Despite owning a lot of music, I can’t really say I’ve ever felt any great affinity for any one particular label. I doubt the majority of people can, truth be told. It’s becoming especially difficult in these times of mergers, takeovers, subsidiaries and imprints and all. One can imagine fewer more horrifying (or, depending on your viewpoint and/or level of imagination, amusing) situations than some holier-than-thou scenester discovering his beloved, aesthetically perfect independent label is in fact owned by Universal or somesuch.
However, every rule has its exception, and my exception to my ‘not having a favourite record label’ rule is Sarah Records. I fully appreciate the irony in me taking the piss out of holier-than-thou scenesters in the above paragraph when 1) I am admitting to having a favourite record label and 2) that label happens to be one of the twee-est, most scene labels ever. Thing is though, I tried and tried to come up with another equivalent, and the closest thing I could come up with was Factory – yes I love a large number of their releases, and yes I love the anarchic, haphazard way in which it was run, but I still only admire it, and don’t look upon it with any great deal of affection (or as much affection as you can ever festoon upon such a strange entity as a record label).
I think part of it is due to the timing of me ‘discovering’ Sarah Records. I suppose in 6th form I would’ve been classed as someone who never really fitted into what was expected of someone that age. Instead of being a borderline sex-pest intent on either getting an other half or a quick shag (either in or out of school) while hammered on WKD (outside of school), I fell in with the people who also never fitted in anywhere else – you know the social sets; the posh kids, the jocks (and in our case the uber-Welsh kids). Let me say here and now we had one fuck of a laugh. While everyone else was being relatively civilised we were the ones blaring out music throughout the lunch hour, having food fights, considering a can of strawberry squirty cream to be an acceptable lunch (that was mainly me, to be fair) and having near weekly bouts of boxing matches and our lounge-famous ‘bloodsport Fridays’ (sample activity: sticking drawing pins through a trip of masking tape, sticking that onto the toecaps of our shoes, and kicking each other in the shins….oh, happy days!). Naturally in amongst all this anarchy girls featured pretty infrequently, at least in the romantic sense. That’s not to say crushes never existed (or indeed weren’t ridiculed by the others) amongst our number, and it was during all this mayhem and sometimes frankly awful music (anime soundtracks, anyone?) that a friend first introduced me to the Field mice.
For those not familiar with The Field Mice (or indeed most of Sarah Records’ output), then the music has a theme of unrequited love, crushed feelings and the like, all dished up with enticing melodies. At a time where every other artist was either writing songs about how great it was to be in love, or how shit it all was when they go their heartbroken at the end of it all, this was a breath of fresh air. Naturally it’s hard to identify with a song that couldn’t be any cornier if the singer was playing an acoustic version of ‘Your Body Is A Temple’ starkers in a 4-poster bed when you haven’t even got to, never mind past, first base.
Over time I’ve since discovered The Orchids, Blueboy, Another Sunny Day, and The Sea Urchins to supplement my Field Mice listening. All the bands are characterised by light, airy production, breathy vocals, and heartfelt lyrics, and all are a joy to listen to. I randomly decided to write this article, and halfway through discovered that it coincided with a large amount of the Sarah back-catalogue being re-released – 14 Iced Bears had 2 re-issues done in 2001, The Field Mice albums were done in 2005, and Another Sunny Day and The Orchids came out last year. Blueboy are the next ones on the list, with their first album released last week and their second being re-released next month. Here’s to hoping The Sea Urchins are next. But be warned, get them while you can. The cult adoration of the label means that there is a high demand for CDs and the like - £15 for a used copy of a 14 Iced Bears album has proved in my experience to be a bargain if you didn’t catch it the first time round, and The Field Mice’s ‘For Keeps’ goes in and out of stock like the wind (I was fortunate to pick up a copy in Fopp for £13 new, but on Amazon it was going for £30+).
So then, in summary, why Sarah Records? I think I’m just a sucker for bloody good fey, intelligent indie-pop, truth be told. The fact I discovered great music for lovelorn 6th formers at the time of being a lovelorn 6th former probably helped, as does all the nostalgic aspects that come with it, but that wouldn’t be reason enough to continue liking their releases 5 years on (especially given the degree to which my musical taste has shifted over the last 5 years).
Sarah records closed in 1995 not through financial hardship, but because the owners wanted to guarantee an exemplary back-catalogue. With me being the contrary sod that I am, I probably love Sarah Records as much for this as I do for their music.