make some think Williams is too clever for his own good.

But the rest of us can just marvel at his good taste.

Regular Fries, The Rheingold Club, Sedley Place, Oxford St (0171-629 5343) 14 Jan; The High Fidelity, Water Rats, King's Cross, London (0171- 580 8881) 16 Jan

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