The Janglepop Jamboree

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Like most major music genres, the sub-genres often cause confusion and debate because of the mix of styles and it can be somewhat ambiguous in context.

To begin with, one definition of jangle music is this:

Jangle or jingle-jangle is a sound characterized by undistorted, treble-heavy electric guitars (particularly 12-strings) played in a droning chordal style (by strumming or arpeggiating). The sound has featured mainly in pop music and is often associated with 1960s guitar bands, folk rock, and 1980s indie music.

But then others cite more post-punk and indie bands as their definition of the jangle genre:

Profile of ’80s Underground Genre Jangle Pop

No mention there of Brighter or 14 Iced Bears or the Sea Urchins. See, those bands and many more are true jamgle and I believe the Sarah Records catalogue is the flagship to steer us through this retrospective tribute.

I remember playing Coastal (Field Mice) at a friend’s house where their six-year-old son totally loved September’s Not So Far Away! I would say many of the Field Mice songs were endearing and captivating and just so simple in structure. That was one of the first things I noticed about these bands and the distinctive jangly guitar sound that identified them, there was nothing intricate about the structure of the songs, yet some were just breathtakingly brilliant.

An example of this would be Tell Me How It Feels (The Sweetest Ache) which is in my all-time 100 songs (see I-TUNES here).

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Before we take a look at the nine Sarah compilation albums (I certainly had the first three and bought the finale There And Back Again Lane), from a personal perspectve I sought to make my own 12-track compo of favourite songs, using one song from one band only. Also a good time to show off the video I made for My Favourite Wet Wednesday Afternoon!

 

01 – Field Mice – It Isn’t Forever

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02 – The Sea Urchins – Cling Film

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03 – Aberdeen – Fireworks

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04 – Northern Picture Library – Love Song For the Dead Che 1

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05- The Siddeleys – My Favourite Wet Wednesday Afternoon

06 – The Orchids – Avignon

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07 – The Springfields – Sunflower

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08 – 14 Iced Bears – Hay Fever

09 –East Village – Kathleen

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10 – The Sweetest Ache – Tell Me How It Feels

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11 – Brighter – Around The World In 80 Days

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12 – Blueboy – River

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And so it’s Britain, 1987. Bruce Willis has a song in the charts, Thatcher’s pissing off students and miners up and down the country and record company executives are living off a diet of cocaine and Duran Duran. In a sleepy suburban corner of Bristol, Clare Wadd and Matt Haynes are dreaming of a different world. A secret world. The world of Sarah Records.

Matt and Claire were hard at work on their fanzines Are You Scared To Get Happy and Kvatch respectively at the time, when they decided to start putting out records from their flat. Their creative buzz resulted in the formation of Sarah Records, and whether they intended to or not, their response to the stifling, corporate nature of the late 80s music industry helped shape the genre that would later be ubiquitously referred to as ‘indie’. Sarah was instrumental in providing a platform for young bands to release music. Innovative and sincere in their approach, the duo focused primarily on releasing singles and compilations from the bands they loved. Bands like Heavenly and The Field Mice; bands who would go on to influence a generation of young people to pick up guitars, go back to basics and start making their own music.

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While Sarah Records’ enduring influence has been far reaching, it was always a labour of love, “I’ve never thought there’s a link between how good a record is and commercial success – it’s all about money and marketing and looks and luck, and always has been”, Clare postulates. “We didn’t have the money, we never wanted to risk the whole label for one hit, and we didn’t want to do what it takes.

“There’s a lot of compromise involved in getting successful”, she continues, “a lot of doing what you have to do to sell, and it becomes less and less about the music.” Matt and Clare knew what they wanted from the start though. “Matt was part of Sha-la-la, which was a group of fanzine writers who got together to release flexidiscs and distribute them through their fanzines, and I had done a flexi with the Sea Urchins and The Groove Farm through my final Kvatch fanzine, so we had both already released music before we started Sarah. We had very clear ideas about what we wanted to do.”

The label grew out of a shared ethos to release the music they loved and the music they felt was authentic. “There’s a certain honesty and integrity about a lot of the music, and about Sarah itself; it’s all quite real and heartfelt and genuine,” she reflects, “that’s why it continues to resonate.” The resonance she speaks of can be heard in countless bands today: the off-kilter glockenspiels you hear in Los Campesinos, the jangly chords of Joanna Gruesome and the self-deprecating humour of The Cribs. Modern indie owes an outstanding debt to Sarah’s cast of misfit teenagers.

The likes of The Sea Urchins and The Field Mice were rag tag pioneers, experimenting with what they were discovering and learning on the job. “I think it was really important for the bands to embrace new sounds and experiment, and it worked really really well. Some of the bands were pretty young and had only just learnt to play and record when their first records came out”, Claire told us. “There’s a charming naivety to, say, the first Field Mice and Orchids singles, and I still love those records.”

Matt and Clare created Saraopoly (pictured below) in the early 90s to mark their 50th release. We asked filmmaker Lucy Dawkins if she’d ever played; “It’s incredibly complicated to play and requires a good knowledge of Bristol’s public transport system circa 1990. It was Sarah’s 50th release so they wanted to release something special, a kind of pop art statement. I think it sums up Sarah and Clare & Matt’s sense of humour.”

I’ve also put together this 10-minute video apropos Sarah Records…

 

SARAH RECORDS COMPILATIONS

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SHADOW FACTORY (1988)

ANOTHER SUNNY DAY I’m In Love With A Girl Who Doesn’t Know I Exist

THE SEA URCHINS Please Rain Fall

14 ICED BEARS Sure To See

THE ORCHIDS Underneath The Window, Underneath The Sink

THE SEA URCHINS Sullen Eyes

THE POPPYHEADS Dreamabout

THE ORCHIDS Give Me Some Peppermint Freedom

THE SPRINGFIELDS Are We Gonna Be Alright?

THE SEA URCHINS Pristine Christine

THE ORCHIDS Tiny Words

THE FIELD MICE Fabulous Friend

14 ICED BEARS Come Get Me

THE SPRINGFIELDS Sunflower

THE ORCHIDS Apologies

THE FIELD MICE The Last Letter

THE GOLDEN DAWN My Secret World

TempleCloud

TEMPLE CLOUD (1990)

THE ORCHIDS Yawn

THE FIELD MICE Sensitive

THE WAKE Carbrain

BRIGHTER I Don’t Think It Matters

ST CHRISTOPHER All Of A Tremble

ANOTHER SUNNY DAY Green

GENTLE DESPITE Darkest Blue

THE GOLDEN DAWN George Hamilton’s Dead

ANOTHER SUNNY DAY You Should All Be Murdered

BRIGHTER Inside Out

THE FIELD MICE If You Need Someone

ACTION PAINTING! These Things Happen

ST CHRISTOPHER You Deserve More Than A Maybe

THE FIELD MICE Song Six

ANOTHER SUNNY DAY Can’t You Tell It’s True?

BRIGHTER Noah’s Ark

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AIR BALLOON ROAD (1990)

THE ORCHIDS It’s Only Obvious

ANOTHER SUNNY DAY I’m In Love With A Girl Who Doesn’t Know I Exist

THE SEA URCHINS Please Rain Fall

THE FIELD MICE If You Need Someone

THE ORCHIDS Underneath The Window, Underneath The Sink

ST CHRISTOPHER You Deserve More Than A Maybe

THE FIELD MICE End of The Affair

GENTLE DESPITE Darkest Blue

THE GOLDEN DAWN George Hamilton’s Dead

THE FIELD MICE Sensitive

THE WAKE Carbrain

BRIGHTER I Don’t Think It Matters

THE SEA URCHINS Pristine Christine

14 ICED BEARS Come Get Me

THE GOLDEN DAWN My Secret World

#THE SPRINGFIELDS Sunflower

ANOTHER SUNNY DAY You Should All Be Murdered

ST CHRISTOPHER All Of A Tremble

ACTION PAINTING! These Things Happen

THE POPPYHEADS Dreamabout

ANOTHER SUNNY DAY Green

THE ORCHIDS Blue Light

BRIGHTER Noah’s Ark

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GLASS ARCADE (1991)

THE FIELD MICE Holland Street

ANOTHER SUNNY DAY Rio

ETERNAL Sleep

THE SWEETEST ACHE Tell Me How It Feels

THE ORCHIDS Farewell, Dear Bonnie

THE SEA URCHINS A Morning Odyssey

THE SPRINGFIELDS Wonder

THE FIELD MICE So Said Kay

HEAVENLY I Fell In Love Last Night

THE ORCHIDS Something For The Longing

EVEN AS WE SPEAK Goes So Slow

THE FIELD MICE Quicksilver

ETERNAL Breathe

ST CHRISTOPHER Salvation

EVEN AS WE SPEAK Nothing Ever Happens

THE SWEETEST ACHE If I Could Shine

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FOUNTAIN ISLAND (1992)

TRAMWAY Maritime City

HEAVENLY So Little Deserve

EVEN AS WE SPEAK One Step Forward

GENTLE DESPITE Bittersweet Kiss

THE SWEETEST ACHE Sickening

ST CHRISTOPHER It’s Snowing On The Moon

SECRET SHINE Grey Skies

THE ORCHIDS Tropical Fishbowl

GENTLE DESPITE Shadow Of A Girl

EVEN AS WE SPEAK Must Be Something Else

THE ORCHIDS Pelican Blonde

TRAMWAY Technical College

HEAVENLY Wrap My Arms Around Him

THE WAKE Major John

THE FIELD MICE Between Hello And Goodbye

TRAMWAY Star

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ENGINE COMMON (1993)

THE HIT PARADE In Gunnersbury Park

THE SUGARGLIDERS Letter From A Lifeboat

THE ORCHIDS Thaumaturgy

THE HARVEST MINISTERS You Do My World The World Of Good

BLUEBOY Clearer

BRIGHTER Half-Hearted

THE SUGARGLIDERS What We Had Hoped

THE ROSARIES Leaving

THE FIELD MICE Missing The Moon

THE ORCHIDS I Was Just Dreaming

THE SUGARGLIDERS Fruitloopin’

BLUEBOY Popkiss

SECRET SHINE Honey Sweet

THE HARVEST MINISTERS Six O’Clock Is Rosary

BRIGHTER End

ANOTHER SUNNY DAY I Don’t Suppose I’ll Get A Second Chance

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GAOL FERRY BRIDGE (1994)

EVEN AS WE SPEAK (All You Find Is) Air

BLUEBOY Try Happiness

THE SUGARGLIDERS Reinventing Penicillin

HEAVENLY Atta Girl

ACTION PAINTING! Classical Music

EAST RIVER PIPE My Life Is Wrong

THE SUGARGLIDERS Ahprahran

BOYRACER I’ve Got It And It’s Not Worth Having

HEAVENLY P.U.N.K. Girl

EVEN AS WE SPEAK Getting Faster

BOYRACER Cog

BLUEBOY Air France

SECRET SHINE Loveblind

EAST RIVER PIPE Helmet On

THE SUGARGLIDERS Theme From Boxville

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BATTERY POINT (1995)

BLUEBOY Dirty Mags

BOYRACER He Gets Me So Hard

THE HIT PARADE Autobiography

ABERDEEN Fran

BLUEBOY River

NORTHERN PICTURE LIBRARY Last September’s Farewell Kiss

IVY Wish You Would

SHELLEY Reproduction Is Pollution

ACTION PAINTING! Mustard Gas

IVY Avenge; SECRET SHINE Deep Thinker

THE SUGARGLIDERS Top 40 Sculpture

NORTHERN PICTURE LIBRARY Paris

ABERDEEN Fireworks

SHELLEY Hero

BLUEBOY Toulouse

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THERE AND BACK AGAIN LANE (1995)

THE FIELD MICE Sensitive

HEAVENLY Atta Girl

THE SUGARGLIDERS Ahprahran

THE SPRINGFIELDS Sunflower

THE ORCHIDS Peaches

BLUEBOY The Joy Of Living

THE HARVEST MINISTERS 6 O’Clock Is Rosary

BRIGHTER Inside Out

EAST RIVER PIPE Make A Deal With The City

THE WAKE English Rain

SECRET SHINE Temporal

NORTHERN PICTURE LIBRARY Paris

HARVEY WILLIAMS She Sleeps Around

ST CHRISTOPHER All Of A Tremble

THE SEA URCHINS Pristine Christine

BOYRACER He Gets Me So Hard

ACTION PAINTING! Mustard Gas

THE SWEETEST ACHE Tell Me How It Feels

ANOTHER SUNNY DAY Rio

THE HIT PARADE In Gunnersbury Park

EVEN AS WE SPEAK Drown

 

An article on Sarah Records from Uncut

It says something about the reputation of Sarah Records that the most dramatic statements in a documentary dedicated to the Bristol indie label come from its detractors. Chief among them is the late NME critic, Steven Wells. Sarah, he wrote “should be called AntiPunk Noel Edmonds Mister Blobby Pile of Pooh Rubbish Records”. He returned to the theme more pungently in a review of Secret Shine’s inoffensive 45 “Loveblind”. “This isn’t music,” he wrote, “it’s cancer.”

To be fairer to the critic than he was to Sarah, Wells was professionally outraged about everything, and the label’s understatement was out of step with the times. Sarah was a cottage industry that made a virtue of restraint. Even here, invited by filmmaker Lucy Dawkins to blow their own trumpets, the nearest the founders Clare Wadd and Matt Haynes come to being boastful is when Wadd deals with the question of professionalism, and its absence. “I think we were maybe just unprofessional in an entirely different way from most record labels,” she says, “so we weren’t falling apart and doing drugs and being pissed all the time. We were just taking pictures of buses.”

Sarah existed between 1987-1995, releasing almost 100 artefacts (87 singles, a handful of albums, some zines, a board game). Many of the records had photos of Bristol landmarks, not necessarily buses, on the covers. The label was quietly political, and had a policy of not objectifying women on its sleeves. But they weren’t above using drawings of penguins or lawnmowers.

Wadd (from Harrogate) and Haynes (from London) were students in Bristol, who bonded over their mutual love of fanzine culture. Wadd had produced Kvatch (interviewing the likes of Ivor Cutler, Billy Bragg and The Pogues), and had been impressed by the accessibility of Welsh post-punkers The Alarm. Haynes, an unlikely record mogul, produced the fanzine Are You Scared To Get Happy? which included flexidiscs.

Clare and Matt met at a Julian Cope concert (with Primal Scream supporting) and never looked back. The label was set up on the Enterprise Allowance scheme, which allowed people to redefine their unemployment as a small business, and scored a single of the week with its first release, by The Sea Urchins. Sarah’s reputation is for tweeness, yet it issued an anti-poll tax single by The Orchids, and its brand of patient feminism fed into the riot grrrl movement.

And so as we lie ‘between the stars’ and dream about what once was, perhaps the essence of jangle lives on, judging by a couple of blogs I have found; here is one:

Janglepophub

And I’ll disappear quietly and leave this with a review of the Brighter Singles 1989-1992 compilation, something else I used to have!

Brighter are a band for the Monday morning music mavens, a rarefied breed that unearths obscure gems, champions them to the underground, and ultimately discards them once they achieve mainstream acclaim. Of all the labels that released the music these mavens covet, England’s Sarah Records might be one of the most revered. This boutique indie released a cache of fabulous recordings that never reached the mainstream radar but always strove for a consistent level of excellence. The Holy Grail of the Sarah catalogue is easily the works of Brighter, who released three 7″ singles and one 10″ single that disappeared as quickly as the band itself. This new collection, Singles 1989-1992, lovingly delivered by Matinee Recordings, gathers all of the officially released Brighter recordings for the first time to create a time capsule of British music at the turn of a decade. At first listen, this collection appears to be little more that ambient noise for the period that separated the gloomy dominance of the Smiths and the devil may care antics of Oasis, but with every additional spin this compilation shines with the type of unpolished jewels about which music mavens boast.

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Although the songs provide footnotes indicating that Brighter was part of a greater musical movement, the shining jangle pop that effuses from this gathering of material rings with tender nuances that distance this band from the maudlin routine of Mozzer and the Jesus and Mary Chain, and also set it apart from the fist-pumping, drug-encrusted madness of bands like the Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays. Make no mistake, this album will remind you of the Stone Roses’ “Sally Cinnamon”, Morrissey’s “Everyday Is Like Monday”, and the Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Happy When It Rains”, but this is not simply something borrowed and something blue. The marriage of Alison Cousens, Keris Howard, and Alex Sharkey delivered a bouquet of pop hits that deserve the attention of the musical mainstream.

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The opening two tracks do little to dispel the notion that Brighter is a band that takes heed of their peer’s efforts. Both “Inside Out” and “Tinsel Heart” employ mid-tempo, reverb-drenched guitars and protracted monotone vocals that recall the efforts of some of their Mancunian counterparts listed above. In fact, these two tracks sound so similar in melody, tempo, production, and vocal meter that the two-second break between tracks could almost be misconstrued as a measured break. The saving grace is that the melody is so pleasing, and by the end of “Tinsel Heart” light percussion enters the mix and the band seems to find their groove just in time for the world class “Around the World in Eighty Days”. While this song relies on many of the conventions used on the previous tracks, there are subtle yet significant differences here. A lead guitar counters the vocal melody in the chorus and the singing seems more urgent if not more improved.

Two tracks on this collection rise to the surface and differentiate this band from countless others in the path from the Smiths to Madchester and the ultimate rise and fall of the Britpop revolution that would become a phenomena in the United Kingdom and beyond during the 1990s. The first is “Noah’s Ark”, a sunny number with an acoustic guitar lead that wouldn’t sound out of place in the late ’80s Paisley Underground. There is little question that this track could exist seamlessly on the seminal Galaxie 500 album On Fire. Leaning heavily on the same production values, Brighter shuffles along with heavily-reverbed-yet-sparse drums, an underlying keyboard melody to compensate for the vocal shortcomings, and a late-song tempo change that leads to a bit of delightful noodling during the outro. This is a classic track that is wholly original but defty fuses the influence of the American college rock movement of the late 1980s with the more dance-oriented leanings of the British pop underground.

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The other key track — and perhaps what may have been Brighter’s best shot at a radio anthem — “Does Love Last Forever” finds their huggable jangle pop reaching a fever pitch that results in a frenetic two and a half minute bounce-a-long. For once the band uses a bit of distorted guitar in conjunction with the clean and the result is a winner. This track may best illustrate the parallels between Brighter and their more successful Smiths-era peers the Housemartins. Both acts crafted fey songs about love and the loss of it, but the Housemartins were able to find greater commercial acceptance. At times this collection mirrors the Housemartins’ stellar debut, London 0, Hull 4, with similar song structures, themes, and musicianship. The glaring difference, which may have resulted in the commercial success of the Housemartins, is that the sugary vocal harmonies on London 0, Hull 4 soar while Brighter’s vocal deliveries sometimes fall flat.

Music mavens spend a lifetime crowing about bands that should have been superstars but were deterred for various reasons. This collection leaves little doubt about both the abilities and the shortcomings of Brighter. While this was a band that wrote wonderfully emotive songs that recall the thing we love best about music, they were never destined to rule the world. Casual music fans embrace a different set of ideals than the more rabid ones. There is no need to look back with remorse on the demise or diminished memory of this fine band, and this collection is a fitting eulogy to a fine, albeit brief, career.

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Belgrave Hill, Bristol. This is the road immediately behind the basement flat on Upper Belgrave Road (i.e. the original Sarah HQ), and the photo was used on the back of Brighter’s Laurel mini-LP.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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