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Sarah 100 Popfest by Rodney
Not a complete report (I'm still collecting my thoughts) but just a note about the utter strangeness of the whole day...strange but quite wonderful Imagine almost all the most hardcore Sarah/Indiepop fans from around the world coming together for the whole day. People from Singapore (Alfred!), Japan, the US, Canada, Portugal, Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Hungary, Greece, Sweden...(the list goes on)...and all parts of the UK meeting up, swapping fanzines, records, just making friends. We had 25 people for the picnic on the Downs and about 12 for the Bristol tour. The abiding memory though was 400 popkids, having taken over Bristol City Centre, sitting and standing around on the docks, just soaking up the atmosphere. I think the whole thing took on mystical status part of the way through. Certainly I reckon the day will be long remembered by all those who went...a Woodstock for the indiepop generation!

And the sun shone for us all day...

A week on everything is in slightly better perspective. Still rather dreamlike though so this report's likely to be a little impressionistic...

10.00 am - Bristol Bus Station - Met Alfred and Peter (and Pete's friend Oliver Marsh Marigold), dropped their bags off and headed for Temple Meads to meet some more people.

11.30 am - Temple Meads - Met Jen Matson and Steve Burt (from America) and did not meet the screaming hordes of French popkids (led by Denis) that we'd been led to expect.

12.15 pm - Fountain Island - Aha...a crowd. Here we met Gerard (+friends Laura and Lee) from Hull, Sean, Chris from Texas and his friend Mike from Burnham. I sort of introduced myself, sheepishly sold "This August's Farewell Kiss" and attempted to herd popkids up to the Downs...where we met the previously anticipated hordes of French popkids (strangely almost all from around Bordeaux).

12.30 - The Downs opposite the Garden Flat(s) - Picnictime with strangely uncoordinated introductions (about 25 people present), a very friendly labrador and an abortive attempt by Jen and Peter to demonstrate Tweenet. It didn't work mainly because the sun was shining a bit too hard:)

1.30 - Belgrave Hill via the Garden Flat(s) - no one took any notice of me when I pointed out the infamous place where it all started (everyone already ignoring me) but they did perk up when we reached Belgrave Hill (scene of classic Brighter LP cover shot). Lot's of photos taken - I wonder what the residents thought...?

1.55 - The Observatory - after a *long* mainly uphill walk (sorry Jen!) we reached the Observatory and the view over Avon Gorge towards the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Sighs all round. This view and the Bridge really is something special. The French kids and Oliver decided to split here obviously deciding they couldn't take any more:)

2.15 - White Lion Inn - Refreshment break (much needed). Unfortunately we were meant to meet the Tweebus from London at the top of Brandon Hill around 2.30 (with Elisa, Sheila and Richard Waaah amongst others) and we were nowhere near getting there. So I marked the map for Pete and the others and Heather (My Surly Girlfriend) and I got a taxi to Brandon Hill.

2.45 - Me and Heather finally scaled the peak and, unfortunately, couldn't find Elisa and the others anywhere (later they said they were there but hmmmm...). So we flaked out for a bit.

3.00 - The others arrived and we all proceeded to go up the Cabot Tower and admire the view. It *was* nice but for some reason it was incredibly difficult to prise the American popkids out of the explanations.

3.15 - There and Back Again Lane - Discovering the street was a tiny little cul-de-sac and not some majestic boulevard hopefully didn't disappoint anyone. Almost all of us posed for snaps around the one remaining street sign (the other one having strangely disappeared) with Heather (MSG) casting various exasperated aspersions towards us while nearby waiters and passersby looked on curiously.

3.30 - Arnolfini - Refreshment break. We lost Sean and Mike around this stage.

3.55 - Ferry Boat Trip - Very long and fairly tranquil boat trip around the Floating Harbour. This was meant to recharge our batteries but instead I think it finished some of us off (though Steve Burt got pretty excited seeing 'Emily` the world-reknown ferryboat). By this stage, after a very long walk, uphill and downdale people were ready for bedtime.

Only another 11 HOURS to go...

So if the tour was dreamy - what can you say about the evening itself?

Oddly the hours leading up to the event were probably more special than our time on the boat - certainly, for me, more important than the bands. We (Heather and I) were sitting out on the dockside and it gradually became apparent that the whole of central Bristol was, for one day only, being turned into PopKidWorld (c). Wherever you looked there were indiepop fans sitting by the docks, chatting, reminiscing, smiling and laughing. Half the people were friends - the other half became friends. For once no one seemed shy - everyone was simply drunk on the moment.

This atmosphere - feeling part of something greater than yourself, feeling at the centre of the world just for the night -was all pervasive. I know from what Denis and Sean have said that they felt it too - but for someone who lives and works in Bristol this ambience felt perhaps even more special and a more than a little bizarre. I know I'm probably getting a little giddy but that evening there was a strange glowing aura around everything - a little like you get just before a summer thunderstorm.Electricity, I suppose. Like the night Gregory danced with Susan in the park...I *know* this sounds stupid...but I felt it.

As we headed onto the boat Clare asked me how the tour went and I said "Oh yeah, fine" I didn't really have the words to say much else. In front of us were two poor Spanish popkids without tickets. They came from Spain and they didn't have tickets!?! Of course Matt and Clare were their usual responsible selves and though the boat was incredibly crowded I'm quite certain that no more that the 400 ticket holders were let in ;)

Onboard it was just as joyful. I've been to each of the Sarah Christmas Parties and none came anywhere near this for sheer party atmosphere (that sounds tacky - it wasn't, the atmosphere was genuinely joyful). Meeting up with our friends we met during the day was brilliant - real hugs and heartfelt happiness in seeing them again. Even making some new friends - hello Rachel, Andy, Michael and countless others (selling "This August's Farewell Kiss" was a boon here - you don't need awkward "Erm, hello"s - just "Would you like to buy a fanzine - only 20p" and you're chatting away).

The bands could almost be an afterthought but they don't deserve that. So Pt.3 will be about them...


So the bands. The cheese in the day's sandwich. A very personal appraisal of course.

I've grown to love Blueboy very much indeed. I said it before but I believe that, in years to come, they'll be seen as one of Sarah's most influential bands though I don't think they're given the credit the deserve at the moment. Their first acoustic set, just voice and guitar, was spellbinding. Perhaps the power of the words show up all the more in those circumstances.

I don't usually like Secret Shine much, it must be said. Far too in the debt of others, too in the shadow of 1991. But they sounded good tonight - not overly swoony, just enough male/female harmony - I even heard a couple of tunes. Their climax was a ramshackle but very funny version of the Take That/Barry Manilow classic 'Could It Be Magic?`. If only they could take that pop sensibility and translate it into their songwriting. They'd be unmissable.

Brighter were next I believe (my memory's playing tricks on me) and they were for me, like Peter, the highlight of the evening. They sounded quite perfect. 'Around the World in Eighty Days` was the moment that I realised it was all over. It wasn't just the end of Sarah - it was the end of a very special part of my life. I had a tear in my eye (I'm afraid so). The band were marvellous however - better than I've ever heard them live. They played one gorgeous song I didn't know among the favourites and I pray they think again about reforming. And they played that wonderful song off 'Half Hearted` asking "What happened to the girl?" (sorry I just can't for the life of me think of the title) which I always took as a not so coded attack on Sarah's compromises (I've always thought that it says a lot about Sarah that they'd release a song that's critical of them just because it's so bloody good). Utterly fantastic.

Which Boyracer simply weren't. They might be heroes to millions but, as the man said, "they never meant shit to me". Staccato, noisy, progressive rubbish. Sorry...I've tried and I just can't bring myself to find anything redeeming about them.

Afterwards was Harvey, Julian (apparently) and a flautist. Now at times I've worried about Mr Williams straying into AOR territory but tonight he reminded us just how good he was. 'Rio` was magnificent. The fact that he was here playing some of his fantastic greatest hits made me terribly nostalgic I'm afraid. But he didn't play 'Anorak City` despite our desperate calls.

The Orchids were wonderful. They may look like 40 year old welders but they play and sing like angels. At times it became like a Queen concert - you could almost feel the audience fight against the urge the raise their lighters - the music was so anthemic (though naturally in a decidedly ironic sense). 'Something for the Longing` was their climax and was truly magical. The crowd shouted louder for an encore here than for any other band. And the Orchids deserved it.

Blueboy again and this time they were almost better (if that was possible) than their acoustic set. Clearly they've a marvellous future as a seminal band. I don't think they'll ever really 'make it`, not while they're together - I think their music is a bit too subtle for that - but they'll influence countless bands with discriminating taste. Fantastic.

Heavenly I don't remember all that much about. They played some of their hits, a few new songs, but no 'Shallow` which was a terrible shame (Mathew's fault it seems). I remember enjoying it but generally being preoccupied by the fact that the end was drawing near...

When Amelia came out, unaccompanied, to sing her last I sighed. 'So` it was and a thoughtful mood descended over the audience. I wasn't really sad, not really. It had been a remarkable day and the bands (Boyracer apart) were all quite magical. As Amelia sang her (and Sarah's) final words I just remembered how good this has all been. How lucky we all were to be part of it. How we've still got all this fantastic music to live with. And how life must go on.

That last was probably my most comforting thought - that all this love and energy and emotion stirred up by the day won't be just lost. That some marvellous things, music, fanzines, whatever, will come about just because all these people got together this day and shared the experience. I've got no doubt about that. Certainly I'm in my most hungry, excited and inspired state (maybe) since summer 1987. The day, Monday August 28 1995, was possibly the best day of my life. Probably.


p.s. Sorry for the cloying sentimentality and the gushing praise. I was just being honest. Hope you all had a sick bag handy ;)

Rodney Crowley for the indiepop mailing-list September, 5th 1995
Last updated: 1-Sep-1995 © 1994-2024 TweeNet Creative Commons License