Under The Bridge
Interviews by Jane Duffus
The Wake | Soundwire | Jetstream Pony | Leaf Mosaic
Boyracer | Tufthunter | Useless Users | Sepiasound
Even As We Speak | The Catenary Wires
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 organsied 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/