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Jen's Penguins...

Discovering Sarah

By Jen Matson

I bought my copy of the Field Mice's "Sensitive" 7" (Sarah 18) with more than a little trepidation. I had only discovered the world of fanzines a couple of months prior, so I was beginning to cautiously explore this whole new realm of music. My two favorite fanzines, Mike Appelstein's Writer's Block and Tim Alborn's Incite! were singing the praises of such labels as Flying Nun, K, and Sarah Records. I'd already bought the Flying Nun compilation LP In Love With These Times (which I promptly fell in love with), and thought Beat Happening made a bit of a racket (what happens when lo-fi meets ears accustomed to hi-fi). I had yet to hear anything from this new indie pop label in England.

My curiosity piqued, I took a chance and picked the record with penguins on the front of the sleeve from out of the dusty, half-empty singles bin. The vinyl re-explosion had yet to happen; in the summer of 1989 compact discs were quickly eclipsing vinyl here in the U.S., particularly the 7" single, which was disappearing faster from the stores than even the vinyl LP. Most of the singles in the 7" bin were imports, as a matter of fact, not that I recognized many of the names at the time. And I had to buy a couple of records, as I'd promised to write a couple of record reviews for the next issue of Writer's Block. The Field Mice it was.

I made a tape of that Field Mice single and listened to it over and over again the last two weeks of August 1989, trying to figure out what to write. This was fine pop music! Nifty inserts, too. I was travelling through the western U.S. those two weeks, over mountains and down into canyons, listening to the Field Mice on my portable walkman and already plotting my next trip to the record store...

I made many return trips to the record store that year for records by the Field Mice, the Orchids, the Springfields, The Golden Dawn, and the Sea Urchins. Later I'd add many, many more to my collection by bands that had yet to be discovered (or formed). Although I never bought absolutely everything Sarah ever released, and other bands slowly supplanted those early Sarah artists as my all-time favorites, I know for certain there are many bands and labels that would not have only remained unknown to my ears but may have very well never existed if Sarah hadn't come along to help ignite mine and many others' love affair with indie pop and the 7" single.

Now if only I'd have discovered Sarah just _one_ year sooner...all those other fabulous records I'd have ...

The End ;)


Rodney's Politics...

Others in this fanzine have already waxed lyrically about Sarah's music so I thought I'd talk about her politics...someone once asked me why I bought every single on Sarah, without hearing it first. I muttered about trust but they couldn't conceive that you could trust a company - especially a record company. But I always trusted Sarah. And (though, just occasionally I wasn't keen on her records) she never let me down. Anyway...

Shaken and stirred by the ANGER of Are You Scared to Get Happy? and struck by the sheer effrontery of a strictly flexi-only pop label, Sha-la-la, I had high expectations of Sarah as did many others. Their manifesto seemed clear - 7" only - usually EPs, no rip-offs, no albums, no limited editions, certainly no 12" and NO compromise. Yet, the early inserts in the records said, with due seriousness, that "hopefully nothing would be unavailable on 7 inch though it may be necessary to compromise elsewhere". Alarm bells rang. Perhaps even Sarah would betray our young pop dream.

By the time Sarah released her first LPs, "Snowball" and "Lyceum", already people were talking about Sarah selling out. Compromise followed compromise. The posters stopped with Sarah 20. Sarah 31 heralded 'proper sleeves` not the lovable plastic bags our pop purity demanded. Sarah 38 was the wrong size - around 40 square inches too big in fact. Sarah 42 was, to our dismay, a 12". "Air Balloon Road" was CD only. 'Real` LPs (not the rather cute actually 10" ones) were being released. The thing was falling apart before our eyes. Sarah was becoming EMI...

Except, of course, they weren't. In hindsight, Sarah was born in a flurry of impatience with labels which consider profits above principles and turnover over taste. She was born out of a world-view which demanded perfection from others. When the little concessions to real-life started it was hardly surprising that Sarah would be pilloried so ferociously. But the fact was that most of her fans set impossibly high standards for her to keep to. It must've been hard for Matt and Clare to accept flak from people whose only contributions to popmusic were as passive consumer and reproachful critic. Clare and Matt went from week to week living, breathing and sleeping music. They were the ones who starved so the next record could get released. They were the ones who knew just how much compromise was necessary to simply survive.

Looking back, despite the compromises, it is clear that Sarah succeeded in being the most consistent, the most trustworthy, the most POLITICAL label on the face of the Earth over the past eight years. Though Matt and Clare have vowed to do what they can to chase this evil Tory government out of office their politics go much further, much deeper than that. For Sarah, politics has always been, first and foremost about the personal.

Sarah has taken the axiom "think globally, act locally" to its logical conclusion. Sarah Records will never bring down governments ; but it has changed people's lives positively in relatively small but utterly important ways:

It'll take some getting used to living without you. I suppose we have Metropolitan now (can I be the first to say what a bloody awful name that is). I hope you stay just as excited, fired-up and full of ideas as you've always been. Thanks, Clare and Matt, for everything. Thanks for ending with such style. Burn it all down and enjoy those flames lighting up the sky.


River's World...

you do my world a world of good

While I am a relatively later-comer to the world of Sarah records, this has not diminished the value of the mark the label and its bands have had on my humble existence. I actually first learnt of Sarah via the technological wonder (or horror, depending upon your perspective) of the Internet. For me, a wonder, because it got me through the drudgery that is 8am in a humdrum office cubicle. But more on the music: how can I express it best? Suffice to say, emotional apron strings had me straitjacketed and my ears plugged to all things melodic for quite some time. It was fear that rendered me incapable of pushing the "on" button on my stereo. Eventually I realized that the villain was mental association and that new bands and new songs were untainted, so I went out and purchased the "Engine Common" CD. A lovely cover, and it had some of the bands I'd been hearing so much verbal admiration over. The Sugargliders and the Orchids stole my heart from the get-go. The Field Mice, Blueboy and Brighter, all of the bands directly followed suit. My appetite whetted, I began perusing 7" bins in Philadelphia and D.C. for more. My pocketbook cried, but my head was happy and that's what really matters, isn't it? It's brilliant to be excited by little vinyl gems and to find others who care about pretty, handmade covers and such. So thank you, Sarah, for the seemingly small (yet mightily auspicious for this pop girl) contribution you've made to my world. I wish you the best in whatever your endeavours for the future. Enjoy the party too!


The act is beautiful if it provokes, and in our hearts reveals, song.
- Jean Genet

Gerard's Friend...

It's strange how things turn out, isn't it. The first Sarah Party I went to a few years ago gave me the inspiration to write my first and only fanzine while on the train from Glasgow to Bristol. Here I am now, a few years later writing something for another fanzine which will hopefully be ready in time for the next Sarah Party in 5 days time. It's also the last Sarah Party EVER. It's going to be a fun time but for everyone attending it will also be tinged with sadness and may prove too much for some. Tears might be shed by more than a few - including me. I know record labels are all about the bands and their music and that the bands will still be around when the Party is over but to me Sarah are different. To many people Sarah, Matt and Clare mean so much in a way that others like Sony, EMI, A&M or even some of the smaller labels such as Creation can't even begin to imagine. What do Sarah mean to me? I'll be honest and say that trying to describe my feelings is making me feel tearful. To me Sarah has been a friend. How can a record label possibly be a friend? Whenever Matt or Clare sent me records through the post with an occasional letter I felt as if I was important to them and to Sarah. The music and words on the records may belong to the bands but to me it was almost as if they were coming from Sarah and these records somehow seemed to help me through various important stages in my life over a number of years. The lyrics of a particular song may not always have been relevant to a particular situation but somehow the song would help get me through something in a way that only a friend can do.

Sarah, I'll miss you.....hello Metropolitan!!

Gerard Mucci


Pete's Journey...

Somehow I missed the start of Sarah along with all the preceding Sha-La-La flexis and fanzines. In 1987 and early 88 I still bought 12"es by all the C86 and related bands. My basic sources of information were the NME and John Peel, both didn't cover Sarah very much. In summer 88 I did another of my summer vacations in Britain. As ever loaded with lots of pop-related addresses. I remember a fine day in Bristol, I already had visited a couple of cool record stores but there were more addresses on my list. On of it read "Are You Scared To Get Happy - Garden Flat, 46 Upper Belgrave Road." So I cycled up this long, long hill, expecting another record shop. Totally exhausted, from pushing my bike up the last part I got to the top, but there was no store in sight. Instead there was just a regular residential building. At that point I wasn't brave enough to just ring and ask what those guys living there had to do with indiepop. I declared the address to be wrong and after a short break speeded down that hill back to the centre of Bristol. That was my first (non-)contact with Sarah Records.

Back home I read about Sarah here and there but wasn't able to get the singles in my local record store where I bought all my records at that time. Especially the piece by Fred Dellar on Sarah in the NME in September brought my attention to the label but I still hadn't heard any of the bands, except for The 14 Iced Bears. I loved their songs 'Like A Dolphin' and 'Balloon Song', so that more of that band sounded promising. The proper introduction to the label came with 'Shadow Factory` in winter '89. That record didn't leave my turntable for weeks. How could I have missed all those bands, one more gorgeous than the other. From then one I ordered all new singles from Sarah and still remember when the postman arrived with a new package of Field Mice and Another Sunny Day 7"es, heaven was here.

In April there were rumours about a Sarah-tour in Germany and actually The Orchids and The Field Mice played two dates in central Germany. My friend Andy and I hitched down the 300 miles. It was worth every foot. The Orchids were pretty brilliant the first night but the Field Mice were even better. It was so different from any other gigs I saw before. They had a drum machine somewhere in the back and Michael played his bass and seemed to have fun. Robert on the other hand was just ultra-shy (on and off-stage). He never looked into the audience, he was either staring up to the ceiling or 'shoe-gazing`. They played their songs with such an intense, it was nearly frightening. Although I saw many later gigs of the full band, but this first one was somehow the most impressive and memorable one. The next night was similar again, the Orchids let us know that they were not a bit twee, enjoying lots of German beer amongst other things.

Later that summer I went back to Bristol, this time visiting the Garden Flat and had a nice time with Clare and Matt. While travelling around we also did interviews with Robert Field Mice (still dead shy, but also dead nice), St. Christopher and the Orchids and I learned a lot about the whole Sarah environment that summer. 1989 was the year when the C86 scene finally died and was replaced by Sarah. AYSTGH and Sarah had a major impact on the vital fanzine/compilation scene of that time.

In spring 1990 I started my mail-order service and was in regular contact with Matt and Clare for the next 3 years. Instead of long letters I got a notes like "Hi Peter, here are the records" and an invoice. They got a fax machine and a car and we did 'business`, but still they put out all those great records, I agree, they did a very few 'not so good` ones as well.

In September '90 I went to see The Field Mice, supporting the Brilliant Corners in London. Knowing the Corners I went backstage to say hello. Hanging out there, this damn cute girl came up to me and asked which band I belong to. We had a lovely chat and she shared her chips (French fries) with me. When the Field Mice started to play it turned out that they not only had a real drummer and were joined by Harvey of Another Sunny Day but also had a keyboard-player, the girl I met backstage. Man, was I in love.

Someone told me that the Field Mice would play in Switzerland two weeks later and there was no way for me not to be there.

Lausanne in Switzerland is 655 miles from my place and as being short of money I decided to hitch again. It worked well on the first day, I made 400 miles and stayed with some friends in the South of Germany. The next day I made it to the Swiss border by noon and there were only 155 miles left to go but then nothing happened for hours, just some short lifts during the later afternoon until I got stuck again at a small exit. It was already seven and it got dark quickly. I walked away from the motorway into a small village to catch a train or a bus as I was only 55 miles away from Lausanne but there wasn't any transportation at all. I knew with three bands playing they would begin early and it was already close to nine. But not only would I miss the festival, I was also in the middle of nowhere, not speaking a single word of French and only had a limited amount of Swiss francs in my pockets. But then luck returned to me and a car stopped and picked me up. Our conversation was kind of low, as the guy spoke French only, at least it turned out that he was on his way to Lausanne and lived on the same street where the venue was :-)

It was after ten when we I got there, but I missed only the first three songs by Brighter, it could had been worse. This was my first Brighter gig and at that time I just liked them okay. But this gig transformed them into one of my five favourites on the label. Two of the other four played afterwards. Heavenly were absolutely fantastic too, I stayed with Pete and Amelia before in Oxford but I had never seen them live. During the Field Mice set I only had eyes for Annemari. This was heaven again, listening to wonderful music and looking at a beautiful girl you have a crush on. To finish the evening Another Sunny Day played a couple of songs supported by half of the Field Mice. There I had my fourth favourite Sarah band and unexpected too. The night easily made up the two days of trouble getting there (plus two more to get back) and I will always remember it as some of the finest musical moments I ever experienced. But, well life is not always as you like it to be, isn't it? After the show Clare, Robert, Annemari and I went over to a flat to sleep for a couple of hours and it turned out that Robert and Annemari were dating each other. The next morning the four of us did sightseeing and all and I had a great time but still, well you know what I mean. At noon we met the rest of the gang at the train station, where they had to catch the train to the airport in Geneva. Suddenly there were all gone, and I remained alone in a foreign country, lonely and lovesick.

There are still lots of things to write about, I joined The Orchids, The Wake and Heavenly on their German tours and we had great fun. I also saw quite a few fabulous Sarah gigs in Britain. The Sugargliders/Brighter show in London was simple marvellous.

I think it's the right time to stop Sarah and I wish Clare and Matt all the best with their new projects.


Shane's Soundtrack...

Preface: The music I listen to is a soundtrack to my life. Along with the buzz of tinnitus I only mildly suffer from, I hear it in my head when there's actually none playing. And when there's none playing I always find something. Always. Sarah has provided me with about seven years of a beautiful score. Thank you!

Six Songs On Sarah That Save My Sorry Soul _OR_ Six Of My Most Favorite Songs On The Sarah Label...and Why (Alphabetically).

1. Fleetway - Blueboy
"A girl alone is just the same as a boy alone, sadness is unisex". Those lyrics say it all, as the sweet melancholic music makes you sink deeper into your sofa cushions. It's validation, you're not alone, even though you are.

2. I've Got It And It's Not Worth Having - Boyracer
Boyracer's noisy angst is a comfort to me when I've had a bad day -- because I let some jerk ruin it for me -- and this is usually the first song I put on. I don't know why really, the lyrics as a whole don't make much sense, but I have my own sense about them, and that's all that matters.

3. Letter From A Lifeboat - The Sugargliders
This song just reminds me of late, late summer nights on Ocean Beach in San Francisco, collecting sand dollars and smoking cigarettes till my lungs hurt.

4. My Life Is Wrong - East River Pipe
For when you're feeling sorry for yourself. For when you're feeling like everyone's against you, including yourself. For when others, whose lives are as sorry, or worse than yours, point their fingers at you.

5. River - Blueboy
We've all felt inadequate at sometime or another, I still do sometimes, and this song let's me wallow in it.

6. So Little Deserve - Heavenly
"If I so little deserve you, then why have you not gone?" Smugness for when your "loved one" can't stand you...but never leaves you. This has got to be the most perfect jangly pop song too.

* Only six chosen because I didn't want to be overzealous, it made a nice tongue-twister, and because the rest are kind of private.

shane | | Aug 22 1995

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