Notes On Twee

Sunday 12th April 2015.

To the Hackney Picturehouse for the screening of My Secret World, a film-length documentary about Sarah Records. It’s directed by Lucy Hawkins, and she’s invited me to DJ at the event. Shanthi S has agreed to accompany me, which makes things easier. I still have a searing awkwardness about going to chatty gatherings by myself. But as it turns out, I end up speaking to Tim Chipping and Clare Wadd in the cinema’s café before I see Shanthi, who’s at a table in the corner, wearing sunglasses indoors (‘a heavy night’). A happy reunion: the first time I’ve seen Matt and Clare for some time, as well as Tim Chipping. Travis Elborough there too.

After the film there’s a Q&A with the label co-runners, Clare Wadd and Matt Haynes, hosted by Pete Paphides. Then I install myself in the DJ booth of the venue’s Attic bar, playing only tracks released by Sarah.

So many documentaries about now. In the future, everyone who isn’t famous for fifteen minutes – or as in the case of the Field Mice, those who do their utmost not to be famous -will have an independent documentary made about them instead.

One good thing about premiere screenings of music documentaries, though, is that they can take the awkwardness off band reunions. One is really gathered to celebrate, or least discuss, a New Thing: a film.

Which turns out to be enjoyable, heartfelt and very nicely made. Lots of talking heads – band members and fans. Fans who started their own bands, like one fellow from The Drums. Lots of inspired use of graphics, making the record sleeves turn into their Bristol locations. And a good sense of the way Sarah represented a certain aesthetic – a kind of poetic wariness of the world, a subcultural Refusal (to quote Dick Hebdige), that risked being mistaken for simple shyness, and indeed was often dismissed with the pejorative of ‘tweeness’ (though I quite like that word). It’s an aesthetic perhaps best summed up in the Field Mice song, ‘Sensitive’.

The Field Mice singer Bobby Wratten is the voice most absent from the film (there’s always one – I hear Dave Grohl is frustratingly absent from the new Kurt Cobain doc), but then the mission to cover every band released on the label means that even the more popular bands’ stories get only a small amount of time. One must tell a story, because it’s impossible to tell the story. No such thing.

The film is about love, ultimately. The love of Matt and Clare, and their love of music. The film is often about their time together: how they met (at a Julian Cope gig), how fanzines brought them together, how Sarah Records was their ‘child’, and how the releases sometimes carried little oblique accounts of their relationship. Though they split up around the time the label stopped, they’re clearly both still friends, and are even happy to help promote the film together.

Tim C has a good anecdote in the film about the way the label actually told him off for not writing them enough letters. And I’m there in the film too, very briefly, in archive footage of our band Shelley (a version of Orlando), miming guitar while Tim C sings, in the old Top of the Pops studio. A whole other story why that happened. I’m just glad that I’m wearing a suit.

Afterwards I chat to some nice people from the ‘Doc ‘N Roll’ organisation, who put on the film. They tell me there’s a new Picturehouse opening soon, in the old Cineworld at the Trocadero, by Piccadilly Circus. ‘Picturehouse Central’. Any cinema chain that puts on a Sarah Records film has its heart in the right place.

Here’s what I played in the DJ set, though not in this order. I thought I had more than enough Field Mice songs, but Jonathan from Trembling Blue Stars demanded I played ‘Missing The Moon’ too. I let him plug in his iPod and play it himself. Such was his ardour.

The Field Mice: Sensitive, If You Need Someone, Let’s Kiss and Make Up, Coach Station Reunion, You’re Kidding Aren’t You, This Love Is Not Wrong, Emma’s House, When Morning Comes To Town.

The Orchids: Caveman, What Will We Do Next, The Sadness of Sex (Part 1), Bemused, Confused and Bedraggled, How Does That Feel

Heavenly: Our Love Is Heavenly, Three Star Compartment, Sperm Meets Egg So What, C Is The Heavenly Option, Atta Girl

Blueboy: Cosmopolitan, Imipramine, The Joy Of Living, Popkiss, Sea Horses

Even As We Speak: Swimming Song, Drown

Brighter: Ocean Sky, Never Ever, Killjoy

St. Christopher: And I Wonder, The Thrill Of The New

The Wake: Carbrain, Crush The Flowers

Action Painting: These Things Happen

Tramway: Boathouse

Another Sunny Day: You Should All Be Murdered

The Sea Urchins: Pristine Christine

* * *

Monday 13th April 2015.

The rest of this week is the last leg of the dissertation. Sitting in libraries and cafes, revising drafts 3, 4, 5. Emailing some drafts to kind friends, who detect all the typos I missed. I also get to a point where I have too many notes to fit into the text. Again, it’s like the Sarah Records film: impossible to cover everything. And never finished, but abandoned.

* * *

Thursday 16th April 2015

It’s getting to the point where I’m revising my dissertation while waiting at the traffic lights on Euston Road. Pen on folded print out, as if I’m doing a crossword.

* * *

Friday 17th April 2015.

Some more detail on a typical day this week.

Morning: I sit in the Barbican Cinema Café and revise the dissertation with a Bic Orange Fine pen, one last time in this case. Sixth draft. Around me, people with beards have meetings about podcasts.

Walk around London Wall by way of a break. Like so much in the City, it’s a mixture of cranes, hoardings, a few startling old buildings that have managed to escape the wrecking ball (listed, I’m guessing), and umpteen Dubai-like towers of glass that seem to be springing up at a worrying rate. Meanwhile, barely a week goes by without news of another historic venue closing. The Black Cap in Camden shut down this week. The Royal Vauxhall Tavern is hanging on for dear life. Oh, Londinium.

Then to Birkbeck Library in Torrington Square, to type up the revisions. Even though I have a laptop, I prefer to use the college computers, or even one of the few remaining internet cafes (like the one in Marchmont Street today). Less to carry, less to lose, less to worry about. And I am not of the backpack persuasion.

I take a seat next to a student I slightly know, who’s in the same year. He’s flustered with the logjam of work that happens around this time, as are most students. ‘Wish I’d not left it till the last minute’. We have a whispered chat. ‘What’s the quickest time you’ve written an essay in?’

I finish typing the revisions, then upload the dissertation to the college’s online system, ‘Turnitin’ (ah, modern life!). Then I print out two copies, as required, and take them across the road. I get them bound in the secret branch of Ryman’s that lurks in the basement of Waterstones, Gower Street. A friendly woman with a heavy cold gives them a ‘comb’ style of binding, while I wait. Thirty-eight A4 pages, with copious footnotes. I was still agonising over every page reference on the last draft. Just how do they want me to use ‘Ibid’, again? Style guides have such niggling rules: capitalise this, except when you don’t. Full stops here, but not here.

A sunny day, bluebells out in Gordon Square. Not quite warm enough to sit on the grass, but the students do so anyway. I go into the School of Arts lobby and drop the two copies of the dissertation through the designated letter box. There. Done. Something I’ve been working on since last summer, finally finished. Will it show?

But there’s no time to rest. On with the next essay. Two of those to go before May 8th. Still, they’re only 2500 words each.

Now working on the penultimate essay. For the first time I’ve written the introduction before finishing the main text, because I can somehow see the whole shape of the thing at once. Perhaps it’s lit up by the light at the end of the tunnel.

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