Panda Su: Black-Eyed Blues

For the past couple of years, Fife lass Suzanne Shaw - AKA Panda Su - has been infiltrating the Scottish underground, winning and breaking the hearts of many with her bittersweet acoustic style. It looks like the songwriter's painted face is about to become unavoidable this year.

Feature by Ryan Drever | 02 Mar 2010
  • Panda Su

Like that scene at the start of The Wrestler, where Mickey Rourke tapes up his wounds backstage at a community centre, Suzanne Shaw has been known to hunch over bathroom sinks in countless beer-soaked venues for the past couple of years with similar focus, painstakingly painting her face like a panda. No, she's not crazy, nor is she some part-time childrens entertainer. She is, however, one of the most intriguing figures to waltz onto the Scottish circuit in recent times: She is Panda Su.

Far from the shock rock gimmickry of yore, Su's now almost trademark self-decoration is more a reflection of her dry humour, adding a darkly comic tone to her collection of pretty and often remarkably poignant acoustic numbers. However, if it's not meant as some kind of deliberate, albeit abstract selling point, then what exactly inspired Ms Shaw to emulate her doe-eyed muse? "Well, my own name was already in use by Suzanne Shaw who won Dancing on Ice," she laments. "I wanted the name Panda Bear but that had already been taken too. Then one day I was walking home from the park, I got on the wrong side of two girls and went home with two black eyes. The name Panda Su just sort of stuck."

Collaborating with close friends including producer and former Beta Band-er Steve Mason, Shaw – who hails from St Andrews – has spent the bulk of her time under this deceptively cuddly moniker crafting songs that boast both quirky idiosyncrasy and fragile balladry. Consequently, this quickly heralded an influx of attention and praise from her adopted Glasgow scene as well as many of her peers including fellow Fifers King Creosote and KT Tunstall; owing as much to her intimate live performances as her striking debut EP, Sticks And Bricks.

When describing her development as a songwriter, it all appears to be rather effortless, though just as playful and imaginative as you might expect: "I used to write my own lyrics to songs like Greensleeves and Edelweiss on my Yamaha keyboard when I was about 7 years old," says Shaw. "At 10 I started writing my own songs and would sing them to the other kids in my class. They would make up the backing track using their recorders. Then I spent the next 10 years honing my songwriting skills." And hone them she has.

Though previously self-released, Sticks and Bricks had its official digital release at the end of January. Now, with a trip to Europe and tentative festival dates in the works - already including a welcome return to the annual Fence 'Homegame' this month - as well as Shaw's keen desire to lock herself in her room and get cracking on the next release, the coming year is already looking to be busier and bigger for her bamboo-munching alter-ego.

Panda Su plays Homegame, Anstruther on 12-14 Mar; Sneaky Pete's, Edinburgh on 26 Mar (supporting North Atlantic Oscillation) and Hinterland Festival, Glasgow on 3 Apr.