Sarah was a Bristol-based independent record label founded by Clare Wadd and Matt Haynes in 1987. They closed it down eight years later on reaching the catalogue number SARAH100. Twenty years on, the label is enjoying renewed popularity thanks to a documentary film and a forthcoming book.You can read more about the label’s history and ethos on the official website but to mark the 20th anniversary of the end of the label, here, in no particular order, are 10 of my favourite Sarah record singles (I’ve only chosen one release for each band).
PRISTINE CHRISTINE – THE SEA URCHINS
The jangling guitars, slightly wobbly vocals and low-fi production reminds you of early Primal Scream and represents what many probably consider to be the “Sarah sound”. The truth is that the label’s output was far more diverse than it’s often given credit for, but nonetheless, this, Sarah’s first single, is a three-minute piece of indie-pop perfection, as good a debut release as any record company could hope for. Copies of the single now sell for upwards of £400 on eBay. Unfortunately I don’t own a copy.
SOMETHING FOR THE LONGING – THE ORCHIDS
The Orchids were from Penilee, a council scheme on the outskirts of Glasgow that is about as far removed from the fey, middle-class image of Sarah Records as you could ever imagine. But that didn’t stop them being with the label for the entire duration of its existence, producing three albums and a barrowload of great singles and EPs. Their music developed from standard, indie guitar-based pop to the sample-filled, dance-influenced sound of their third album Striving For The Lazy Perfection. Their finest moment (and arguably the label’s too), 1990’s Something For The Longing, fell somewhere in between the two and was as close to anthemic as introspective, indie-pop gets.
SO SAID KAY – THE FIELD MICE
If there was a Sarah band who could – and should – have made it big, it was the Field Mice. Their records were a hotchpotch of styles – one song would be all strummy acoustic guitars, gentle melodies and dreamy vocals, the next a drum machine/sequencer wigout. Constant throughout were the angsty and deeply – sometimes painfully – personal lyrics of songwriter Bobby Wratten. So Said Kay, the title track of their 1990 EP, is beautifully, melancholic and one of their finest moments. But if the Field Mice had hopes of world domination (and this seems doubtful) they were scuppered by the fact that they were loathed by the music press, who dismissed them as twee, generic, C-86 soundalikes, despite a musical output that was far more adventurous and diverse than most bands of the time. The band split up on stage in 1991 although Wratten continues to produce interesting music under a variety of different names to this day.
I FELL IN LOVE LAST NIGHT – HEAVENLY
Like their predecessors, indie-pop legends Talulah Gosh (more or less the same band with a different name), Heavenly started out all anoraks, stripy t-shirts, floppy fringes and jingle-jangle guitars before moving into slightly darker and more political territory in the mid-90s. This, their first single, is catchy and joyful guitar pop, that opens with a sample of dialogue from a Pee Wee Herman film before kicking into a chirpy tale of unrequited love. Frontwoman Amelia Fletcher, who has gone on to appear in a string of bands including Marine Research, Tender Trap and The Catenary Wires, was awarded an OBE for services to economics in 2014, which must make her unique in indie pop circles.
SAY YES TO EVERYTHING – ST CHRISTOPHER
I don’t know much about St Christopher, other than the fact that they are from York (thanks Wikipedia), they’ve been on the go for about 30 years and that they put out a handful of excellent singles on Sarah, including this one from 1991. The minute-long intro starts with a driving drum beat, which is good. Then the guitars kick in and it gets even better. And then to top it off someone starts battering away at kettle drums. Now that’s the sort of thing you want in a pop record. To top it all off there’s a touch of the Scott Walkers about Glenn Melia’s vocals, which is even more evident on some of their other material.
NOTHING EVER HAPPENS – EVEN AS WE SPEAK
From Australia, Even As We Speak were a Sarah band who probably felt the label wasn’t quite up to the job of taking them where they wanted to go. They did achieve some limited mainstream indie success in the early 90s, scoring a few indie chart hits, getting a reasonable amount of Radio 1 airplay for their album Feral Pop Frenzy and recording sessions for John Peel and Mark Goodier. This single – less than a minute-and-a-half long – is a fairly gloomy affair about going home on your own after a Saturday night out (in a similar vein to How Soon Is Now by The Smiths), but is still more uplifting than the Del Amitri song of the same name.
MAJOR JOHN – THE WAKE
By the time Glasgow-based The Wake teamed up with Sarah they were already well known in indie circles, having spent several years on Factory Records, touring with labelmates New Order. However if the track Joke Shop – an venomous attack on label boss Tony Wilson (“he’s condescending and he’s running a joke shop”) – is anything to go by, the time at Factory was not an entirely happy one. They were introduced to Sarah by their pals The Orchids, and Major John, was their second single on the label. You’ll not be surprised to learn it was about the Prime Minister of the time, John Major. And you’ll be equally unsurprised to learn it wasn’t exactly complimentary despite the jolly tune.
WONDER – THE SPRINGFIELDS
American duo Paul Chastain and Ric Menck released two Sarah singles as The Springfields. Wonder was the second, released almost three years after the first. In many ways it’s typical Sarah, with chiming guitars, tinny drums and wistful male vocals. But the harmonies on the chorus lift it up to another level, and although it’s still very much a British sound, there’s a definite American twang to proceedings. In fact it reminds me a lot of The Pains of Being Pure At Heart and The Drums, both of whom cite Sarah as a big influence. Chastain and Menck released music under a variety of names, but had most success as Velvet Crush, best known for their cover of Teenage Fanclub’s Everything Flows, which led to them being signed by Creation.
BREATHE – ETERNAL
No, it’s not the 90s girl band featuring lads mag favourite Louise Nurding, although I have to admit that would have been interesting to see what Sarah would have done with them. Rather than middle of the road RnB, this Eternal dabbled in what was known at the time as shoegazing; fuzzy guitars, dreamy vocals and, if you listen closely enough, a hint of melody hidden away amid the noise. This was their only single and they split up soon after, having played just one gig. Like fellow shoegazers Ride, Chapterhouse and Slowdive, Eternal came from the Thames Valley area and owned everything My Bloody Valentine had ever recorded (probably). One of them even went on to join Slowdive after Eternal broke up.
RIO – ANOTHER SUNNY DAY
Harvey Williams was probably Sarah’s most prolific artist. As well recording as Another Sunny Day, he also played with the Field Mice, The Hit Parade and Blueboy and produced a solo album under his own name. This was his best single, acoustic guitars and sweeping (synthetic) strings providing the backdrop to his lovelorn vocals, as he pleads with the love of his life to spurn some other feckless interloper and return his affections, even though he seems to know he’s wasting his time.
No BLUEBOY shame on you! LOL
Great choices, especicially Something For The Longing and Rio, which deserve a lot more love, as do Even As We Speak and The Wake generally. I always preferred the punchier sound The Wake had on Sarah to the sound they had on Factory (although their John Leckie-produced final EP for Factory (presumably the one they were cross about the lack of promotion of in Joke Shop) also had the punchier sound). St. Christopher have been rather variable over their long life, I think, but that shouldn’t detract from the fantastic stuff they’ve done. I agree that Blueboy would have been nice, as would The Sweetest Ache and especially Brighter, but it wasn’t a ’13 of the best’ so you did alright 🙂
Nice list as only ten choices is a very difficult task for fans of Sarah. Interesting choice with Eternal. I’ve read reviews/comments from both ends of the spectrum with that release and although shoegaze wasn’t Sarah’s Forte I consider it a hidden gem.
I would have gone with Brighter in that list as well. I think about The Poppyheads as well, something kinda special about “Dreamabout”.
Glad you had St. Christopher as well. I feel they don’t get enough recognition.
Shout out to Christine’s Cat!
Love this, brought back some great memories.