This is weird. Me and St Christopher have history. I bought, direct from Sarah Records, that beacon of all things indie and (in some cases) twee, All of a tremble, and fairly shortly afterwards stole one of their other singles for the label from my brother, Say Yes To Everything. Fast forward a long time and I walked out, bass in hand, on stage with the only constant and songwriter in the band, Glenn Melia, to play a set which included both those tracks to a Swedish audience that lapped it up, sung along and (in one case) Stagedived. So for me to review this, a new compilation (there have been several) on the esteemed Cherry Red label featuring (as Glenn used to jokingly claim) ‘the longest lasting least popular band of all time’ seems at the very least, weird.
In the 53 track marathon, most things are there, from the earliest flexi’s, through the whole of the Sarah Records output, through the four albums recorded for Vinyl Japan to the more recent things, a couple of singles on Spain’s Elefant Records and a cdr on Cloudberry. The thing I always knew about Glenn, especially after playing in his band was twofold – that he was a great singer, with those twinges of Scott Walker (there’s a lot of old Scott in St Christopher) and that he was able to write some of the most gloriously catchy tunes. That all of this body of work has barely created more than a ripple on the wider world I just find plain old sad.
Amongst the records, the Sarah singles stand out, Say Yes I maintain being the best thing Sarah ever released, and all of a Tremble, You Deserve more than a Maybe and Antoinette are all sparkling songs, Glenn’s soaring vocal always to the fore, under these spiky guitars, with just that little hint punkish psych about it (we were never really like the other Sarah bands, he often says). Also though the newer things, Burnout more adrenalin fuelled than you might imagine, and If Black Were Blue and She looks like you both show that despite years at it,he’s lost none of that knack to write a melody that’s at once affecting and memorable. For me though, the most criminally ignored material comes from within the Vinyl Japan catalogue, Low, Majestic and Chemical King all brilliant, Suede-like (yeah, years before they did it, mind – another of Glenn’s constant reminders) muscular indie rock.
There’s always these little almost half songs that creep up on you, sometimes no longer than a minute, like North Wind with its lolloping country take, and the hummingbird with its shimmering guitar, and as I played them I used to wonder if these could have been pushed into longer, more ambitious material, but somehow they work on record. And with it being such a large overview of the band, there’s still stuff to discover, even for me, with the likes of Cathedral City and Charmelle being delightful examples.
Its not perfect, I grant you. Skirting along the bottom of the musical pile (never mind the quality of the sings) means recording budgets are tight (read, none existent) and I know more than most that ‘studio time’ is tight (I’ve sat in his kitchen playing basslines into a four track on more than one occasion) so you get the impression that one or two of the songs, with their tinny drum machine sounds could have acted as demos for something much more sumptuous if the circumstances were different. Through it though, its always the quality of the melody and Glen’s voice that shines through.
As he says in the interview contained within the booklet, he still feels like he has more music in him. If anyone needed a résumé, then Cherry Red have provided it. More than that though, Evermore Starts Here makes me proud to know Glenn Melia, proud to play in his band now and again, and pleased he’s been given a platform for his music. Long lasting we might be, but the least successful? Fingers crossed, that might just change.