|Founder||Clare Wadd and Matt Haynes|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|Official website||Sarah Records Website|
Sarah Records was a UK independent record label active in Bristol between 1987 and 1995, best known for its recordings of indie pop, which it released mostly on 7” singles. On reaching the catalogue number SARAH 100 the label celebrated its centenary by throwing a party and shutting itself down.
The label was formed in Bristol in 1987 by Clare Wadd and Matt Haynes, and grew out of the fanzine scene at the time, Haynes having previously edited Are You Scared To Get Happy?, and Wadd Kvatch. Both these fanzines had given away flexidiscs – indeed, Are You Scared To Get Happy? had been part of the Sha-la-la organisation, a record label set up solely to produce flexidiscs. Several Sarah releases were fanzines and flexidiscs as, along with the 7"s, it was felt they summed up the aesthetic and politics of the label better than 12" singles and albums. As Wadd and Haynes said in an interview with Melody Maker, “It’s a record company run from a record buyer’s point of view. You sit there doing sums and think: ‘If we put this out on 12” we’ll make so much money, and if we put this out on 7” we’ll lose this much … [but] you shouldn’t rip off the people who support you. If the only way you can get in the charts is by putting out three versions of the same single, it’s not worth it. Ideally we would like to put out one-track seven-inchers where each song has to stand up on its own merits”.
Being based in Bristol was very important to Sarah; despite neither being from Bristol, both Wadd and Haynes loved the city and wanted to make the political point that to run a successful record label you didn’t have to move to London. Each single featured a picture of the city on its centre labels, the compilation albums were named after places in and around Bristol (and numbered after the buses that went there) and the city’s road layout provided the board for Saropoly – the board game about running an indie record label (packaged as a 7” single) that was the label’s fiftieth release.
Sarah Records was usually seen as being grounded in the C86 jangly indie-pop sensibility, though the late Seventies DIY scene and independent yet stylish and imaginative labels such as Postcard Records, Factory and Creation, plus the mid-Eighties fanzine culture, were bigger influences.
Sarah also took a strong political stance, a response to the label’s years of operation being, as Wadd and Haynes wrote in the guide to an exhibition held at Bristol’s Arnolfini Gallery in May 2014, “the years when CDs took over and vinyl died, when majors set up fake indies and indie became a genre not an ideology. They were the years before mobile phones, home computers and the internet, the years of call boxes, paste-ups and fanzines sent through the post. They were the years of Margaret Thatcher and John Major, and the years when Lad Culture took hold.” Although, because much of the politics was represented by the label's actions rather than its words or music, this aspect of Sarah was often missed. According to Haynes: “Few people spotted that our sleeves didn’t use the female image as decoration, that singles didn’t appear on albums (except compilations), and that compilations didn’t include ‘previously unreleased’ tracks, so maybe our politics was too subtle.” The politics was also always tempered by humour: 12” singles were used as a self-consciously hyperbolic metaphor for capitalism, the capitalist mindset of record collectors was mocked by randomly distributing postcards that formed a jigsaw of Bristol’s Temple Meads station in the sleeves of ten 7”s whose labels featured photos of consecutive stations on the local Severn Beach line, and the label announced its Autumn 1992 release schedule by taking out quarter-page adverts in the music press denouncing capitalism and the refusal of bands to accept responsibility for their own marketing practices.
Although Sarah releases received fifteen Singles of the Week in NME and Melody Maker, the press was mostly hostile, something Wadd and Haynes attributed to a largely male press missing the point, being annoyed by it, or worrying that liking a label with a girl’s name, co-run by a woman, would bring their own masculinity into question. The maleness and sexism of the music press was a major issue for Sarah. As Wadd wrote in a letter to Melody Maker: “… your treatment of women reinforces the status quo of a woman’s role being largely decorative – an object, a stage-prop to be placed at the front of photos … a puppet to smile and dance while the boys at the back (the “brains”) pull the strings. It’s hard enough for a woman to carve herself an independent role in music. Stupid basic things like going to gigs on your own and getting back afterwards have to be considered on top of society’s everyday constraints … Add to that the implicit criterion that to succeed you need to be physically desirable. What about the not-so-beautiful, the women who aren’t so confident about their appearance/sexuality … You end up with half the population having no creative input. Yet even that is eerily disguised because it’s always the purely stereotypical (and therefore hardly qualifying as positive discrimination) FEMALE image within a band that the male writer/camera seeks out.”
Sarah ceased operation in August 1995 with the release of There and Back Again Lane, a booklet telling the story of the label along with a CD of representative tracks. A party was held on The Thekla, a boat moored in Bristol’s Floating Harbour, and half-page adverts entitled "A Day For Destroying Things" were taken out in both NME and Melody Maker. "We don't do encores", the advert announced, and the label has stuck by this sentiment, with no further releases. Bands on the label included Heavenly, East River Pipe, The Orchids, The Hit Parade, Even As We Speak, Boyracer, Brighter, Blueboy, The Field Mice, Another Sunny Day, Shelley and St. Christopher.
A film about the label, "My Secret World", made by Lucy Dawkins for Yes Please! Productions, was previewed at the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol on 3 May 2014 as part of the exhibition Between Hello and Goodbye: The Secret World of Sarah Records. A book, "Popkiss: The Life and Afterlife of Sarah Records", by Michael White, will be published on Bloomsbury's 33 1/3rd imprint in 2015.
After disbanding Sarah, Haynes subsequently established Shinkansen Recordings in 1996 where many Sarah artists went on to record. Named after the Japanese "bullet train", the label was originally going to be called "Metropolitan", but there was already a record label of that name.
The label proceeded to release new recordings by ex-Sarah artists (including Blueboy and Harvey Williams) as well as other acts including Fosca and Tompot Blenny. Haynes now edits a zine, Smoke, dedicated to writing and art inspired by London.
- Wolk, Douglas (June 2007). "A User's Guide To Sarah Records". eMusic Magazine. Retrieved 8 March 2008.
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- Wadd, Clare (2014). Between Hello and Goodbye: The Secret World of Sarah Records. Arnolfini Gallery.
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