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Sarah Records: From Bristol with Love

One of my all-time favourite record labels, Sarah Records, was only ever in existence briefly from 1987 to 1995; not even a full decade. I have been reading Micahel White‘s book, “Popkiss“, about it this week and quite enjoying it. It has resulted in me digging out the records and falling in love with the music all over again. One unexpected discovery was the fact that a lot of the music has been made available to buy and stream on music platform Bandcamp… which prompted me to write this piece!

Based in Bristol (of all places) in the UK, Sarah Records was formed by two friends who had a love of music and the then-thriving fanzine (do-it-yourself) community. Tired and unimpressed by a lot of what was happening in mainstream music (Punk was too angry and non-melodic, post-punk was too gloom-and-doom) they decided to just up and create their own record label. As with most things about Sarah Records, it was decided on the spur of the moment.

Neither of the co-founders, Matt Haynes and Claire Wadd, had any experience running a record label, much less an actual business, but they had the enthusiasm for it and they had a love of music. They also had a great ear for music and a desire to share that music with others.

One of the things that has always impressed me about the music released on Sarah Records was that, despite how rough and unpolished it often was, the songs themselves were impactful. Somehow, Matt and Claire could hear beyond the production value and (in some cases) lack of actual musical ability in the artists whose music they agreed to release.

Some of the releases are sparkling and clean, beautiful and polished; others are clunky and filled with little artifacts that, on any other label, would have been declared a failed take. What binds them all together is that there isn’t a single release that was produced for any reason other than a love of the music. I may be exaggerating, but I truly believe that 99% of the music released on the Sarah Records label was done so with heart, with the intent of sharing an idea and a feeling. I don’t believe there was a single song released on the label that was done so with the intent of making money. In this sense, Sarah Records released music that is truly music and melody as art as opposed to product.

DON’T MISUNDERSTAND!!! THIS DOESN’T MEAN THEY RELEASED NOTHING BUT WEIRD ARTSY-FARTSY NOISE!!

On the contrary.

The music released on Sarah Records is, by and large, far more melodic and charming than that of many of their contemporaries! True, there was some very punk-sounding stuff (“”Let’s Build a Dyson Sphere” by The Golden Dawn) and some weird WTF moments (“Humblebee” by The Field Mice) but even then, the music is honest and sincere.

Despite being (essentially) a record label run by and populated with music fans who were influenced by previous styles of popular music; a lot of came out of Sarah Records ended up influencing many artists from future generations. Likely this was much to the surprise of everyone involved! 🙂

The music has been described as “twee” or “fey”… implying that is is too gentle, not masculine enough, hasn’t got any teeth, too vanilla…no “balls” if you will. In fact, many of the music magazines of the day tended to dismiss Sarah Records releases without having listened.

If Sarah Records suffered from anything during their 8 year run, it was prejudice from the music press. If you read the reviews and contemporary articles about their releases, you would be convinced that everything was sub-par and all sounded the same. In truth, gentle guitar-based singer/songwriter style songs like the gorgeous “Inside Out” by Brighter may be considered a bit twee, but then how can you lump it in with a dance-floor synthesizer-infused crowd pleaser like “The Sadness of Sex Part 1” by The Orchids or distortion and fuzz-filled scorcher like Secret Shine‘s “Loveblind“?

So, why am I writing about this tiny little obscure record label that went out of business nearly 25 years ago after having released about a hundred 7″ singles, a handful of 10″ EPs, and only a few LPs (mostly compilations culled from Sarah Records’ own previously released 7″ singles)? Why do I still care? Why does anyone (Enough to make a documentary and write a book??)??

Because the music still resonates.

Unlike a lot of music of the period, there were no desires to “fit in” and there was no need to be commercial. The music simply was what it was and it stands or falls on its own. In my opinion, for the most part, the vast majority of the music that was released by Sarah Records (by bands you’ve never heard of like The Field Mice, Brighter, The Orchids, Blueboy, The Sweetest Ache, Gentle Despite, Secret Shine, The Sea Urchins, and Another Sunny Day) still stands up. It may have it’s faults (perhaps some of it is a bit twee, in retrospect) but the honesty and integrity of the artists still shines through and makes the music worth hearing, worth discovery, and worth having in your collection!

Previously, this was a real problem since the format of choice for Sarah Records was the beloved 7″ single. This isn’t exactly the format that people rush out to buy these days is it? Add to that the fact that most of the singles were only pressed in quantities of a few hundred at a time, then deleted and unavailable… and you can begin to see why Sarah Records felt the need to release 12″ albums that contained songs culled from their out-of-print back catalog of singles.

The original Sarah Records singles, depending on the artist and condition of the record, can sell for hundreds of dollars on the used record market place. The compilations LPs which feature many of the most beloved songs from Sarah’s catalog also tend to sell for ridiculous amounts of money. A recent revival in interest about the record label has had the unexpectedly wonderful side-effect of making a lot of the music available digitally (and thus affordable) for the first time!

I’m not sure what possessed Matt Haynes to finally give in and (essentially) reissue many of these out-of-print records digitally, but I am very glad that he has!

Although the complete catalog of 7″ records hasn’t been reissued, all of the original 12″ LPs have. This means all of the original long-unavailable Sarah Records compilations are now available to buy and stream! It also means that most of the 12″ albums that were released, such as The Field Mice‘s “For Keeps“, Secret Shine‘s “Untouched” and The Orchid‘s “Striving For The Lazy Perfection” are also easily available again for the first time in over 20 years! And, although none of the singles themselves are available digitally, many of these digitally released albums include “bonus tracks” in the form of the singles that these bands released on Sarah Records.

Try some of the music for yourself.

Do you like quiet guitar based music? Try Brighter.

Do you like shoegaze? Try Secret Shine.

Do you like rock fused with a bit of melancholy and maybe some cool beats? Try The Orchids.

Do you like guitar based music with an occasional hint of Spanish influence? Try Blueboy.

Do you like… well, frankly, they changed styles so often it’s hard to generalize… just try The Field Mice. “Emma’s House“, “Sensitive“,”When Morning Comes to Town” and “Coach Station Reunion” being among my favourites of theirs.

Don’t Believe me? Stream some of the music for yourself now that you actually CAN! Or are you scared to get Happy?:)

Almost everything ever released on the label is now available to stream on Spotify.

Michael White‘s fantastic book, “Popkiss“, is still available from the Book Depository with free international shipping as of the time of this posting, and it’s definitely worth getting!.

The Sarah Records Back-Catalog is available digitally from Bandcamp. The Sarah Records compilations albums, featuring the non-album singles are also available from Bandcamp. Here is their final release, a compilation called “There and Back Again Lane“, which served as a retrospective of the label’s entire catalog.

#Indiepop #vinyl #music #myrecordcollection #SecretShine #FieldMice #TheOrchids #Brighter #SweetestAche #OasisTW #Popkiss #Taiwan #janglepop #Chiayi #birdienumnumstw #musicboxtw #sarahrecords

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