Tuesday, 3 October 2017

The first demo tape 1981

One point of interest in the first-ever TSOM interview published in Whippings and Apologies and featured on a recent post in this blog is the reference to the demo tape sent to John Peel which was “out at the moment”, and “which just about covers the whole range of what we do,” according to Eldritch speaking around 20th March 1981).

This is highly likely to be the cassette which became known as “The Floorshow EP” (after a bootleg vinyl version), containing early versions of FloorshowLights and the Teachers/Adrenochrome segue. Weighing in at around sixteen minutes, this is probably also the “eighteen minute” long tape referred to in the band’s first national interview (with Adam Sweeting in Melody Maker in February 1982), which Eldritch had played to Rough Trade boss Geoff Travis, who had dismissed the band (much to Eldritch’s uncomprehending disgust) as sounding like Bauhaus! “We made a tape once and took it down to Rough Trade. GeoffTravis gave it one listen, it was 18 minutes long, lots of tracks, tapped his feet all the way through and turned round and said, “It’s like Bauhaus.”

Although an original copy of this demo tape has yet to be found, a copy of a cassette MR2 has emerged from sources close to the band, which contains the Floorshow EP plus the tracks of the Damage Done single (including the brief but uncredited Home of the Hitmen fragment), along with some live tracks recorded in the later spring of 1981 (i.e. after the W+A interview). These feature on “Side B”, but the listing of these tracks is printed at right angles to those on the other side, and there is no mention of Side A at the top of that list or track lengths or details of composers as for the first side of the tape, which has given rise to speculation that the cassette MR1 would have indeed only originally contained the Floorshow EP tracks.

The Floorshow tape was certainly popular, and I recall it being listed in a 1981 Top Ten chart provided by The Warehouse club in Leeds (and presumably compiled by Eldritch’s girlfriend Claire Shearsby who was a DJ there) and printed in one of the music weeklies (probably Sounds, but I no longer have the cutting, sadly).

The opening bars of Floorshow reveal the dramatic change in the band’s sound since Damage Done a few months earlier, with Craig’s buzzing bass starting proceedings off and the original Doktor rattling away in the background. Eldritch “sings” the first verse an octave higher than normal, before returning to his now-familiar baritone for the second. His full dramatic range is well in effect in what became his traditional reverb-heavy style, with blood curdling screams echoing round the rehearsal room. Lights is remarkably similar to the version that would appear on The Reptile House EP some two years later, showing that the band understood the dramatic power of slowing their music down even at this early stage of their career. The Leonard Cohen cover, Teachers, is the closest in style to Damage Done, all jagged guitars and mumbled vocals, whilst a slightly-slowed down Adrenochrome is the most conventionally rock song of the four, and was unsurprisingly chosen as the next single the following year in barely changed form.

The source of the tracks listed on side B of the demo tape, which was shared in great quality for the first time by Phil Verne on Dimeadozen along with the 1979 Gary Marx Naked Voices tape (and was later the opening post of the unofficial TSOM 1980 1985 Fan Page), have long been the subject of speculation, with most having been released on two bootleg vinyl 7” singles in the mid-1980s on the Portuguese Pan Vox label. 1969 and Sister Ray are listed as having been recorded at York University on 7th May, and listening to them some crowd noise is evident, with Eldritch interacting with the audience, thanking them for their applause at the end of 1969 and then telling them “this is the last one, that’s all you’re getting!” at the start of Sister Ray, with the usual “Good night!” scream at the end. This was the only current evidence for this York gig having taken place, until this very week when further details have emerged thanks to John Spence, former engineering assistant at KG Studios in Bridlington, where TSOM famously recorded their classic singles in the early 80s. Addressing the 1980-1985 unofficial TSOM FB group, Spence spoke of his early involvement with the Sisters : “In 1979 he [Ken Giles] asked me to fill in as a monitor engineer on his PA system for four nights. I stayed two and a half years. During this time on the PA we were doing a gig at York University with a band called Reluctant Stereotypes. The support band was The Sisters of Mercy. When we’d sound-checked the main band we asked the support band to get their gear on stage. One of them (probably Andy) pointed at a small guitar combo amp and said, “That’s our gear!” So one amp, with four inputs into which were plugged a drum machine, a bass guitar, a rhythm guitar and a vocal mic … all overloaded and distorted, but they seemed happy enough. That meeting may have been the catalyst for them recording at Bridlington … possibly.” 

Advert from "Beaten to the Punch" fanzine

This, then was obviously the Reluctant Stereotypes support which Gary Marx had referred to in a 1985 interview, and which I had erroneously assumed must have taken place at The Warehouse in Leeds on 10th March. I asked John if he could confirm the date of the gig as 9th May, as listed in the advert attached. He promised to check his records, and incredibly shared this photo of his diary for the month, revealing that the date of the gig was in fact 7th May 1981, the exact date and venue listed on the demo tape. He also revealed that at this time he was working on the PA with another sound engineer named Pete Turner… a name familiar to TSOM fans, as he mixed The Sisters of Mercy’s live sound from their early WEA days up until the mid-1990s. So it appears that this one York University gig not only provided the band with a live recording of a couple of cover versions for their demo tape, but also introduced them to both (indirectly) the studio where they would record their breakthrough singles and to their future live sound engineer.

Photo courtesy of John Spence

The other five tracks on the “Live” side have always intrigued me, being listed as having been recorded at “St John’s, Leeds” some three days earlier on 4th May, 1981, although that night is listed as “Leeds Warehouse” on the band’s own website’s gigography. I have always been somewhat sceptical of the name of the venue (“St John’s Hall” on some listings), as there was no such venue when I arrived in Leeds to study a year later, and in the Whippings and Apologies interview Eldritch had made it clear that the band had no intention of “playing in every toilet every week,” ruling out more parochial venues. There is also, curiously a complete lack of crowd noise on the five tracks, even allowing for the fact that they have been edited together, apart from right at the end of a truly amazing Sister Ray, the end of the “set”, when two whooping voices can be heard (through the echoing mic), one male, the other (presumably Claire’s) female.

Photo from Google Streetview

The demo cassette lists the band’s contact address as 12, St John’s Terrace, part of a grand row of Victorian four storey terraces just off the northern end of the university campus. Number 12, pictured here with a light green door, was by the early 1980s (as today) a HMO (house of multiple occupancy), divided into a series of study flats, and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that these tracks were recorded at a live rehearsal for the forthcoming York gig at the flat on St John’s Terrace, effectively a trial run after the self-confessed disaster of the Altered Images support at the Warehouse on 19th March.

The contact phone number provided for the band on the demo cassette insert is the same as on the insert for Damage Done, although the address provided on that occasion was the Hares Avenue house which also features on the invoices for the first single, associated with Gary Marx. St John’s Terrace was in fact the location of the “flat” shared by Eldritch and Claire at this time which friends of the couple have referred to, its handy location just off the university campus on Bellevue Road making it a more likely stopping-off place for passing visitors than the rather distant house in Village Place, Burley which became MR headquarters by the time of The Reptile House EP. In Jon Langford’s 2016 interview on his links with the Sisters, the bassist stated that “Andy lived on the same street as me as well. On Bellevue Road,” thus confirming that the demo cassette address was the singer’s residence.

Only a band member or one of the immediate early entourage would know whether or not my hunch that the "St John's" alleged "live gig" was in fact just a taped rehearsal round at Andy and Claire's place, but the power of the tracks is undeniable and the recording clearly helped to grow the band's reputation both within Leeds and with out of town promoters, and the fact that (if St John's was just a rehearsal) the first three gigs would be supporting The Thompson Twins, Altered Imaged and Reluctant Stereotypes, exactly as Gary Marx stated in a 1985 interview already discussed on this blog. Any confirmation of the theory or evidence to the contrary would be very gratefully received!

My especial thanks are due to Phil Verne of the unofficial FB group The Sisters of Mercy 19801985 for his huge help with this post, and to Mark Andrews and other researchers who have delved into the very earliest days of the band's history as a going concern.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Driver (demo)

 Over the past sixty or so posts, this blog has come to specialise in archiving/recreating some of the more memorable TSOM gigs of the 80s (originally Gunn era only, to tie in with the blog title i.e. during my own late teenage years when my obsession with the band was at its most fanatical), but on this occasion we’re going to examine and attempt to collate what is known about some of the more interesting studio out-takes from the 81-85 period which have never seen a commercial release.

For the purposes of these posts, I’m going to ignore alternate takes (e.g. the Mack Mixes) and demos of subsequently released songs, even when (like Some Kind of Stranger (Early) or No Time To Cry (radio session)) they are markedly different from the released version, and will also ignore for now studio cover versions (e.g. Teachers, Jolene and Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door) which never made it to (official) vinyl, and also instrumental versions (eg Serpent’s Kiss or Where Spirits Fly) or those on which other members of the band had a go at vocals (such as Marian/Red Skies Disappear [Marx] or Dance on Glass [Hussey]).

This still leaves us five known Sisters original songs featuring vocals by Eldritch which were studio recorded but never officially released in their original form, although most made it into the public domain in one form or another: Good Things (as featured on a John Peel Session and widely bootlegged), Burn It Down (which partly gave rise to Burn), Driver, Garden of Delight (later a Mission single) and the semi-instrumental Wide Receiver.

In this first in an occasional series of posts on these songs, I’m going to focus solely on the track which to me is the most interesting of the five :

This song originally became known to collectors on a tape of demos, allegedly from 1982, and has subsequently featured on just four bootleg LPs (a comparatively low number for such a rare TSOM item). 

Although on first listen Driver bears no relation to any other songs, closer analysis reveals some chord progressions and intonation in the chorus of the same ilk as Anaconda (first played live in October 1982). Gary Marx, speaking to Heartland Forum’s Quiff Boy, acknowledged that Driver is a genuine TSOM demo (there had been some doubts as to its authenticity as it didn't surface outside the band's immediate circle until 1991) and claimed that some of the guitar lines also resurfaced in both Body and Soul and even This Corrosion! Like other demos of that era, there appears to be just the one guitar part, making it likely that this was from earlier in 1982 before Ben Gunn fully joined the band.

Lyrically, the song was even more fecund, contributing to a whole plethora of songs down the years. The opening couplet “Lay me down the long white line, leave the sirens far behind me” also opened Heartland, which was recorded for the David Jensen session in early March 1983 and made the live setlist for the first time later that month, and for this reason some fans maintain that Heartland is just a refined Driver. However, apart from the shared lyric fragment, the two songs are entirely different which is the usual justification for classing Driver as a separate song. 

The song Heartland credits Eldritch and Marx as its composers, and Marx stated in the 2003 PrĂ©monition interview that he wrote the music and “some of the lyrics” to Heartland. This has led to speculation that the Driver lyric is in fact Marx’s, but it is surely much more plausible that Eldritch “tidied up” Marx's original lyric for Heartland by borrowing the opening couplet from his (Eldritch's) own lyric for Driver. This theory is strengthened by the fact that some of the other lyrics of Driver made it into future songs: “Life is short” features in Temple of Love, and its follow-on line in Driver “[life] is cruel” is a key tenet in Some Kind of Stranger, whilst “Wheels go wheeling round” is redolent of “Wheels are spinning round” in Driven Like The Snow, and the Americanism “highway” resurfaces regularly in yet another song “Black Planet”. Eldritch has publicly said (primarily during interviews around the time of the release of the compilation Some Girls Wander By Mistake) that he looks on many early tracks as embarrassing “baby photos”, but some of the lines - “We have fear and we have fuel” for example and in particular “Call me weird but call me Friday” - are very much of the standard of Richard Butler-esque wordplay that he engaged in for future releases, whilst “The sound that fills the big black cars Is ours, the drum machines and fast guitars” is such an accurate prediction of life in Leeds in the mid/late 80s that I originally assumed that this song was a latter-day Weird Al Jankovic style hoax. It is also however an almost direct quote from an American radio interview in September 1983, when Eldritch says "It just so happens that all the people we know in West Yorkshire are using drum machines and the occasional fast guitar," further evidence of the lyricist's identity.

The fact that the lyric is almost painfully opaque by Eldritch’s latter standards, is self-referential (as in the quote in the previous sentence, and like the “Sisters” mentions in “Gimme Shelter” and “Adrenochrome”) and has the in-your-face braggadocio of Oasis/80s rap (“We will live forever”) would certainly place this song as an early effort. The not-so-hidden drugs references (“long white line”, “we are never coming down”, “reason yields to speed”, indeed the whole extended “speeding” metaphor) and the driving pace and structure of the song would seem to place it alongside the likes of Adrenochrome in vintage. 

Heartland Forum member PiB made another key and salient point on that site about the lyrics, in that they seem to have been directly influenced heavily by Hunter S Thompson’s gonzoid memoir Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas (which for the uninitiated is brief travelogue about a drug-fuelled road trip). Not only did Eldritch often reference the work both directly and indirectly in interviews, but his frequent disappearances in the mid-80’s, with postcards sent to the NME hinting at exotic debauchery clearly showed the extent to which he was in thrall to HST, and here the “We will wind the windows down” is an almost direct quote from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. This link certainly would certainly give extra meaning to the line “We have Fear… and we have fuel”… Incidentally, Eldritch's own road trip experiences would seem to have been somewhat limited as Robert Webb's amusing account of the Black Planet video shoot reveals that (in June 1985) "it turns out that he had never really driven a car before"!

Driver is in many ways unlike some of the later songs (e.g. the cautionary tale third person narratives of 1982’s Alice or Anaconda or the sonic complexities of 1983’s Temple of Love), and with guitar, drum machine and reverb-heavy vocals high in the mix, it's very reminiscent of the demo version of Anaconda. The song did not feature on other demo tapes from sessions later in 1982, for example when John Ashton became involved. Clearly more structured than Watch, and more lyrically adept than Good Things, Driver is a curio that has never been discussed as fully as many of the other early tracks or had the attention it deserved, despite a claim on the Wiki that is was considered as a possible single release (which may explain the existence of a more polished full band instrumental version usually – and inexplicably - entitled Candle by bootleggers, and possibly recorded in the early days of Wayne Hussey -  also kindly uploaded to YT by Ade M). 

Marx would certainly have liked to see an official release of the song, telling The Quietus' Mark Andrews in a recent interview, "I really liked Driver, or at least parts of it, but Andrew never made any claim for it to be considered." Barring a surprise elevation to the current touring band's relatively static set, Driver seems destined to remain on the cutting room floor, but for TSOM aficianados it remains a hidden gem worthy of wider acclaim.

My thanks on this post are due to Quiff Boy, Ade M, Ez Mo, Mark A, Phil Verne of the 19801985 TSOM unofficial Facebook fan group and all others who have helped to provide pieces of the Driver jigsaw over the years.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Eldritch and The Botha Boys ?

It has often been retrospectively claimed that Andrew Eldritch played all of the instruments on many of The Sisters of Mercy’s early releases (for example The Reptile House EP), sometimes by the great man himself, and his performance on the drums (dropped sticks’n’all) is there for all to hear on the first single. However, his prowess on the guitar has been less a matter of public record, excepting a tale that the only reason Temple of Love didn’t feature regularly in the live set in the 1983-1985 era was that Eldritch was the only one who could play the song all the way through without making a mistake.

However, a German press clipping (probably from Spex magazine) which had lain in a major collector’s filing system for many years sheds light on a more public possible Eldritch appearance on guitar, alongside many other legendary figures on the Leeds music scene in the early 80s. As part of the magazine’s piece on the Three Johns, there was mention of an earlier, post-Mekons incarnation called the Botha Boys, who had also done a “hugely impressive” version of English White Boy Engineer, the first Three Johns single which was released in 1982, the year after the band was formed in Leeds. The song was written by Langford and originally recorded by him for a Mekons BBC John Peel session in December 1980, and satirizes self-justifying middle-class British engineering graduates who would accept inflated salaries to work in apartheid South Africa, then of course ruled by President PW Botha.

The German magazine then quoted Jon Langford (who famously filled in for Craig Adams at a York University TSOM gig in February 1982) as saying, “The Botha Boys were actually The Mekons. It was a long time ago, but on stage there was me, John Hyatt from the Three Johns, Kevin, the Mekons’ bassist on drums, and Andrew Eldritch from The Sisters of Mercy was playing guitar, I believe”. Langford went on to describe the circumstances of the song. “Basically it was an attack on one member of the audience…She started crying and had to leave. We were living in the same house at the time, and her boyfriend had moved to South Africa, which we used to argue about all the time. All she could ever say was rubbish like “he’s going over there to make things better”, so she deserved it. Naturally she didn’t like the song, and she sent me a postcard from Zimbabwe some time later. I hate people who go to South Africa.” The lyric, "You won't know until you've been there, there've been changes since last year, blame it on the Afrikaner, English White Boy Engineer" was a withering attack on her attitude, so typical of the numerous shoulder-shrugging Leeds engineering graduates who took the krugerrand route to fortune.

The Kevin mentioned in Langford's Botha Boys roll-call is Kevin Lycett, whom Andrew Eldritch credited (in Mark Andrews’ wonderful article on the band’s early years for The Quietus last year) as being a major formative influence on his career : “I owe a lot to him. He encouraged me in my quest to learn a little bit about being in a band and scrimp and save for visits to the studio and keep hammering away at it. By the time he stopped being that kind of mentor, we still had nothing to show for it, but his encouragement never wavered.”

The exact date of the alleged Botha Boys’ show has never been established, but the live version of English White Boy Engineer which the German magazine was referring to appeared on a UK indie compilation on Norwich based Grunt Grunt A Go Go records in 1985 called Good Morning Mister Presley. The LP featured a variety of excellent bands including The Bomb Party and Marc Riley and the Creepers, and featured a front cover designed by Langford (see pic below from Discogs website).

I contacted Kevin Lycett to see if he could shed any more light on the story, but he had no recollection whatsoever of the Botha Boys, and certainly didn’t think he had ever played drums on stage at any point, so wondered if something had got lost in translation for the initial interview. He added that it was not Eldritch’s style to take part in such an ad hoc ensemble (although of course he did join Skeletal Family on stage in Hamburg in 1985, and famously strummed a bass at a charity benefit gig in 2001).

Undeterred, I tried to get in touch with Jon Langford himself, to see if he could confirm the details in the German magazine, albeit some thirty years after the event, but sadly no further information was forthcoming. Langford has recently spoken extensively about his very brief time in The Sisters, and has not made any mention of the Botha Boys, so it seems likely that the original tale is apocryphal. However, as ever, I would be only too delighted to be proved wrong.

My thanks to collectors LG and Phil Verne of the unofficial FB TSOM 1980-1985 group (where discussion of this post will no doubt continue), journalist Mark A, and Kevin L for their help in exploring one of the enduring TSOM myths.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

The first interview - March 1981

On this blog we’ve revealed a number of firsts for The Sisters of Mercy over the past couple of years : a review of the first ever gig, the re-discovery of the first Leeds gig and the amazing story of the first gig abroad to name but three.

In this post we’re going to look in detail at the band’s first-ever interview, with the Leeds fanzine Whippings and Apologies, which was published in September 1981. The interview first re-surfaced in the voluminous archive of the revered collector LG, and was first shared to the wider fan community by Phil Verne on the Heartland Forum two years ago. At the time, it was acknowledged to be the earliest existing interview with Eldritch, and the contents were dissected both on Heartland and then again last year when Phil again shared the interview on his then newly-created unofficial The Sisters of Mercy 1980-1985 Facebook fan group (which after only fifteen months in existence already has nearly seven thousand members, demonstrating the continuing interest in this seminal phase of the band' career).

Reading through Eldritch’s confident manifesto, it’s astonishing how little has changed in the intervening thirty-six years, as his mantra will be familiar even to those who have only recently discovered the group. Given the band’s lowly status, having played only a handful of gigs, it’s perhaps understandable that many in the music press found the singer to be arrogant, given his pronouncements on the band’s place in the wider history of rock music, but his charisma, single-minded determination and detailed understanding of the inner workings of the industry are there for all to see.

In terms of the detail, Eldritch makes it clear that he has no interest in the pub circuit (The Packhorse and The Royal Park are both pubs in the university district of Leeds, close to opposite corners of Woodhouse Moor), and reveals that the band has only played the three gigs up until this point. The latest of these, supporting a fledgling Altered Images at the city's Warehouse club, is mentioned in the context of the dreadful sound mix the band had to suffer, and the first was the well-known York University debut show the previous month. The “middle” gig is now known to be the Reluctant Stereotypes support show at the Warehouse on 10th March.

This assumed chronology was confirmed only last week, when Mark J, one of the creators of Whippings and Apologies fanzine, commented on Phil’s thread on Heartland Forum, stating that he had himself conducted the interview “in a little cafe on Briggate” in Leeds, adding the statement, “It happened to be the first interview they had ever done.”

I asked Mark on the thread if he could recall how the interview had come about, and whether the photograph which accompanied the original interview was taken at the same time and place, and he replied with some wonderful detail about the day.  “Andy brought the photo with him to the cafe. As I remember it was the only band picture they had at the time. At the end of '79 and into '80, Steve [fellow creator of W+A] and I started going to the F-Club, downstairs at Brannigans. All the same faces went there every Thursday regardless of who was playing so we all knew each other to nod to, dance with or snog 😝. Andy and Craig were regulars as well and Andy used to go out with Claire the DJ. It was obvious he was a Stooges fan cause he sometimes wore silver trousers like Iggy. Anyway, me and Steve made our first fanzine 'Primitive ' and sold it down the F-Club. Andy saw it & told us he had just started a new band and asked if we would interview them and do a piece for issue 2. Which we did. I saw them supporting Altered Images at the F-Club but they were awful cos of the bad sound. We interviewed Clare [Grogan, singer of Altered Images] & co after the gig in the dressing room then arranged to meet 'The Sisters' a day or two later. I brought my tape recorder but Steve forgot his camera, so Andy gave us the picture that we ended up using. The newspaper quotes were made up. It was done in the little cafe in the arcade next to the old Virgin Megastore on Briggate. The rest as they say is history.”

The location and date of the photo therefore remain a mystery, but certainly predate the Altered Images gig. However, Mark J’s detailed account confirms that the interview itself took place between that gig on 19th March 1981 and the next gig on 22nd March, and as he has stated, the band confirmed to him that this was their first-ever interview.

One interesting comment sees Eldritch stating that the band might be seen with four five or six members on stage, although the most likely combination would be just the three of them. This is presumably a reference to an early, embryonic version of the band referred to in the biographical slip of paper which accompanied later, re-distributed copies of Damage Done (see above). With Eldritch still on drums at this stage before the purchase of the Doktor, this version featured a “Leeds face Keith Fuller” on vocals, with Eldritch’s muse Claire Shearsby on keyboards, and a guy called Johnny on bass, according to guitarist Gary Marx in his Glasperlenspiel interview in 2003, and confirmed by Paul Gregory of Expelaires in Mark Andrews’ definitive account of the very early TSOM years for The Quietus.

Whippings and Apologies was started by (Sparks fans) Mark J, Steve T and Mark C "in 1980 after leaving school.. Back in the day, there were one or two “glue and felt pen” fanzines knocking around in Leeds so Steve and I thought that we would chance our arm and produce our own. We didn’t expect it to last for eleven issues between ’81 and ’86. Sorry to disappoint, but the [Eldritch interview] tape was lost in the mists of time. At the time, there was nothing to indicate that the Sisters would go on to be the force that they eventually became. We hadn’t even heard them properly. It was just so early,” Mark J told me on Facebook.

The discovery of this interview and the contextualising commentary from the man who conducted it give a fascinating insight into Eldritch’s solid masterplan, with the silence of the other members present a common feature of band interviews until Wayne Hussey joined some three years later. My grateful thanks are extended to both LG and Phil Verne for their willingness to share their TSOM treasures with the worldwide on-line fan diaspora, and of course to Mark J for the local detail which has added some gravitas to earlier suppositions.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

I hear you Koling(sborg) – Stockholm, 17th May 1985

This is the final post of a trilogy about The Sisters of Mercy's Scandinavian gigs in 1985, following on from posts about gigs in Gothenburg (here) and Oslo (here).

The Sisters of Mercy, Kolingsborg, 1985 - photo credit BĂ„dde Sundqvist

The Sisters of Mercy’s final mainland European gig of the 1980’s was a memorable affair, and marked their return to the scene of their first ever Scandinavian gig in October 1983, Stockholm. On this occasion they had been upgraded from the smaller BZ club to the larger Kolingsborg venue (anglicised to Colinsburg on the band's own tour itinerary), an interesting landmark marooned on a complex multi-level multi-modal traffic island (with trains and a canal running below!), well-known to anyone familiar with the Swedish capital city in the second half of the twentieth century.

Whilst the Electric Garden gig some eighteen months previously had been the first (and indeed only) European gig after Ben Gunn left and before Wayne Hussey officially joined the band, the Kolingsborg concert, as the final date on a gruelling forty-five show UK and European tour, would turn out to be both Hussey and Craig Adams’ final continental show with the Sisters (although both of course featured in the Royal Albert Hall gig a month later, following the American leg of the tour in early June 1985).
The strains within the band at this stage were reaching crisis point, and the end of the tour seems to have only exacerbated the situation. It’s notable for example that Eldritch was missing from the opening ten minutes of the Press Conference held on the afternoon of the gig, with the other two band members left to field the first ten minutes of questions from the largely hapless Swedish journalists, who had clearly been expecting to be fed information (i.e. expecting some prepared band statement, as is often the case at a Press Conference) rather than having to elicit it themselves with detailed questioning. The lengthy embarrassing silences that punctuate the Conference (the band’s second-ever, following on from the Rome event earlier on the tour) make for an excruciating listen, with the constant whirr of camera flashes only adding to the band’s discomfort. Eventually, the group was coaxed outside for some very awkward looking photos, blinking in the Stockholm sunshine as in the example below (kindly supplied from LG's vast collection).

Other rumours have circulated since about the gig, notably around Hussey and Adams’ alcohol consumption as they marked the end of what had been a particularly fraught European tour, covering long distances and effectively playing with one man down after Marx’s sudden departure on the eve of the tour. One account has Hussey being physically sick in the DJ booth at the Kolingsborg venue, another (apparently from the horse’s mouth) has both Hussey and Adams being arrested by the police and being forced to spend the night (after the gig) in the cells to sober up – very rock’n’roll!

What is certainly true is that (for the only time I am aware of) the internal band strife momentarily spilled into their performance, with an angry Von snapping (at Hussey?) half-way through Gimme Shelter “This time get it right [then half-singing to keep the song going] Sister….After forty nights, he still f****ing gets it wrong”, before recovering his composure to complete the song. The large and enthusiastic audience also seemed to evoke the singer’s wrath, chastising one whooping fan with “You don’t know what it is yet, chicken sh*t” over the opening backbeat of Gimme Shelter, whilst another, who requested 1969 was tod that he was "Sixteen years too late"! Apart from the fact that it was a Friday night, part of the reason that the audience was so welcoming was the fact that they had enjoyed the rare privilege on this tour of being treated to a support act (the local synth-based group “Houses and Gardens” who had their only single out on UK-based Wire records at the time). The crowd would have been unaware of these tensions however, as the concert enjoyed a fine acoustic in the round Slussen venue, and a recording of the show, initially released as a bootleg vinyl under the name of “Opus Dei”, is widely regarded by collectors to be one of the finest. The two months on the road had enabled the band to perfect the songs from FALAA and the likes of Amphetamine Logic, Possession and A Rock And A Hard Place sound a lot more potent here than on the vinyl studio versions. The band even treated the Swedish audience to a final encore of Ghostrider, an occasional "extra" on this tour, with Craig in particular reluctant to leave the stage, playing his final three notes slowly and repeatedly after the rest of the band (including the Doktor) had finished before finally departing. The whole concert (most likely from the “Trans-Europe Excess” bootleg CD recording) is now available for all to enjoy on YouTube. 

Whereas most shows on the tour went unreviewed, both an interview from the Press Conference and a review of the Kolingsborg show (above) were published in the Swedish rock magazine Schlager (kindly rediscovered, shared and translated by Anders R), with impressed journalist Per Wirten waxing lyrical on the band’s “black, dramatic songs”, their imagery, and the knowing way that they controlled and drew in an audience. The article was accompanied by a photo taken by Uffe Berglund, one of many photographers there that evening, as the selection of photos below from the collection of hardcore TSOM collector LG (and previously shared on the fantastic (unofficial) TSOM 1980-1985 Facebook Group (all welcome!) will testify.

Although this wonderful poster advertising the event is still in existence, the iconic venue itself, originally built as a harbour offic,  has recently been demolished, having subsequently served as a gay nightclub and even an architect’s office. An excellent English language blogpost details the venue’s last days, when it was used as an art project prior to its controversial demolition in 2016.

Given the popularity of the band in continental Europe (“now as then”), it’s entirely fitting that the final mainland show by the remainder of (arguably) the most iconic of The Sisters of Mercy's various line-ups is so well-documented, mainly thanks to the usual group of inveterate collectors and historians who strive to keep the band’s legacy safe : Phil Verne, LG, Bruno Bossier, Anders R and the many others – we salute you!

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Rain from Haven - Oslo 16th May 1985

Despite the herculean efforts of Andrew Eldritch during lengthy negotiations with experienced major record labels to ensure that the Sisters’ future releases would be managed in a way that met his own exacting standards with Merciful Release, the singer famously ended up (like so many musicians before and since) at war with the label to whom the band signed, culminating in the contract ending SSV (non-)release in 1997.
The seeds of this growing unrest with Warners can be seen very early in the relationship, although in 84/85 interviews Eldritch seems to seek to placate fans unhappy at the hook-up with a major corporation by stressing that all was going well. Although that may have been the case in the UK, and the band continued to get on famously with certain individuals at Elektra (WEA’s US imprint), in others territories the band’s relationship with the label was already at breaking point.
This was certainly the case for arguably the least successful of the Armageddon tour in 1985, the stop at the Vikateateret in Oslo on Thursday May 16th, the penultimate night of TSOM’s European tour. One can imagine that the band would already not have been happy that the itinerary caused them (and their alleged) contraband to cross country borders two nights in a row (Gothenburg in Sweden to Oslo in Norway then back into Sweden for the Stockholm finale) at the end of an exhausting pancontinental trek, but to arrive for the under-advertised show to find that the Norwegian branch of the record label had unilaterally decided to delay the release of FALAA really aggravated Eldritch, as he confessed in an interview recorded immediately after the Stockholm press conference the following day.

As a result, the band’s Norwegian debut drew only a small crowd compared to the adulation which they had received earlier in the month in Germany (Wayne Hussey telling “Wot!” fanzine that they had had “a Duran Duran type reception” which he described as “funny”). Even worse, those who did attend further invoked the singer’s wrath by indulging in the traditional punk habit of spitting at the band to show their appreciation, an occurrence which had died out in the UK some five years earlier. They had clearly not read the contemporary interview in Kerrang, in which the singer had railed at the entire Welsh nation for a similar reason: “No, I mean to be fair to the Welsh,” begins Eldritch, stops, considering and starts anew: “No, let’s not be fair to the Welsh at all! You spat at us, you! We’ve only ever played in Wales once and you spat at us. Give me one good reason why we should EVER play in your God-forsaken country again!” Some thirty-two years later, TSOM have not returned to Wales, despite playing many times in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Eire.

The Norwegians were still very much in Eldritch’s mind several weeks after the Vikateateret gig, when the singer was interviewed in early June for the American Rockpool magazine. During a discussion about whether the band would continue to play gigs in the near future, Eldritch said. “We commit ourselves so easily to doing people favours like playing in Norway to 211 people who only spit at you and you have to be hospitalised”. Sadly the conversation then takes a different tack, and we never get to hear of the reason for the hospitalisation, unless Eldritch is speaking in general terms about the strains and stresses of touring, rather than any specific incident in Norway. Although the singer did turn up so late to the following day’s Stockholm press conference that Adams and Hussey started without him, subsequent answers that day reveal that he had travelled through from Norway with the rest of the band as planned, and no direct mention is made any mishap the previous evening. However in the interview recorded straight after the official conference, Eldritch said “Oslo got rained off pretty much (sniggers from the other two). We thought that Oslo was a capital city until we went there (more sniggers). They spat at us in Oslo so we hit them...So they spat some more so we hit them again. And then we went off….The idea of Norwegian punk rockers is somewhat strange to us...(more sniggers)..I think it was a bit strange to them… They did what they thought they were supposed to do, but didn’t realise that we would hospitalise them for doing it. And they’ll know better next time, if we let there be a next time. I don’t think that there will be…. I’d rather not talk too much about Norway.” It may therefore be that the final “you” of the Rockpool quote is superfluous.
A bootleg recording of the Oslo gig does exist, but contains a truncated set ending in Floorshow. It is generally assumed that this is an incomplete recording, with the taper’s cassette running out towards the end of Floorshow, 45 minutes (the length of the average cassette tape) into the set. Eldritch expresses his displeasure with the spitter(s) in his usual style, during No Time To Cry (kindly uploaded by Phil Verne of the unofficial TSOM 1980 - 1985 FB fan group): two minutes into the song, Eldritch interrupts the middle eight to tell the offender that if they do it again, whoever they are, he will “have” them with the microphone stand. He then misses his cue for the final verse, presumably still occupied with the other matter. The next few songs seem to pass without incident, but at the end of Logic the singer mysteriously announces that “We’ve decided that you can all go home now.” Again the gig continues, with Eldritch reassuring the (otherwise appreciative) crowd that he likes them at the beginning of the final recorded track, Floorshow, only to again miss his cue for the song’s opening verse, almost certainly the result of a further incident. With the final section of the gig possibly unrecorded and definitely uncirculated, what happened thereafter is anyone’s guess, but Eldritch’s later comments (quoted above) would tend to suggest that the gig didn’t end happily. Anders R recalls meeting a fan at the 2009 Oslo show who had been at the 1985 gig, and thought that the band had ended with either Sister Ray or Ghost Rider (or possibly both).Only one photo purportedly from the gig has ever surfaced (and is reproduced below), and as ever it would be great to see any other ephemera (poster, ticket stub, reviews etc) from this gig. The photo came from Heartland Forum member”psy”, who added that “the Norwegian music magazine Puls reviewed the concert, but I can’t remember what they said. Probably hated it.”

The audio recording was only rumoured to exist for over twenty years and only surfaced after another Heartland Forum member “tripleson” shared it in 2008, adding “I’ve been told that Harald A Lund from NRK radio station had a deal with the band to record and transmit parts of the show. Just minutes before they got on stage, Andrew ‘changed his mind’ and no recording was allowed.” “Tripleson” also mentioned that “17th May is the national day here in Norway and traditionally on the 16th youngsters drink themselves totally wasted. This reflects on the atmosphere in this recording” and the problems which Eldritch himself was referring to in the afore-mentioned Stockholm interview. The “Russefeiring” is a noble end of high school rite of passage for Norwegian youngsters that even merits its own Wikipedia entry, a bacchanalian tour de force lasting more than two weeks and with levels of alcohol consumption that should have drawn approving nods from the equally excess-prone band.
The venue for the gig, the Vikateatret (“Bay Theatre”) was in the Aker Brygge area down by the seafront in the Norwegian capital, an area that was modernised and restyled in the late 1980s, leading to the theatre’s demolition as the surrounding traditional industries were swept away. One Norwegian blogger, bemoaning the modern shopping centres now based in the trendy area, reminisced about the previous factories and warehouses in the district, claiming that “you had to travel through an area of rusty metal to get to the Vikateateret.” The venue’s interior can be seen in two concerts from 1986 available on the state broadcaster’s on-demand service (although I would recommend turning the sound down!), and it was the scene of the recording of some of the tracks on Husker Du’s live album, “Makes No Sense At All”, recorded in September 1985. Alan Vega, Jeffrey Lee Pierce and Nick Cave (all of course associates of Eldritch) also appeared at the venue around this time, which respected Norwegian journalist Guttorm Andreasen described as “the best rock club in the world” at that time. Rather than a traditional theatre, the Vikateateret appears to have been a relatively short-lived affair based in one of the disused workshops of the "Akers mekaniske verksted", the abandoned former traditional shipyard at the Aker Brygge, which was being demolished in the mid-80s. Pictures available on the "oslobilder" website certainly show the "areas of rusty metal" which the hardy gig-goer would have had to traverse, as well as some early shots of the shopping centre. The Vikateateret gig was Hussey's second visit to Oslo, having previously played there on a 1981 TV show which he probably wishes hadn't recently been uploaded to YouTube, and in which he hears an uncanny resemblance to Ben Gunn! The Sisters eventually returned to Oslo in 2009 for a sold out gig at the Sentrum, and have been back again since then, having clearly forgiven the Norwegians for the May 1985 madness. 

My thanks for this and other posts in this Scandinavian Armageddon mini-series of blog posts are due to the usual triumvirate of Phil Verne, Bruno Bossier and LG, and especially to Anders and other Scandinavian Sisters fans who have provided fascinating info. Rise and reverberate!

Friday, 16 June 2017

Who put the Goth in Gothenburg – May 15th 1985

Like many second cities, Sweden’s Göteborg works hard to keep up with its more illustrious rival Stockholm, and in particular revels in a musical past that has produced the likes of Ace of Bass and current melodic death metal darlings At The Gates, In Flames and Dark Tranquility. A visitor to the city’s premier museum anytime between November 2015 and January 2018 will have had the chance to see the major exhibition on the city’s music scene between 1955 and 2018, emphasising both the past and the present of this vibrant port which works hard to dispel the “safe but boring” tag associated with the city’s major employer, the Volvo corporation. Although featuring the city’s punk scene, the exhibition is disappointingly light on the Sisters’ main contemporaries from the area, Leather Nun, whose knowing guitar-and-iconic vocalist swagger, history and attitude made them worthy rivals of Leeds’ finest.

Gothenburg has become a semi-regular stopping point for the current incarnation of The Sisters of Mercy in their gigging-only mindset, possibly as a result of their first visit there back in 1985, towards the end of the Armageddon European tour following Gary Marx’s departure from the band. The Gothenburg gig took place in the Mudd Club on Kungstorget, which in an earlier life had been The Cue Club, an organisation which was based in a series of venues over the years and hosted gigs by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple and Yes.

The Mudd Club was the brainchild of the late John Lindholm, who brought Johnny Thunders, Nick Cave and a host of metal bands to the venue in the mid-1980s. On the occasion of his untimely death at the age of 56 in 2010 (in a bizarre accident in which he was hit by a tram trying to save the life of his dog which had strayed into the vehicle's path), local paper GT included a tribute which contained a section about the Mudd Club, stating that he painted the whole club black (a feature which means that there are some excellent photos of many of the bands who played there) and put on mud wrestling events (giving the club its unusual name) in the venerable building, which is now home to the Tranquilo restaurant and the (Some Kind of?) Stranger Bar.

The Sisters' gig at the Mudd Club, which took place on Wednesday 15thMay was memorable for several reasons. Of course it was Eldritch’s birthday, which meant that the FALAA reference to “twenty-five years of ever after, ever more, more more” needed to be updated by one for the first time, a lyrical change which was repeated in some of the US dates and at the Royal Albert Hall. Phil Verne of the ever fascinating TSOM 1980 1985 unofficial FB fan page has kindly uploaded this first "twenty-six years" FALAA to YouTube for us all to enjoy. As Eldritch explained at the Stockholm Press Conference later that week, “We had a lot of problems in the afternoon [in Gothenburg]….all the barriers collapsed.” However, a lively and supportive crowd resulted in a memorable show “Gothenburg was ok, a good audience…It was still a good show because the audience were good in the end….The Swedish audience is fine”, was the singer’s considered (if slightly repetitive)  opinion. Encores Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door and Train from this gig later surfaced on the well-known Opus Dei bootleg double vinyl live collection, and a high-quality cassette of the full gig is in circulation amongst the usual collectors. It reveals an enthusiastic audience who not only clap along to the Doktor’s opening drumbeats for the set-opener FALAA, but cheer when Hussey begins the “Scottish” riff, like Sinatra fans applauding their approval after the opening line of a song. Their enthusiasm is maintained to the end, continuing to attempt to sing the “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” chorus after the singer has left the stage at the end of the first encore, making tapes of this show easy to identify. Eldritch is in fantastic voice throughout but is uncharacteristically quiet between the songs for the first 45 minutes, but before the encore (KOHD and Train) he does address the crowd with the legendary “Hey, Eengleesh, why you no play Temple of Love?” before answering in his own sotto voce "Because we played it last time", referring to the Stockholm 1983 gig. Craig’s bass is particularly prominent on some tracks, particularly towards the end of the main set with a rapid-fire punky Floorshow/Alice and an arguably never-bettered Gimme Shelter (bizarrely introduced by a possibly not-all-there Von as Body Electric), where it buzzes towards the end in a style rarely heard since 1983. Hussey responds as he did throughout the European tour with some virtuoso psychedelic rock soloing of his own, wigging out big time in a mesmeric version of the song. With Wayne also rocking out on the next song, KOHD, the amused (annoyed?) singer drily comments “Sorry, this one doesn’t have a guitar solo…much” before the “Train” finale. There has been no mass copying of a video of the show which is said to exist, as the alleged owner of the master has apparently kept it in his private collection, although this could be an apocryphal tale.

Most photos of TSOM shows of that era are grainy shots taken by an eager fan from the moshpit with a basic instamatic, yet from the Gothenburg gig not one but two sets of excellent black and white prints have emerged. The first collection, taken by Per-Ake WĂŽrn is well-known as it contains some of the best in circulation of the band at their best, and feature the author’s copyright watermark in the bottom corner. Arguably even better is a set of photos taken by Henrik Rylander (later of the band Union Carbide Productions and still a major figure on the Gothenburg arts scene) and feature on his excellent tumblr archive “Welcome to Gothenburg 80s 90s”. Posted on the internet five years ago, the silhouetted shots of Eldritch against the dry ice, dramatic stage lighting and the club’s monochromatic dĂ©cor make for a memorable and powerful reminder of the importance of the singer’s iconic appearance at this stage of the band’s career, such as the example reproduced below.

The Sisters of Mercy have become semi-regular visitors to Gothenburg since this initial visit in 1985, and later this year they are returning once more, for a show which is already sold-out. If it’s anything like the 1985 gig, the fans are in for a real treat. My thanks for this and others in this Scandinavian Armageddon mini-series of blog posts are due to the usual triumvirate of Phil Verne, Bruno Bossier and LG, and especially to Anders and other Scandinavian Sisters fans who have provided fascinating info. Rise and reverberate!