It’s not something which really merits a declaration of interest, since this selection of 45s is in no way objective – but I should probably explain that Another Sunny Day was Harvey Williams, who is an old mate of mine, so I listen to his music with the ears of a friend rather more than those of a music critic, though I like to think that I’d have chosen one of his records even if I didn’t know him at all.
Listening to London weekend, which gathers together Harvey’s singles for Sarah, the energy of ‘What’s happened?’ really stands out for me, along with the characteristically lovelorn yearning (both lyrical and melodic) of the later ‘Rio’. ‘What’s happened to you, my dearest friend?’ (to give it its full title) brashly tells the tale of two friends grown apart. Charmingly, given this was more than twenty-five years ago, the first line is ‘We were both young once…’ It’s the somewhat black and white worldview of a young man looking back on boyhood, and in that regard it typifies the kind of cultural ‘which side are you on?’ that I and many of my other friends also espoused at that age. Things were black and white in both our eyes and Harvey’s early lyrics, as they were in the emotional landscapes of so many young men of independent (and often introverted) leanings. Though I’ve always suspected that Harvey might to some small extent have had his tongue ever so slightly in his cheek when penning his subsequent single, ‘You should all be murdered’.
I distinctly remember seeing Harvey for the first time, talking to Bob Stanley at a Hurrah! and Jasmine Minks show at Bay 63 in west London in November 1986; he stood out rather, with his as-if-bleached blonde hair. Given that we thereafter kept turning up to the same gigs, we were bound to get to know each other, but I first met him the following year in his native Newlyn in Cornwall, in the company of my Devonian friends Tim and Christian. Inevitably now when I hear Another Sunny Day, I think of four lads running an indie kind of amok in Penzance and St. Ives, revved up on Newquay steam beer and a diet of listening which included Harvey’s own demos, the Stockholm Monsters and Pet sounds.
In the late eighties and early nineties, Harvey had a flat overlooking Ravenscourt Park in west London, where I and a couple of other friends stopped one night after watching him play as part of the Hit Parade in tubeless Harlesden. The following day turned out to be the first properly warm one of 1990, and Harvey decided to lead us out onto his (in theory inaccessible) flat roof, so that with the park below us, he and Michael could play guitar, and we could all drink wine and listen to music over the odd game of Scrabble. Looking at the photos, I suspect we’re lucky we lived to tell the tale, but it remains a golden day in my memory, a ‘one day like this a year would see me right’ kind of day. Despite everyone else’s intention to make a second night of it, I left in the early evening, feeling obliged to show my face at a local protest against the poll tax in north London, and so soon found myself in among a starling-like flock of rioting anarchists running away from hawkish shield and baton-wielding cops. I recall I frequently paused to reflect that I might have been having a far pleasanter evening back in Ravenscourt Park, but nevertheless, you can understand why the notion of some of the music to which I listened being cited as ‘twee’ by the music press used to get under my skin a little.
Sometime after his run of Sarah singles, I remember Harvey suggesting that I try writing some words for him. Music he could conjure, no problem, but although he wrote some good ’uns, lyrics by his own admission came less easily. Having then tried half-heartedly to write some myself, I could understand that better. It seemed not to be a form I was suited to, despite all my many thousands of hours of listening and singing along to pop songs. Or perhaps at that time I didn’t have very much to say; or rather, that I wanted sung. I wish I’d tried harder now, because a Williams/Williams credit would have looked great on the label of a seven inch or an LP. As it turned out, later it was my other half’s name which graced the sleeve of Harvey’s California LP, she having played clarinet on a couple of songs.
So there are lots of memories tied up in Harvey’s records, perhaps more than in any other music I listen to. Harvey trying to teach me guitar, while we were stranded broken down by the side of a French motorway, and wondering, as I always did when I listened to it, which of his friends his song ‘Green’ was about (he would never let on). My childhood home and another game of Scrabble feature in the sleeve notes for London weekend, written by our mutual friend Alistair, the pair of them having visited for a weekend once; not entirely coincidentally the weekend that I had what was by far the worst hangover of my life. And when I hear Harvey’s cover of the Bee Gees’ ‘Kilburn towers’, I think of that perfect day on what the Scrabble board spells out as being ‘THE ROOF OF LOVE’, looking out across Ravenscourt Park and the high-rises of west London. And although of course it’s not about us, ‘What’s happened?’ makes me think of the young men we were, and what a long time ago it all seems now.
It’s by no means a complete collection, but I must have more seven inch singles issued by Sarah Records than any other label, give or take Rough Trade. Right time, right place, and kindred spirits, I suppose. I talk a lot more about the label here, but given their espousal of the seven inch record as the format of choice for pop music, it only seems fair to say a few words now too. The releases were hit or miss and freighted with a certain worldview (in both senses) but they captured moments of youthful excitement and confusion and melodic joie de vivre and bottled them, mostly in the form of ninety-odd seven inch singles. Each came with an insert which personalised the record-buying experience and gave you an insight into the characters of the two people responsible for releasing them. There were political and economic concerns which were often unfairly overshadowed by the caricaturing of the label as twee and trainspotterish. Though perhaps Clare and Matt only had themselves to blame, for the labels at the centre of the discs would often have images of trains at local railway stations and a series of records came with single puzzle pieces which collected together would give you the cheerful light red Pennant and creamy Bath stone façade of Temple Meads station in Bristol. I always saw this interest in transport as something of a trainspotterish play on the nature of obsession, the obsession which drove the label and drove people to purchase every record it released.
There at its inception, the Orchids released a string of great singles for Sarah, but the last of them is the one to get the nod here, both for the erudition of its title and for being a great song. ‘Thaumaturgy’ means miracle working, and it’s precisely what the Orchids do in the course of four minutes, because it’s very Scottish, very Sarah Records, yet also dubby, free and loose. The dubbiness they probably owed to producer-keyboardist Ian Carmichael, who was also in club-oriented group One Dove at the time. But the Orchids were nevertheless one of the more accomplished groups to record for Sarah, and atypically consistent too – subsequent LP Striving for the lazy perfection (the reissue of which gathers up ‘Thaumaturgy’ and its B sides) lived up to the billing of its title. As does this little dose of miracle-working.
Twenty years ago I was in France, and so were the Field Mice. During their September tour they (or rather two-fifths of them) stopped off to record a live acoustic ‘Black’ session for France Inter’s Bernard Lenoir, a.k.a. ‘the French John Peel’.
I was in the studio while the show was live on air, and during ‘Between hello and goodbye’, Bernard – mistaking me for someone who knew anything about sound engineering – passed me his headphones so I could hear what France was hearing over the airwaves. Sounded pretty damn impressive to me, so I grinned inanely at him and put my thumbs up in the direction of the rest of the group. But I also remember how dangerously, intoxicatingly fragile Bobby and Annemari’s performance was, as if it could fall apart at any moment, despite Bobby’s underlying assurance as both a guitarist and a prodigious songwriter. And sadly fall apart is what the Field Mice did not long after the end of a tour that had been troubled by Annemari’s stage fright.
Of the other songs they played, there is a version of ‘Sundial’ which was otherwise only recorded for John Peel, ‘Willow’ from For keeps, and a lovely cover of Neil Young’s ‘Birds’ – a song made to measure for the Field Mice, really – which I’ve posted over at Nightingales, not being one to miss a trick.
And because 16th September was Monsieur Lenoir’s anniversaire, I also got to (help) sing ‘Happy birthday’ live on French national radio. Fortunately audio evidence of this has disappeared.
Thanks must go to my friend whose finger was poised over the pause button that night – merci Jean-Philippe!
I was struggling to articulate all sorts of things in this excerpt from Pantry For The World, and Sarah Records got caught in the crossfire. A less violent, retrospective assessment of the label was delivered as part of B/w 42 on St. Christopher.
The sky blue colour of the cover of Pantry For The World was partly chosen in tribute to the covers of the first two Another Sunny Day singles. It’s great to see Harvey’s early work available again in the form of London Weekend (Cherry Red). I still love the contrast between the focussed musical rush of ‘What’s happened to you, my dearest friend?’ and its bewildered lyric, and the way the sound comes together with the words to create the yearning tug of ‘Green’.
The Orchids were definitely one of the more accomplished groups to record for Sarah. They were consistent too, and the LP Striving for the lazy perfection lived up to its own billing. It wouldn’t be quite true to say the same of the single ‘Thaumaturgy’ – miracle-working – but it’s not far off, and full marks to the Scots for helping to extend our vocabularies back in those days.
The Clientele’s That night, a forest grew EP is finally available for purchase (you can hear it in full here). Already discussed in these pages, ‘Share the night’ is the stand-out song of the four; once again Alasdair languidly tosses out fragments of which poets would be proud (‘as the baby bats fly through the porcelain cracks’) above music which sounds like Greeting from LA-era Tim Buckley informed by three subsequent decades of dance music. ‘Retiro Park’ runs it close with its somnambulant vocal, blurred at the edges, melting like candle wax. In keeping with groove the Clientele have found within themselves, Mel has downed the fiddle and scraper to add piano and organ to this and the other songs. ‘Retiro Park’ shares its Northern soul stomp and glide with ‘George says he has lost his way in this world’, a title which allows us to hope that we might have a Freshies thing going on here. Younger readers may not be aware of Chris Sievey’s group, whose singles – before Chris turned into eyeball-headed Frank Sidebottom – included ‘I’m in love with the girl on the Manchester Virgin Megastore checkout desk’, and ‘I can’t get ‘Bouncing babies’ by the Teardrop Explodes’. As I recall the latter was extended parenthetically outwards by a further factor of one: ‘I can’t get ‘I can’t get ‘Bouncing babies’ by the Teardrop Explodes’ by the Freshies’, only my memory can’t dredge up the name of the smart alecks responsible.
The George in question in the Clientele song is George Henderson of Dunedin-based Flying Nunsters the Puddle. ‘I’ve lost my way in this world’ appears on their recent LP, No love – no hate, which is well worth the price of admission, with meandering guitar lines that teeter thrillingly on the edge of disaster but just about keep their balance. George reveals himself to be the missing link between another man who lost his way in this world before finding it again – Vic Godard – and Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard, whose state of certitude about his place in this world I’m not qualified to comment on. Obviously I would like to prevail upon someone to progress this Puddle-Clientele chain one further step by penning ‘The Clientele say that George says he has lost his way in this world’.
There is still another joker on the new Clientele EP in the form of the title track, a spoken word companion piece to ‘The garden at night’, with a spiral staircase of guitar whose spirit if not actual hook I would wager has been borrowed unwittingly or otherwise from ‘Ten feet tall’ on XTC’s Drums and wires.
Clientele completists can also (and again at last) grab the download-only Bookshop Casanova EP, featuring their cover of Television’s ‘The fire’ and ‘The girl from somewhere’ – a song which would have fitted comfortably on either The violet hour or Strange geometry – from a variety of outlets (listed here on the Clientele’s forum), a number of whom rather charmingly describe the girl as being from ‘nowhere’ rather than ‘somewhere’.
There’s another Clientele cat to bag while you’re at it, and that is their ‘Your song’ from film musical The bigtop, and its accompanying and cunningly titled soundtrack album Songs from the bigtop. As far as I can tell the movie hasn’t seen the light of day. All of the songs for the film were written by its director, Devon Reed, who then collaborated with the group for whom he had written the song, so if nothing else you can rest easy in the knowledge that the song is not a cover of the old Elton John chestnut. It is in fact a rather lovely miniature to stand alongside ‘Bicycles’, and the Clientele inhabit the song to the extent that you would swear it was a MacLean original.
Last but not least, there is Country music: songs for Keith Girdler, Keith being the erstwhile singer for Blueboy who sadly died last year. The Clientele have contributed a re-recording of ‘Breathe in now’, a song demoed prior to Strange geometry, alongside tracks by Trembling Blue Stars, the Would-be-goods, and Biff Bang Pow!, as well as Blueboy’s fellow Sarah stalwarts St. Christopher, the Wake, and the Orchids. Released by Siesta, the proceeds from the album are being donated to the Martlets Hospice in Hove.
Issue 12 of Smoke: a London peculiar is out – has probably been out for a while (it’s difficult to tell). Nominally a mayoral election special, going to press before the buffoon that is Boris entered the eye of City Hall, but sensing the way the wind and the Evening Standard was blowing, Smoke 12 is somewhat resigned to losing Ken and determined nevertheless to continue to celebrate versions of London that are very likely obscured from mayoral view by that floppy fringe of his; but not, er, by the floppy fringe of editor Matt Haynes, the Stephen Fry of psychogeography (a field of study not noted for whimsy, at least not since the original concept of the dérive was repurposed by the likes of Ian Sinclair).
Alongside regular features like ‘London’s campest statue’ and ‘Words found written on the steamed-up windows of late-night buses’, the latest issue has not untypical stories about the Caledonian Road market; the ghost of the motorway that was meant to connect the river and the M1; and about regularly falling asleep next to a particular stranger on the train into Waterloo, a practice more common than you might imagine among commuters whose outer limits location forces them to rise before six a.m.
While Smoke takes pride in being a paper-based entity, there is a website, and now a blog, Danger: void behind door, which seems to have four purposes – 1) to detail (amusingly) the frustrations of being the editor of what I think we’ll have to call a literary magazine; 2) to act as an outlet for Smoke-y pieces which are perhaps a little short of the roundedness that its published pieces posses; 3) to field interest in Sarah Records, of which Matt was one half; and 4) to return to the light of day some of the pieces he wrote as inserts for the label’s releases, which were frequently of much greater interest than the music. Driftmine reads uncannily like something from one of the better ‘pure writing’ blogs like An unreliable witness. Except that it was written in 1991.
Incidentally Matt also has another past life as a fanzine editor and he may not thank me for it but I quote him in this piece about Hurrah!
‘Hey everyone have you worked it out?
Who do you think we’re talking about?
If you know him, you love him no doubt
He goes on and on, and yet he says nowt
And he’s so proud of the club
But it’s just a glorified pub ha ha ha
Because he’s condescending and he’s running a joke shop…’
– ‘Joke shop’ by the Wake
One of Caesar’s finest moments, ‘Joke shop’ comes from the Wake’s Make it loud mini-LP, released by Sarah Records in 1991. The irony of it appearing on the record label that took elements of the Factory approach and aesthetic further than anyone else should be noted. The song encapsulates an alternative view of the experience of being Factory Records recording artistes, one that might also be shared by the Stockholm Monsters and Section 25. ‘Joke shop’ goes on to gripe that ‘when he released our four track EP it could not be found in the Megastore’. History will be kinder to these groups precisely because of their Factory attachment, and we can’t have it both ways – Tony Wilson’s belief in music above business gave us so much in the way of inspiration; there were always going to be casualties. I like to think that Tony would have enjoyed the bilious humour of ‘Joke shop’ if he ever heard it.
The latest Durutti Column album Idiot savants might have been named with Tony in mind, or several of the musicians he worked with. Its song titles – ‘Interleukin’, ‘For Anthony’, ‘Please let me sleep’, and ‘Gathering dust’ – suggest that Tony’s illness has cast a pall over Vini’s year. Themes of elegy and lament also suffused Someone else’s party; much of Vini’s music, really, though he rallied for last year’s Keep breathing.
An earlier ‘Anthony’ can be found on the Sex and death album, released on the short-lived second incarnation of Factory (Factory Too) in 1994. It’s unusual in having a trumpet (or trumpet sound) played against a typically shimmering Vini guitar solo, giving it more of the air of lift music than most Durutti portraits in sound. But it catches both the beauty and brevity of a life, and suggests that beyond the bluster and the myth-making, Vini had a true friend in Anthony H. Wilson.