An introduction to… Fortuna POP!


In a new, occasional series on our blog, we’re inviting people to introduce albums from their favourite record labels. If you’d like to write about your favourite label please email us:

And if you’d like to discover your next favourite label, please visit the merch tent next to the church stage at this weekend’s festival!  Anyway, over to Gareth Ware to introduce Fortuna POP! 

You’ve got your bands, you’ve got your sundry beers, you’ve got your steam trains, you’ve got your owls, you’ve got Gopal’s, and you’ve got your craft workshops. What’s missing? But of course, a one stop emporium (well, marquee) for you to part with your hard-earned cash and walk home with an armful of choice records from the great artists you’ve been watching all weekend – and even records from those who haven’t. If there’s one stall that really goes all out, it’s Fortuna Pop!, with perennial head honcho Sean Price bringing all manner of highly tempting wares to the party. The thing is, Sean can almost do too good a job, and even four years after first visiting it even I can still quite easily rack up £80 bills. So, if you’re totally new to the Fortuna fold, after the next great purchase or simply want to see if there’s something you don’t already have but have somehow missed, then here’s a handy guide, in no particular order, to twenty records – a veritable tip of the iceberg, it must be said – that are well worth checking out. If nothing else, you can always print it out, circle which ones you want, hand it over and avoid having to talk to Sean altogether. Who says I don’t look after you…?

(NB: This is a collection of records I’ve enjoyed and picked up from the stall over the years, and not necessarily a guarantee that everything mentioned will be there this time – especially the older stuff. Please don’t shout at me if that’s the case.)

(NB2: Feel free to shout at Sean instead, though.)

Allo Darlin’ – Europe
Choosing between the two Allo Darlin’ records is a tricky task, but if the first offering was the sound of a band being in love with being in a band then for those who’d been with them for the start ‘Europe’ felt like watching them hit a home run. Equal parts witty, heartfelt and joyous, it was little wonder it would go on to be Rough Trade’s biggest seller of 2012 (and the title track soundtrack last year’s Europa League final montage)

Martha – Courting Strong
Ever since their début EP came out on Discount Horse Records, Martha have always stood out as something a bit special. Carrying their form to their first full-length, Courting Strong is packed with instant, often joyous tunes mixed in with lyrics containing a sense of bittersweet nostalgia, all wrapped up in a pop-punk shell. Like an aural sour Skittle. Or something.

Herman Dune – Strange Moosic
Given that the man himself once implored us to ‘Give Paris One More Chance’, it’s oddly fitting that some of the biggest exponents of Richman-esque guitar pop hail from the fair land of France. On ‘Strange Moosic’, Herman Dune’s vision is perhaps at its clearest and most focussed, creating a record that’s warm, inviting and begging to be basked in. Don’t leave it hanging, eh?

The Loves – …Love You
Having caused sundry mayhem and mischief around Cardiff and its environs over the years, back in 2010 Simon Love and his merry band released their final album. But what a closing statement it is, veering as it did from riotous covers to perfectly formed bubblegum pop and featuring in ‘King Kong Blues’ possibly the first song in popular culture to empathise with the tribulations of an oversized ape.

Shrag – Canines
On their first two albums, Shrag had amply demonstrated an ability to create accomplished (and often frenetic) agit-pop. Come their third and final record, they threw the kitchen sink at it, going so far as to draft in the production team behind Life Without Buildings’ solitary studio record. With the boundlessly energetic Shrag lynchpin Helen King at its centre, the subesequent results are ambitious, consistently brilliant, and in ‘Jane With Dumbells’ contain possibly one of the finest parting shot a band have ever penned.

Darren Hayman – Essex Arms
The old adage goes that the middle child is always the unloved one. But, like all rules, there are inevitable exceptions. That’s certainly true in the case of Darren Hayman’s Essex Arms, the centre point of his Essex-themed trilogy (both its Harlow-themed predecessor Pram Town and witch trial-centred finale The Violence are also well worth seeking out). Taking us into the wilds of the home counties – and featuring a rather cracking Emmy The Great guest spot – it goes some way to explaining why some have described Darren as a modern-day Ray Davies.

Sodastream – A Minor Revival
The Allmusic description of Sodastream reads ‘a softer, somber Belle & Sebastian’, though a good as a quip as it is, it sells Karl Smith & Co a tad short. Reflective and contemplative, the expertly crafted laments – played ostensibly on guitar and cello – make the perfect post-festival/Sunday morning lie-in listening. Should A Minor Revival prove to your liking, he Fortuna-released follow-ups Reservations and Karl Smith solo record are waiting to be investigated too.

Comet Gain – Paperback Ghosts
With its Ryan Jarman-produced predecessor, Howl Of The Lonely Crowd, verging on garage-rock it was interesting to discover the latest Comet Gain offering had a more reflective feel to it. Supposedly by the psychogeography of North London woodlands, it presents a perfect distillation of winsome, bittersweet 60s-influenced pop, and in ”Sad Love’ And Other Short Stories’ offers the perfect companion to the much-loved ‘You Can Hide Your Love Forever’.

Airport Girl – Slow Light
Considering it has not one but two members of the Price family on the credits, on the surface it looks like an early Kinks record, but ‘Slow Light’ sounds like a late era Go-Betweens record. No, really. ‘Show Me The Way’ could easily sit on ’16 Lovers Lane’, and the rest of the album isn’t far behind. Little wonder Rob, in his Mexican Postcards guise, can be found playing the Hangover Lounge’s annual Grant McLennan tribute event

Tender Trap – Ten Songs About Girls
It would be remiss to create a Fortuna buyer’s guide and not include something featuring perennial indie heroine Amelia Fletcher. The last Tender Trap record was/is an utter peach, equally at home on propulsive opener ‘Train To King’s Cross Station’ to the hushed, heartbreaking ‘Memorabilia’. Expertly crafted as it undoubtedly is, it makes you wonder if there’s any limit to Ms Fletcher’s musical Midas touch…

The Ballet – I Blame Society
If like me (and, for that matter, David Just Joan) you wish that all music would sound like The Magnetic Fields’ ‘Get Lost’, then boy do The Ballet have the record for you. Equal parts shimmer and subtle pulsing, the electro-tinged offerings are the perfect balance of hope, self-doubt and gentle melancholia, not to mention dreamy and immersive. If you need a new morning-after-the-night-before album, then look no further.

The Ladybug Transistor – Clutching Stems
If ever there was a record perfect for wistful wanderings on a crisp morning, then ‘Clutching Stems’ is surely it. Possessing an inherent sense of immediate warmth and a wonderful collection of woodwind flourishes over its half hour duration, and topped with Gary Olson’s Jens Lekman-esque croon, it’s an album to forget your troubles and lose yourself in.

Milky Wimpshake – Lovers Not Fighters
Pete Dale’s output both on Fortuna Pop and via his earlier Slampf endeavours is as numerous as it is diligent, but on ‘Lovers Not Fighters’ his ability to meld politics of the heart and Westminster in two-minute pop song is perhaps best exhibited. Able to go from insanely catchy (‘Dialling Tone’, ‘Bourgeois Blues ’99) to witheringly scathing (‘Jack Ass’), it’s as fine an introduction to Dale & Co’s work as a newcomer could hope to find.

Tullycraft – Lost In Light Rotation
Forever known as the band who exclaimed ‘fuck me, I’m twee!’ and sing about pop songs your new boyfriend is too stupid to know about, Tullycraft brought out the big guns for last year’s new ‘un courtesy of respected producer Phil Ek. The results see the same carefree, riotously fun charm we’ve all come to expect (see the title track for proof) mixed with an added sense of focus and purpose. What more could you possibly want?

The Spook School – Dress Up
Were the question asked as to what would happened were a handful of Edinburgh-ites thrown together and joined by a Captain Caveman-esque sticksman disconcertingly fond of taking his top off then The Spook School would be the answer. Possessing a Madness-like ability to marry heavy topics (sexuality and identity) with disgustingly fun tunesmithery, ‘Dress Up’ is the unlikely summer record missing from your collection. If you’ve ever been around when a disco drops ‘I’ll Be Honest’ you’ll know what I mean; if not….take cover?

Evans The Death – S/T
It takes a special kind of precociousness to name your band after a Dylan Thomas character and your first single after a BBC Cold War drama that, depending on your age, either still terrifies you or your parents, but these scamps (they were in their teens when their début album got released) have the songs to back it up. Often frenetic, always ballsy and awash with youthful exuberance, it’s the sound of a bunch of adolescents gunning for their dream. Which is as exciting as it sounds.

Crystal Stilts – In Love With Oblivion
Almost tailor-made to communicate the message that Fortuna Pop! is more than a holding pen for purveyors of jangly pop, Crystal Stilts provide the brooding and slightly subversive sound of the early 70s New York underground, while mixing it with a keen eye for a melody. Theirs may be a world of black clothes and impenetrable shades, but there’s still an innate ability to inject some pop nous into the moody atmospherics.

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – S/T
This probably needs little introduction, seeing as it’s arguably one of the Fortuna Pop!’s biggest sellers and, as Sean put it in period, “the most ridiculous thing that’s ever happened to the label”. But as ubiquitous as it is, it’s still packed full of urgent, vibrant pop songs and thus invariably deserving of a space on your shelf should you not already own it. When’s the last time you heard ‘Young Adult Friction’ at an indie disco and didn’t dance to it? Exactly…

Joanna Gruesome – Weird Sister
If you’ve ever lay awake at night wondering what would a band that formed in anger management therapy would sound like, then you can start sleeping easy again. The perfect mix of noise and melody, Joanna Gruesome’s comparison to My bloody Valentine (albeit the era when Kevin Shields sang about necrophilia, rather than taking 20 years to make a record) will always exist, but maybe that’s selling them short. Pete Paphides described them as sounding like John Peel’s 1986 Festive 50 being played all at once, which is probably the finest summary you’ll find anywhere.

Withered Hand – New Gods
Withered Hand’s 2011 Indietracks set saw people actually running to the merch tent afterwards to get a copy of début offering ‘Good News’ nestling snugly in their mitts. Recent follow-up ‘New Gods’ suggests Dan Wilson is a songwriter at the peak of his powers, with the ensuing record equal parts joyous and poignant and all served up with a healthy dose of Wilson’s emotive, detail-laden lyrics. Don’t be surprised if 2011’s merch tent scenes play out again this year.