My Secret World – The Story of Sarah Records

My Secret World – The Story of Sarah Records

Around four years ago Lucy Dawkins, who we had come to know through a mutual friend, asked us the question that we have tried to dodge many times over the years – “Did you used to be into Sarah Records?” Given that Lucy had seen us at any number of indie gigs in Bristol, indeed we are from Bristol and that we are of a “certain age”, it’s a reasonable assumption that we would have been fully stocked with Sarah memorabilia and memories. When hearing that we are from Bristol, friends from other parts of the country have asked the same question, their voices and eyes bathed in happiness at the memory of the label, fanzine and cultural force that was Sarah.

Always we have to disappoint them, with our answer, “Well, no. It wasn’t really our thing.” Though they try to hide it, I can sense their disappointment. It’s just that it sort of passed us by. Lucy though had better reason than most to put us in that sticky situation. She told us that she was going to make a documentary film about Sarah and was looking to gather as much material as she could. Saturday evening saw the premier of the film, My Secret World a highlight of the Sarah weekend at The Arnolfini, here in Bristol.

Looking back on that time, and it’s ridiculous to think that it started over 25 years ago; I have been asking myself why we weren’t drawn in to the world that Clare Wadd and Matt Haynes created. We were certainly keen attendees of gigs that were put on by the EEC Punk Rock Mountain people, which preceded Sarah, and through that I was on nodding terms with Matt but no more than that. Looking back on that period from all these years, I think the birth of Sarah did unfortunately coincide with what Orynthia disdainfully calls my “classical years”. For a while the pop song was displaced by the movement or sonata, what a schmuck! Anyway this film was going to be an interesting experience.

I have to say that it’s a triumph. The narrative of the film broadly follows the run of the Sarah catalogue from 1 – 100, mainly 7” singles plus fanzines, other assorted records and a board game. Clare and Matt are rightly heavily featured as they discuss everything from the ethos of the label, memories of bands, their place in the political climate of the day (it’s often overlooked just how political they were), transport routes in the Bristol area and the often hateful reaction of some of the now largely defunct world of the music press.

This is all interspersed with lots of chat from bands that featured on the label, along with some assorted fans from around the world. There are many lovely moments; I particularly enjoyed The Orchids describing their reaction to being labelled “twee”, Harvey Williams becoming the Sarah equivalent of Motown house band The Funk Brothers as he keeps cropping up as a member of virtually every new band on the label, Secret Shine laughing fondly at a particularly distasteful “review” and the wonderful sense of place and spirit that the label managed to create for so many people. The film also makes Bristol look absolutely lovely, which is important because Bristol was obviously very important to Matt and Clare

The film works so well, that it even managed to create a sense of nostalgia in me for something that I wasn’t even part of! Poignant, funny and disarmingly honest the film is a beautiful testimony to a label that knew exactly what it wanted to be and against the odds managed to achieve that, having done that pulled the plug and left the memories intact.

The rest of the day was a real treat as well, a room full of flyers, photos and scribbled notes on cassette cases set the mood nicely, before a gig in the evening featuring Secret Shine, Amelia & Rob from Heavenly and The Orchids and a classic indie disco. Great credit to Lucy Dawkins, The Arnolfini and of course Clare and Matt for creating such a vibrant and interesting event.