With a back catalogue of releases matched in length only by his impressive beard, the ineffably decent local music celebrity Tom Simmonds, otherwise known as Captain Tom, took some time out of his busy schedule to talk to Sutured from Flares and Seagulls ahead of Fat Hippy’s upcoming single launch night with Turning 13.
So captain Tom, Fat Hippy Records is an Aberdeen institution, you’ve been going since 2002. 8 years is a long time in local record label time is it not?
Yeah, there is maybe a tendency in the “grass roots” music industry for promoters, labels, producers, etc to have high acheivement curves but short lifespans. I think it’s because sometimes high expectations don’t quite match potential. When you start doing these things it’s easy to be too ambitious, to want to turn it into a full time job within a couple of years. Unfortunately, at this level it’s just not a plausible ideal. When I started Fat Hippy my thoughts were ‘ok, if I’m still doing this in two years and I haven’t lost a tonne of money I’ll be happy.’
But, then again things are a bit different for me. Before the label I had already had the studio for 6 years, I’d had a massive amount of exposure to the music industry. I’d worked with a lot of band, managed a band signed to a label down in London and worked as a roadie…I’ve been involved in it since I was 16 and experienced it at all different levels, from all different angles.
So how did Fat hippy come about?
A deal with the band I was managing down in London fell through. Huge arguments were had and a lot of shouting went on. We eventually packed up and came back to Aberdeen, disenfranchised with the universe. On the way, a drunken night in a campsite in Birmingham led to us running around naked. And that’s actually where the logo comes from. It’s a silhouette of me running naked round a campsite in Birmingham.
That emotional moment captured coupled with the experience I had with the band in London… working with the label, playing by the rules, doing everything by the book, trying to make it work, huge amounts of investment of time and money and then being met with the realities of the music industry were what made me think… You know what? I could probably do this better myself. I’ve already got the studio, all I need is a few hundred quid to get started.
Is that all you need to start a label then?
Yeah. I get asked that a lot by people, How did you start your label? and I always just tell them I got up in the morning and said to myself ‘right I’m running a label’ and that was it. Got the logo scanned in, found a manufacturer, picked the first two bands to record and just went for it.
It’s not my want to particularly interact with the music industry that is already there, I don’t like the way it works or its objectives. I don’t really think it’s what music is all about so I’m quite happy to have my own little musical bubble where things are played out a little differently.
Where everything is the way you want it to be?
Not even the way I want it to be particularly, just a way that is more comfortable and accomodating for artists.
So What’s uncomfortable about the larger music industry as it is?
Well, I think if you’re dealing with a creative personality it should be accepted that that personality is gonna be an odd ‘shape’ for want of a better description. Artists, musicians, creative people are not straight forward, normal people and when you’re dealing with a bunch of people like that you have to give them space. You can’t just give them a bunch of rules, tell them to sign this and that, make them abide by these instructions. That’s not what music is about at all.
So even after all these years you still believe the creativity of a musician should be respected, you haven’t become at all jaded?
Absolutely it should. Obviously I’ve seen a lot of bands come and go, some more quickly than others. Fads and images come and go. Of course there are a multitude of reasons why someone may want to start or join a band, whether it be for the image or, you know, because their girlfriend wants them to. But, the larger part of what we do is about creating music. I know it’s not an easy thing to do to get 4 or 5 people in a room once or twice a week, working together, communicating, getting things right, accepting other people’s input. You have to have the tendancy and nature to want to go into a room and fight through what is an effort. Being in a band is hard work. People might think ‘right start a band, easy, 3 chords go!’ and of course it’s a lot more complicated than that so yeah, i’ve got a lot of respect for anyone that comes into the studio.
Back to the label, how happy are you with where you’re at with Fat Hippy right now and how does your situation now differ from the goals and objectives you set when you started out?
It’s not essentially ever the way I’ve approached it to be honest. A huge amount of what I’ve done with the studio, the label, the gigs i’ve put on tends to be very reactionary. It’s impossible to go in with a scaffolding structure of a plan, you have to react to what’s happening at the time. If the music scene is quiet then I won’t try and force anything to happen. Then if there’s a buzz about a particular band that’s the time to do something.
When I first started Fat Hippy we did a whole lot of stuff pretty quickly. It seemed like there was a massive buzz. Within the first 23 months following the first two releases we did something like 28 releases because so many bands turned up wanting to be a part of it. And I just kind of went with it, there was no intent to release so many.
So do you sense definite peaks and troughs in Aberdeen’s musical output?
Most definitely. Without the rises and falls there would be nothing.
So are we currently on an up?
Oh aye. For sure.
What makes you say that?
With the whole recession thing. Traditionally music is something that gets better at times like these. I mean what happens if you give a bunch of musicians more time off?! They make more music. It’s a stupid way to think about it but it’s true. I’m definitely feeling a rise at the moment.
It’s not even particular bands, just a general feeling. A lot of people who used to play coming back to their instruments, reforming their old bands, live music is thriving, festivals. Live music is huge at the moment.
Speaking of bands getting back together, you’re upcoming release is with Turning 13.
Yeah, it’s weird, I’ve known them for years but never once did I think it was a band I could help. Sometimes you see a band that you think could benefit from your input but I never thought that with them. Maybe I just never ‘got’ them. But when they came back and started playing gigs again, you could just feel the vibe. I came out of one of their gigs thinking ‘oh yeah, I remember all these songs… and they’re great’… they pass the old grey whistle test. (Captain Tom goes on to explain the provenance of the term ‘old grey whistle test’ and I gratefully learn something new).
I’m really chuffed they’re back on the go, better and more hungry than ever.
Yeah I get off on that. I don’t necessarily want to work with a band where I’ve got to do a lot work. I kinda look for people who have got that drive, where all I’ve got to do is give them a product. Open the cage door if you like.
Nice little segué there… I wanted to ask you what your criteria are when looking for a band to work with. How does it work? Do you go to them or do they come to you?
I go to them. If I’m being completely honest, there’s no way I’d ever be able to listen to all the demos I get. I even get bands sending me things from places like London and I just think ‘I’m 500 odd miles away, how can I possibly help you?!’
All the interest is surely a good thing.
Yeah, Fat Hippy has been around for so long, we have had our successes. The Xcerts and Driveblind
come to mind. A lot of the CDs have sold really well. We’ve had some good coverage over the years.
Is that important to you, to get widespread recognition?
I dunno. I don’t really think I could handle having a huge successful, multi million selling record label. Maybe it’s because I’ve been here (the studio) every day for 13 years but it’s the creative bit that really gets me going, not any other aspect of running a label.
Tom, It’s been a pleasure. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Sutured.
Turning 13’s single String She Pulled is out on Fat Hippy Records on the 29th of March with the launch party taking place on the 26th of March at Café Drummonds.