Sarah Records was firmly rooted in Bristol culture. And despite the twenty-year gap since Sarah ceased production in 1995, the city’s love for the label is as strong as ever – as was shown by last spring’s sold-out Sarah all-dayer at Arnolfini.
Next month, on May 14, the film My Secret World: The Story of Sarah Records gets a fresh screening at The Cube in Bristol, followed by a Q&A with director Lucy Dawkins and Sarah co-founder Matt Haynes (which will be hosted by me). More info on the event here.
“How did we feel when Lucy got in touch with us?” Matt repeats my question back to me. “Surprised,” he says, in his usual unassuming way. “Because to us Lucy Dawkins was just ‘Lucy from Clevedon’, as that's how we knew everyone who used to write to us and we'd not heard from her since she'd last sent off for a record.”
In the days before the internet, Sarah operated from a flat in Bristol’s Windmill Hill, initially without even a phone line. Such was Matt and (Sarah co-founder) Clare Wadd’s DIY ethic that everyone who contacted them received a handwritten note or letter with their purchases. This could lead to a huge amount of time and care spent writing to the many people from all over the world who ordered Sarah records, and friendships were forged.
“But obviously we were flattered and excited, too,” adds Matt, “as it had never occurred to us that someone might make a film about us.” This is the kind of humble answer you’d expect from someone who once told me, years after Sarah had folded and he was busy editing the London-based magazine Smoke, that people were still contacting him who were writing their PhDs about Sarah Records.
“It’s been fantastic revisiting the Sarah years because so many people we used to know or write to have popped up on Facebook or Twitter, usually with less hair and more offspring but otherwise still the same, and they're just as excited about the film as we are,” adds Matt. “It's also slightly unnerving to discover that in all those years we weren't doing anything people all round the world were retrospectively discovering Sarah. When we released our final record, I think we were resigned to people gradually forgetting about us but the internet changed all that.”
Talking to Matt last year he said he loved the fact that so much Sarah music is now freely available online via sites such as YouTube and Spotify, meaning the music lived on and had been digitised – when most of it had only previously lived on 7” vinyl and home-recorded cassettes.
“As a music obsessive growing up near Bristol and then spending a lot of my adult life here, it has always surprised me how little known Sarah Records is in Bristol,” Lucy tells me ahead of the event at The Cube. “Inspired by Sarah's DIY ethic, My Secret World has been made over the course of four years, on a limited budget and by primarily a team of just two people: myself and Tom Readdy of Yes Please! Productions.”
True to the do-it-yourself ethos of Sarah Records (where white labels were hand-stamped, record inserts were hand-folded, and letters were hand-written), Lucy and Tom have done almost all of the work involved with making My Secret World themselves.
One almost inevitable upside was the outpouring from supporters of the label who were quick to offer their input. “Corresponding with people from around the world who still hold great affection for the label has been an aspect of making the film that has been really enjoyable,” says Lucy. “I have also been surprised by the number of young people that have been in touch, many of whom weren't even born in Sarah's lifetime.”
Which is proof, if needed, that Sarah's records are truly timeless.
Bristolians can see My Secret World at The Cube on May 14, and join Lucy and Matt for a Q&A afterwards. The film is also being screened elsewhere in the UK, visit the film website for information.
This November, the long-awaited biography of Sarah Records, Popkiss by Michael White, will be published by Bloomsbury.
I have two previous blog posts on Sarah Records which can be read here and here. Earlier this month, I wrote a piece about Sarah for Bristol 24/7 magazine which can be read here.