London-based acid jazz quartet the Sandals only lasted for one album, but their ability to sign with a major label and score a pop hit with their single "Feet" was an early indication that trendy club music could comfortably move from the hipster fringes into the mainstream. Naturally, some despise them for this, but the group's two releases, the full-length Rite to Silence and the EP Cracked, are superb early-'90s dance records.
The roots of the Sandals are in the South London club scene of the mid-'80s. Ian Simmonds, Derek Delves, Will Blanchard, and John Harris were friends who met round the clubs, clothing stores, record stalls, and other focal points of the local nightlife. Delves ran a weekly club night called Violets that grew to include spoken word and performance art as well as painting and photography exhibits. In 1990, the foursome opened a stall called Rich and Strange in London's Trocadero, selling records, books, and clothes to like-minded hipsters. As they ran the shop, the foursome also began rehearing in its storage room, with Delves on lead vocals and percussion, Harris on various reed instruments, Simmonds on bass, and Blanchard on drums. (Interestingly, the group never had a full-time guitar or keyboard player, preferring to deputize friends on a song-by-song basis.)
Eddie Piller, owner of London's Acid Jazz Records, became the Sandals' manager in 1991, organizing both an exhibition of the group's artwork in Los Angeles' Marquart Gallery, and a set of demos with producers Paul Daley and Neil Barnes (also known as Leftfield) that attracted the attention of London Records. Although the group was dubious about the implications of signing with a major label, most of them were married and starting families, and so the lure of a large paycheck proved irresistible. London released Rite to Silence, preceded by the single "Profound Gas," in early 1994. The second single, "Feet," was a hit and the album got generally positive reviews. But the A&R executive who signed the Sandals left the company shortly after the album's release, and the band felt that his replacement neither enjoyed nor understood their music. After an EP, 1995's Cracked, that is now seen by some as one of the essential early documents of trip-hop, the Sandals recorded a new album with Luke Gordon, aka Spacer, who had produced the EP. London rejected the album and the group, already suffering internal dissent, split up in early 1996. Ian Simmonds went on to release several well-received, jazz-oriented solo records under his own name and the pseudonym Juryman, and formed his own ATL label, short for "All That's Left," a rueful comment on the group's fractious demise. Derek Delves worked with United Future Organization, while Will Blanchard drummed for both Dot Allison and Beth Orton. ~ Stewart Mason