Remember the Sundays, the boot-wearing Smiths wannabees from London, England?
At the height of the alternative scene in the 1990s, they were adored by fans all over the world, some of whom carried a huge crush on lead singer Harriet Wheeler, but the group never quite seemed to cross over into the mainstream. They recorded three strong albums, and poof – they disappeared. Literally. (And I hate using the word “literally.”)
The core of the group was lead vocalist Harriet Wheeler and guitarist David Gavurin, who started dating at Bristol University in the mid-1980s. The duo added bassist Paul Brindley and drummer Patrick Hannan when they moved to London and started making demo tapes.
Their atmospheric sound resembled a cross between the Smiths and the Cocteau Twins—moody, heartfelt and melodic. After a bidding war ensued, they signed with Rough Trade Records and in 1990 released Reading, Writing and Arithmetic—one of the greatest debut albums ever and certainly a top 5 album of the 1990s.
Spurred on by the singles “Here’s Where the Story Ends” and “Can’t Be Sure,” the album reached No. 4 in the United Kingdom, and “Here’s Where the Story Ends” made it to No. 1 on the U.S. Modern Rock Chart. Things were looking up for the band.
In between albums, Rough Trade went under, and the band was without a label. They quickly signed with Parlophone Records, but their sophomore album, 1992’s Blind, didn’t fare as well. The single “Love” went to No. 2 on the Modern Rock Chart, and their cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” was featured on the cult hit series Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Perhaps stung by the lukewarm reception that Blind received, the group went on hiatus, and Wheeler and Gavurin settled down and had a child in 1995.
Static . . . and Silence
They finally released their third album, Static & Silence, in 1997, but the music industry had changed. Alternative music had blown its course, and by then the buying public had moved on to artists such as Hanson, the Verve and Mariah Carey.
The band had changed their music slightly; the group had added bright horns to some songs such as the single “Summertime,” taking some of the gloom out of their atmospheric sound. The album was their highest achievement on the U.S. and U.K. charts, reaching No. 33 and No. 10, respectively.
Then, there really was static and silence. Nothing.
Is this Harriet Wheeler???
It was as if the group fell off the face of the earth. Fans went searching for Wheeler and Gavurin, who had had another child, and there were reported sightings, including one of Wheeler at a supermarket. It was like a cryptozoological sighting; rumors were stronger than real reports.
In 2014, a fan who also happened to be editor of American Airlines’ in-flight magazine found Wheeler and Gavurin, who admitted that they had written some things and were mulling the possibility of recording again. “First let’s see if the music we’re currently writing ever sees the light of day, and then we can get on to the enjoyable globe-trotting-meets-concert-planning stage,” they said.
Then nothing again. Late in 2014, comedian and novelist David Baddiel told a radio show that “they [Dave and Harriet] are doing music, but whether they ever put that out there, I’ve no idea.” In 2019 writer David Obuchowski made it his quest to interview someone from the Sundays and actually got in touch with Brindley, but he declined an interview.
Obuchowski supposedly found Wheeler and Gavurin’s address but demurred at showing up on their doorstep. “The Sundays are fine just as they are. They don’t want to be bothered,” he wrote in an essay explaining his failed attempt.
Here’s Where the Story Ends
So fans trade stories on Facebook, replay Reading, Writing and Arithmetic countless times, and trade B-sides and bootleg shoes like they’re lost Beatles tracks. We may never hear anything from the Sundays again, but I’m a Beatles and Jellyfish fan. I’m used to false hopes and disappointment. We have what we have, and that’s fine with me.