Last updated: 17 September 2009
"It was easy to be the coolest kid on the block in 1985, let's face it." The story of the craziest, coolest Welsh record label.
Fierce Recordings, the Swansea record label founded in 1985, did things a bit differently. Like not worrying about who actually owned the songs they were bootlegging and releasing. But hey, what's copyright between friends? And with friends like Sonic Youth, Fierce were just painfully cool. They did, however, combine that cool with a hefty dose of controversy.
"Unlike the majority of labels, Fierce was never about wanting to release music so much as wanting to document stuff," says label co-founder Steve Gregory. Gregory had previously run Sonic International Records in the city, releasing the highly-collectable Plastic Land EP by The Tunnelrunners among other things. He hooked up with Steve 'Haggis' Harris to found Fierce; Harris would go on to play bass in Zodiac Mindwarp and The Cult.
"Sonic International was part of the whole punk rock fanzine culture, where it was just fun to be doing something that contributed in some way to whatever scene you happened to be enjoying at the time," says Gregory. "There were groups in Swansea who I reckoned needed to be on vinyl if only for posterity's sake and the chance of a cursory spin on John Peel's radio show."
"In the early days it was a mixture of how far we could take the piss and how cool could we be doing it," says Harris. "We were both basically huge fans of pop music, pop art and all the points in between. If you fitted in that category and we liked you, then you were fair game for some attention from Fierce."
Gregory recalls what Harris brought to the label: "Haggis thought having a label looked like fun: booking studios, couriering drugs to the mixing sessions, over-paying remixers, allocating catalogue numbers to his favourite skate ramp, that sort of thing.
"For my part, I was by this time a big record collector and I fancied having a record label to make the records I personally wanted but no-one else could be bothered with. Haggis was the perfect foil."
The label's first release was celebrity murderer and cultist Charles Manson's The Love And Terror Cult, for no other reason that it was highly collectable and Haggis wanted his own copy. So Fierce bootlegged it and the ball started rolling. "We stirred up some sh*t in the papers," recalls Gregory. "But we received no aggravation whatsoever. It was easy to be the coolest kid on the block in 1985, let's face it."
A single by ex-Killing Joke (and future Orb) man Youth nearly happened, but then a sequence of singles put them firmly on the map: two more Charles Manson singles (including his cover of The Beatles' Helter Skelter), an interview 7" with Sky Saxon and The Jesus And Mary Chain's Riot, a recording from their infamous North London Poly gig in 1985.
"I bought a gig tape at a record fair and multi-tracked the best bits of crowd noise until it sounded like a solid three minutes of mayhem," recalls Gregory.
Up to now, Fierce hadn't quite burst into the national consciousness but Gregory - now working on his own at Fierce - was about to rectify that in 1988. "I was about to press a 7" featuring [John Lennon's killer] Mark Chapman singing Imagine. Don't ask where the tape came from; some things still cannot be told. This was reported in the NME, and the Daily Mail [picked up on it].
"They printed a shock expose headlined 'Sick disc by Lennon killer'. The day after the Mirror piece I had several reporters and photographers ambushing me before breakfast at my door. By this time Haggis was on tour with The Cult, so I had him on the phone from Sydney or somewhere, while we had a good laugh and congratulated each other."
After this furore died down, Fierce stuck with official recordings, and their biggest coup came when they released two exclusive Sonic Youth singles, Stick Me Donna Magick Momma and Making The Nature Scene. "Thurston Moore thought the label was the coolest thing on the planet, at a time when the coolest thing on the planet was actually Thurston," says Gregory.
Other notable releases included Hated Chinee by Steve Albini's Rapeman, Spacemen 3's Dreamweapon and The Pooh Sticks' debut single On Tape. The Swansea band stayed on the label for a while, releasing a five single box set (including the indie classic I Know Someone Who Knows Someone Who Knows Alan McGee Quite Well) and a fake live album.
They passed on the Manic Street Preachers: "Releasing a good record by a good new band is something that any label could have done".
The label's last release came in 1995, with Spacemen 3's Revolution Or Heroin.
"I do know of people who started successful labels inspired by Fierce," says Gregory. "But I've never considered it a workable blueprint. It was just of its time and place.".
Original interviews by Noel Gardner