So, way back in the time of mists, I used to run a record label. Which, you might think, is of little relevance to a (excuse me while I cough) literary website such as this but – bear with me, because it was an odd sort of label, and words were actually quite an important part of it. In fact, a lot of people preferred the words to the music. Especially when the words had little to do with the music, which was most of the time. So, even if you were never a huge fan of electronically tinged emotionally ragged blissed-out fuzzed-up guitar music issued by a label that regarded each new release as a vital piece in the great jigsaw of feminist and socialist revolution – come to think of it, we did actually produce a jigsaw too, though using a picture of Temple Meads station, not amazons on tractors, so let’s not get sidetracked – stick with me.
Because what I’m hoping to do here is to get some of that writing on-line. Unfortunately, it’s rather a major project, as for most of the label’s existence we had no computer, just a thirty quid Silver Reed typewriter from WH Smith’s in Bristol. If we wanted to vary the font size, we had to use the photocopier in the local newsagent’s; and if we wanted to vary the font, we had to buy a new typewriter. Which we did in the end – a £349 word-processing typewriter with a one-line LED display and a 4k memory (enough for nearly a whole page of A4). Basically, nothing’s on disc, and I need to type it all out again by hand. But I’ve made a start, with two pieces: Driftmine, which originally came printed on a 7” square piece of paper slipped inside the sleeve of a 7” single by a band called Brighter (see, I told you it was a weird label), and Lights on a Darkening Shore, which originally appeared inside a CD compilation which Jude bought, and thus could be held partly responsible for Smoke.
If you’re interested in the musical side of things, there were actually two record labels, but the most famous – I use the word loosely – was called Sarah Records. Not because we knew anyone called Sarah, but because we knew that such a brazenly girlish intrusion into the stubbornly boys-own club of the music industry would make a lot of people feel uncomfortable. And so it did, which is why you’ve never heard of us. In retrospect, then, a foolishly idealistic gesture, which we must regret almost as much as we must regret turning down the Manic Street Preachers? Mmmmm… no. On both counts. Because, back in 1987, when my partner Clare and I started Sarah, the pages of the NME were often quite metaphorically stuck together with testosterone, and women had little opportunity to be anything but decorative, whether on stage, on reception, or on the record sleeve; foolish idealistic gestures were IMPORTANT. And because the Manic Street Preachers were rubbish.
(There was actually an even earlier label, called Sha-la-la, but Sha-la-la was so aesthetically pure that it released only flexidiscs, on the grounds that great pop music should, by definition, be ephemeral. This is why you’ve never heard of it, and why I’ve only just remembered it.)
So, anyway, Sarah Records released 100 singles and then took out half-page ads in NME and Melody Maker announcing that August 28th 1995 was a day for destroying things (the “nineteen” in the opening line refers to Clare, because she was…) – and that was the end of that. Fizz, bang, gone. Actually, when I say “singles”, some of them were flexidiscs, some were small folded pieces of paper, and one was a board game, but the spirit behind them all was the same, and that was the point. And we stopped at 100 because we were classy as heck.
After Sarah, I had another label, called Shinkansen, which stopped not because it had released 100 singles but because most of my newsletters had become diatribes about the impending Iraq war, and I was fed up with getting abusive e-mails from Americans. Is it too late to say “I was right”?