The Scotsman Sessions #154: Big Fat Panda

Welcome to The Scotsman Sessions. With performing arts activity curtailed for the foreseeable future, we are commissioning a series of short video performances from artists all around the country and releasing them on scotsman.com, with introductions from our critics. Here, Edinburgh ska band Big Fat Panda perform their new song Man in the Middle, taken from the forthcoming album of the same name

No time of year is a bad time for a bit of raucous ska energy, but in the lead-up to Christmas it’s especially welcome to get us all in the party spirit – even if the Santa hats have to be put on outdoors and the usually eight-strong Big Fat Panda reduced to six socially distanced members in order to keep Covid-safe.

“You’ve got to use the term ‘singer’ loosely,” laughs Andy Laidlaw, describing his own role in proceedings. “I’m the frontman, I just do all the jumping and shouting.” For this performance of Man in the Middle, taken from Big Fat Panda’s forthcoming EP of the same name, Laidlaw has toned down that onstage enthusiasm somewhat, but you can tell this is still a band who are all about the good times.

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Based in Edinburgh, with a couple of members who are originally from Manchester and Darlington, Big Fat Panda have been a going concern since the mid-2000s, after Laidlaw returned from a spell living in England; before that, he was the frontman of an early incarnation of long-serving Scottish ska group Bombskare.

Big Fat Panda

These days he’s a cobbler, but in normal times Big Fat Panda are still an enduringly popular live band; Laidlaw recounts the time they flew all the way to Australia and back for an hour’s gig in support of the band Mental As Anything. They regularly play their own charitable Food Bank Skank nights, where entry is by donation of a bag of food.

“Ska is just good fun,” says Laidlaw. “It deals with issues, but it doesn’t push them down your throat – as long as it’s a catchy tune. What are we, on the third or fourth wave now? It’s more an American style, more fast-paced – certainly a lot faster than what 2-Tone was and what the original ’50s and ’60s reggae was. But it’s just great fun, eh?”

Man in the Middle, he says, is a nod towards the early ska sound. “It’s just a nonsense song, but a good one to dance to,” he says. “We’re much out of practise, and it was more acoustic than we’re used to, but it was just good to see people. And nice to get a wee dance.”

For more on Big Fat Panda’s Man in the Middle EP and upcoming live gigs (coronavirus restrictions permitting), see www.bigfatpandamusic.com

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