I’m not entirely sure what this is from, but it’s clearly something Australian. And clearly written by someone who doesn’t quite understand what being number 199 in the charts actually means. To be honest, I’m not sure I do either, or ever did, though I do remember Vital Distribution being quite excited when they told us. Or maybe they were mocking us. Or being wryly amused. It was always hard to tell. I’m also trying to persuade myself that the writer doesn’t know what “prestigious” means, but I’m possibly deluding myself – old self-defence mechanisms die hard. Maybe we should all just try imagining what the headline of the article to the right goes on to say, the one that starts: “Does Nick Cave…”? My money’s on “fondle koalas”.
If you were one of those people who used to write and ask why bands on Sarah didn’t do more gigs, here’s a reminder from the (Scottish) Sun of what happened when The Orchids were due to drive 400-odd miles to London to promote Striving For The Lazy Perfection at the Garage in Highbury in the vague hope that someone from NME or Melody Maker might turn up and be drily dismissive. (The handwritten comment is by the band, by the way!)
Footnote: we obviously didn’t find out about the Orchids’ crash till just before soundcheck, which didn’t give a lot of time to sort out adding anyone else to the bill. But then Harvey suggested he and Bobby did some Field Mice songs, given they were there anyway (Blueboy and Northern Picture Library had been due to support). So they did, including, as Clare says in the There And Back Again Lane booklet, three songs they never played live when the Field Mice were still going: Willow, An Earlier Autumn and A Wrong Turn and Raindrops, the last of those with Harvey on harmonica, which he never played on the record.
Obviously the thinking behind the Severn Beach Line postcards that were included with SARAHs 21 to 30 was to make important political points about Capitalism and public transport. But they also unwittingly provided an opportunity for lonely hearts – an indie-Tinder, if you will – as this cutting from the NME classifieds from 1990 amply demonstrates: lovelorn Rodney of West Didsbury is seeking someone to help him “complete his jigsaw”, and I think we all know what he means by that – “doubles and desires” is what he’s euphemistically after, the saucy devil. Well, I hope you found true love eventually, Rodney; or at least managed to get rid of some of those spare clocktowers. I wonder if that NME journalist ever found a flat in Camden?
Our bands didn’t often make the cover of Melody Maker or NME so, when they did, it was a moment to treasure (Heavenly, third down, small turquoise text, left-hand column). What’s also interesting here, of course, is the context: how awful are all these other people? And yet still Heavenly can’t get any better than third down, small turquoise text, left-hand column. Obviously it’s easy to say this with the benefit of hindsight, but we said it at the time too. The Farm! Ocean Colour Scene! Jane’s Addiction! The Sisters of Mercy! Actually, the Sisters’ Body Electric and Adrenochrome and Alice and Floorshow are great, but we shouldn’t let ourselves get sidetracked into early eighties Yorkshire goth. There’s a time and a place for that. Yorkshire. In the early eighties.
I know this might look like a grubby old fax machine – and it is – but… it’s not just any grubby old fax machine, it’s the Sarah Fax Machine. Actually, it’s the second Sarah Fax Machine, as the first one got stolen, but… let’s not get distracted. Without this, there would be no Aberdeen and no East River Pipe and no records on sale in the Philippines: because this, before the internet came along and ruined everything, is how we used to communicate with people in far-off lands; otherwise, we’d have been waiting two weeks for an airmail letter to arrive or running up phone bills like Kate Bush runs up hills. It also came in handy when we needed to tell Jo Whiley to stop playing the first Oasis single* and also, a few years later – once everyone had replaced their fax machines with email – when Ryanair left me stranded in Vigo for 48 hours, as Ryanair only used to accept complaints sent by fax.** Anyway, my point is, for a while, this BT CF-50 was just as important a part of our lives as John Peel or The Orchids or
top-notch Bolivian cocaine parcel tape, and it’s now on a tip in Thamesmead. Just behind Belmarsh Prison. I really must wash the kitchen floor.
* You people don’t know what a lucky escape you had. Please feel free to thank us.
** I know, it’s almost like they were trying to discourage people from complaining – they replied to each fax by email.
The Indie Charts from Melody Maker, 9th July 1988, with four new entries for Sarahs 7, 8, 9 and 10. I’ve no idea who most of the other people are. Though The Field Mice did once play with Fields of the Nephilim in Brittany. It was a sort of Field theme night. Note also Number 14. People used to make political records in those days…
An advert from a September 1991 edition of NME to give a bit of context… we did quite a few things at the Underworld (underneath the World’s End pub, opposite Camden Town station), but I have no recollection at all of this Field Mice/Sweetest Ache gig… or who most of those other people were. Gumball? Float? Last Bandits?
Cliftonprint was where we got our wraparound 7″ sleeves printed from SARAH 12 onwards; they also did the newsletters, Saropoly and odd bits of typesetting and screening (producing a bromide print of a photo with the image turned into dots, which we could then stick into a paste-up). They mostly printed letterheads and wedding invites, and I think were a bit wary of us at first; they certainly weren’t convinced by our idea for the first Wake sleeve (two screens, one at high contrast, one at low, printed in two shades of red/purple), but were so tickled by the result they ended up displaying it in their window. Which probably means it’s been seen by more people than anything else we ever did.
Over the years, many people have pondered the significance of the cherries. What symbolism was involved? Was it a sexual metaphor? Was it a non-sexual metaphor? Was it relevant that, though there were two cherries, the stalks weren’t joined? The answer, of course, is simple: they photocopied really cleanly, so could be reproduced in various sizes in various contexts without needing to be expensively scanned, and then printed using just one colour of ink. It’s also a lovely photo, of course – or the original is – but it was only ever used in that form on the cover of Air Balloon Road, our first CD compilation, which means only people who own a copy of that will have seen the thank you to Akiko, who took the photo and sent it to us from Nara in Japan. So, 25 years on, we’d like to take this opportunity to thank her again. She also took the photos on the sleeves of The Wake’s Crush The Flowers and Major John and Even As We Speak’s One Step Forward… and, in 1991, created the Sugarfrost label.
As for the metaphor of the broken bowl… well…
From time to time I’m filled with an altruistic urge to give today’s design students with their tablets and their hats and their ironic drinking vessels an insight into the almost medieval world of early ’90s graphic design*. So here’s the original artwork for our fifth anniversary ads: we splashed out on typesetting (in Cliftonprint’s “avant garde” typeface – a lot of our sleeves use avant garde, as Cliftonprint didn’t have much else) for the releases, but the rest is just typed and then photocopied at various sizes. What looks like white poster paint is white poster paint – to seal the edges of the stuck-down bits and avoid shadow marks when the final version was photocopied at Hatcher’s (local tobacconists) before posting to the NME and Melody Maker.
* And also to let them know they don’t know they’re born.
You wouldn’t think it would be possible to misunderstand us to such a large extent in such a small number words, but obviously Mojo‘s whole raison d’être is to completely miss the point of everything about pop music, so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised. This is from a feature called Nuggets which judges records according to how much idiots are prepared to pay for them. And he’s right, of course… if only we’d put as much effort into making the records good as we did into making them collectable, we wouldn’t have been forced to give up at SARAH 100 and take out hugely expensive adverts explaining that the label was no longer financially viable. Noah’s Ark is fantastic, by the way – as music, I mean, not as an investment opportunity.
For a while, we had a licensing deal with a Japanese label called Quattro, and their first Sarah release was In This Place Called Nowhere, a compilation featuring a slightly random selection of tracks from our middle years. And this was a little promotional poster/brochure that was issued at the same time – as you can probably tell, it folds down to CD size.
Outside the Silent Movie Theatre in Los Angeles, just before the screening of My Secret World on 24th May 2015 – taken by Clare, who did a Q&A after the screening.
A typically whimsical French tour; we’d been assured that the gig at the Cafe de le Plage was a Paris showcase, despite no one in Paris having heard of the venue… not surprising, in retrospect, as it was in Maurepas, a small town 20 miles west with no station (it’s twinned with Waterlooville; say no more). The Orchids were supposed to headline, but singer James had broken his foot playing football – this only months after the London launch of Striving For The Lazy Perfection had had to be cancelled after their van fell off the M6 near Carlisle. But Harvey stepped in, and we seem to have given away free cassette copies of Epicurean, which sounds ridiculously generous. If you’ve always wondered why Blueboy’s Toulouse was called “Toulouse”, by the way, it’s because it was written outside Le Bikini in Toulouse.
Everyone knows that success has more to do with your promotional budget than the goodness of your pop, but putting an actual price on fame is tricky. Unless you’ve got an actual price list. Like this one. This is just for “presenting” records to shops – as you can see, we’d still have needed to guarantee airplay and media coverage. And, no, we didn’t sign up. We didn’t even use press agents – well, we did once, but it didn’t do much good, so we went back to our old system of posting records to journalists with notes telling them to fuck off. Oh, and we briefly used a gig agent, but they booked Brighter for a Young Farmers hop at an agricultural college near Ipswich at which the promoter encouragingly told the band beforehand it “could go either way”, so we stopped doing that too.
These were badges produced by Quattro, the label to which we were licensed for a while in Japan, and we would have been given them when Heavenly toured there in October 1992, visiting Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka. I’ve not taken it out of its wrapper, as obviously that would make it worth less on eBay, but I realise that this actually makes it look a bit like a condom. Sorry.
In my head, this has always been a ticket, not a flyer, but in retrospect I’m not sure it’s the sort of gig that would have had tickets and, looking at it again, it feels more like a flyer… but, that said, I’m not quite sure why I’d have had a flyer, given we’d only arrived in Oxford that evening (on a Subway-organised minibus from Bristol – I think Martin Subway was checking out Razorcuts). Oh, I don’t know: it was a long time ago and it’s all a bit hazy but, basically, 7th March 1986 was the first time I saw Talulah Gosh, and the first time anyone saw them, as it was their debut gig. They were also possibly last-minute additions, given they’re not actually mentioned anywhere. In fact, I could be making the whole thing up. But I’m not.
Dipping our spoon back into the primordial indie soup, these stickers were given out on the door when Talulah Gosh played the EEC Punk Rock Mountain, a pre-Sarah club night at the George & Railway in Bristol. I was never entirely sure where to stick them – despite many suggestions over the years – which is why I still have them. I should probably credit Robena with the design, by the way – she was the artist in the EEC PRM’s utopian indie-pop collective. NB for those not around in 1986, Marigold is what Amelia was then calling herself, Pebbles is what Liz was calling herself, and the EEC was an attempt to bring about pan-European economic cooperation and integration and establish a common market which is, of course, a Very Good Thing.
An advert for a concert at the New Morning in Paris – our first Sarah Night in France. It’s actually the back page of Les Cahiers du Cinema, not because that was our target audience, but because the promoter had always wanted to take out an ad in Les Cahiers du Cinema – he wasn’t really an indie kid (though I do have a lovely memory of him playing air guitar to Caveman during The Orchids’ soundcheck). It obviously worked, as 700 people turned up (or maybe that was the pieces in Libération and Les Inrockuptibles…) to witness Chris from The Orchids surprising everyone, possibly including himself, by playing drums on Sensitive.
Click here for Bob Stanley’s review in Melody Maker.
This is the handout that we handed out – that being the thing to do with handouts – at the end of the Thekla’s gangplank before the 1993 Sarah Christmas Party in order to let everyone know what they couldn’t expect. Having gone inside and read it, one person did (genuinely!) ask if he could be allowed back out again as a wet boxer short competition judged by Stewart Boyracer wasn’t really his sort of thing, but we just told him he should count himself lucky, as it wasn’t Stewart’s sort of thing either, and he’d be a lot closer. People are weird.
(NB this image is a bit bigger than most so you can read it – click more than once to bring it to maximum size!)
Possibly a bit of self-indulgence, here, but this is the back of the house on Gwilliam Street in Windmill Hill, Bristol, that we moved to after leaving Upper Belgrave Road; in case it looks oddly familiar, that’s because the bike/wine bottle combination in the bottom left is the same one that appears on the cover of our Fountain Island compilation and also, of course, on this website’s home page. The Sarah “office” was the middle window, with the table lamp. The bike was also used as a percussion instrument on the untitled second track on Boyracer’s second single…
With biggish gigs, the people who’d be doing the sound often asked for a “stage plan”. For most bands, this simply meant a list of which guitars they had, how many mikes they’d need and who’d be using them – that sort of thing. For Heavenly… it didn’t. Not sure who drew this, by the way, but Pete’s hair is spot on. (NB the gig was outside the UK, hence all the borrowed stuff: you can’t fit a drum kit in an overhead locker.)
I can’t remember now precisely what prompted us, sometime in 1990, to translate one of our 7″ inserts into French. But I know that it was also around then that a few people said it would be easier to keep track of what was going on if we numbered our leaflets, which is why this is number 87 – with a continental 7, obviously. I forget which other numbers we used, but it seemed to stop people complaining… well, other than the person who wrote to point out that St Christopher’s Bacharach 10″ would not have been called Bergerac in France… in case we hadn’t realised…
I know we’ve posted the original A Day For Destroying Things advert elsewhere, but it’s also good to see it in its original context, so here’s a copy of Melody Maker from 26th August 1995. Big stories that week were clearly the release of another appalling record by Oasis, Babylon Zoo and True Noise, whose new single Hanging in Mid Air had just been issued by Blanc Records. You’re probably whistling it right now.
Flyposting was never fun; having to go out in the middle of the night with a bag of posters and a bucket of paste, ready at all times to run or duck into a shop doorway if you heard a police car. This poster is for a gig in May ’91 at our local pub, The King’s Arms. The house with scaffolding is 45/46 Upper Belgrave Road, aka Sarah HQ (the basement, not the whole house).
Many people, and not just those who got four clocktowers in SARAHs 21-24, were confused by our postcards. But it’s pretty simple: Temple Meads is the last stop on the Severn Beach line, the line’s other ten stations are on the centre labels, and the postcards were put in randomly to annoy collectors. (That’s Brunel’s original terminus to the left of the car park, by the way; I think it closed when people realised the platforms were nowhere near the tracks.)
These were the flexidiscs we released with our fanzines prior to setting up Sarah; the Sea Urchins appeared on two flexis, one with Kvatch (Cling Film), one with Sha-la-la (Summershine). The Orchids, Talulah Gosh and Poppyheads also had Sha-la-la releases (From This Day, I Told You So and the Postcard for Flossy EP respectively). It was important that all the flexis came in proper sleeves; they were throwaway, but weren’t meant to be thrown away. (In case you’re wondering, Sha-la-la was a flexdisc label, with the discs distributed via various fanzines, chiefly Are You Scared To Get Happy?, Simply Thrilled, Baby Honey and Trout Fishing in Leytonstone.)
SARAH 1 set the pattern for the first ten 7″ labels: on one side a photo of Bristol reduced to b/w by repeated re-photocopying (these days, you’d just use Photoshop’s “threshold” filter), on the other a 2-colour flower. Sadly, no one told us this would mean printing each side separately and using two Pantone spot colours, for which there was a £90 setting-up charge on each pressing; printing the labels often cost more than recording the songs. (The photo here is of Sea Mills.)
In the days before computers, if you wanted lettering that wasn’t hand done or typed, your only options were a type-setting bureau – who’d charge around £45 for a block like this – or Letraset. And if you wanted neat lines for your rub-down letters, your only options were a ruler and 9H pencil… and sellotape to peel off any letters that didn’t go down right or cracked. I remember sitting in the Upper Belgrave Road flat Letrasetting this wearing fingerless gloves; these were also the days before heating.
Back in the days before computer design (1995), all artwork was done as paste-ups; we’d enlarge or reduce text on the photocopier in Hatcher’s tobacconists in Clifton, stick it down and obscure the edges with white paint, then take the paste-up back to Hatcher’s to enlarge it to the right size. This poster was for use in Revolver Records (The Triangle) and Replay Records (St James Barton roundabout, by the bus station).
The original (digital!) master tape for SARAH 1, recorded in September 1987 at Rich Bitch Studios, Selly Oak, Birmingham, and handed to us at a gig at Sinatra’s. Sadly, no one told us that printing the labels for each side on different coloured paper was not possible, and that each colour would need to be printed separately…