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VARIOUS ARTISTS Under the Bridge CD/LP/Download (Skep Wax)

Sarah Records was my entry point into true independent music, and I still count many of its releases among my all-time favourites. Imagine how thrilled I was to find out about this compilation, which brings together former Sarah bands who are still active today, alongside new bands that include people who used to be on Sarah. The label, Skep Wax, also has Sarah connections in that it is run by Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey, formerly of Heavenly.

Even As We Speak's Begins Goodbye is amazingly catchy pop underscored by a layer of fuzz and a stabbing synth pulse, taking in a brief interlude of woozy, dreamlike sound-art. Really fantastic stuff that's way up there with their Sarah-era classics. The Orchids pair laid-back pop with a busy dance groove, peppered with late night smoky jazz-club trumpet. St Christopher give us a fine slice of fuzz-pop, noisier than their Sarah output but retaining Glenn Melia's unmistakeable sense of melody and vibrato-rich vocals that provide a level of sophistication not normally heard in the noisepop genre. Shoegaze band Secret Shine make a beautiful ethereal wall of sound punctuated by fierce chugging guitar noise.

Boyracer's Larkin is a frankly exhilarating mix of squalling, grinding noise, million-mile-an-hour drum rolls, and pop melody delivered with a punky snarl. Easily on the same level as their early songs I loved so much in the early 90s, maybe even surpassing them. Beth Arzy, formerly of late-period Sarah band Aberdeen, is in two bands featured here, The Luxembourg Signal and Jetstream Pony. The former band's Travel Through Midnight is hazily reverbed jangle pop shot through with melancholic beauty. The latter band, who also include amongst them Shaun Charman, formerly of The Wedding Present and The Popguns, appear here with the quirkily titled Strood McD F.C., ultramelodic pop adorned with chiming jangle, that's impossible to resist. I really must check out more of both of these bands' music.

Soundwire is the current band of Simon Court, formerly of The Sweetest Ache. Their Another Sun is hypnotic, fuzzy neo-psychedelia along the lines of Loop, Spacemen 3, and several of the bands championed by the Cheree label, while also having shades of shoegaze bands such as early 90s Ride. The use of spacey 'laser ray gun' synth sounds is an effective addition to this piece. Sepiasound's Arcadian is a gentle, bucolic, cinematic instrumental featuring the unmistakeable guitar work of Blueboy's Paul Stewart.

The Catenary Wires is Amelia and Rob's band, also including Fay Hallam (Makin' Time, Prime Movers), Ian Button (Papernut Cambridge, Sergeant Buzfuz), and Andy Lewis (Spearmint, Pimlico, and collaborator with an eclectic mix of artists from Judy Dyble to Paul Weller). Their song here has faint echoes of Heavenly but eschews the sweet, playful sound that many of their songs had that led them to be pigeonholed as twee, in favour of a more grown-up, 60s-tinged sound, with effective use of electric piano, handclaps, and big atmospheric backing vocals. This is a really strong song that is now firmly stuck in my head.

Under the Bridge's booklet includes pictures of bridges from each band's local area, a nice touch that's in keeping with Sarah's use of local Bristol landmarks in their artwork. The label's website, www.skepwax.com, includes a section dedicated to the compilation, featuring interviews with all the bands, conducted by Jane Duffus. I may be mistaken, but am almost certain Jane started out writing Arketino fanzine, one of the many zines I used to read back in the 90s. Since then she has gone on to write a string of history books, and is currently working on an extensive history of Sarah Records, due out in 2023, which is very eagerly awaited by me.

This compilation proves the artists associated with Sarah are still as enthusiastic about making music 30 years on, and show no signs of running out of creative ideas. It's a great introduction to the music these bands are making today. If you're a Sarah fan, it's an absolute must. If you're new to the bands and know nothing of Sarah, it works equally well as a standalone compilation of eclectic underground pop. Very highly recommended.


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