Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Sisters Mysteries V – did Peel play Damage Done?

One of the more enduring unanswered questions about the early days of TSOM revolves around the first single, Damage Done/Watch/Home of the Hitmen, released in the Autumn of 1980. Did legendary influential BBC DJ John Peel ever play the lead track or not? No evidence has ever surfaced either way…until now, that is.
Those growing up in this multi-media instant access age must find it hard to comprehend the control which the state broadcaster the BBC used to have on the nation’s musical taste,  but for any aspiring new band, having the ear of veteran Radio One DJ John Peel was an essential pre-requisite of success.
In their official biography, Andrew Eldritch claimed that the fledgling band’s main raison-d’être for making the debut single was to hear themselves on the radio, something which they allegedly achieved according to the band’s own website: “Gary Marx and Andrew Eldritch made some t-shirts in anticipation, and huddled by the radio until…John Peel played the record. They swear he played it twice.”

This has led to the (perfectly reasonable) assumption that Peel played Damage Done, the Elditch vocal-based track which is regarded as the least offensive of the early efforts, but my research shows that Peel actually played Watch, the Gary Marx vocal track on the other side of the Damage Done single. Thanks to Peel fans who are gradually populating their wonderful wikia with soundfile recordings of vintage Peel shows, we can now enjoy again hearing him playing his wrongly-labelled copy (many of the original edition of Damage Done had the labels on the wrong side – “news had not yet reached Leeds that printers have to be reminded to put the labels on the correct side of vinyl” according to the TSOM webpage) for presumably the second time,  given his comments afterwards. On the evening of 4th November 1980sandwiched in between The Damned and a track from the (released the day before) Adam and The Ants Kings of the Wild Frontier LP, Peel told the listening millions: “These are The Sisters of Mercy on Merciful Release records, the labelling on this is immensely complex, but I think that this is Watch, it’d better be!” Fortunately for Peel, this was not one of the many endearing occasions on which he played the wrong side of a single (or at the wrong speed), but the angst-ridden nature of Marx’s vocal clearly has an impact on the DJ, who says at the end “The nation seems to be packed to bursting point with tormented young men who want us to stare deeply into their souls. There go a bunch called The Sisters of Mercy on Merciful Release records, that’s called Watch…the record does return briefly as it did last time I played it.. ….hardly noticeable though,” he adds as the opening chords of Home of the Hitmen strike up behind him. Thanks to the original uploader on the Peel wikia, and to Phil Verne’s YT prowess, we can now all enjoy hearing this momentous secondever playing of TSOM on national radio.
The Body Electric/Adrenochrome single having received very positive reviews on the whole in the music press (as well as repeat plays on the Peel show), it came as little surprise that TSOM were eventually invited to record a session for the programme. Before such an invitation was issued, Peel’s trusty produce John Walters would usually go to see the band “live” to ensure that they had the musicianship to complete the recording within the day’s studio time allowed for the recorded sessions, which would usually air about three weeks later. One can imagine that Walters may have seen the band supporting either Richard Hell or The Birthday Party in the early summer of 1982 at their first London gigs, with the result that they arrived at the BBC studios on 25th August 1982 to record Alice, Floorshow, 1969 and Good Things with BBC in-house producer Roger Pusey.
The session was duly aired in September, and by 12th October, an enthusiastic Peel was playing Floorshow from the new double A sided single, announcing it as by “The Sisters of Mercy, an element of which appeared at the BBC earlier in the evening.” (link) This was two days before the very poorly attended Klub Foot showcase with the Violets, and one can imagine that in the time-honoured indie fashion, Eldritch had waited outside Broadcasting House to hand the precious new release to the venerable DJ in person.
He was still playing the track in early 1983, featuring Floorshow on 30th January in between two tracks of roots reggae (which had become his latest big love) Black Roots and Misty in Roots on his British Forces’ Broadcasting (BFBS) show. At the end of the Sisters track, Peel comments “You may have got a bit of me humming as well, as a bonus”, showing that the band were still very much favourites of his at the time.
Later that Spring, on 17th April, Peel gives a spin on his BFBS show to the latest single Anaconda, damning it with faint praise . “Not one of their very best, but worth playing once or twice.” However, any doubts which he was beginning to have about the band dissipated with the next release, The Reptile House. Peel was taken as much by a frank note he received from Eldritch as by the tracks on the EP itself. On 14th June 1983 (link), he announces Kiss The Carpet by reading out in full the message from Eldritch, commenting on the very neat handwriting (which autograph hunters will also have noted): “Dear John, Here’s The Reptile House EP, our exorcism of the slow and serious, although it’s working title was “Slither, you ..” and here follows a rude word, so I can’t say that on the radio so I’ll say “Kenny Everett” instead. We’ve since taken to calling it The Commercial Suicide EP and we’ll understand perfectly if you feel it’s too dirge-ridden to play on the radio. It seems to take most people about six plays to understand how and why it works, another six or so to like it, it’s available as of now with a retail price of £2.99. Don’t let it grind you down. Love from Leeds’ Finest.”  Five days later, on his BFBS show, Peel admits that he is feeling a little down, before going on to talk about The Sisters’ new release.  “This is a record which is really appropriate to the mood of the hour, it’s from a new 12” by The Sisters of Mercy. As I say, they admit themselves that it is profoundly depressing and rather boring, it’s called The Reptile House. They sent me quite an amusing letter, I like a band who can admit to being boring. This they see is being like the central track on this EP, it’s called Kiss The Carpet.”
The EP became a fixture on both his Radio One and Forces’ Service shows, usually with reference to the self-deprecating letter which had accompanied it. For example, on 6th July 1983 after Death Cult’s Horse Nation, he announced: “Another one from The Sisters Of Mercy from their, by their own admission, extremely gloomy EP The Reptile House, this one according to the reviewers anyway is the finest track on there, I’m not convinced, but it’s alright, it’s called Valentine. After the track has aired, Peel again emphasis its dark atmosphere : “I’m sure that they’re a real bunch of fun if you ever get to know them, but on the evidence of this record they’re very depressing indeed.”
Later in the summer, on August 30th, Kiss The Carpet, clearly his favourite track gets another playing : “This is TSOM this is one of the five tracks on their doom-laden 12”EP, The Reptile House, which even by their own admission is profoundly distressing, this is Kiss The Carpet,” with another tongue-in-cheek back-announcement. “The Sisters of Mercy in carnival mood(!), I think we need something to lighten the mood after that.”

Although both Alice and Temple of Love made the annual listeners’ poll The Festive 50 in 1983, as Walk Away and (the session version of) Emma did in 1984 and the FALAA side-closing stand-out pair of Marian and Some Kind of Stranger in 1985, Peel’s love affair with the band was soon on the wane.

He complained on air that Body and Soul “rather lacks the vitality of their previous work”, and he seemed less than impressed by the “work in progress” tracks of the second session the band recorded for him on 19th June at Maida Vale studios with Mark Radcliffe (a future DJ in his own right) at the controls. The band had been hard at work writing new material whilst on tour for the debut LP and although Walk Away is virtually complete by this time, it is very much a beta version of No Time To Cry that also made it onto the nation’s airwaves. A first studio version of Emma (Peel would describe this as having “possibly the longest fade in the history of recorded music” when playing it on the Festive 50, where it reached the highest ever position for an unreleased session track) and another future B side Poison Door completed the set.

What was mere disappointment with TSOM’s musical direction was to turn into contempt, as he revealed in 1987 in conversation with John Walters. “Every time I do one of my terrible gigs…people come up and say to me, “Can you play something by The Sisters of Mercy?” I just say, “Under no circumstances whatsoever am I going to play anything by The Sisters of Mercy.” With the band by now seeking commercial success with This Corrosion, Peel’s approval was no longer needed, however, and daytime radio helped it to make the UK Top 10.

One final curious note on the Peel show, some of the versions of the songs seem slightly different to the ones on the commercial releases. Hopefully someone with more encyclopaedic knowledge than me will be able to reveal how these came about, and whether these versions are still in existence.

My thanks for this post are due to Phil Verne, Heartland Forum member Mothra, to all the Peel fans who have done such a wonderful job on the Peel Wikia, and of the late, great John Peel.

Friday, 10 February 2017

The 1985 split - Von's final pre-split interview

The more one studies the 1985 TSOM split, the more complex the situation becomes. In the first two blog posts looking at the timescale and precise events leading up to the split (here and here), by far and away the most revealing sources have been contemporary fanzines both in the UK and abroad, and in this third post examining the protagonists’ expressed views at the time, we are again going to focus on the comments of the prime mover, Andrew Eldritch.

The administrator of the wonderful Sisters wiki, Heartland Forum member Being645, recently drew attention to an item which had appeared on Ebay, an American publication entitled Rockpool from June 1985 which promised “Conversation with The Sisters of Mercy”. Realising the significance of the magazine – the in-house publication of Rockpool Promotions, the highly influential original new wave promo company who had been responsible for the creation of the New Music Seminar showcase at which TSOM had played in NYC the previous year -  and its timing, I alerted well-known collector Phil Verne who subsequently bought the item, which turned out to feature an extensive interview with an on-form Andrew Eldritch and a typically taciturn Craig Adams (the garrulous Wayne Hussey was not present).

From comments made during the interview, it is clear that it took place on the afternoon of Thursday 6th June, on the rest day between the shows at Boston Channel Club on the 5th (still currently unlisted on major gigographies) and the final date of the US tour on the 7th. Somewhat surprisingly, both Eldritch and the interviewer seem excited looking ahead to their (separate) visits that evening to see Madonna (!) live in NYC, allowing us to date the interview with a degree of certainty. This would therefore make it last known interview with Eldritch before the split, making it a very significant addition to the overall collective TSOM archive.

Eldritch is clearly delighted that the arduous UK, European and US tour (which started three months earlier on 9th March) is coming to an end,  but seems more positive than in the Italian interview some three weeks previously, although the presence of Adams may have had a limiting effect on his candour. When asked, “So is this only LP you’ll make, FALAA?”, Eldritch replies “There’s still a chance. It’s certainly the first and last LP by that particular configuration, which is important. It’s definitely like a chapter”.

What’s more, Eldritch clearly has plans for the continuation of the group in the current three-piece line-up, which explains the events of the summer and autumn when the aborted sessions for “Left On Mission and Revenge” took place. “Around Christmas time we’ll do …a Far East tour”, he states, clearly referring to the Jan 1986 shows in Japan which were scheduled (and subsequently cancelled – it would be a further 25 years before an incarnation of TSOM finally performed in Japan) for which posters have surfaced, whilst the band also clearly has more immediate plans, with the singer stating “We did [tour a lot] but after tomorrow things may change a lot. We’ve got one final date in Britain and it’ll be Gary’s last. A sort of memorial day in more than one way. Then we’re gonna rest up, write and recharge our batteries.” He is then asked about going back into the studio soon and he replies “Yeah, we’ve gotta finish up ‘Emma’ and stuff like that”.

Eldritch’s “memorial day comment” is clearly a reference to the fact London’s Royal Albert Hall is best known for hosting Great Britain’s annual national Festival of Remembrance, hence the name of the gig (“Wake – a festival of remembrance”),  the silver paper dropped from the roof at the end of the gig like the poppies during the minute’s silence at the normal Remembrance Day commemorations in the RAH, the stark formal programme and the organ interlude on the night – Eldritch had clearly  planned this ‘live’ finale for some time, and coming from a Forces family he would have been aware of the significance of the venue. That it had now turned out to be likely to be Gary’s final appearance clearly added to the experience in Eldritch’s opinion, although ironically Marx didn’t ultimately appear at the show and it was in fact the final appearance of both Hussey and (listening here) Adams, of course.

The “’Emma’” and stuff like that” comment is arguably the most significant, as we will examine in a future post on the split, but for now it is sufficient to state that “stuff like that” refers in all likelihood to “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”, the studio version of which (available along with a rough studio version of Emma on the much sought-after “Sins and Secrets” bootleg 7”single) was recorded by the three piece line-up in June 1985.

There were rumours of a covers EP being prepared for release, not least in German’s usually well-informed Spex magazine, who covered their information (and probably incorrect speculation) that it would include the band’s studio rendition of short-lived 1984 live favourite “Gimme Gimme Gimme (a man after midnight)” with  two uses of the word “allegedly” ("vermeintlich") in this snippet featured on the German TSOM fansite and shared by the impressive "Ultimate Sisters Guide" archive :

Earlier in the “Rockpool” interview, Eldritch has already confirmed Gary’s departure :

Interviewer : I heard a rumour that somebody’s leaving the band
Eldritch : Yeah, somebody already left. That was Gary
Interviewer : Are you going to get another guitar player?
Eldritch : No!

As those lucky enough to attend (like I myself did) any of the April-June 1985 shows in Europe and the USA , or who have heard bootleg recordings of those shows will attest, the ‘live’ sound sounded fuller than one might have imagined with just Wayne on guitar, so one can well imagine Eldritch feeling that a rhythm guitarist was a potentially argumentative luxury that he could do without. Curiously, the ”Rockpool” interview then immediately turns to an earlier episode at the time of the New Music Seminar New York trip in August 1984, a time when the singer and band’s well-publicised studio traumas reached their height.

Interviewer : I heard a rumour that you broke up.
Eldritch : I quit last year here at the Ritz. I said we’d do the album and the tour and that’s it.

This is an amazing revelation, and very much the train of thought to which the singer had returned in the two Italian interviews featured in the first of my blog posts on the split. How had the interviewer heard of this? The source of the rumour is sadly not touched upon, and Eldritch immediately makes a joke of the issue :

Eldritch : The others quit as well. We quit together.
Interviewer : Then you could all form a band.
Eldritch : Yeah, that’s pretty much how it turned out.

(incidentally, this is at odds with what Wayne had said in the "Day of the Ray Gun cometh" fanzine interview, remembering New York as "a week of excess, a week of not having to think about making records...we did a couple of gigs and then we had like three or four days off, it was good fun.")

So with this fascinating pre-RAH wide-ranging "Rockpool" interview, another piece of the jigsaw emerges, and on the evidence of this chat it would appear that on the evidence of the European and US tours he had started to believe that the three of them (Eldritch, Hussey and Adams) could make a go of things, leading to the subsequent attempts to make a start on the second album.

Tellingly, things began to deteriorate very soon, however. Absence is said to make the heart grow fonder, but a week apart from his remaining fellow Sisters immediately after the “Rockpool” interview had the opposite effect on Eldritch, as he recalled in a 1987 interview with MM “I thought it [the band] should still have gone on but know it wasn’t going to. The last time we actually spent any time together, at the end of the tour before the Albert Hall, we had some time playing in America and then we had a week off in Los Angeles. I went to Mexico for the day and the other two couldn’t think of anything better to do than go to Disneyland. And when I got back from Mexico a WEEK later, having got somewhat…uh…distracted, I thought, “God, what are these people whingeing about, really?” They just got so feeble.”

So who was to blame for the Sisters’ demise? Traditional explanations have included Gary’s silent unhappy “linger”ing ruining the atmosphere, Eldritch’s machiavellian masterplan allowing no place for democratic discussion or Hussey’s naked commercial ambition tarnishing the rock’n’roll dream ? But according to Eldritch’s comments, it turns out it was Walt Disney’s fault all along! Jesus may love The Sisters, but it was Mickey Mouse who split them up!

My thanks for this post are due to Being645 for alerting us to the existence of this fanzine, to and the Ultimate Sisters Guide for their fantastic work in chronicling the band's past, and to Phil Verne of the 1980 1985 TSOM fan group for sharing the interview with me (and by extension, readers of this blog). More on the 1985 split soon !

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

The 1985 split pt 2 - Did Gary jump or was he pushed?

The comparative success of my earlier blog post on the mid-80’s TSOM split, which has enjoyed twice as many distinct “page views” as any other, reveals just how much interest there still is in the events of 1985 despite the many years which have elapsed since then.

Indeed, over thirty years later, more facts, artefacts and reminiscences continue to emerge, so much so that I have decided to publish this addendum to the earlier post, hopefully the first of several over the next few months as the exact sequence of events becomes clearer.

Just a couple of months ago, in interviews for the latest (and critically-acclaimed) Mission album “Another Fall From Grace”, Wayne Hussey revealed that not only had “First and Last and Always” been the inspiration for the new record (there being a clear link between certain of the new songs and some Sisters classics), but that he and Craig were thinking of doing a tour featuring songs from the Sisters’ 1985 debut LP but with a different vocalist, if Eldritch was unwilling or unable to play his part. Furthermore, they had already had a run-through of the FALAA songs with Billy Corgan (of Smashing Pumpkins fame).

Predictably (Wayne was trying to drum up interest in the new album after all), this provoked some typically lively debate on social media, with the old fault lines appearing within the traditional TSOM fanbase, dividing seemingly equally into the rapidly pro- and mildly anti-Eldritch camps. Hussey commented on this in some of the later promotional interviews, opining that there was still some “sourness” towards him amongst TSOM fans, probably because the latter still blamed him for the 1985 split, a topic which came up in his interview with well-respected goth DJ Mark M which aired on YouTube. If you watch from 3:30 onwards, you will hear (above the background pub chit-chat) Hussey repeat a claim he had made in other interviews in 2016 that it was Andrew Eldritch who had “fired” Gary Marx, and not him, although he (Wayne) had himself made the phone call at Eldritch's instruction to tell the founder member of the singer’s decision. This is very much at odds with Marx’s own 2003 account (as featured at length in my earlier blog post on the split) that it was his own decision to leave the band in April 1985.

Gary Marx, Hull March 1985 - from the collection of Bruno Bossier

Further insights into Marx’s views just before he left the band can be heard in the taped interview for Artificial Life fanzine which was recorded on Sunday March 24th 1985 (just a week before the final Brighton gig), a copy of which was kindly lent to me by veteran collector Phil Verne of the 1980-1985 Facebook fan page. Phil had acquired the interview cassette along with many other rare tapes from another well-known collector (Mark W) some years earlier, but most long-term fans were unaware that it contained much information not printed in the fanzine interview.

The musical differences which partly led to the band going their separate ways is hinted at in the discussions of the band’s sound. Marx states that (in his opinion) fans have heard all of the different styles which fans are likely to hear from the band, including “The Reptile House, which sort of suggests that we might do something like that again in the future. You know, that sort of darker, more mysterious… the opposite to the LP which is more accessible, poppy.” Like many of the original fans of the band, Marx clearly hankered after a return to the earlier (pre-WEA) sound, whereas the other three members all wanted the band's sound to evolve to encompass other influences, from Fleetwood Mac (Eldritch) to Deep Purple (the two words most uttered by Adams in 1985 interviews!).

On the two sides of FALAA, Marx was clear that there were two different styles at play, telling Artificial Life of Wayne’s “more immediate songs, single-y type songs” whereas “the other side’s where you hear things the more you listen to it, the slower side, you might play the first side for the first month and then that [the other side], that sort of grows on you.”

More interestingly, conversation turns to the next Sisters single, which was under active consideration at the time, with Gary still at this stage clearly seeing himself as part of that future. “We aren’t thinking of doing anything else off the LP so it’ll have to be a new song that doesn’t exist. The next single will do well, especially if it’s new.” (NB The previous single, No Time To Cry, had stalled in the 60s in the Top 75 as most fans simply bought the album). He then expands upon the thought process of the typical TSOM fan deciding whether or not to buy this mythical single, which would include the question “Is it going to be really bland and wimpy?”. Whether Marx had a particular song in mind (Body and Soul? One of the Hussey singles from FALAA?) when suggesting that potential issue is not clear, but he obviously had some doubts about the lighter material, and more than a little sympathy with his old Wakefield chums who had drifted away from the band since the change of musical direction.

On the other hand, he was clearly already thinking not only about the next single, but about the next album too, a section of the taped interview which did make it into Artificial Life: “I’d like to see the second LP go to number one in the LP charts...Second and Last and Always.. we’ve got the title already… I’d just like to see us become like an important band, like a couple of bands that people consider important, that no-one sort of scoffs at. I’d like to be in that respected position…. Immortality ? That’s quite useful for us old fellas, that’d be nice.”

The most interesting section of the interview remained on the fanzine cutting room floor, however, as by the time of publication events had already superseded these plans. Gary was asked about what would happen at the end of the current British tour, which of course was due to finish one short week later with the Brighton Top Rank gig which would turn out to be the guitarist’s memorable orange-shirted swansong with the band he had co-founded with Eldritch some five years earlier.

Marx told the interviewer “We’re doing this tour which finishes on the 1st April. Then we’ll do the Whistle Test on the 2ndhave about a week in a studio somewhere …seeing if we can write this new single, then go to Europe for about a month. Then depending on certain things, America for about the same, there’s a slight thing about when we’ll actually do America because they haven’t actually put the record out yet.. so we’ll go to America but quite when … but after that it’ll be feet up for a while.”

There will inevitably be speculation about what this new single might have been, but my information is that the instrumental version of what became The Mission’s first single “Serpent’s Kiss”, which first came to light on a bootleg cassette of TSOM studio out-takes in the mid-late 1980’s, was not in fact recorded at Strawberry Studios in 1984 during the FALAA sessions as has been previously assumed, but was instead the result of a different studio session in that early part of April 1985. Listening to that instrumental version, it is hard to tell exactly who was present in the studio, so whether Marx (or indeed Eldritch) was present must for now remain a matter of conjecture. Whether the lack of vocal is because Eldritch was unhappy with the riff, was suffering from writer’s block, was exhausted by the lengthy "Tune In..." tour, had left the studio in a huff or because of some other reason is equally unclear.

Some have speculated that Marx’s end of UK tour finale, where he climbed the speaker stack at the end of the Brighton Top Rank gig, suggests that he knew that it was his final gig, and some fans who were present confirm this version of events. What is certain is that by the time I saw the band in Gent (12th April 1985) just a few days after that studio recording, Marx had left the band, initially with (as he told Glasperlenspiel in 2003) a consideration – “a brief moment of folly” as he put it – that he would re-join TSOM for what would become the Royal Albert Hall finale.

Inevitably, the question of Marx’s whereabouts cropped up regularly in interviews during the gruelling subsequent five-week Armageddon tour of Europe, with Hussey usually having to explain the founder member’s absence. In a Zurich radio interview one week into the tour, he said, clearly tongue in cheek, "We’re not quite sure what’s happened really. We got the boat over here, over to Europe, and Gary wasn’t on the boat, so we just suppose that he’s at home, somewhere” before going on to add “And I don’t think we’ll replace him at all actually. I think what will happen is we’ll keep the basic nucleus for recording and writing, to the three of us, and then see… the tour so far has been going very well with just the three of us, there’s enough noise with the three of us, and we’ll see how it goes we’ll see how we feel at the end of it, if we feel that we need to additional musicians for “live” work we’ll bring them in in the future, but it’s too early to say.”

A month later, on the day of the final gig of the tour at a Press Conference in Stockholm on Friday May 17th, Hussey (in his role as band spokesperson because a sleepy Eldritch misses the first ten minutes of the event) again initially gives a flippant answer when asked about the reason for Marx’s departure. “He left just before we came out to Europe. Erm, we couldn’t get a work permit for him in Europe”, before going on to offer a more sympathetic tribute to the guitarist, his heartfelt tone evident in this extract uploaded onto YouTube by Phil Verne , “He’s been in the group for a very long time. People change, and they go off in different directions and it’s…after a while, the thing which held them together snaps…and it snapped….It’s just a difference in attitude to making records and a difference in attitude to concerts.”

Typically, Eldritch himself was more dismissive of his fellow founder member in an interview with francophone Belgian journalist Pascal Stevens (available on this French fansite) in which the singer explains, "I believe that he wasn't happy any more, but he never tried to tell us why. At the moment Wayne is covering both guitar parts. He doesn't make the same "noise" at all as him, he's more one-dimensional and dynamic. I think that the songs will benefit from this in the future."

Throughout the March 1985 recorded interview for Artifical Life, Marx comes across as everything those who encountered him in his time in TSOM describe him to be: warm, friendly, modest, disarmingly frank – basically a thoroughly decent human being. Whilst the interview contains more hints than hard facts about the cause and exact timing of the split, the sudden and unexpected nature of Marx’s imminent departure is evident, with the guitarist still clearly seeing himself as part of the band’s future. The events of the following week (last week of March 1985) would therefore appear to hold the key to unlocking the real truth about what exactly happened. Hopefully 2017 will see further revelations on an issue which continues to fascinate.

My thanks for this post are due to Mark “Songs of Preys” Musolf (check out his online radio shows and the regular UK tours he promotes for bands from the 80's goth scene) for the informed and interesting recent YT interview with Wayne Hussey, to Bruno Bossier for sharing the wonderful Gary Marx photo and to Phil Verne of the 1980-1985 Facebook fan page for supplying me with the fanzine and cassette versions of the Artifical Life interview, the former of which has been shared in full over on the Facebook fan page, as well as other material from the Armageddon tour. Thanks also to LG for his continued support and to the French TSOM fan page for the scan of the French interview.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Stairway to Heaven - Blackburn, March 1985

Many fans believe that the early incarnations of the band reached their zenith in the spring of 1985 on the “Tune In, Turn On, Burn Out” tour, the Hussey era line-up’s third major UK trek with a fuller range of songs to choose from. Most aficianados would agree that the Disguised in Black bootleg recorded at Newcastle Tiffany’s on Weds 13th March is technically the best recording from that era, but in my view a far more interesting gig took place at Blackburn’s King George’s Hall just over a week later on Thursday 21st March.

(generic photo of King George's Hall, not from the TSOM gig)

King George’s Hall was in many ways a typical piece of Northern British civic architecture, a large neo-classical public hall with an original capacity of 3500 in the main auditorium designed by the architects Messrs Briggs, Wolstenholme and Thornley (some familiar surnames to members of the Heartland Forum!) whose foundation stone was laid by the then King (hence the hall’s name) in 1913, although the facility didn’t finally open until 1921 because of the Great War.

The Pennines region (for those unfamiliar with the North of England, these are the hills which separate the historic rivals of the Wars of The Roses, the red rose county of Lancashire and white rose county of Yorkshire) had always been a Sisters stronghold, with early gigs in the smaller towns of Keighley and Colne, but whether it was the fact that it was a Thursday night, the fact that Blackburn was by far the smallest town (in terms of population) visited on the tour, or whether the gig in nearby Manchester two nights earlier was more convenient for many North-West based fans, it was evidently clear that the gig was heavily undersold – there were probably fewer than (atrocious John Lennon lyric pun ahoy!) a thousand souls in Blackburn, Lancashire’s finest concert venue that March 1985 evening, a fact referred to by Eldritch after the opening track, “First and Last and Always”, the singer light-heartedly telling the faithful, “Don’t worry, we ain’t going to take it out on you because the rest of Blackburn didn’t show up,” as can be heard at the end of this You Tube upload kindly once again provided by collector supreme Phil Verne. This recording also gives an impression of the wonderfully resonant acoustics in the cavernous concert hall, with the natural echo adding to the usual added reverb effects to enable the band to truly “rise and reverberate”.

Faced with a smaller crowd and largely preaching to the converted, Eldritch seemed particularly relaxed throughout the gig (as did the rest of the band, judging by the number of technical errors made by West Yorkshire’s finest musicians), enjoying the inter-song banter with the usual motley band of hecklers, barking “One at a time! You with the yellow flares!” in the style of legendary contemporary Question Time presenter Sir Robin Day, and later telling one audience member who has particularly riled him “Look, there’s a bus that goes now from out there, and you’d be advised…”

The gig is also memorable for a couple of rarities amongst the tracks played, including one of only three 1980’s playings of the album closing classic “Some Kind of Stranger”, Eldritch’s vocal straining against a particularly weedy guitar backing on this occasion, and most famously, the only Eldritch vocal on the opening section of “Stairway to Heaven”, a track which had featured on several occasions in instrumental form as part of the “Ghost Rider” medley (as in this example) over the previous twelve months, but which was strictly a one-off for this Blackburn show, having been also played in the sound-check according to eye-witnesses. At the Blackburn gig Eldritch introduces the Led Zeppelin cover with the words, “You’ve never heard us play this before, have you? Probably never will…This is a song which requires a respectful quiet introduction” in an attempt to pacify those crowd members frustrated at the customary lengthy guitar re-tuning episodes. Gary Marx recalled the unusual cover version in the Artificial Life interview recorded a week later, “We got about two verses into it and Andy said “etc.” because he couldn’t remember any more, so I don’t think we’ll do that again!” At the end of the second verse, the drum machine kick started the set-closing Sister Ray medley, and the rest of the encore seemed to proceed without incident.

However, a previously untranscribed section of the Gary Marx interview with Artificial Life sheds some light on a curious recollection of Eldritch’s in a 1987 interview, “The BBC would ring us up and ask, “What’s new, boys?”. We’d say, “Do you want the stories with or without the vomit?”. They’d reply “Without” and we’d say “Ha, we haven’t got any!” Listening to Marx’s Blackburn anecdote, in response to the interviewer's request for amusing tour stories, one imagines that this is the kind of thing which Eldritch had in mind: Nothing funny’s happened. We’ve thrown up a few times on various people but that gets tedious…In Blackburn I think it was, we were doing Sister Ray. Craig’s usually, well not introverted, but just sort of stands there on stage, quite happy to stand near his amp so that he can hear what he’s playing…In Blackburn, we were doing Sister Ray, he’s really going for it, he’s running about all over the place and suddenly it’s one of those bits where we all go all quiet for a bit, there’s the dry ice and I’d lost him for a minute, I couldn’t see where he was. I was looking all over, and then he starts playing again, and he’s up on top of the stack (of monitors/speakers) at the back. It’s all slowly building up, it comes up to the bit where we’re all going to crash back in, and he jumps off the top, off this thing to land perfectly in time, which would have been great, but because it shook him up so much when he actually jumped to the floor, he threw up, so he did this massive jump, threw up, then started rolling around in it. So I think he’ll just be stood there tonight, back to his usual position,” Marx laconically predicted, in the interview recorded on the afternoon prior to the first London Lyceum show (24th March 1985, just a few days after the Blackburn gig).

The Sisters have never subsequently visited the East Lancashire former mill town, but this unique visit will continue to live long in the memories of those lucky enough to have witnessed it. Like the band themselves, King George’s Hall is still going strong, hosting the usual current touring round of stand-up comedians, tribute bands and hypnotists, a combination which rather strangely reflects the unique act on stage one night thirty-two years ago.

I would like to thank all those who have contributed to this post, especially Phil Verne for the FALAA YT clip and the loan of the 1985 interview cassette, those who uploaded the other YT clips, and to Phil's fellow collector Bruno Bossier, from whose extensive collection the photo of the gig ticket is taken.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Gary's gaffer-taped boots, 1981-1985!

When you think of classic early 1980’s The Sisters of Mercy, certain iconic objects come to mind: Eldritch’s shades, Ben’s NHS specs, Gary’s Hawaiian shirts, Edritch’s leather jacket and later frock coat, Craig’s mercifully short-lived 1984 stetson, Wayne’s collection of hats, Von’s sideburns … the list is endless. Yet one item is more symbolic than any other of the esprit de corps in the band in those breakthrough years .... Gary’s gaffer-taped boots.

Over on the wonderful 1980-1985 FB fanpage, kind-hearted Belgian collector Bruno Bossier shared some magnificently sharp photos which he had acquired of the Hull Tiffany’s gig on Monday 18th March 1985 on the Tune In, Turn On, Burn Out tour to coincide with the release of FALAA the previous week. One of the photos (reproduced here) shows the prized footwear in all its self-repaired three-buckled glory. 

The boots had become a bit of a cause célèbre, and went on to feature in Gary’s last interview as a Sister which duly appeared in Artificial Life fanzine. The interview took place on the early afternoon of Sunday March 24th, as on the cassette recording of the chat, a TV in the background can be heard playing the familiar theme tunes of (the end of that day’s omnibus edition of) Eastenders and Match of The Day (the start of live coverage of the Norwich v Sunderland League Cup Final).

At one point in the interview, the journalist (Jake Jacobs) notices Marx’s unusual footwear and asks him about it. Marx’s response shows the level of commitment which and other band members had to the project, having already said “There’s a lot of sacrifices for the band.” Many 1980’s artists would have been provided (out of their advance) with the latest fashions and a dresser to help with sartorial purchases, but TSOM continued to plough their meagre finances back into the band:

Four years! This might seem to be a gross exaggeration, but in the aftershow footage of the legendary Peterborough gig two years earlier (again kindly uploaded to YT by Phil Verne, watch out for Gary at about 10:27), the offending shoes were already patched up with (a smaller amount of) gaffer tape, and are the identifying feature as Marx walks through the shot. The situation is summed up at the end of the Artificial Life interview, where Jacobs pays a fine tribute to the guitarist, just after the latter has humorously stated his ambitions, including a desire to be (sort of) better shod:

My thanks for this post go to two of my regular partners-in-crime, Phil Verne of the 8085 FB group for the extracts from the fanzine (the full print interview can be seen on that FB group) and to Bruno Bossier for sharing the wonderful photo.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Reluctant Stereotypes - March 10th 1981 ?

Thirty-five years on, the very earliest gigs by The Sisters of Mercy in the early Spring of 1981 remain shrouded in mystery, with those concerts that are listed in gigographies largely based on dates on cassettes which may or may not contain tracks recorded on those particular days.

The very first gig, supporting The Thompson Twins in a college JCR at the University of York, was often referred to by the band in interviews in the 80s, and even on stage by Eldritch, and the date of the show (16th Feb) subsequently featured in 10th, 20th and 30th anniversary shows and celebrations.

The probable date and location of the second gig was for a long time unknown, but research by Phil Verne of the 1980-1985 TSOM FB group a few years ago confirmed that the band played a very early gig in support of Altered Images at the F Club in Leeds on March 19th 1981, unearthing a review from the Bradford fanzine Wool City Rocker to prove that the gig had actually taken place. This concert was also discussed in the earliest known interview with the band from spring of 1981 which featured in local Leeds fanzine “Whippings and Apologies”. “Without a decent PA, we sound really crap. Like when we supported Altered Images at the F-Club, that was a real balls-up because of the bad sound,” was what a not-particularly-eloquent Eldritch remembered of the show.

Earlier in that W+A interview, Eldritch had stated, “We’ve only ever played three gigs before,” so it seemed reasonable to assume that the Altered Images gig was the band’s second ever concert, and their first in their home city of Leeds, a supposition repeated by Mark Andrews in his fantastic recent article on the early days in The Quietus.

However, this month (December 2016), the 8085 Facebook group has been holding an impromptu Gary Marx retrospective, with members sharing artefacts and memories of one of the two founding members of the band who rarely gets the credit he deserves these days. Looking through his extensive collection for more material to share with the group, Phil Verne came across a cassette which he had had in his possession for some time, containing a fanzine interview (Artificial Life) with Gary from 1985, which he had purchased off leading Sisters historian Mark W... some time before. Background noise from a blaring television during the interview makes it difficult to pick out some of the comments, so Phil asked me to have a listen through a couple of sections to see if there was anything of interest amongst the usual well-known facts and opinions.

The interviewer mentions that he had seen TSOM supporting Brilliant and The Smiths supporting TSOM, and how the band’s fortunes had been reversed since in both cases. Marx tells him (in this extract kindly uploaded onto YouTube by Phil) “When we first started out, in our first gig we supported the Thompson Twins….The second or the third... It was something like The Thompson Twins, then Altered Images, and then the band that are now King – they were called The Reluctant Stereotypes I think at the time. So that was.. our first three gigs,” before going on to discuss Brilliant and The Smiths.

To me, this was incredible new information- no Sisters gig with Reluctant Stereotypes is currently listed. Reluctant Stereotypes singer Paul King, after his five minutes of fame with “Love and Pride”, eventually washed up as a VJ on the rapidly expanding MTV satellite channel, and surprisingly to many people became their in-house "alternative music" expert, hosting the “120 Minutes” show, for which in 1991 he ended up interviewing .... none other than a Vision Thing era Andrew Eldritch, during which as usual the TSOM frontman ironically had to spend much time defending their position as reluctant (gothic) sterotypes.

The former police cadet King did have a more alternative past himself however, with the Reluctant Stereotypes. As they were from Coventry, the avant-garde jazz ska art-rock ensemble had become caught up in the Two-Tone wave, taking part in a second wave seaside tour in the summer of 1980 with the likes of the Bodysnatchers. By 1981 however, it was clear that they were unlikely to break thorough, and they disbanded after a final show at the Reading Festival (still in its Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts phase) that year.

Earlier in 1981, however, they had undertaken a few dates in the early Spring, and Phil Verne has unearthed this poster from the Leeds Warehouse (again from Wool City Rocker) advertising gigs in March of that month, with the Reluctant Stereotypes clearly listed as playing on 10th March, a week before the TSOM gig with Altered Images (which took place on the same night as the Orange Juice gig at the Warehouse). That the gigs were close together makes it totally understandable that Marx would have been uncertain some four years later about the exact sequence of events.

Although no other evidence yet exists for this gig, and TSOM are not even listed as support, Marx’s reminiscences make it clear that this Warehouse gig was in all likelihood the band’s second gig and their home town debut, as it is unlikely that a band like Reluctant Stereotypes would have played twice in the area within a matter of weeks. 

It is incredible that three and a half decades on, significant new facts continue to emerge about the band’s early days, with the recent interview with Jon Langford, Mark Andrews’ Quietus piece and John Robb’spiece for LTW all adding to the picture. I would like to once again pay tribute to the generosity of Phil Verne for sharing items from his archive and allowing us to piece together another section of the 1981 jigsaw. If anyone can confirm this informed speculation, we would be delighted to hear from you!

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

TSOM with a different singer! - Munster Odeon, 1st September 1983

After the major cities of Berlin and Hamburg, the venue for the Sisters’ third German date on their inaugural European tour in Autumn 1983 was the less well known “stadt” of Munster, perhaps an appropriate choice for a goth band given the American “spoof vampire gothic horror” 60s TV series of the same name. Twin town of the city of York, where TSOM had played their first ever gig, Munster was also the home in the 1980s of the largest British Army base outside the UK, the huge Osnabruck garrison.

Not surprisingly, there was generally an anglo-centric slant to the nightlife on offer in Munster, and so it was that The Sisters were booked in to play at the Odeon venue in the town on 1st September 1983. Until researching this gig I had always imagined that this concert hall was the equivalent of the vast Hammersmith Odeon, which at the time was the UK’s largest regular gig venue, but nothing could be further from the truth, as can be seen in this wonderful archive video from 1986 posted on YouTube last year. The video takes us on a guided tour of the premises starting outside on Frauenstrasse, before coming inside and finally (around two minutes in) arriving in the somewhat cramped gig venue, which will be instantly recognisable to anyone who has seen still photos from the TSOM concert thanks to the garish and distinctly ungothic mural in front of which the band had to play, a backdrop perhaps more suited to one of Mr Tumble’s CBeebies TV shows for the under 5s. On a Husker Du website, a Munster native (“Kirsty”) said "[Odeon] was one of Münster's most famous venues for smaller concerts, with a capacity of only 500 people. Many bands played there during the 80s and 90s who later became famous. Unfortunately the Odeon was closed in 2002 and the building demolished. After they built a new building, a restaurant called Monegro was located there," whilst “James” added “It was also reasonably popular with a small group of UK servicemen in the 80s. We had a small crew that used it regularly” reinforcing the impression one gets from listening to a recording of the gig that there were more Brits present at this show than at the other dates on the Trans Europe Excess jaunt.

For many years, many collectors believed that they had a copy of this gig, which in fact merely turned out to be a different recording of the Hamburg show of the night before. The Munster gig was indeed taped by a member of the audience, and has become one of the most talked about bootleg recordings of Gunn era Sisters, partly because it was only ever available as part of a limited edition box set of only twenty copies (uniquely containing both vinyl and cassette), but largely because of the encore, the usual choice on that tour of the Sister Ray medley backbeat. What is different on this occasion, however, is that Eldritch has clearly remained in the dressing room for reasons unknown, and the first half of the track is therefore instrumental only, before a unique occurrence in TSOM history … a different vocalist completes the song! Over the years there have been many theories as to whom this may have been – Ben Gunn, Danny from Salvation and even Wayne Hussey have been suggested by some of the more outlandish conspiracy theorists (you know who you are!).

However, in the absence of a definitive and authoritative account of what actually happened that night, from what we can gather it would appear that a fan, who can be heard noisily on the audio recording earlier in the show, grew tired of waiting for Eldritch to return to the stage and three minutes into the recording of the encore kindly shared by Phil Verne  (allowing us all to judge for ourselves) began shouting out the relevant section of Ghostrider over a quieter section of the familiar medley. The mystery would-be vocalist then seems to be told to "come up here",  and to cheers from his friends in the audience he grabbed the mic himself and entered Sisters folklore by belting out a full verse of the Suicide classic, just after the band had ad-libbed a section of Louie Louie. With Craig seemingly moving on to the bass part of Sister Ray, the fan (?) falls quiet before suddenly announcing "Good night", to which one of the band seems to forlornly request that he "sing more", before the song grinds to a sudden halt to raucous applause from the crowd.  

There was, of course, a near repetition at the Royal Albert Hall two years later, but the late Lemmy allegedly persuaded an under-the-weather Eldritch to take to the stage for the much-delayed encore on that occasion. The rest of the Munster show, which was one song shorter than in Hamburg the previous night (no “Lights”), also had its unusual moments, such as the unique version of Floorshow (which has a unique Doktor Avalanche backing track featuring a highly original opening, and a messed up final solo from Mr Marx, who was having a somewhat erratic evening) and the famous Eldritch retort “only if somebody gives me a drink” when audience members shout for "Body Electric" and “Jolene” after “Kiss The Carpet”. For the record, “Jolene” was not played that night (or indeed at all anymore by this stage). It was also one of the gigs where Gary Marx ad-libbed a section from “Ghostriders In The Sky” between songs, as can be heard in this version of Emma kindly uploaded on to YouTube by Phil Verne (of TSOM 8085 FB group fame) which also features a wonderful photo of Ben in one of his final European TSOM gigs. Clearly visible is the mural which is in front of what was clearly a much lower stage in 1983 than was the case in 1986 when the “guided tour” video was filmed. The “Ghostriders” crowd response, plus the chanting ("Ha'way the lads", "Sisters!" etc) before the encore, reveals that this crowd was clearly livelier and more raucous in Munster than on the other German tour dates (the Spex magazine reviewer complained that at the Aratta in Moers the following and final night, the crowd were so static that they didn’t even cheer for an encore), with Eldritch trying to reason with them : “Listen, don’t do that! There’s someone from Wolverhampton down there and he’s not going to take kindly to that, is he?” (the mind boggles as to what was going on at this point).

The Odeon continued as a bar and music venue for many years, and was revisited a year later by TSOM, but was closed and gutted in the early years of this millennium as can be seen in the photo reproduced here (from ). But of the many hundreds of venues The Sisters have played over the past thirty five years, the Munster Odeon has kept the distinction of being the only one to have experienced (albeit for just one song) the band with a vocalist other than Andrew Eldritch.

As always, my grateful thanks are extended to all those who helped with this post, particularly my usual partners-in-crime LG and Phil Verne, and to those who have helped to archive what was clearly a much-loved venue locally.