Under The Bridge
Interviews by Jane Duffus
The Catenary Wires
Wall Of Sound
The brains behind this compilation, former Heavenly band members Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey set up Skep Wax in 2021 as a way of running a truly indie independent label. They experimented with releasing their own The Catenary Wires’ album Birling Gap before branching out into releasing other people’s music.
Talking about the decision to establish Skep Wax, Rob says: “We had a new Catenary Wires record and it just felt like a good opportunity to do it ourselves. So far we've only done our own stuff, whether with Catenary Wires or Swansea Sound, so if we messed that up it wasn't so bad. But we haven't messed it up so now we think it's worth taking the label a bit further, and Under The Bridge is the first thing we've done on Skep Wax that involves other bands.”
Heavenly never wanted to be a major label band and found the perfect home on Sarah “which was as well run as any major, probably better, but on a very small scale,” says Rob. “We didn't realise at the time how fortunate we were. What people really value about Sarah in retrospect is that it was a political project. And if you've got a label to run, then you are doing something political because you're saying something about how things should be made and distributed. That was the message I took from the past.”
Also coming from the past are the bands whose music makes up the 14 tracks on Under The Bridge, of which The Catenary Wires are, of course, one. “We didn't know quite how many Sarah bands were still making really good music but we knew at least some were,” says Amelia. “We were playing gigs with The Orchids and Jetstream Pony, we knew about the new Luxembourg Signal stuff, and we'd played with Secret Shine, and we thought it was quite interesting that all those people were passionate about music and just hadn't stopped. Indie music gives you a huge amount of autonomy, that's partly why it doesn't sell an awful lot but it does mean that 30 years later you're still really excited about music.”
A compilation of Heavenly’s music was released on Damaged Goods in 2020 as A Bout de Heavenly, and this prompted Amelia and Rob to revisit their own musical history. “Going back through it, I appreciated it more in retrospect and I got more interested in what Matt and Clare had achieved with Sarah and how they had set up something completely independent, ethically as well as economically,” says Rob. “And because of the Heavenly compilation, I ended up listening to some of those old bands and I knew quite a lot of people were doing something new, and so it was a simple job of looking around for them. There is a huge amount of fetishising of Sarah products, with people spending £50 on 7" singles that were made to be cheap. And that's OK if people are enthusiastic and want to do that. But the spirit of Sarah and indie should be to celebrate the new, not admire the old, so that motivated me.”
The Catenary Wires’ contribution to Under The Bridge is ‘Wall of Sound’, which Amelia describes as “a song about rape and lascivious male behaviour”. She adds: “It combines quite a lot of poor behaviour in one song.” While Rob says: “It ended up being called ‘Wall of Sound’ partly because of all the stuff about Phil Spector and male power in the studio, and being able to hide behind the wall of sound to enable you to get away with whatever you want to get away with. That's what gave it it's musical cue.”
In terms of how ‘Wall of Sound’ sits on Under The Bridge, Amelia and Rob think it’s the most Heavenly-esque track they’ve written for quite some time. It was originally written for Birling Gap but the pair decided it didn’t really fit so put it to one side. “It sounds like a simple tune and it is a simple tune but, to get it to where it ended up, it went to and fro quite a lot, for better or for worse,” says Amelia. “It was harking back to some of the musical themes and political themes that were in Heavenly.”
In terms of future plans, there will be a fourth Catenary Wires album at some point, once the pair can pin down bandmates Ian Button, Fay Hallam and Andy Lewis for rehearsals and recording sessions. But Amelia and Rob won’t be twiddling their thumbs while they wait, because they’re also busy with their other band Swansea Sound, which sees them reunite with Hue Williams from The Pooh Sticks, and Ian Button again. Swansea Sound’s debut album Live At The Rum Puncheon was released on Skep Wax just before Christmas, and was followed by a handful of live shows around the UK. And, for good measure, Amelia and Rob are also in European Sun with Steve Miles, who Rob has been friends with since he was a kid. So there’s no need to worry that these two will get bored any time soon.
Strood McD F.C.
“It’s an in-joke that has gone quite a long way,” says guitarist Shaun Charman when talking about how his band Jetstream Pony proudly term their music as schrammelig post-punk and indie-pop.
The term came about following a review of a gig in Hamburg which described the band as ‘schrammeliger’ than singer Beth Arzy’s other bands, and a quick Google Translate brought up the definition ‘crappy’. “So we were crappier than Beth’s other bands,” laughs Shaun, although they later found that a better definition of the word would be ‘rough’ or ‘raw’, named after an old form of less rehearsed classical music: ‘schrammelmusik’. Either way, Jetstream Pony has embraced the definition and always used it to describe themselves. They even planned to call their 2020 album Schrammelig until their German record label, Kleine Untergrund Schallplatten, pointed out that the album was too polished to possibly be deemed rough or raw, so they settled on Jetstream Pony instead. “But we’ve always worn it as a badge of honour. We took it to our hearts and we even have badges with it on,” says Shaun.
Singer Beth is well known to indie fans everywhere for her jam-packed musical CV, that ranges from late-era Sarah band Aberdeen to Trembling Blue Stars, The Fireworks and The Luxembourg Signal, who also make an appearance on Under The Bridge. Jetstream Pony is completed with Kerry Boettcher on bass and Hannes Mueller (also of The BVs) on drums. As for the band’s name? The band is named after Shaun’s partner's dog, a former racing greyhound from their local rehousing trust.
With his own background as a drummer in early-era The Wedding Present, Shaun has known long-time Weddoes collaborator Amelia Fletcher for decades. She also guested live with Shaun's other band The Popguns, so when they were invited to contribute a track to Under The Bridge, it didn’t take long for the band to say ‘yes’.
Jetstream Pony’s contribution to the compilation is ‘Strood McD F.C.’, about which lyricist Beth explains: “The lyrics for ‘Strood McD F.C.’ are a hodgepodge, almost a cut-up of thoughts and phrases I'd written down, so no real meaning to be pulled out of that one. The overall place for the song is Medway so that's kind of the basis and feeling. The song starts with the quote that's tattooed on Billy Childish's ass, as that's the best place to start. But it's not about Billy as [his wife] Juju would kick my ass!”
Talking about the sound of the band, Shaun says: “I like a broad range of indie music, so Jetstream Pony has a 12-string guitar and some things that are indie pop, but also a bass that comes in like armageddon! I like that we are spikier and my guitar also owes some debt to people like Sonic Youth and Gang of Four. Although I’ve always wanted to keep it poppy, I think of us as being halfway between post punk and indie pop. We’re definitely spikier than indie pop.”
The band’s self-titled debut album came out in May 2020. “Many people asked if we were going to delay the album and said we were crazy for not delaying it, including David Gedge,” says Shaun of his former Wedding Present bandmate. “But I don’t think any of us realised how long the lockdown was going to go on for. We went ahead with the album release but without the gigs. We were in lots of top tens at the end of the year, though. The vinyl copy is on its fourth pressing so it did alright under the circumstances.”
During lockdown, Jetstream Pony worked on new material and consequently had a six-track mini album out last November, Misplaced Words. “Some people were really productive in lockdown, I have been less so,” admits Shaun. “I work better under pressure. But the album has five new songs and an older one with Kerry singing. They’ve come out really well.”
Explaining the remote recording process, Shaun says: “I recorded the original GarageBand demo to the click track, and everyone remotely put their own parts on over the top, so in the end GarageBand was either replaced by the studio recording or, in the case of the guitars, the GarageBand version sounded good anyway. Hannes recorded the drums in Germany, Beth recorded the vocals in the studio in one of the gaps between lockdowns, most of the guitars were recorded on GarageBand and Kerry re-recorded the bass in the studio, so we built it up.”
The band’s friend Tony Bryant, of The Popguns, has been helping out on drum duty for recent live gigs while Hannes is confined to Germany by Covid restrictions. Tony also runs Sunny Studios from his garden in Hove, which meant he was able to help put the mini album together. “He gets us, so we were able to leave much more with him because he understood the sound that we were going for. When he gave us the rough mixes, we hardly had to change anything,” explains Shaun. “Because he plays with us live, he understands the sound that we’re after.”
As for what the rest of 2022 holds for Jetstream Pony, well, Shaun says he needs to get writing and come up with some new songs for the band. Having somehow never managed to create a second studio album (excluding singles compilations) with any of his former bands, Shaun hopes to break that pattern with Jetstream Pony and conquer those difficult second album demons once and for all. In the meantime, the band hopes to keep gigging as much as possible and pick up on the excitement that they generated in 2020 just before the world closed down.
Wish You Well
A Sarah supergroup if you will, Useless Users sees Lee Christopher and Kevin House from Action Painting! team up with Secret Shine vocalist Kathryn Smith and, sometimes, Even As We Speak drummer Anita Rayner, after they all became friends on a 2018 tour.
Kevin reprises his role of bassist, although he is also occasional guitarist and backing singer in the newer band, but he insists that “Lee is the brains of Useless Users”. Their track on Under The Bridge is ‘Wish You Well', which is a bonus for fans because it isn’t included on the band’s upcoming album We Are All Useless Users, to be released on Emotional Response (the label run by Stewart Anderson of Boyracer, adding a further Sarah link to the chain). “Stewart is the most dynamic person I’ve ever met, he has so much energy,” says Kevin. “I remember Lee sending me some of the songs he’d been writing, and I couldn't resist putting a bass on and it snowballed from there. The band name came from Lee and is our general philosophy on life.”
It only took a few weeks to get “Wish You Well’ recorded, despite the challenges posed by lockdowns and everyone being spread out around the globe. “Lee sent me the drums and him singing, so I put the bass and guitar on, and then he sent it to Kathryn,” says Kevin, who lives in France. “Compared to the other stuff we did, it came together really quickly. Since we’d been working together again, me, Lee and Kathryn have really honed down our working methods.” Bristol-based Kathryn adds: “It only took me an hour to record it and I had to send something back in a panic! It’s a very different sound to Action Painting! but it came out of us meeting on that tour and working on music on lockdown. So the track on the compilation was one of the last he sent through for me to do some panicked vocals on.”
Kevin continues: “Sometimes it would take a long time just to find the time to work out ideas, and over 18 months we’ve suddenly got to a point where we know where we stand and we know the dynamics of the band are in place. Lee will come up with an idea or a song, and I say ‘let’s try this’ and it goes backwards and forwards several times across countries, or continents in the case of Anita [in Australia]. The good thing with Lee is I put 100% trust in his ability to take things out rather than put things in. He’s really good at editing things down. Whereas I’m the opposite. He’s a very good producer, he’s got a good master plan.”
With regards to what ‘Wish You Well’ is about, Kevin says that he thinks there’s a new quality to Lee’s songwriting that has emerged since his near death experience in 2009, when Lee was violently assaulted at a train station and left in a coma for a month. That was an experience which understandably took a long time to recover from as Lee had to relearn how to do the most basic of tasks. “There’s a depth in Lee’s songwriting that maybe wasn’t as profound before,” says Kevin. “It’s often bleak but with hope, and there’s a lot of humanity in Lee’s songs. I suppose it comes from that experience. You nearly die, you have to relearn how to eat again, that’s a kind of renaissance for him, literally. He had to learn how to do everything again.”
The band’s debut album will be released early in 2022, following 18 months of hard work. “We threw in as many influences as possible to try and stretch our musical ineptitude to its limits, and it’s a good, honest piece of work,” says Kevin. The album will have eight tracks and he says his favourite include two versions of ‘On A Corner’ that bookend the album, and another called ‘Forton Wreck’ that he wrote himself. The track is named after Forton Recreational Grounds in Gosport and Kevin says that, when he was younger, he’d always thought that Forton Rec was a shipwreck because of the naval connections in the town. “So it had this romantic allure,” he says, “but when you go there, Forton Rec is a real dump, it's a very bad playground. Lee did a damn good job of knocking the track up into a proper song rather than a sketch of an idea. He is so good at producing things and knowing what to keep and what not to keep.”
Summing up We Are All Useless Users, Kevin adds: “The thing with the album, it’s an eclectic mix of influences and things we’ve stolen, we’re like magpies. But it comes together, it sounds like us, it doesn’t sound like another band. It doesn’t sound anything like Action Painting! That’s the thing Lee and I both adhere to: you don’t need to be a musician to make music. You just do what you can with what you’ve got, and try to produce something with the tools you’ve got at hand.”
“I thought I might have accidentally retired during lockdown because I hadn't done any music for about a year. So I'm glad that Rob came up with this idea because it proved that I haven't quite retired yet,” says Tufthunter’s Peter Momtchiloff, who was invited onto the Under The Bridge compilation by his former Heavenly bandmate Rob Pursey.
Tufthunter’s contribution is the beautiful French song ‘Monsieur Jadis’, with vocals by Jessica Griffin of Would-Be-Goods fame, which Peter says he wrote a few years ago and put to one side while waiting for the right opportunity. “It's about someone who used to be very glamorous,” says Peter, explaining that 'jadis' translates into 'formerly'. “It's about a woman who goes to visit a man who was once a famous celebrity but people don't know who he is now. He still has a charm, still has a smile, but the shirt's a bit tighter now. And she thinks about how it looked like he was going to conquer the world but then the world moved on. The song is about thinking back about what happens to attachments from the past.”
Jessica had been a guest vocalist on Tufthunter’s 2015 album Deep Hits, which saw an array of vocalists each tackle a different song that Peter had written over the past few decades but kept safe until he found the right project. “The idea was that I had a bunch of songs and I would get a different person to sing each one since I know a lot of people who sing,” says Peter. “I certainly didn't want to put it out under my own name, as that would be odd since I wouldn't be singing. It wasn't the same band line-up on every song but it was me playing on every track, so it was a shifting line-up. I'm surprised more people haven't done it.”
Peter explained that he borrowed the idea from Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields, who did a similar project under the name of The 6ths in the late-1990s. And fun pop fact, Amelia Fletcher of Heavenly (and many other bands) was a guest vocalist for both The 6ths and Tufthunter projects. “I used to write songs for bands I was in from Talulah Gosh onwards but on the whole I wasn't the singer and, after a while, I thought there was something a bit odd where the songwriter gives the singer the song to sing. So I had a lot of songs written over 20 years or more, I think the oldest one on Deep Hits was from the mid-1980s, 'Pirbright', which is named after a village near where I grew up, and I gave it to an old friend of mine who also comes from Surrey.”
Some of the previous Tufthunter vocalists have also included peop such as Claudia Gonson of Magnetic Fields and Bid from The Monochrome Set. “There are some well known people but also some not so well known. Everyone said ‘yes’, but I didn't quite get everyone I wanted. I would have liked to include the singers from a band I was in called The Family Way, and I had a song for Calvin Johnson from Beat Happening and I sent it to him and he said 'thanks' and then I didn't hear anything so I thought maybe he didn't fancy it and I went on with making the record. And just when I'd sent it off for mastering, I saw him and he said he was ready to do his song. It was too late by then but he did perform it a few times live, it was called 'A Little Too Much Is Just Enough For Me'.”
But although Peter is working on a second Tufthunter album, it doesn’t look as if the Calvin collaboration will make its way on there given the new long player will be entirely instrumental. “I was about two thirds of the way through recording a new Tufthunter album when lockdown happened, but I haven't done anything on that in 20 months,” says Peter. “For me, music is entirely about going and meeting up with people I like and playing with them in a room, and it's definitely not about sitting on my own in front of a screen. So I did stop and it'll take a while for me to get back into it. I listened to a lot of old instrumental music from the 1950s and 1960s, film soundtracks and whatever, exotica if you like, and I thought I'd have a go.” He adds, teasingly: “I'll probably be ready to start again soon, so maybe it'll be out later in 2022.”
“‘Stornaway’ is a complete example of what I feel a St Christopher song should be and I am delighted with it,” says Glenn Melia about his band’s contribution to Under The Bridge. The track is taken from a collection of songs Glenn wrote and recorded in his bedroom during the lockdowns of 2020/2021 and, due to the enforced solitary state we were all in, for that reason it is Glenn alone who plays everything on ‘Stornaway’.
Despite the strange circumstances surrounding its creation, Glenn insists there was nothing wildly unusual about how the track was written. “The song just evolved through one's normal creative songwriting process,” he says. “Namely developing a musical structure from start to finish, finding a vocal melody and then, basically, selecting a pattern of words that fit. I can't imagine how difficult it would be in reverse, ie writing lyrics first then adding a suitable musical backdrop.”
St Christopher will be one of the bands from the compilation playing in Bristol and London for the April musical dates and Glenn is definitely looking forward to these. Although he says quite a lot of the bands on Under The Bridgestem from the second half of Sarah, with which St Christopher was less involved, there are certainly a few familiar faces he is looking forward to seeing again. “We played a few gigs with Heavenly way back, and played many times with The Orchids in the beginning, and actually also played with them in 2020. So more nostalgic chats will be had over several beverages when we play with them again next year, no doubt!”
In addition to the Under The Bridge live shows, St Christopher also has a few Paris dates lined up for 2022 and, Glenn says, “hopefully more live dates will occur, as we have a solid gigging outfit once again.”
As one of the later bands to join the Sarah stable, coming in six years after the label was started, Boyracer delighted in being seen as outsiders in the scene. Frontman Stewart Anderson cheekily muses that Clare and Matt only signed noisy Boyracer to put the breeze through the fringes of the typical Sarah fans.
The band has had a steadily changing line-up over the decades but the one constant has been Stewart, who is now based in Arizona and runs his own label, Emotional Response, while continuing to make music with Boyracer. “The band has now been together 30 years, with over 50 members,” says Stewart. “I am fortunate to have been writing and recording with Christina [Riley] for the past two years. I feel I've written the best songs with her. I hate bashing on my supposed Sarah legacy, but those songs Sarah released were a snapshot of a specific time in my life. I'm glad they exist. Most people don't get to have that moment of reflection. But, you know, I've written far better songs since then.”
Boyracer’s contribution to Under The Bridge is ‘Larkin’, which was specially written for the project. True to the band’s name, in typical Boyracer style the song was written, recorded and mixed in just two days. No messing. “I write very quickly, always have, and deliberately so for this project,” says Stewart. “I still adhere to a self imposed ‘three take rule’. I never do more than three takes of anything. Lyrically, I never revise myself much for similar reasoning. The original spark for the track ‘Larkin’ was about changing perceptions, which I think ties in with this compilation. Larkin the poet is loved by many for his works, but is also a trigger for many due to his persona. There is a resignation in my lyrics I was trying to capture. Hopeless but hopeful.”
Stewart is particularly pleased to be involved with the Under The Bridge project because it has given him the opportunity to be involved with some Sarah artists he had not previously worked with while the label was in existence, as well as to reconnect with some former friends. “It’s great to see so many ex-Sarah artists still making new music. And it's awesome to be personally connecting with other bands that at the time I didn't have much of a connection with,” he says. “During the Sarah years, there were definite divisions between bands, and my recollections of the early-‘90s was that it was a very regional and fractured scene in general. I had punk friends and I had twee friends. And I copped an earful from both sides for being on Sarah. Kinda stupid looking back as its all just indiepop after all. But we were all younger, unsure of ourselves, with damaged egos, and probably all in our own heads a little. It's been refreshing to re-evaluate past events.”
Alongside Under The Bridge, 2022 looks like being a busy year for Boyracer. The band went out on tour in the US in January, ahead of releasing their fifteenth album later in the year. And Stewart has a strong ambition to head back to the UK to tour again. In addition, he is busy with Emotional Response with new releases scheduled for acts including Lande Hekt, Mick Trouble, plus some DIY avant-punk masterpieces from the late-’70s members of The Homosexuals, Television Personalities and Swell Maps, as well as volume six in the label’s Typical Girls series. And not forgetting the debut LP from fellow Under The Bridge collaborators Useless Users. Stewart concedes: “As a label, we're pretty eclectic and stubborn... just like Sarah.”
The Wake was one of the most intriguing bands on the Sarah roster, as the only band which had had a former life on another label - and that having been none other than the equally infamous Factory. The Wake’s frontman Gerard ‘Caesar’ McInulty has had an extraordinarily varied career, having initially been a founding member of ‘80s popsters Altered Images, and having worked with everyone from Bobby Gillespie to Vini Reilly. The band’s line-up is now firmly fixed with Gerard on guitar, bass and vocals, and Carolyn Allen on keyboards. And for this track, they are supported by long-time Sarah-collaborator Ian Catt on drum programming and Drew Diver on the enigmatic sounding ‘extra instrumentation’.
Their track on Under The Bridge is the charming ‘Stockport’, which has the added pressure of being the compilation’s closing number. “The song was written for our album A Light Far Out, first released on the Factory Benelux label in 2012,” says Gerard. “It started from some guitar chords and then Carolyn added keyboards. Originally, the song was meant to be about Strawberry Studios in Stockport, founded by the members of 10cc, and later used by Joy Division - at the suggestion of Martin Hannett - for Unknown Pleasures. It was subsequently home to various other Factory bands. However, as the lyric developed, it turned out to be about small-ish towns in general and the possibility of finding something special - the studio - hidden away in the most seemingly ordinary of places.”
The concept of Under The Bridge certainly appealed to the members of The Wake, as Gerard explains: “We think it's a great idea to reunite with other former Sarah artists and find out how everyone sounds these days. In our case, the track is nine years old, but our new recordings aren't ready and we really wanted to be a part of it. It was inspiring to hear the finished compilation and realise so many of our ex-colleagues have evolved and remained creative.”
Those new recordings that he mentioned will appear on a Factory Benelux album, hopefully later in 2022. And will undoubtedly appear on the setlist when The Wake join Jetstream Pony at London’s PowerHaus on 25 June. Gerard and Carolyn have also been working on some theatre projects in recent years and he adds: “We're planning to create a drama podcast in 2022, hopefully featuring a soundtrack by one of our musical friends from Glasgow.” Which sounds like something you won’t want to miss.
Based in Castlemaine and Kyneton, north of Melbourne, Australia, Leaf Mosaic sees former Sugargliders’ vocalist Josh Meadows teaming up with his good friend Matthew Sigley. Josh takes on singing duties while Matthew, who has been in bands including Daytime Frequency, The Earthmen, The Lovetones and Polak, is responsible for all the instruments. The pair were previously united in The Steinbecks, so they really do have a strong history together.
Leaf Mosaic sees them take on an electronic sound, inspired by the likes of the Pet Shop Boys and New Order. “Matt and I had long talked about doing a project along the lines of Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr’s Electronic, and the 2020 lockdown gave us the perfect excuse to do something about it,” says Josh. “Matt started writing some tunes and sending them through to me to start thinking about lyrics. ‘Bullet Train’ came together pretty quickly. Matt built the music around an Oberheim DX drum pattern – the drum machine used by New Order on ‘Blue Monday’ – and a rising chord progression played on a Vox Continental organ. On top of that, he layered some lines on a Roland Juno 106. It’s also got Rickenbacker bass and guitar parts. The lyrics are part observation, part fantasy. I like to celebrate and memorialise things that are lost and gone and out of reach, because I believe those lost things make us what we are today.”
Alongside Even As We Speak, The Sugargliders were one of only two Australian bands on Sarah, which naturally meant they felt a little disconnected from the rest of the label at times. Therefore, Josh says: “I’m rapt to be reconnecting with my former Sarah labelmates! As The Sugargliders, my brother Joel and I were thrilled to be on Sarah and always felt very loved and well looked after by Clare and Matt. But, living in Australia, we also felt quite removed from the whole scene.” The Sugargliders did venture over to the UK for a tour in the winter of 1992, playing shows with fellow Sarah bands Blueboy, Secret Shine, Brighter, Boyracer and Heavenly, and members of most of those bands can be found elsewhere on Under The Bridge.
Leaf Mosaic is still in its infancy. The duo has a handful of songs, which they are releasing one by one on Bandcamp while they continue to write and record. Their exquisite third single ‘Zodiaque’ was released last November. “‘Zodiaque’ explores that most essential human capacity: the ability to see things from another perspective and change our minds,” says Josh. “In an era flooded with strongly held opinions, tribal loyalties and no shortage of information to support any point of view, it is more important than ever to be prepared to listen to each other respectfully and be open to change. It’s a song in praise of diversity and pluralism and a plea for tolerance and respect.”
The duo hope to release an album later in 2022 “if there’s a label that would be keen to release it”, says Josh, adding that “the best thing about Leaf Mosaic has been cementing my friendship with Matt. He and I have a shared language and love of music that has made creating these songs an act of intuition and a great pleasure for me.” However, that’s not to say Josh and his brother Joel are not still playing music together. Although the siblings haven’t released anything since 2014, they still get together to make music, while Josh is also lyricist and singer in The Bell Streets, a collaboration with Nick Batterham.
Sepiasound is the solo project of multi-instrumentalist Paul Stewart, formerly of Blueboy. He is now concentrating on instrumental pieces influenced by the vintage films he enjoys, hence the name.
“I managed to build a home studio and have been collecting instruments over the years, so I'm now concentrating on instrumental pieces and have pitched some music for film and TV,” says Paul, whose previous work involves being commissioned to create a soundtrack for American designer Kate Spade’s luxury boutiques, which was released under the name of Beaumont.
Paul explains: “These days, the music I listen to and films I mostly watch are from the past and this is where my greatest influences lie. The name Sepiasound reflects this and the music sits better from an earlier period. To quote Mark Kermode, 'I don't write new songs, I write old songs'.”
His contribution to Under The Bridge is a beautiful track called ‘Arcadian’, and Paul says the song title refers to “one who seeks a simple, ideal life” often in the countryside. “The purely acoustic instruments on this piece conjure up an existence that is pure and natural. It could also be lifted from the Unisex era of Blueboy and I felt this would resonate the most with people interested in the new work by all the bands,” explains Paul.
In September 2021, Blueboy’s Peel Session was released on a deluxe 7” gatefold pack by Precious Recordings of London, which prompted Paul to revisit some of his music from his Sarah days. “I'm currently revisiting some of the older Blueboy songs and playing them on electric jazz guitar, banjo etc and have uploaded a few of these to YouTube and the response has been really good so I might do some more,” he says, as a teaser for fans of his former band.
And paying his respects to his former Sarah labelmates who have joined him on Under The Bridge, Paul says: “I was flattered to be asked to contribute to this album with so many artists and musicians who I was lucky enough to share label space with. The project is a great idea and shows how musical paths continue, often in completely new directions. I'm a big fan of Peter Momtchiloff so being on an album with Tufthunter means a lot to me.”
Before the pandemic, Paul was also in a baroque-pop quartet called Edwardia, with influences ranging from new English folk, avant garde pop and bands like the Pale Fountains and Shelleyan Orphan. “There was piano, cello, violin, classical guitar, banjo and vocals and we recorded a handful of songs and played a few gigs,” says Paul. “Now that things have settled down, I plan to revisit this idea and play new material and hopefully announce some low key live shows.”
Paul updates the band’s website with new music when it is ready and also puts free downloads on there from time to time. He has also been talking to Richard Preece from Lovejoy about playing live together, so fans should keep their ears open for more about that exciting venture.
Even As We Speak
Despite their day jobs including such terrifyingly grown-up things as ‘Nurse Educator for Biopreparedness’ and ‘Academic Specialising in the Creative Applications of New and Emerging Technologies’, Even As We Speak seem like the busiest group of musicians you’ve ever come across. They also have so many qualifications between them that they make Heavenly look like the class dunces. So how Even As We Speak find the time for all of this is anyone’s guess, but thank goodness that they do.
For Under The Bridge, the Australian band has contributed a track called ‘Begins Goodbye’, which songwriter/guitarist Matt Love wrote decades ago but never found quite the right home for. “Matt often writes songs and then forgets about them, typically because something isn’t quite right with the song or the time isn’t right,” the band says. “This song was possibly written 25 or 30 years ago and then went into the milk crate where all the unloved songs go. Every now and then, Matt might fish one out if he is short on ideas. ‘Begins Goodbye’ probably came out of a number of different drafts over the decades.”
The rest of the band heard the song while they were playing around with ideas for songs to record back in 2016. They all liked ‘Begins Goodbye’ but agreed it didn’t quite work for 2020’s Adelphi album, so when the opportunity arose to contribute a song to Under the Bridge they knew they had just the thing. “We had a few versions of the song kicking around but none were finished,” the band says. “So in the end, Julian [Knowles] had to scramble a bit to get a coherent mix together to send off. He ended up finishing it on his laptop in a hotel room in China or India or somewhere. And that’s why Rob [Irwin] isn’t playing bass on the track. He couldn’t get his take uploaded to the cloud thingy in time to make the final mix, so we used a bass guide track Julian had put down in one of the original recording sessions.”
With overseas travel hopefully opening up again, Even As We Speak are looking forward to being able to travel over to the UK for some shows in the future but have not yet booked anything. However, they hope to do the odd show in Australia before long. “The pandemic robbed us of the opportunity to play Adelphi live and we would still be keen to do that as the rehearsals sounded great. But we will be recording a new album in 2022. Matt has been busy writing and we know you will love the new songs,” they tease.
Alongside Even As We Speak, everyone in the band is busy with other projects. Mary and Julian recorded a lockdown project with Beth Arzy under the name of Tapioca Tundra, which saw them cover The Monkees’ ‘Sometime In the Morning’ (out on Spinout Nuggets), and they hope to record more in the future. Meanwhile, Anita recorded a couple of songs during lockdown with Useless Users, and that album should be out later this year. And Mary collaborated with Red Sleeping Beauty to release a song called Second Time, which came out in March 2021. And that’s not all. Julian has been making audio art and finished a commission for the exhibition Audiosphere: Sound Experimentation at a major art museum in Madrid. And Matt released a solo album in 2020 called Little Ray of Sunshine. He and Rob teamed up with Mark Temple from The Hummingbirds to launch it at a gig in Sydney. “It was literally a little ray of sunshine before we were all locked down again,” the band says. So definitely check it out, OK?
Located in deepest, darkest Wales, Soundwire is fronted by Simon Court, who Sarah fans will know from his time with The Sweetest Ache. Simon is joined in Soundwire by lead guitarist Pete Moore, rhythm guitarist David Jones, bassist Adam Freeman and drummer Jack Starkey.
Along with Pete, Dave and former Sweetest Ache keyboardist Ian Saberton, Simon had previously been in a band called Shooter for eight or nine years, who released a number of records on Northern Star. But when it was time for a refresh, some of Shooter adopted a few new members and morphed into Soundwire, briefly including former Sweetest Ache guitarist Stuart Vincent in the fold. “The music had taken a more complex turn, we were writing better songs, although we had the same core of garage/åå and had become more electronic and programmed and tight,” says Simon. This was about ten years ago and Soundwire has grown in leaps and bounds since then.
Given that everyone is juggling their time in the band alongside families and day jobs, Soundwire admit they’re “not the most prolific band”, although they were very pleased when Tim Holmes of Death in Vegas mixed and produced their 2013 single ‘Burn Deep’. Their eponymous debut album came out in 2019, mixed by fellow Welshman Thighpaulsandra of Spiritualised. “With those that took the time to listen to it and buy it, it was really well received and we were very proud of it,” says Simon. “We were happy with how it turned out and the reception it got, and it got our names in the right places. We’re currently about 75% of the way through album two and will be releasing a single in the new year, which is mixed and ready to go, it just needs mastering and a video.”
For Under The Bridge, Soundwire has contributed the track ‘Another Sun’, which was composed by Simon and Pete online during the 2020 lockdowns. “It's essentially a break-up song, but also about empowerment and the realisation that two people aren't right for each other and need to move on,” says Simon. “The Skype sessions during lockdown were a lifeline for my sanity generally, when you couldn’t get out of your own front door.”
The Sweetest Ache had a pivotal role in the mid-period of Sarah, back when the band were still teenagers. “I love the whole Sarah family,” says Simon. “And it's been great making new connections through the project. We never played a gig with Heavenly although I met Amelia, I stayed on her sofa when we played in Oxford. We played with The Orchids and St Christopher, but we were a bunch of drug-smoking dickheads back then, we weren't particularly friendly! We were so young. I was only 19 when the first couple of singles came out. We were a bit of a shambles in all honesty, and I was terribly shy when it came to meeting other bands.”
Looking ahead, what lies in store for Soundwire in 2022? Well, the guys are working hard on completing their difficult second album, and say that the single ‘Satellite’ will be out shortly. Apart from some gigs supporting the Under The Bridge release, “everything’s going to be focusing on getting the album completed,” says Simon. “The main aim is to get the record completed as soon as we can and pursue the offers we’ve had for the album.”
Lost In The Middle
Towards the end of 2021, Secret Shine celebrated their 30th anniversary in the music industry, which is a mammoth achievement. After all, fellow Bristolian Sarah band Tramway never even made it to a tenth of that time, the lightweights.
Secret Shine, of course, began their career on their home city’s Sarah Records, where they stayed right until the label closed in 1995. But since then, bar a hiatus of a few years, the band has called several other labels home, most notably Saint Marie Records in Texas.
“I’m really proud of being 30,” says singer Kathryn Smith, who doesn’t look a day over 25. “I felt quite emotional writing our anniversary Facebook post reflecting on our experiences and all who have been part of that because, although we had a bit of a break during that time, we have stayed connected as friends through it all. To reach this point is a really big achievement. As is the fact we are still really good friends and enjoy what we do.”
Singer and bassist Jamie Gingell adds: “There are other bands that have been going for 30 years, but we were all friends already and then decided to write music. Unless we really hated what was happening with the music, I don’t think there’s ever really been a time when we would have stopped. We’re just a group of mates and we come together occasionally to write music and play gigs. For a lot of bands, their participation in the band defines their relationship with each other, and that isn’t the case for us. The band is a great bonus to our friendship group.”
Secret Shine’s contribution to Under The Bridge is a new track called ‘Lost In The Middle’, which Jamie wrote while compiling songs for a collection of demos. “We were building up a bank of songs to choose for a release in the spring,” he says. “So when we got asked to do the compilation, I just tried to work out which one would be good for the album.” When pushed to say what the song is about, Jamie says: “‘Lost In The Middle’ isn’t about anything in particular, I know that sounds odd. I wanted it to be ambiguous in terms of its meaning. The song is about total absorption in, or totally letting go in, an experience.”
The invitation from Skep Wax to contribute to Under The Bridge got the whole band excited. “It was a kick up the backside,” says Kathryn. “Jamie was gathering some demos together for an EP, but the rest of us were being quite slow at contributing our parts. This seemed a good opportunity to get something together and be out there and be part of something that has those connections back to Sarah, but as we all are now. It was a catalyst for completing a song and inspiring us to crack on with the new material.”
Jamie picks up the thread: “We get a bit burnt out every three years or so. We do a gig where we might not think it was the best gig in the world, so we give it a rest for a while because we don’t feel any pressure to keep releasing things. We have these dips and highs of creativity. I then just go all out for about a month and write eight or nine songs, and then we demo a lot of them, and some of the others will contribute and Kathryn does her vocals. It all takes quite a while but we don’t feel the pressure. We’re not on any label, so it’s quite relaxed.”
Secret Shine clearly still enjoy working with their former Sarah labelmates, because in 2018 they were part of a four-band tour and release (alongside Boyracer, Action Painting! and Even As We Speak), which Boyracer’s Stewart Anderson organised. Kathryn says: “That tour really ignited our passion about live playing and not taking for granted what we do. Because people are still inviting us to things, that gives us the incentive to pootle along.” Jamie adds: “From my perspective, I think the reason we enjoyed the last compilation and Sarah tour was because a lot of it was organised for us. We’ve done some tours off our own back but they are harder work.”
And there’s no sense of hierarchy for this band either. “It was so nice to go somewhere and play and not be the headliner,” says Jamie. “I’m not mad on being the headline. It sounds petty but when you headline you have to go on really late and I don’t like hanging around. So if another band asks if we’re willing to swap, I’m happy to do it. It means we can relax and enjoy the rest of the night. If you’re headlining, the nerves are building, so it was good to be part of a group of bands playing.”
That said, Secret Shine will be a part of the Under The Bridge live events in April 2022, loving the idea of the “mini festival vibe”. And on the subject of bridges, Secret Shine opted for Bristol's under-appreciated Banana Bridge as their contribution to the album’s artwork. “In lockdown, when you could venture a bit further afield, me and Jamie spent a lot of time walking down the Feeder Canal from St George, so the Banana Bridge stood out.” Jamie adds: “It’s interesting without being too pretty. It’s got a nice industrial vibe but it’s a weird yellow colour.”
I Don't Mean To Stare
Arguably one of The Big Three on Sarah Records, a label they were so intertwined with that they also had a track out on the pre-Sarah flexi label Sha-La-La, the good news is that The Orchids are still going strong. And it’s the full eight-piece line-up that contributed to ‘I Don’t Mean To Stare’ on Under The Bridge.
The song has been around for five or six years, as have quite a number of the tracks on The Orchids’ as-yet-untitled forthcoming album, which will be released later this year. Apart from a single in 2018, the band has not released any new music in seven years, so the world is long overdue for some new material from this much-loved Glasweigian institution. Although from a band who has previously released tracks with titles such as ‘Yawn’ and ‘Striving For The Lazy Perfection’, it’s probably fair to say that fans of The Orchids know that the boys like to take things at their own pace.
The Orchids initially went on hiatus in 1995 towards the end of Sarah, but since reforming in 2004 this had been their longest period of inactivity, which was due to guitarist John Scally requiring heart surgery. “We want to give a special mention to the wonderful staff in the NHS who helped John through his illness,” says drummer Chris Quinn. “They probably saved his life and we’ll be forever grateful to them.”
Those first rehearsals back were difficult as the band initially struggled to get in sync. Chris says: “The song’s working title, due to the illness, was ‘Heartvalves’. John had come up with this as a guitar riff. He thought it sounded a bit like late-’70s/early-’80s alternative bands or maybe like Simple Minds, because Charlie Burchill was his guitar hero when he was younger. It sounded really catchy and we knew the song could have a good groove, something with a lot of space for us all to work with. It ended up going from his Simple Minds-type riff to something kind of African sounding, like Vampire Weekend might come up with. It developed in lots of ways.”
Photo: Pat McGuire
Long-time producer Ian Carmichael has reunited with the band on their latest work, although when he first heard ‘I Don’t Mean To Stare’ he was not a fan, and The Orchids parked it for a while to concentrate on some of the other songs they were working on. “For some reason, Ian came back to the song one day and revived it,” says Chris. “He shortened the song and re-did and added parts, using some of James’ refrains on the vocal melody to start making it what it is now. It changed the overall feel of it so we decided to revisit it. That’s what happens, songs change and evolve all of the time. I don’t think people realise the hours and hours and hours that go into making a four-minute song. This one was discussed and discussed during several group online meetings during lockdown.”
The song was finally finished during a week of residential sessions for the new album at Watercolour Studio in Ardgour, which is in the West Highlands of Scotland, and Ian came over from his home in Barcelona to produce the tracks. “While there, we added the final layers of vocals and melodies with Pauline [Hynds Bari] adding her lovely vocals to it again, while Paul and I worked out additional layered percussion parts outside with Ben Nevis in the background,” says Chris. “We saw it as a small victory to get that percussion added as Ian wasn’t keen but we wore him down! He was even persuaded to allow use of the vibraslap in the gap in the middle, even though he hates them!”
Talking about how Under The Bridge is bringing so many former Sarah bands together, Chris says: “This album is more about looking forward and also kind of celebrating that we are all still writing and performing after so many years. Anyway, here we are and it’s exciting and wonderful. We have always seen plenty of our old labelmates over the years at concerts and gigs. I’ve said before, it’s like your family members who maybe don’t live near to you and, every time you see them, even if it’s been years, there’s no time lost before it’s just totally normal again, like you just saw them yesterday.”
Chris adds: “Three of us play live with The Wake, we’ve seen Rob Pursey and Amelia Fletcher on a number of occasions playing at the same festivals. When we play in London, we get to catch up with Harvey Williams, Bobby Wratten and Beth Arzy. Matt Haynes and Clare Wadd were both at the 100 Club when we played there in 2020. We even managed to catch up with Michael Hiscock when we played in Paris in 2018. It’s wonderful that we have that shared history and bond. We also had the wonderful Sarah Records film launch in Bristol in 2014 when so many of the bands and artists were present.”
Alongside their track on Under The Bridge, 2022 will see The Orchids’ new album released, as well as a handful of gigs to promote it. “This is really exciting after so long without any gigs,” says Chris. “We have never been too prolific with gigs anyway but we always do a few every year. There are two gigs in April to promote Under The Bridge. We also have live concerts planned for Glasgow and Preston. But our own new album is the really, really, really exciting thing. It’s our seventh studio album and has been six years in the making. It has loads of brilliant songs and we think you’re all going to love it.”
The Luxembourg Signal
Travel Through Midnight
Accepting the great responsibility of opening Under The Bridge, The Luxembourg Signal rose to the challenge and ran away with it with the beautiful ‘Travel Through Midnight’. Written by The Luxembourg Signal and sung by Betsy Moyer, the band’s line-up is completed by vocalist Beth Arzy (formerly of Sarah’s Aberdeen), guitarists Johnny Joyner and Kelly Davis, drummer Brian Espinosa, keyboardist Ginny Pitchford and bassist Daniel Kumiega.
Beth knew Rob and Amelia from the live music circuit and, with a shared Sarah history, the three soon became friends. “Rob sent an email one day when the idea was still a cloud of dust and gas and I thought it was a great idea,” says Beth, in answer to how The Luxembourg Signal came to join Under The Bridge. “I knew Johnny and the gang were working on a new song that would fit perfectly.”
Given that Betsy wrote the lyrics and sings lead vocals, Beth admits she’s not sure of the meaning “but it feels sad”. She adds: “Betsy only had a couple lines of lyrics to start and Ginny filled in around them using ideas from a Russian fairy tale. ‘Midnight’ is a demon and to travel with or through Midnight is a means to cross great distances, each place being at midnight, never reaching the light of day.”
Beth says it is “fantastic” to be reunited with so many of her former Sarah labelmates, many of whom she never met at the time of Sarah given that Aberdeen was based in the US. “So many people on the compilation were, or are, in some of my favourite Sarah bands and I never expected to be in such great company at such an advanced age.”
As to what Beth is doing on her days off from The Luxembourg Signal, she’s a busy bee. Beth is working on former Field Mice frontman Bobby Wratten’s upcoming Lightning In a Twilight Hour record, which will be released on Elefant. And she is also kept off the streets by her other band Jetstream Pony, who also have a track on Under The Bridge. While alongside Mary and Julian from Even As We Speak, Beth released a sublime cover of The Monkees’ ‘Sometime in the Morning’ on Spinout Nuggets last summer, which caught the attention of a certain Mr Micky Dolenz. “My work here is done,” says Beth happily.
Journalist and author
Jane Duffus has worked as a journalist, editor and author for more than 20 years. She is currently working on her sixth book, ‘These Things Happen: The Sarah Records Story’, which features interviews with more than 125 people involved in this seminal indie record label. It is due for publication in 2023. And you can be one of the first to hear when it’s ready for pre-order by joining the mailing list on Jane’s website: https://www.janeduffus.com/