Bristol’s Sarah Records was a defiantly independent record label. Feted by many – if hated by some – it has been increasingly recognised as a seminal label which, during its short lifetime in the 1990s, created a whole scene around itself. While the label has long since closed its doors, and eschews re-releases, the bands on Sarah – or at least their members – have kept on creating perfect pop music. Under The Bridge is an extraordinary reunion, showcasing new material by fourteen of them. Many are British, but others hail from as far afield as Sydney, Victoria, California and Arizona. There are some names you’ll recognise: The Orchids, The Wake, Even As We Speak, Secret Shine, Boyracer, St. Christopher. In many cases, their line-ups are relatively unchanged. Then, there are newer groups, where different line-ups have evolved: Jetstream Pony and The Luxembourg Signal (both ex-Aberdeen), The Catenary Wires and Tufthunter (both ex-Heavenly), Soundwire (ex-The Sweetest Ache), Leaf Mosaic (ex-Sugargliders), Sepiasound (ex-Blueboy) and Useless Users (ex-Action Painting/Secret Shine).
Time has moved on, but this coterie of ex-labelmates is making music that is as pure and as idealistic as ever. Every track on Under The Bridge is a pop gem. Some are punk rock, some are indiepop, others are dreamy swirls of fuzz. Some are gentle, some are full of rage, but all of them are defiantly sensitive, literate and full of DIY spirit. The bands on this compilation are flattered, maybe, that people spend serious money bidding for 7” singles of their old songs. But they are far more excited about the music they are creating today. All the tracks on Under The Bridge are new, and most of them are previously unreleased.
When Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey started Skep Wax Records in 2021 they were heavily influenced by the many amazing indie labels they’d worked with in previous band incarnations: K, Elefant, Fortuna Pop!, Wiiija, Matinée, WIAIWYA. But Sarah Records was the one they admired most: it was ethical, engaging, totally independent, and yet better organised than most majors. When they looked around, they were surprised to discover how many of the bands they once shared a label with were still making fantastic music. Under The Bridge is a celebration of that.
Tufthunter is Peter Momtchiloff’s band. Peter was the lead guitarist in Heavenly.
Florry – Everyone I Love You
Florry are young scruffs from Pennsylvania led by squawky-voiced Francie Medosch. Their main bag is folksy backwoods pathos, but their top tune is this diversion into rubbish disco.
Vanishing Twin – Big Moonlight
Valentina Magaletti is my favourite drummer and Vanishing Twin are my favourite band. They bubble with magic and mystery. This is the music of a dream. If they were real they would inhabit a haunted puppet theatre in a space age 1920s artists’ colony castle.
The Wake were on Sarah Records and, before that, on Factory Records. Based in Glasgow, they are currently working on a new album.
Gerard (“Caesar”) McInulty:
Sandy Denny – Who Knows Where The Time Goes?
This song, written by Sandy Denny in 1967, at the tough and tender age of 20 or so, is an amazingly wise reflection in three verses on the mysterious passing of time. It was originally recorded solo as a demo, then covered by folk singer Judy Collins (its first official release) and later reworked by Sandy’s group Fairport Convention for the Unhalfbricking album in 1969.
Paul Giovanni – Willow’s Song
From the 1973 folk horror film The Wicker Man, ‘Willow’s Song’ is by American composer and arranger Paul Giovanni after the style of an old Scottish ballad. The recording here is actually sung by actress Lesley Mackie, who appeared in the movie, but this is not the version from the soundtrack. It was produced around 1973 for an album that was never released. Luckily, this performance eventually saw the light of day in 2002.
It’s the timeless quality of both pieces of music that appeals so much to us. It’s hard to say what era these songs emerged from without further information. Don’t expect to find them in most Sounds of the Sixties or Seventies lists. They slip softly away from their own times in such a natural way.
Leaf Mosaic are a duo from Australia. Josh Meadows was in The Sugargliders, and also features in The Steinbecks.
Кофе – Zero
We’ve only recently come across this great Russian synthpop track from 1986 and both wondered ‘where has this song been all my life?!’ The synths are prominent and terrific, but we both also love what the guitar does. Guitars are so important to so much great synth-based pop (think New Order, Electronic). And that key change!
I’m Talking – Holy Word
I’m Talking was a 7-piece Aussie outfit that combined synths and dance beats with tight, choppy electric guitars. Scritti Politti’s Fred Maher produced the band’s only album, the ace Bear Witness (1986). This remix from 2020 transports us back to being wide-eyed teens in Melbourne in the ’80s.
The Orchids are a Glasgow-based band. One of the first bands associated with Sarah Records, they are currently recording a new album which should be out later this year.
Dana Gavanski – Letting Go
I really like the chord movement on this, it reminds me of our friend Mark Tranmer in his projects, Gnac, Montgolfier Brothers and of course the project we did together, Vetchinsky Settings. When I heard Dana’s phrasing over the chords, I was so delighted and wondered why I couldn’t have thought of that. I guess it’s part admiration and envy. It’s so beautiful.
The Detroit Cobras – Hey Sailor
The Detroit Cobras are one of my favourite bands and I recently heard the sad news that lead singer, Rachel Nagy, has passed away. Around 20 years ago I flew from Glasgow to New York to see them at the Bowery Ballroom, it was an amazing gig and I got to meet the band afterwards. Although Rachel had a formidable stage presence, offstage she could not have been more friendly and we ended up getting invited to see them the following night at Maxwell’s in Hoboken which was a nice touch. A class act – RIP Rachel.
Under The Bridge will be released on March 18th on Skep Wax Records, as a CD album, digital download and limited edition vinyl LP. CDs and LPs include a 16-page colour booklet. It will be distributed to stores by Cargo (and in the US, Redeye).
A series of new interviews with the bands has been conducted by author Jane Duffus. Her book These Things Happen: The Sarah Records Story will be published by Tangent Books in 2023. The interviews will be posted at www.skepwax.com/ndrthebridge