My Secret World

Looking back at a year’s worth of writing this blog, I’m left with the impression that the point of what I’m writing about is how some days are momentous and how music can enrich those momentous days, make them even more special. It doesn’t have to be a good day – I’ve written about as many bad days as good – but either way the music I have listened to has reflected and enhanced the emotions I have felt. There are days in your life that feel so important that you want to record every detail. Every second should be burned into your memory. Every footstep, every word, every emotion. It could be a first kiss, a first gig, a last glance, a lost chance. It’s that “time stood still” feeling – apparantly the brain goes into slow-motion so it can capture every distinct detail of what’s happening. The last time I had one of those days was in September 2012 – my father in law and I travelled to London for a day at the Paralympics. Every moment is recorded in my mind. The train to Paddington (and yes there was a special soundtrack mix for that, listening to it takes me straight back there), the joy of the Underground, the excitement building as we reached the Excel centre, watching the marvellous sportsmanship there, being terrified on that cablecar over the river then having to do it again to get back, heading to the Olympic Park in the evening, buying a golden Wenlock, watching the sports, welling up as the national anthem was played when Team GB got a gold medal, the journey home tired but happy. But there was also a camaraderie amongst everyone there – the helpers and the staff and the competitors and the officials and the audience. We were all in the moment together. We all had our different routes there, and took away different memories but we had a collective moment together.

Last Saturday – 3rd May – was like that for me. As I mentioned I was going to Bristol to attend “Between Hello and Goodbye”, an exhibition about Sarah Records including the debut screening of “My Secret World”, Lucy Dawkins’ documentary on the label alongside performances by Secret Shine, Rob and Amelia from Heavenly and The Orchids. I was stupidly excited about this to say the least – the night before I could barely sleep, it felt like Christmas Eve and all my birthdays wrapped up in one place. That sounds ridiculous in hindsight but it’s how I felt. Finding out that Julian “Hit Parade” Henry was performing Sarah 58 – “In Gunnersbury Park” – live on the hour made me more determined to get there early. Sadly it didn’t quite turn out like that….

Finally setting off from home at 4pm I found that my sat nav had decided to tell me where to turn ten seconds after I had made the turn, making it useless. Happily I found my way to the Millennium Square car park without electronic assistance having taken a trip to the @Bristol science centre a few months before. Then I got completely lost trying to find Arnolfini – there was a BBC food fair which confused me and as much as I valued the advice of the ice cream vendor I didn’t fancy crossing to the other side of the dock on a small boat for 50p. Once I’d got my bearings I reached Arnolfini at 5:10 so had missed the last performance. Sigh.

Still I had time to look around the exhibition itself, with its line of Sarah seven inchers from 1 to 99 along the wall, fanzines and maps of the sites in Bristol they celebrated on their sleeves and inserts and labels. It was fascinating seeing sketches for the sleeve of “Skywriting” and the master tape of “Pristine Christine” – I had an idea it might be a Betamax video cassette…. And amongst the wall of gig posters it was there – Brighter Blueboy and Boyracer at the Swinging Sporran in Manchester, the first time I met Matt and Clare.

At 5:30 there was a question and answer session with Matt and Clare held on the auditorium. Not just a chance to speak to them but to check out the audience too. Were they mostly like me – former pop kids on the wrong side of forty wearing old Sarah t shirts. And there were those (and yes that is me) but there were younger fans too. There were various Sarah folk too – members of Brighter, The Rosaries, Blueboy and Shelley being there. I was slightly star struck. The session itself was great too, lots of information and jokes and a lovely sense that the people in the audience had such an enormous affection for Matt and Clare. Matt looked exactly like he did in the 90s and Clare looked more normal than the last time we met when she seemed to be wearing a bin liner.

After a short break it was time for the documentary, introduced by Lucy Dawkins who had made it happen in the first place over four years. It really is a labour of love, looking at every artist who recorded for the label, the background to the label’s birth and close, taking in the politics of the time, the reception received from the music press, the legacy of the label and lots more. Favourite parts? Any time Stewart from Boyracer appeared. Promo videos by Heavenly, The Orchids and Even As We Speak. Live footage of the Field Mice and Blueboy (and yes Blueboy live.were amazing). It made me want to dig all my Sarah Records out and play them again, which wouldn’t be a hardship. The film received a well deserved minute of applause. Over to you now BBC 4, get it into an indie season…

Then came the music. First of all came shoegazing legends Secret Shine still looking young and creating a magical swirl of noise and melody. They played most of their “Untouched” album alongside singles “Honey sweet” and “Loveblind”, the latter closing in a wail of echoing feedback. Hearing them play songs like “Spellbound” and “Sun warmed water” was amazing. A cracking set, I should investigate their newer material. Next was Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey from Heavenly, playing some intriguing new material which was at times funny, sad, heartfelt and heartwrenching. There were apologies and jokes and it was a delight to share these new songs. When Peter Momtchilof appeared to add some electric guitar to the proceedings for a few Heavenly songs the audience went nuts. A pleasure. Bloody hell, Amelia got an OBE last year!!!

Just before midnight The Orchids came on and blew away everyone else who had played. A perfect set full of Sarah classics, reaching as far back as an exultant “Apologies” from their debut EP. Every song was a classic whether it was a single or a b side or an album tracks. James Hackett sung like an angel while knocking his crib sheets off their stand, laughed at the naivete of his words and seemed humbled by the adoration flowing from the audience. There were treats galore – a first time ever performance of “Waiting for the storm”, Hackett’s solo performancs of a heart stopping “Blue light”, the energy thrown at “What will we do next”, “Between waking and sleeping” causing me to shed a tear or two, the closing duo of “Something for the longing’ and “Caveman”… A complete and utter joy and a superb close to the evening.

Now it was late and I headed back to the car park, walking through a typical Saturday night’s selection of clubbers and drinkers thinking “You have no idea what treasures are in your midst’ on this cott. Then I drove home. The Orchids compilation “Epicurean” blasting through open windows as I sped under a gloriously illuminated Clifton Suspension Bridge.

Everyone involved on the exhibition – the organisers, filmakers, bands, DJs – should be proud of their achievements. It truly capture the spirit of Sarah Records. Thanks to Ray and his partner – old friends from the Stats Office – for tolerating me sitting next to them, and to James and John from The Orchids who tolerated my over the top praise after the gig. A grand night all round.

Next time – Respecting your wishes

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