Fortuna POP! – The Little Label That Could

fortuna pop
Sean Price with George Michael courtesy of The Chemistry Experiment

Twenty two years of indie pop supremacy.

One of the first shows we covered here on Overblown was the Fortuna POP! curated Shake the Shacklewell II on August 2nd 2014 at the Shacklewell Arms in London. Just listen to this for a line-up: The Wharves, Thee AHs, No Ditching, Flowers, The Proper Ornaments, Martha, The Spook School, Perfect Pussy, and Joanna Gruesome. It was a pretty magical day involving lots of beer, a typically sweltering Shacklewell Arms, and more exuberantly joyful music than one would hear at most ‘proper’ festivals. Needless to say, we fell in love with Fortuna POP! instantly although we were a little late to the party.

Twenty two years ago Fortuna POP! led by Sean Price dropped their first release with a plop into the world. A 7″ single called ‘Fallen Angel’ by a little known lo-fi group called Taking Pictures, it is a jangly and simple affair replete with Lou Reed-esque vocals and an avant garde noise influenced solo. In the years since Fortuna POP! became an institution that valued both the history of music and aimed to push things forward too. It was an institution of vinyl, fanzines, loyalty, diversity, and the sheer joy of combining noise and pop.

Releasing records by the likes of The Spook School, Joanna Gruesome, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Pete Astor, Flowers, September Girls, Evans the Death, Darren Hayman, and so many others, the label grew into a trusted and invaluable resource for indie pop fans in the UK and all over the world.

By last year, with regular gigs, a growing frequency in releases, and a partnership with American spiritual sister label Slumberland Records, Fortuna POP! seemed to be stronger than ever. Alas, at the ever wonderful Indietracks festival in July Sean Price announced that, “after twenty years, 200 releases, a mountain of debt, and very little sleep” the label would be shutting its doors once and for all.

While it is was naturally shocking and upsetting to hear that such an integral part of the British music scene will no longer be around to recommend new bands like a reliable friend with impeccable taste, it is important to value the contribution of Sean Price and Fortuna POP! over the past decade.

With this in mind we spoke to seven bands who are deeply indebted to Sean. They told us what Fortuna POP! means to them along with some silly anecdotes and pictures.

At the end of this month, Sean and the label will celebrate the history of Fortuna POP! with Twenty Years of Trouble. You should go.

Tickets here!

Wed 22 March – MOTH Club
First night meet-up with Simon Love & The Old Romantics + DJs + Special Guests – (Five Day Pass Holders Only)

Thur 23 March – 6.30pm – Bush Hall
Withered Hand + The Ballet + Pete Astor + Would-Be-Goods + DJ Ian Watson (How Does It Feel To Be Loved?)

Fri 24 March – 6.30pm – Islington Assembly Hall
The Butterflies Of Love + Sodastream + Flowers + Darren Hayman + DJ Declan Allen

Sat 25 March – 3pm – Tufnell Park Dome / Boston Music Room (all dayer)
Comet Gain + The Proper Ornaments + Evans The Death + The Loves + Mammoth Penguins + Milky Wimpshake + Bearsuit + September Girls + Tigercats + Special Guests

Sun 26 March, 12 noon – The Lexington
Steven James Adams & The French Drops + Tender Trap / The Catenary Wires + Elva + DJs John Jervis & Ben Clancy (The Hangover Lounge) – (Five Day Pass Holders Only)

Sun 26 March, 6:30pm – Scala
Martha + Joanna Gruesome + The Spook School + Chorusgirl + DJ Paul Richards (Scared To Dance)

1. Milky Wimpshake

I first encountered Sean Price because he was part of a collective which put on Heavenly at the Swinging Sporran in Manchester back in 1992 (or was it ’93?) and my band Razorblade Smile were the support act. I don’t actually remember him from that time but got to know him properly later in the 1990’s when he started Fortuna POP!

For a few years, the DIY label which I was co-running (Slampt) was fairly prominent in the UK underground. I daresay that we probably offered something of a blueprint for elements of what Sean would do with Fortuna Pop. That said, Sarah Records was probably more of an influence on him, I imagine, and Creation of course – in any case, Fortuna POP! managed to really build its own identity in a fairly complete way, in the end.

Anyhow, when Slampt shut up shop in 2000, Sean kindly offered to put out Milky Wimpshake on Fortuna POP!, with our second album Lovers Not Fighters being the first of five albums we put out on the label between 2002 and 2015. Over that time, I found Sean a brilliant label boss to work with: efficient, enthusiastic, honest and fair. His good taste in picking acts for the label is amazing: not everyone he put out got the credit they were due (the fabulous Sodastream, for example, were cruelly ignored) but the number of genuinely brilliant records released by Fortuna POP! really staggers me. A great label, an awesome dude, the UK indie scene is so much in Sean Price’s debt – well done that man!

2. Chorusgirl

It’s quite a funny/strange/sad thing that Sean signed us just after Indietracks last year and then at this year’s Indietracks he made the announcement that he was stopping. I remember him saying to me that he would love to do the album with us but could I deliver it in just four weeks. Because of his release schedule, he could only really do it in November with us. So I scrambled and worked like crazy to get it done this time last year. Then the album did really well with his support and the months just flew by. I think Fortuna POP! was such an institution that people expected it to be around forever and hence the sadness at its end, but really running a label at that size and ambition for 20 years is such a feat.

3. The Spook School

Niall (McCamley, drums) used to write letters to bands he liked and one of the people he wrote to was Withered Hand. At one of Fortuna POP!’s Winter Sprinters Sean had booked us and Withered Hand on different days. We stuck around in the days after our show to watch everyone else and Sean heard about how much Niall liked Withered Hand. Sean, sensing he can do something nice, brings Dan (Willson) from Withered Hand over to introduce him to us. “And this is Niall from The Spook School” he says. Dan’s eyes flicker at the mention of the name and recognition slowly dawns. “Did you write me a letter?” Niall giggles nervously and says “Yeah”. Dan nervously replies “I need to chat to someone over there but I’ll be back” and waves vaguely towards the exit and we watch on as he proceeds to leave the bar and doesn’t come back. Sean laughs and looks at Niall, “Did you write him a creepy letter?” “Maybe…”. “Can you please stop creeping out all my bands!”

Other Fortuna POP! bands Niall definitely creeped out: Allo Darlin (in trying to compliment Bill’s cardigan Bill believed he was about to be robbed by our moustachioed silly-billy) and The Ballet (they probably had never seen aggressive dancing and solid eye-contact like Niall’s before in America).

4. Bearsuit

Bearsuit with Sean Price.

Bearsuit owes Sean Fortuna Pop EVERYTHING.

Sean’s seen our birth and our death. He released both our debut and final albums. In 2004, on our first rickety LP, he coaxed us out into the light. Jesus, we were just scared children. We had no idea how to make a record, but we did anyway. And then recently, a few weeks ago, there he was again. Pint in hand and silly grin on his face, watching our emotional farewell gig at Indietracks festival. All I can remember from the years between are chaotic tours, ferry pukes, splitting up, getting back together. Shit gigs, amazing gigs. Laughing. Love. And throughout; Sean’s stoic, sarcastic, totally optimistic presence.

I heard a rumour that Sean turned down mega bucks from a major label to sell Fortuna Pop’s roster. The fact that he said no proves two things; one, that he is an idiot, and two, that he is the indie-est, coolest fucker I know. Without bloody-minded obsessives like Sean putting out unique, clattering records like he did for twenty years, the world will be less weird, less awesome. I suppose you can still listen to all the amazing records he released. But by retiring, he’s really shafted the rest of us, he really has…

5. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart

Fortuna POP! had great taste in bands, an unquestionable love of music and a general distaste for accounting. People ought to remember and celebrate the former.

6. The Chemistry Experiment

Our first release on Fortuna Pop was the (now rather embarrassingly twee titled) Be My Postman. I think we met with Sean in a pub somewhere to discuss it and choose a cover image. We’d taken some photos around town but nothing particularly interesting, and Sean wasn’t impressed. I can’t remember the details (I assume it involved beer and lots of talking crap, as any meeting of the Chemistry Experiment did and still does) but eventually we decided, somehow, that our cover should be of a postman, on a bike, eating a banana.

We weren’t sure how we’d get the picture but Sean said he’d sort it out and so the next week he went over to the main sorting office in Loughborough and stood outside the gates. Eventually our victim (who I think was named Brian) appeared and from what I recall the conversation went something like this:

“Oh hi, um, I run a record label and one of our bands wants a picture of a postman on the record sleeve – would you be up for that”.

“Oh, err, yeah sure, I suppose so”.

“Do you have a bike?”

“No mate, I’ve got a van”

“Ok, well would you mind riding this bike I brought with me?”

“Err, yeah, sure”

“Right great, only thing is I’m not sure about the high-vis jacket. Could you take it off?”

“Yeah, sure”


Sean had also found an old army hat or something somewhere that he thought looked like an old-time postman’s hat.

“And I also brought this hat with me, would you mind wearing this?”

“Umm, ok”

“Yeah that’s really good. One last thing. Would you mind eating this banana?”

And that’s Sean down to a tee. Nothing was ever too much trouble for his bands, and he had an enormous sense of loyalty to them too that went far beyond business. I will miss Fortuna Pop!

7. September Girls

For me, as an indie fan who grew up in the States, UK bands such as Talulah Gosh and Comet Gain held a real cultish fascination for me – It was a natural progression then, upon moving to Europe, to discover Fortuna POP!, which embraced and continued this lo-fi, DIY, yet often politically-charged musical aesthetic. September Girls were asked to play Indietracks in 2012 and we were witness to this big, supportive family of indie-pop fans, and could see how Fortuna was a real cornerstone of this scene.

The following year, when Sean asked to release our music, we were absolutely chuffed to join this family and to become part of the Fortuna POP! story. We have found nothing but encouragement and support in our experimentation. Fortuna Pop always straddled that line of being incredibly approachable, full of advice and highly professional – but instead of feeling like a working relationship, it always felt more like a friendship.

I think I can speak for the whole band in saying that we’re really proud to be a Fortuna POP! artist and that working with Sean really allowed us to grow as artists. Of course it’s bittersweet that Fortuna is shuttering up shop, but we’re delighted that Sean is moving on to a new, exciting chapter. – Jessie from September Girls.

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