Popkiss – The Life and Afterlife of Sarah Records, by Michael White

Title: Popkiss

Author: Michael White

Publisher: Bloomsbury Press

Publication Date: November 20, 2015

www.bloomsbury.com

Popkiss 11-19

The Upshot: Finally bringing some clarity to the mysterious late ‘80s/early ‘90s indie label from the UK. Twee alert! These were seriously great bands.

BY TIM HINELY

The Sarah Records bus ride lasted from 1987-1995, and due to that relatively short timeframe a lot of potential supporters here in the United States obviously missed the bus, including yours truly. Oh sure, I liked Heavenly, East River Pipe and a few others at the time, but during most of the label’s existence, I was far too immersed in noisier sounds of the day. But upon belatedly discovering the first Trembling Blue Stars record in 1996 (thank you Geoff Leamon), I was sent on an obsessive path backwards to find all things Sarah, at least for a few years. (Worth noting: TBS included Bobby Wratten, leader of Sarah Records’ stars the Field Mice).

Canadian writer Michael White’s book has all of the bases covered as each chapter selects one or a few of the bands on Sarah. White himself even stated (and rightly so) that doing a chronological rendering would be way too much of an undertaking due to too many side roads in the label’s history. Some bands had many records, even careers on Sarah, including Heavenly, Field Mice, The Orchids, and Australia’s Even As We Speak; while other dropped by, released one or maybe two singles, and that was it, among them The Springfields, Eternal, Christines Cat, and The Rosaries.

The label, founded and run by Matt Haynes and Clare Wadd, meant so much to many folks who were tired of all the hype—Brit Pop, grunge, whatever—and loved the personal, handwritten notes the Haynes and Wadd would include in mailorder packages. So little has been written about Sarah over the years that White’s book is a much needed document, because before the internet, or in its early days, it was nearly impossible to find out any info on the label, at least here in America.

One of the things that seems to be a theme in the book is how reviled (unfairly) this label/bands were by the UK music press. Most of the writers for the British papers seemed to absolutely hate “this twee crap” (as a few of ‘em put it). There were some bright spots, like St. Etienne’s Bob Stanley who championed many of the bands in his writings (as on his own label, Caff Records). The thing was, Matt and Clare didn’t care; they stayed holed up in their little home in Bristol and continued to release whatever it was they loved. The way it should be.

For me, Popkiss brought some clarity to a mysterious label that I had many unanswered questions about. It’s indispensable for me. Maybe for you, too.

 

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