This weekend will be a bit special. After I’ve played at the Odd Box Weekender in London with The Sweet Nothings, I’m off to Bristol for the premiere of Between Hello and Goodbye: The Secret World of Sarah Records. Sarah was the label that hooked me on indiepop about 2,500 years ago.
To mark the occasion I’m republishing, below, a short article about Sarah I wrote for Bye Bye, Duffel Boy, a zine I made in 2009. It’s called ‘We Don’t Do Encores’, and it goes something like this.
Pop isn’t short for popular. Shhhhhhh… listen. Pop is the sound of a bubble bursting.
Burst is what bubbles do and burst is what pop does.
Two minutes, three minutes, finish it. Sit down and listen to ‘The Girl from Mars’. A decent song which could have been a great song had it stopped where it should have stopped. Does it gain anything from that last repeaty bit? It does not. If less is more, then in pop music less is most.
Nothing should happen in pop music because of inertia. If a song carries on too long, or a band stays together because they’re scared to split up, or a promoter keeps a regular night running because they need the money, or a fanzine drags on when the editor’s heart isn’t in it, then that isn’t pop. That is inertia. Inertia is the opposite of pop.
This is why the most perfect piece of pop ever – better than any bit of inspired songwriting or stagecraft – was the decision of Matt Haynes and Clare Wadd to bring an end to Sarah Records in 1995.
Here’s a thing: it’s quite hard to appreciate, in 2009, how much seemed to rest on Sarah in the mid-nineties so far as the indiepop scene was concerned. There was Subway, and Sha-la-la, and 53rd & 3rd, but if you didn’t live in Bristol or London and you weren’t up with all the fanzines then it was pretty hard to keep in touch with the scene, pre-internet. And when Sarah finished I thought it was the end of everything.
And I was completely wrong, and it’s completely ace that there are people getting into indiepop today who’ve never even heard of Sarah Records.
This proves a point about the worth of indiepop which shouldn’t really need proving – to the lamebrains who would dismiss Sarah by just about managing to string together words like “uhhh, it’s all wimpy”, “uhhh, the singing’s really annoying”, “uhhh, it’s twee” and “girls don’t look right with guitars” before they rolled another joint and put Mercury Rev back on.
But far more importantly than that, this imperviousness to the past is completely pop, just as it should be.
Fuck The Smiths; Sarah was what showed me how pop music could and should be. Nothing should happen in pop music because of inertia, and every single thing Sarah did happened because of passion and love and ferocity and fun – from the photocopied inserts, to the adverts quoting their own bad NME reviews, to just burning the whole thing down before it got tired, before the bubble could burst. Sarah showed up the corruption and hypocrisy and sexism that drive the industry and that you can have ideals and keep them and put out beautiful music and make people happy. Sarah exemplified the perfect two-and-a-half-minute pop song – firstly by releasing loads of them, and then by becoming one itself.
Shhhhhh. Listen. Pop!