Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Black October - Colchester, 20th October 1984

Of all the gigs covered thus far in this blog, not one has been from possibly the most defining tour of the 1980s (or indeed any other era’s) incarnation of The Sisters of Mercy, the Black October tour, a gruelling trek which saw the band play sixteen shows in eighteen days after a relatively sedate start (seven dates in the preceding twelve days), at a time immediately after Eldritch’s health issues earlier in the late summer/early autumn of 1984.

The Black October tour was a crucial moment for the band, for whom word of mouth support had continued to grow over the summer, and took place crucially at the start of the academic year when students flush with previously untold riches (in the form of the legendary grant cheque) would flock to see bands on the say-so of new friends like at no other time of the year. With a catchy new single (“Walk Away”) being released to coincide with the tour, and with merchandising finally reaching professional industry standards, this was indeed a make or break moment for the band, with heavy major label support under pressure with continued delays to the debut LP and the lukewarm reception given to previous single “Body and Soul”.

For many fans of the era, the Black October tour marked the high point of the Hussey era, with several FALAA songs given their first “live” outing and the band yet to suffer from the personality issues and clashes which would make the following spring’s tour a more overwrought, bombastic and ultimately soulless experience. The very name of the tour saw the band flirting as much as they ever would with the imagery of what was rapidly becoming the gothic “scene”, with the more psychedelic touches of earlier in the year becoming distinctly more sombre.

The tour showed to what extent the band’s popularity had grown. As we have seen in previous posts, TSOM would often struggle to attract a crowd of more than a couple of dozen punters to their incendiary 1983 live shows outside of their Northern fiefdom, yet by autumn of the following year, “Sold Out” signs would appear in the most unlikely of places. One such show was that on the 20th October, bang in the middle of the 23 date tour, held at the University of Essex, a 1960’s concrete and glass “new university” situated on a leafy campus at Wivenhoe Park on the outskirts of Colchester.

As a town, Colchester seemed to have been on a steady decline since its heyday as the principal garrison town of the Roman army back in the days when it was known as Camulodunum, and its musical claim to fame (in these pre-Blur days) was that the nursery rhyme “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” was composed there. Like most campus universities, Essex had a thriving Students’ Union, whose basement Dance Hall had hosted gigs since its opening, with a capacity of about 1000 concert-goers.      

The Sisters’ show had clearly not been expected to be a sell-out as the official-looking poster now residing in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (no less!) promises that briefs will be available on the night, although the other poster hastily produced for the show (and kindly shared by collector David Manlove) did warn, with typical Students Ents Committee hyperbole “tickets possibly available on the door – buy early.”

Long-term fan Paul Scrutton told me, “I was at this show. The venue was really nice. The ceiling had a mega acoustic treatment with foam spikes all over it.” This is possibly the reason why the recording of this show, available on the bootleg double LP Black Pack and also on the superior sounding bootleg CD Revelations, is generally regarded as being one of the best recordings of the Black October tour, with a crisp if a little trebley sound mix with Doktor Avalanche very high in the mix, and so much reverb on Eldritch’s vocals that his inter-song banter is almost totally unintelligible.

Other reasons for this particular show being such a success are hinted at in the fascinating minor detail of the tour schedule, a document (kindly shared by legendary Sisters fan Lachert) which shows how much planning now went into a Sisters tour. As well as what must have been a depressing revelation for a band becoming infamous for bacchanalian over-indulgence (“no spirits on rider”), the late hour at which the band was to take the stage would also have been to the band’s liking.

The show began with a lively “Burn”, whose sound is a little muffled at times, possibly because the taper may have had to momentarily remove his/her Walkman from public view to avoid detection. Eldritch gives it laldy, however, adding an extra vocal section full of “whoas”. A relatively new addition to the set, Marian, was another highlight, whilst the encore of Ghost Rider/Sister Ray features extensive soloing/riffing on the first half of the medley which lasts a full eight and a half minutes before morphing slowly into Sister Ray. Thanks (once again) to the generosity of Ade Matthews, all of the show can now be enjoyed via the wonders of YouTube (for example, Train, Adrenochrome, Walk Away, Emma and Gimme Shelter) whilst Phil Verne has provided this wonderful photo of Eldritch mid-scream, the only known shot taken at the Colchester gig.

When Jem of Artificial Life fanzine interviewed Wayne Hussey in 1985, he referred to having been at the Colchester gig the previous year, where he had been amazed at what he had seen. “You attract a wide audience, at Colchester there were hippies, flat-tops, punks and everyone….I went to the Colchester gig ready to slag you off. Well when I got there, and you came on, I realised that this was the best gig I’d been to in ages, there was a great atmosphere too, it was the fullest I’ve ever seen the place (appreciative noises from Wayne).”

This reaction was typical of the shows on the tour, with the Sisters finally inching towards the commercial and critical success that “First and Last and Always” would finally achieve.  The band may never since have returned to Colchester, or to several other stops on the lengthy Black October trek, but these gigs were an integral part of the creation of the legend which sustains such a cult following over thirty years later.

A huge thank you to all who have helped with this post, including regulars LG, Phil Verne, Bruno Bossier and Ade Matthews, plus Paul Scrutton, David Manlove, Lachert and others. This blog is very much a team effort, and all contributions (whether physical ephemera or simply personal memories) are always very gratefully received.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

9 while 9:30 Washington DC, 10th September 1983

With the schedule retrospectively filling up rapidly, it’s difficult to believe that there are many more unlisted TSOM gigs in 1983 left to rediscover, but another show which definitely took place is the band’s first visit to the legendary 9:30 club in Washington DC on Saturday 10th September 1983 as part of their first US mini-tour.

Those who have only begun to follow the band more recently may well recognise the name of this venue, a stalwart of the DC live music scene for thirty-five years, as TSOM have visited the iconic club subsequently in 1999, 2006 and 2008, but by these shows the club had moved to larger and more salubrious premises than in 1983, when it occupied the rear lower floor of the Atlantic Building at 930 F Street Northwest, hence the name of the club. In those days, the club was synonymous with the capital’s vibrant punk scene, and the ambiance of the long entrance hall can be seen in this fabulous archive footage of a surprisingly normal looking audience filing in and out of a Minor Threat gig in 1983, proving that the American punk look was never more extreme than that modelled by Johnny Slash on contemporary US high school comedy Square Pegs. The hallway (inspiration for future Eldritch lyrics??) was the scene of a shooting after a Yellowman gig in October 1983, just a month after TSOM’s visit, as the club had begun to acquire a violent reputation very different to the original atmosphere of the early 80’s as described in the Washington City Paper in 1995 : “In addition to music fans, the club attracted gays, art-scene makers, and new wave socialites like Natasha Reatig. ‘The place looked absolutely beautiful,’ remembers Reatig, a regular during the early years. ‘It was dark and very spare. The back bar was very elegant.”

Originally rented as rehearsal space in the somewhat faded grandeur of the Atlantic Building (at the cutting edge of contemporary architecture when it was built in 1888), the 9:30 club inherited from its predecessor Atlantis the mantle of being the punk place to hang out in Washington, and The Police, Cramps, REM, Killing Joke, Dead Kennedys and Nirvana were amongst many up-and-coming bands who paid their dues at the 9:30, attracted by promoter Seth Hurwitz’s ambitious booking policy. According to the local history blog Boundary Stones, the “cramped, L-shaped space…legally only accommodated 199 patrons, but often attracted many more. In 1983, then-Washington Post feature writer Lloyd Grove described it as “a bit of down-town Washington awash in the New Wave, replete with exotic characters clad in biker jackets…It’s fairly cheap, usually a $5 cover – but it’s also almost unrelievedly, crashingly loud”, noting a total lack of seating inspired by New York’s Danceteria and intended to keep the punters dancing.
TSOM’s visit to the club in 1983 isn’t mentioned in the official gigography on the band’s website, nor is it listed on the increasingly accurate records of the Wiki gigography. However, Eldritch made a very brief mention of it in a New York radio interview later (on 15th September 1983), when discussing how the band had gone down on the US tour so far, a fact that ubiquitous collector Phil Verne had picked up on. “To me, records are for assessing, gigs are for participating, especially when you come over on tour, it’s a strange place and you have sound problems, you really need the feedback more than usual from an audience. In Philadelphia we didn’t really get it, Washington was pretty much the same, Boston was good.”
Intriguing, but hardly definitive evidence of the gig having been played at the 9:30. However, Phil also came across a fellow TSOM fan on FB who had been at the gig. Ginnie Hruz Miller was certain that she had seen the band in DC, but puzzled that it wasn’t listed anywhere. “I definitely saw them in Washington DC in the early 80s. It was at the 9:30 Club which used to have an early show and a late show for some bands (yes, two shows in one night). My friend and I got lost on the way from Baltimore to DC and we missed the first show and were very happy to learn there was a second one, which we saw in its entirety. It was at the former 9:30 location, which was very small, and I was right up in front of Andrew, literally within an arm's reach. It was thrilling. I also have a close up few photos taken by my friend who went with me. Sadly, I cannot find the ticket, but the 9:30 Club was a very small venue back in those days, so perhaps they did not issue officially printed tickets as they do nowadays. I do recall that my friend and I did not buy tickets in advance for the 9:30 Club show in DC. We just drove down there and paid admission at the door, which could explain why there is no ticket in my collection.” As well as her detailed memories of that night, Ginnie hopes to soon be able to locate, digitise and share some pictures from the show, as a tribute to her late friend Larry Rodriguez (RIP), who took the photos that night but who sadly passed away in 2005.

Whilst there was no firm date for the show, it was now certain that the gig took place, although no audience recording has yet surfaced from the show, nor contemporary posters or flyers.
However, after days of fruitless Googling, I decided to do a digital search of the Washington Post’s archive, which threw up a fragment of a gig review from the issues dated Monday 12th September. Reviewer Joe Sasfy was clearly less than impressed, stating that the band showed such “witless passion and conviction” that the venue became a “musical morgue”. The reviewer mentions that the gig took place on “Saturday night, therefore cementing 10th September as the definitive date for this gig. Ginnie has tracked down the full, very poetic text of the critical yet fair review, which appeared in the respected paper’s Performing Arts pages, and in which Sasfy admits that at their best, “songs uncoiled in dramatic waves of droning guitar dissonance,” whilst Eldritch “hung and writhed diabolically on his mike stand, groaning and moaning through a wall of reverb.” How delighted the singer must have been with such a mention in a major national paper, which would be unthinkable back in the UK for such a defiantly independent Northern band.

However, the 9:30 club was destined to ultimately move on to bigger and better premises, and sadly the Atlantic Building was gutted as the area was gentrified in the early years of this millennium, with only the unique façade retained, with no trace or indication of the location’s pre-eminent place in the capital city’s musical development. The 9:30 has recently commemorated its 20th anniversary in its current, larger location, and its 35th overall ... much like TSOM themselves.

My particular thanks for this post are due to Phil Verne once again - check out his TSOM 80-85 FB group, to Ginnie Hruz Miller for sharing her wonderful memories,  and to the many Washington music fans who have ensured that this iconic venue has been properly archived on the internet.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Love for the Party - Futurama 1981

As the current incarnation of The Sisters of Mercy continue on their sporadic "tour" of minor European festivals, this weekend marks the 35th anniversary of the band's first festival appearance. 

Of all the TSOM gigs played in their maiden year as a “live” band in 1981, by far and away the most populous and important was Futurama 3, the third edition of the “World’s First Science Fiction Music Festival”, the first two versions of which had been staged in Leeds’ cavernous and dilapidated Queen’s Hall in the preceding years. Organised by legendary Leeds promoter John F Keenan, who was the man behind the seminal late 70's F Club punk gigs where Eldritch met Marx, and who still organises gigs in the city to this day, the third edition of Futurama took place in the slightly incongruous surroundings of Bingley Hall, Stafford. Hearing that name one might imagine a venerable red-brick provincial town centre English concert hall with neo-classical pillars at the entrance (like many of those played by TSOM on their 1984 and 1985 tours), but New Bingley Hall, to give it its full name (to avoid confusion with a venue in the nearby Birmingham area), was nothing of the sort : it was in fact (and still is) the main show hall of the Staffordshire County Showground, the hangar-like pavilion where once a year the region’s prime bullocks and tractors were displayed to an admiring trade audience.

I got in touch with John Keenan and asked him about the change of venue from the previous years, and he told me that the move had not been intentional. "The 1980 Futurama was very successful, and I was looking forward to establishing the event. Unfortunately, I went on holiday after the show to wind down for a while. When I came back, John Curd, a promoter from London, had booked the Queen's Hall for the following September with a copy-cat, two-day indie festival called "Daze of Future Past". It was my first introduction to the unscrupulous world of the music business. It took me a lot of ringing around to find another venue. It was an enjoyable event, fun to do, but with all the messing about it didn't make any money. Eventually, John Curd's company, "Straight Music" (ha!), went bust and I moved back to the Queen's Hall in 1983."

Early adverts for the gig fail to list TSOM amongst the participants, as they were a late addition to the bill, but later posters and flyers did indeed list them, and as the stage times attached indicate, they had a half-hour mid-afternoon slot many hours before the big names (Theatre of Hate, Bauhaus, Gang of Four, all of whom ironically were also to go on to appear at the "Daze..." event) took to the stage on Saturday 5th September 1981. Again John Keenan can clear up the mystery of the band's last-minute appearance on the programme : "Andy and Craig were friends of mine, I used to see them every week at the F Club. When I first started compiling the 1981 festival, they weren't ready. Nearer the date they came and asked if I could put them on, and I fitted them onto the bill."

A wonderfully laconic post by “Loki” on Heartland Forum in 2004 provides some fantastic background detail about what it must have been like to attend the two-day festival, one of the first real gatherings of the positive punk crowd that would ultimately be saddled with the dismissive “goth” label. “The gig took place in what I can only describe as a very large cattle-shed/warehouse thing. I’m surprised it had electricity and it smelt bad. The only other facilities were some portaloos and a little club-house pavilion thing bar that wouldn’t have been out of place beside a cricket village green. We had draconian licensing laws in 81 so it only opened 12-2pm and 7-10pm…. Everyone was kicked out of the shed at the end of the night as we weren’t allowed to sleep with the beer cans [!].However there was a cattle parade ring outside and they did allow us to sleep in the little grandstand that overlooked it. The organisers even handed out black bin-liners to kip in. A thoughtful gesture…. So after forty-eight hours in the same clothes we trudged home. Much like a modern two-day festival but as kids we weren’t rich enough to own a tent to be burgled”.

Gary Marx himself also recalled his memories of the gig in response to a question from a Ghost Dance fan on his later band’s forum. “The Sisters’ line-up that day included a certain Dave Humphries on 2nd guitar (it was actually his last Sisters gig I think). Not a name I’ve seen mentioned too many times in the Sisters’ story.” Marx also recalled a classic bit of early Von banter, the first attempt at distancing himself from the nascent gothic movement. “My memories are of playing very early in the day and Andy walking onstage and yelling “Bring out your dead” to the few Bauhaus and Theatre of Hate fans scattered around the largely empty hall.”

Marx is almost correct in his assertion, although Eldritch in fact uttered the immortal words after the set-opening Floorshow (set to very different Doktor Avalanche pattern, and with somewhat wayward Eldritch vocals in the latter stages), as can be heard at the end of an audio recording of the song now available on YouTube thanks to "endemoniada75". The rest of the show is also available from the same source, featuring a primitive rare live recording of “Good Things”, plus the more familiar “Watch”, a barely recognisable “Damage Done”, “Adrenochrome "(this link leads to a superior version kindly uploaded to coincide with this blog post by TSOM live tape tsar Phil Verne), the latter following on as was then the custom from Leonard Cohen's “Teachers”, plus the other usual covers of "1969" and the set-closing “Sister Ray”, already becoming the band’s signature tune, and like the Banshees’ “Lord’s Prayer” played differently every night (although it barely weighs in at three and a half minutes on this occasion). The band have more of the angular guitar sound heard on the first single, with the Pere Ubu/Gang of Four/ Joy Division influences significantly more apparent than in what was to follow.

Not only was the gig's audio recorded, but it was also videoed, although no physical evidence has ever surfaced amongst collectors. Organiser John Keenan told an online Leeds music forum some years ago “Yes, Futurama 3 was filmed, some great footage of Simple Minds, Gang of Four, Bauhaus and early Sisters," a fact he was happy to confirm and explain further. Asked about a rumour that the video tapes had been stolen, he told me : "They never disappeared, I still have them! They were recorded, on bad advice, on Sony U-Matic tape and I suspect that because the tapes have been stored for so long, they will have 'bled' and are probably useless now. There may have been a few VHS demos recorded at the time, but I don't have any. I know that we edited a lot of it, including a full set by Simple Minds. Virgin Records [Simple Minds' label] were supposed to be paying for it, but changed their minds at the last minute and the guy running the film crew was crooked. They tried to charge me weekend rates at double time, even though they hadn't worked for me before! I do remember co-editing a 20 minute version of Sister Ray by The Sisters - they didn't have many songs in their set at that time!"

Loki stated that he “doesn’t remember The Sisters playing, but a mate who was also there has assured me that they did.” However, the band made a much bigger impression on Robin Wardell : “I went to see UK Decay, Bauhaus, Bow Wow Wow and Theatre of Hate but came home with The Sisters of Mercy in my head as a band to keep an eye on.” Futurama changed location again the following year, with Wayne Hussey’s Dead or Alive on the bill at the Deeside Leisure Centre in North Wales alongside the likes of The Danse Society, The March Violets and Southern Death Cult, before returning to Leeds for edition 5 in 1983 (RLYL, KJ, NMA, Play Dead etc) and a final three day edition 6 at Bradford University in 1989  featuring Salvation and The Rose of Avalanche, by which time a Belgian festival of the same name was doing good annual business at the Brielpoort in Deinze (a venue well-known to Sisters fans), although this too was the result of another unscrupulous promoter according to John Keenan : "I called to ask him why he was using my festival name. He answered, 'It's not a rip-off, it's a tribute to you!'". 

With his enthusiastic promotion style and eye for a decent band, John is still regularly promoting gigs to this day in West Yorkshire (including a forthcoming Brudenell Social Club date by Theatre of Hate, to bring things full circle, a band reformed in 2014 to support the Damned at the request of....John Curd!). Meanwhile the Stafford County Showground and New Bingley Hall go from strength to strength, and this year are holding the UK Parrot Society’s annual show, the national Chrysanthemum Show, and the annual Christian youth festival Soul Survivor amongst other equally eclectic offerings.

My thanks for this post are due to the ever helpful LG, who has once again opened up his vast treasure trove of early TSOM artefacts, Robin and Loki for the reminiscences, and to the afore-mentioned generous long-term fans Ade Matthews and Phil Verne (host of The Sisters of Mercy 1980-1985 FB page) for uploading the songs on to YT. In particular, I would like to record my enormous gratitude to Leeds legend John F Keenan for taking time out of his still-busy schedule to answer (and in such entertaining detail) questions which he must have heard many times before.

Friday, 29 July 2016

The 1985 Split – the real truth is never spoken ??

Even over thirty years on, it seems that every journalist writing about either TSOM or (in particular) The Mission is contractually obliged to refer to the original TSOM’s very public disintegration in 1985.

This is usually based on a version of history presented piecemeal in the UK music press in early 1986, at the height of the dispute over who held the rights to the band’s name, and generally features the following apparent facts :

  • ·         Gary Marx left the band after the BBC OGWT performance in early April 1985 for “personal reasons”;
  • ·         The rest of the band completed the European and American tours and then the Royal Albert Hall gig as a three piece (although Marx had been expected to re-appear for the latter);
  • ·         The remaining three members reconvened in Hamburg to begin work on a second album in late summer 1985, but there were arguments about musical direction;
  • ·         Adams walked out over the Torch bassline which he likened to the band Prefab Sprout (an AOR band canned off stage in Lier the previous year just before the Sisters’ spot at that indoor festival);
  • ·         Hussey left the day after, and went on to form the band that would become The Mission with Adams and others, whilst Eldritch contacted Patricia Morrison “the day after” to start his own next project ;
  • ·         Hussey and co. wished to keep the TSOM name, or a derivative of it, which Eldritch objected to;
  • ·         After a bitter dispute involving lawyers, publishing companies and record labels, Eldritch won the right to the name by speed-releasing “Giving Ground”.

Inevitably, given the acrimonious and messy “divorce”, fans of the original band tended to take sides in the dispute, division lines which largely remain in place amongst the fanbase even today, but for those reading subsequent interviews, other and more complex issues which had a greater bearing on the split have emerged, which shed a new light on the real reasons for the original band’s break-up at a time when they appeared to be on the verge of greatness.

Clues about the stresses and strains in the band were already apparent to those closely following the band – the seemingly endless delays in the release of the FALAA album (originally intended for autumn 1984, then January 1985 and finally released in March of that year), a cancelled Japanese tour in summer 1984, stories of Eldritch’s ill-health over that summer prior to the Ahlen and York festivals – and further details about these internal strains gradually began to emerge.

With the chart success of This Corrosion eclipsing the previous early successes of The Mission, a more relaxed Eldritch began to open up about the realities of life in TSOM in the 84/85 era. Speaking to Q magazine’s Paul du Noyer in an interview published in January 1988, Eldritch said : “I didn’t want to be taken for granted again. I was killing myself on the road and nobody was really saying thank you…I almost dropped dead during the recording of the first album and the band didn’t thank me, maybe they were trying to tell me something.” Then, incredibly, he goes on to seemingly suggest that they carry on without him : “I told them they’d have to get a new singer because I wasn’t prepared to go on doing it that way. And so, discreetly, abroad everybody had a go at singing, and decided that they weren’t very good..” (“everybody” ? “abroad” ? does this include Marx ? Europe or America ?) Du Noyer summarises another issue at the heart of Eldritch’s stance “As he tells it, things began to sour when he refused to aggravate his ill-health by touring, preferring in any case to work in the studio.”

In 1986, the “musical differences” cited as the reason for the split seemed to revolve around Edritch’s penchant for Stevie Nicks whilst the others still preferred Motorhead, but it would appear that the singer’s overall modus operandi had also begun to frustrate his colleagues. Ironically using exactly the same phrase as his predecessor Ben Gunn, Wayne Hussey said in 1986 “We’d done what we wanted to achieve. In doing that we’d lost the original essence of it….we’d lost the joke of it. Because that’s what it was originally meant to be. A joke”. Gary Marx, interviewed in Glasperlenspiel in 2003, says something similar similar. “Those trips to Bridlington and the gigs around the time of Alice 1982/83 were very special, far less sanitised than the bigger tours which followed – chaotic, violent, sexy, distorted and a word which evaporated quicker than the dry ice – fun.”

In another 2003 interview on Heartland Forum, Marx states that leaving TSOM “was as obvious as leaving school at sixteen. My relationship with all three of them was completely shattered. If anything I felt more animosity towards Craig and Wayne than I did to Andrew, because they hadn’t had the balls to leave when I did….you can only tour with no-one talking to each other so many times.” (In 1986 Hussey had also said “we did the album hardly talking to each other”). In the Glasperlenspiel interview, Marx eloquently (and very impartially) analyses the split further : “In essence the securing of the Warners deal had taken an awful lot out of Andrew, who was the sole manager of the band by this point. It had also caused a rift between him and the rest of us and, perhaps most significantly, it had taken him away from being a singer and a songwriter. In the studio all of this was amplified – it’s a surprise that an album emerged at all and no surprise to anyone close to the band that we had all parted company within a few months of its release. A very messy end to it all and annoyingly a very clichéd end on the surface at least – the drug-addled lead singer on a power trip and the “dum-dum boys/spiders from mars” squabbling over a few quid in the back room.” In a third 1983 interview, with the French website Prémonition, Marx again talks of Eldritch’s desire to control every aspect of the group, which he felt was both insulting to him as the fellow founder member and very frustrating as it took so long for anything to happen, particularly in the studio.

Eldritch’s post-split interviews also hint at these issues – “the same old musician power against responsibility equation”, “after five years without a day off the time came to lie low for a while”, “I wasn’t well, I’d done three tours that year”, - but there were also the first real hints that the singer (now tired of touring and wishing to do his own thing in the studio) had possibly – shock, horror - deliberately engineered the end of his own band. In a Melody Maker interview in September 1987 he said “I thought we’d come to the end of a logical course. I titled that Albert Hall gig “Wake” about four months before it actually happened and the band are probably still wondering why. I mean, I thought it should still have gone on but I knew it wasn’t going to.” 

Hindsight? The truth and then some back-tracking? It all depends on which side of the argument you were on. But for the real story, we have to travel further back to pre-split, and Eldritch’s incredibly candid interviews (seemingly never discussed outwith Italian circles) with Italian fans Daniela Gombini and Romano Pasquini, who had interviewed Marx and Hussey at the Munich show in November 1984 and invited Eldritch to Rome, where he visited during the Sisters’ brief time off in December 1984 before returning to the UK to complete (at last!) the recording and production of FALAA. In Rome, Eldritch told the Italians (in an interview published in Tribal Cabaret in March 1985) that not only was he planning on disbanding the current band, but that plans were well-advanced for the replacement ! “I think that after the world tour that will follow the release of the album I’ll leave the group ... I'm going to stay just as a manager ... I can’t be both the manager and the singer ... I have no time for myself and the things I’d rather do, such as learning how to play the guitar.” And then the real bombshell, revealing that this is no mere pipe dream : “I’ve already contacted Patricia Morrison and Alan Vega to form a supergroup before the end of the year.” 

How much of this information he had shared with Adams, Marx and Hussey is unclear, but he was certainly happy to reiterate his plans in a further interview carried out at the Rome gig in May 1985 and originally published in another Italian fanzine Il Mucchio Selvaggio in June of that year. Asked about the album’s title, Eldritch replies “Because it is the first and will be the last. And as for the "always" ... I don’t know, we’re saying that hopefully it’ll be around ‘until the end of time’. The interviewer retorts, “Why the last? Is it true what you have said in interviews [presumably referring to Tribal Cabaret], that you're going to disband the group?”, to which the singer replies “Well ... yes. I'm tired, I’m not feeling great. Now, with Gary Marx’s departure, there are just three of us in the band, and I think before the summer there’ll be just one single person left; the current lineup is quite united, but I don’t think that working in this way is the best thing for me. In the last five years I have learned to make records, to publish, to design the sleeves, to manage the band, and I found the whole thing so much more satisfying than just "being in a band." Asked if he’ll pursue a solo career, he answers “Yes, that's probably what I'll do….In the last two years I have been very busy dealing with practical management issues, so I’ve let Gary Marx and Wayne Hussey take care of writing the music for the songs. Previously that wasn’t the case, in fact many of the old songs were composed entirely by myself. It was just a question of having enough time to commit to song-writing: I do like to write and I can’t wait to get started. When I’ve finished a tour I love to sit on the couch with a guitar in my hand, in front of the television, with my girlfriend and my cat beside me - I am completely happy doing that. After a while though, the whole merry-go-round starts up again and there’s another tour. However, I promised that once I’ve finished the current set of dates, I won’t be out on the road for a while.” (“promised”? unfortunately, to whom this promise had been made is not made clear).

(this is the key section of the December 1984 interview from Tribal Cabaret)

These incredible quotes reveal that Eldritch was indeed well aware that the “Wake” would be just that for the current incarnation of the group (and explains his willingness to have Marx back in the band for that show – for old times’ sake?), and that any attempts at working on new songs with Craig and Wayne would be half-hearted at best, given his pronouncements and advanced plans for TSOM mk 2, and the fact that sources close to the Mission reveal that they have no knowledge of many of the titles on the proposed tracklisting for “Left On Mission and Revenge” given to Daniela and Romano in summer 1985 (and recently shared on FB) would tend to confirm this.

The saga of the Sisters split seemed even at the time to have many twists and turns, with all the main members’ motivations under suspicion. Was Wayne Hussey perhaps a power-crazy band-name-stealing would-be-frontman who unlawfully exploited the temporary weakness of a dictator singer to usurp his crown ? On the evidence available at the time, some long-term TSOM fans certainly saw things that way (and continue to do so to this day in some cases). Were the tensions that exist in any band exacerbated by the wounded pride of the overlooked, slightly jealous and very frustrated founder member Gary Marx ? Certainly many whose journey with the band started in the FALAA era seemed to shed few tears over his departure and have been happy to see him relegated to a footnote in TSOM history. Or, as these contemporary interviews seem to suggest, was the 1985 split in fact entirely planned and orchestrated by the ever Machiavellian “puppet master” Andrew Eldritch himself, as the unpalatable but essential “third way” when forced to choose between further damaging his own mental and physical health or relinquishing control over key aspects of the future of the band in which he had invested so much? Maybe “the real truth is never spoken”, but the revelations of these Italian interviews for English-speaking fans certainly add a further dimension to one of the alternative rock world’s most fascinating chapters.

Even more than usual, I am hugely indebted to all those who have helped with this post. Daniela Gombini has shared a large number of photos and artefacts on the Tribal Cabaret FB page, and Federico Guglielmi has posted the text of his exclusive interview with Eldritch on his blog, including a charming introduction. I am especially grateful to LG for sharing items from his extensive collection, and some help with translation, and to Phil Verne for drawing my attention to the significance of the Tribal Cabaret interview and for all of his help and advice with this post. Want to comment on this post ? Join the debate on this and other topics on Phil Verne's (unofficial) TSOM 1980-1985 FB group        

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Temple of Cov Lanchester Poly, May 1983

As the years passed, the chance of discovering a long-lost TSOM gig no-one had ever heard of (the Holy Grail for long-term fans) receded into the distance as the band’s fanbase started to decline, with live shows attracting dwindling audiences and bootleg prices starting to fall. However, the advent of social media, and the belated embracing of this new phenomenon by forty- and fifty-somethings, has seen many old fans return to the fold, bringing with them both memories and memorabilia.

Already in the past couple of years we have seen dates for several possible 1981 and 1982 gigs firmed up, the rediscovery of TSOM’s first venture abroad to Ancona in Italy in July 1983, and other gigs from that most prolific of years retrospectively added to the Wiki’s gigography. There is nothing more satisfying than finally pinning down details of a gig whose existence had been totally forgotten about, but at times one comes up against so many dead ends that the inevitable assumption is made that a particular alleged concert never actually took place.

This was certainly the likely scenario for one Spring 1983 TSOM gig which supposedly took place at one of Coventry’s two universities, a few miles from the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) by Birmingham Airport where TSOM regularly played to packed houses in the early 1990s. Back in 1983, the very highly regarded Warwick University (actually situated on a leafy campus near the Peugeot factory on the outskirts of Coventry) had an upstart city-centre rival, the somewhat confusingly-named Lanchester Polytechnic, most of whose students apocryphally believed they would be studying in groovy Manchester or rural Lancaster rather than the somewhat less sexy Midlands city of Coventry, which had been heavily rebuilt after massive Luftwaffe bombing raids in the Second World War, but which was undergoing a cultural renaissance on the back of the Two Tone music movement (The Specials, The Beat etc) which was based in the town.

As well as having a reputation for ground-breaking Industrial Design courses (at least according my Careers Adviser in 1981), "the Lanch" (as it was affectionately known locally) was also something of an Arts hub, with a well-regarded degree course in Fine Art from which Horace Panter of the city-based Two Tone legends The Specials had graduated, and a Students’ Union (see pic below) with a reputation for putting on unusual gigs, such as a Clash/Pistols double bill in November 1976.
Earlier this year, after the blog piece on Ancona was published, I was therefore set another challenge when I received (from an anonymous collector) this grainy photo of part of a poster for an alleged gig by TSOM at the Lanch on Saturday 7th May 1983. Although Lanchester didn’t formally change its name to Coventry Poly until 1987, assuming its current name of Coventry University in 1992, it was also listed under the name Coventry Poly when TSOM subsequently stopped there (playing in the larger hall) in both 1984 and 1985. However, there was enough local detail to encourage further investigation. One old fan had a former friend whom they remembered had talked about a gig in Coventry around that time, but nothing concrete was forthcoming, and internet searches on the gig or even the name of the local support band (“The Whores of Babylon”) drew a total blank. I even tried to contact Coventry’s “Mr Music”, Pete Chambers, who has written about the city’s music scene for nearly forty years, but to no avail.

Incredibly, only a month after The Sisters of Mercy 1980-1985 FB group was set up by Phil Verne earlier this year, a post appeared from a Tracey S, asking if anyone had any photos of the gig at the Lanch in 1983, as her band called “A Set Movement” had been the support that night. Astonished, I contacted Tracey to see if this was indeed the same gig, mentioning that a different band had been advertised as support. “We were later renamed The Whores of Babylon”, she told me in reply to my query. “I couldn’t remember if we were still A Set Movement at that point. We had two drummers, and I was a mere eighteen-year-old then! I still have one of those drummers (Whippet) in the band I’m in today.”
Those who attend punk festivals in the UK might well recognise Tracey, as she plays in the wonderfully-named and well-known band Army of Skanks, a popular draw on the punk circuit (they are playing Rebellion in August and their high octane second album had rave reviews in both Louder Than War and Uber Rock).  She still has strong memories however of that early gig supporting a band on the verge of becoming a real cult. “I remember being rather terrified yet totally excited. I remember lots of smoke and an electric atmosphere. From what I can remember it was full enough - the Cellar Bar was a small and intimate venue. I don't think that we hung out with The Sisters, we were very young and rather shy at the time, so probably didn't feel worthy. We did go down well though - good memories"

Unfortunately, no further memorabilia is currently in the public domain for this gig, and therefore no set list is known, although given that it took place the night after the ULU gig in London [Coventry is conveniently situated half-way between London and Leeds] at which The Smiths were famously the support, it is highly likely that it was virtually identical, commencing with Kiss The Carpet and ending with either Body Electric or Gimme Shelter.
Hopefully one day an audio tape will materialise, along with photos for which Tracey is still on the lookout. Contemporary TSOM fan Ali H, who saw many Sisters' gigs in 1982 and 1983 has confirmed that she too was at the Lanchester show ("a fab gig!" is her recollection) and had taken some photos, but these (along with others) were loaned to someone but sadly never returned. In the meantime we can finally firm up this date in the TSOM gigography, another long-term mystery finally solved.

My thanks are due to the TSOM collector who launched this search (and loaned the poster image above), to Ali H, and of course in particular to Tracey S who patiently put up with my detailed questions about an event well over thirty years ago.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

See Those Pagans Glas-gow go go go ! Night Moves, April 1983

Although it has now been established that the first TSOM gig outside the UK took place in Ancona (Italy) at the end of July 1983, the band had of course already been out of England once before, for a gig at Glasgow’s Night Moves venue on 1st April of that year, a concert which has taken on legendary status thanks to the existence of a relatively high quality video of the entire show, filmed from a camera fitted to an elevated position opposite the stage.

Night Moves was a club with a rather mixed historical local reputation, situated a few blocks up Sauchiehall Street from the ABC venue that seems to feature on every TSOM UK tour itinerary these days, and those passing the New City Palace Chinese restaurant today at number 92 would have no idea that they are in the immediate vicinity of a venue which promoted gigs by many of the great and good on the UK indie scene between 1982 and 1984 (The Birthday Party, Culture Club, Eurythmics, The Smiths and REM to name but a few).

Rob C was present at the Sisters gig, which took place on April Fools’ Day 1983, along with many others at Night Moves, a venue which he has extensively researched : “It is a strange building in that the gig hall was up 4 flights of a winding staircase above an oriental restaurant. There is a reason for this. The original building was built as a cinema/music hall in the early 20th Century, with a ballroom on top. This was not unusual in the early 20 Century with the advent of moving pictures Cinema. The much bigger Glasgow Apollo just round the corner has a similar bigger design, although the cinema below Night Moves had been gutted and turned into three floors of office space by the Night Moves days. The entrance was up a winding staircase that had passageways on each floor, although there is also a lift [behind the metal shutter] beside the stairs."

"Bands used this to get their gear up to the venue in, when it was working, but it was a very small lift. Once at the top there was a door and you entered what is roughly the top floor on the outside of the building. On this floor were the toilets, cloak room and pay-in desk, also another room which was used as a smaller disco called Secrets in the Night Moves days. You then walked past the pay desk along a corridor and upstairs into the gig venue area. This had the dance floor and stage, with a balcony mezzanine that had rounded booths when there were stools to sit it. This was accessed by two opposing staircases just in front of the bar. Night Moves was probably the most difficult place to bootleg gigs back then in Glasgow due to the quite invasive search the Bouncers carried out on entry. The Sisters gig was busy, I think Anaconda was out or due out and it was busy, not absolutely rammed but busy. I recently found out that the fire certificate capacity was only about 400 whereas the rammed gigs there such as The Cult / Cocteau Twins must have had about 800/900 people in. Alice was a Night Moves dance floor favourite and I think most were there on the back of that. It was a Friday so it would have been £2 / £2.50 to get in. It’s funny watching videos back of gigs,  I always think they are not really representative of the gig as you can’t really get the atmosphere. The Sisters would have gone on late, as the doors used to not open till about 9pm with the bands on about midnight.” 

 Glasgow crowds have always had a reputation as being tough to please going back to the days of the Music Hall, and so it proves as TSOM open their set with a slow-building KTC before launching into blistering versions of Anaconda, Alice and Adrenochrome. Compared to Peterborough, the crowd seem strangely static as the Eldritch, at his sinuous best, contorts himself in his black leathers around the mic stand delivering a perfect baritone whilst Marx careers around the tiny stage, or poses one foot up on the monitors, Adams stares out into the crowd from the back of the stage whilst picking out timeless basslines, and Gunn nonchalantly strums out power chords between forays to the back of the stage to kick-start the Doktor for the next track.
The gig was certainly better attended than many others around that time, with the West of Scotland boasting a thriving post-punk scene. Alexander T recently recalled on FB : “The Sisters had their own section at Virgin Records on Union Street. There was a decent alternative shop in Falkirk which made clothes to order – not the best quality, but it allowed for originality. I loved the Cocteau Twins who were from the neighbouring town Grangemouth. There was a huge “goth” scene there at the time. Robin Guthrie of the Cocteaus had worked at BP at Grangemouth (a massive oil refinery) and buses were run to both The Sisters’ and Bauhaus’ gigs at Night Moves”.

The concert itself continued with the band slowing things down for a full-on Valentine and a blistering Burn from the forthcoming Reptile House EP, featuring a more aggressive chorus from Doktor Avalanche than on record. Von confesses “I’ve never been to Scotland before”, as the band burst into an incendiary Jolene, a song well-known to the punters in a city well-known for its long-lasting love affair with Country and Western music, rendering Eldritch’s comment “We didn’t actually write that one” somewhat superfluous. “We did write this one”, he adds proudly as the distinctive beat to Floorshow starts up, and the first evidence of “chicken dancing” amongst the crowd eventually becomes apparent amongst the feedback and screams from the stage. Andy then disappears to the back of the stage to light up a cigarette (clearly visible as these were the days before the omnipresent dry ice) at the start of Heartland, as the camera pans further into the seemingly well-attended venue. “Ye’re rubbish”, shouts a lone and somewhat cowardly voice after the lengthy dirge eventually reaches its climax, and the band responds with a high octane Body Electric, Eldritch taking up residence stage left, allowing Marx more room for his own jerky cabaret, and bringing the main set to a climax. With a brief “Thanks, good night” the band are gone, and fortunately only a few, half-hearted cheers are required to get the group back on stage, the rest of the crowd still in “Impress us” mode. (The Birthday Party gig at the same venue the previous November “descended into chaos” according to, with “Nick jumping from the low stage to fight with a member of the audience”). Lights, the fourth track to be played that evening from The Reptile House, is the first encore, Gunn’s guitar mixed very low as Adams’ bass dominates the opening verse. Eldritch slowly brings the song to its emotional climax before taking an extravagant bow as they begin their last song, Gimme Shelter, which ends (as at most 1983 gigs) with just Adams and Eldritch for the final chorus, before leaving the stage to appreciative applause. As a decent quality visual and aural record of the band at the top of their form in the original line-up, the video of the Night Moves show is hard to beat, and cements its place in Sisters’ folklore. By the time the band returned to Scotland the following year, they had outgrown such small venues and had a new setlist of songs that would form the basis of FALAA, shorn of many of the earlier, punkier classics.

According to Rob C, Night Moves had been the Piccadilly Club around WWII the White Elephant club, but a criminal fire one night when the club was packed in 1977 saw it fully refurbished and relaunched as the Roseland in 1978. After Night Moves, it became (appropriately, given its location). Rooftops in about 1986 and continued with similar types of gigs, eg XMal, Ghost Dance, The Rose Of Avalanche, The Stone Roses and Batfish Boys all played there. Effectively layout and decor-wise it was exactly the same. It was rebranded as the more mianstream Moon Nite Club for many years until finally closing as a club earlier this millennium.

As ever, huge thanks to all who have contributed to this post, but particularly to Rob C for sharing both his memories of the gig and his research on the venue, including making a special trip to take some of the photos. Cheers, Rob!

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Sisters Mysteries V : The signals Clash, Newcastle July 1982

One of the longest-running TSOM mysteries dates all the way back to July 1982, as legend (and indeed the gigography on the officialband website, listing the date as Sunday 4th July 1982) has it that TSOM played as support to mighty punk stalwarts The Clash on their Club Casbah tour at the City Hall in Newcastle. The City Hall was a famed concert hall dating back to 1927 and where the year previously Motorhead had recorded the majority of the tracks for their seminal “No Sleep ‘til Hammersmith” live set. No hard evidence of this gig having taken place has ever surfaced however, and whether or not the band actually played with The Clash is still a point of some discussion amongst long-term fans.

The Clash were very much in a period of flux and transition at the time, with the first single “Know Your Rights” of the projected new album having failed to chart in the Top 40. There were also reports of poor advance ticket sales for the spring tour, which then had to be postponed when Joe Strummer mysteriously disappeared. The tour was due to feature gigs at the City Hall in Newcastle on May 4th and 5th, but ticket-holders were told their stubs would remain valid for rescheduled dates. Whether Strummer’s disappearance was a McLaren style stunt orchestrated by the band’s manager or whether Joe was genuinely suffering from mental health issues has never been proven definitively either way (and is frankly none of our business), but the band’s spiritual leader returned from France shortly afterwards and the postponed concerts were rescheduled for July, including the ambitious two dates (now on the 14th and 15th July) in Newcastle at the City Hall.

The concept of Club Casbah was a noble one (and very much ahead of its time), providing fans with a whole evening of entertainment to take them out of their comfort zone, rather than just the usual “two bands and that’s yer lot” gig format, and The Clash had a long history of dabbling in other musical genres with various degrees of success. In addition to decorating the venues to create a different vibe and having challenging live DJ sets, local artists were recruited (often at short notice) to flesh out the Club Casbah bill (for example BBC Evening Session favourites APB opened for the Londoners at their Inverness gig). Unfortunately for the now ambitious Eldritch, the Leeds date of the tour, at the University Union, was the last concert promoted by future Radio 1 DJ Andy Kershaw in his role as Ents Secretary at Leeds Uni, so there would be no possibility of sneaking onto that bill given Kershaw’s antipathy towards the band.

Newcastle was a different scenario however, although some gig guides list a well-known local character, Nod the Geordie Poet as having been the support act. I managed to track down Nod, now known as respectable part-time University of Hertfordshire Lecturer AP Clark. Alan was only too happy to confirm to me details of his own support slot on the 15th: “I got to do the support for only one of the two gigs as my friend was Mickey Gallagher [keyboard player with The Clash]’s brother and we just pitched the idea of doing it after meeting him on the night before. As far as I remember, there was no other support on that night, which might have been the reason that they gave me the gig!”

The last minute addition of a performance poet not only fits in with the eclectic spirit of the “crazy Casbah sound”, but also gives an indication as to the somewhat chaotic nature of the Clash gigs at the City Hall. This shambolic impression is reinforced by the band themselves in an interview with the contemporary local Newcastle fanzine Eccentric Sleeve Notes, now available online. Sadly, no details of the support band are mentioned here either, however, but the downbeat atmosphere of the gig comes through, with Strummer admitting “We want to make the gig more fun for the audience. Like, it didn’t go down well tonight….It’s seats…The car broke down today and the soundcheck was f---ed. It was such a crap show …tonight we didn’t feel like it.”” ESN editor (and interviewer/reviewer for that article) Simon McKay states that “The Clash musically were unstable”, with recently reinstated drummer Terry Chimes (replacing Topper Headon who had suddenly left the band owing to his own ongoing health issues) having to be “coached along”.

I contacted Simon to see what he could remember of the gigs, in the vain hope that TSOM might have been the support act on the first night, but again there was bad news : “There might have been local supports on those nights. Not Sisters though. The only time I saw them was at Leeds Warehouse in July 1981 immediately after I'd seen Iggy at Leeds University. Not a night to forget!” This confirmation from someone who had already seen the band seemed to be the end of the trail…until long-standing fan Paul Wallace, who had been so helpful on earlier posts on this blog, offered his assistance by getting in touch with some of his long list of contacts. The first attempt just led straight back to Nod the Geordie Poet (just two degrees of separation!), who again kindly confirmed what he had told me earlier in the week (although he must have been bemused at suddenly getting the same obscure query twice in a week some thirty-four years later!). The second, who was sadly away in the States at the time of the Clash gigs, turned out to be none other than North-East demi-god Mensi from the North East’s late 70s/early 80s punk sensations Angelic Upstarts, but with the third, a merchandiser called Hendy, he hit gold.

Incredibly, Hendy confirmed that he had been at both Clash gigs…and that The Sisters of Mercy were definitely the support on the first night. “I was in front row, on the guest list, along with other kids who’d gone to the sound-check for signatures,” he told me. “The Sisters were unrecognisable from the band they became though & I must admit I didn`t know who they were at the time but a handful of people did. I remember one of the members of the band was very nerdy with big plastic spectacles. A few people got down the front and stood at the stage for their slot but in general not a lot of folk knew who they were.” Definitive proof then, from a reliable eye-witness that The Sisters did indeed support The Clash on July 14th, and other members of his friendship group have confirmed that it was indeed TSOM who played that night.

Sadly no further details of the gig (setlist for example) are known, but The Clash remained personal heroes of TSOM, and were cited by both Ben and Gary in an interview with Artificial Life fanzine the following year. Invited to criticise The Clash for “selling out”, Gary told the interviewer “Everybody slags off The Clash but they’ve always had good tunes.” Ben adds, “They still write great songs. “Combat Rock” was brilliant, with songs like “Rock the Casbah” [ironically mostly written by Headon] and “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”” The latter two songs from 1982’s “Combat Rock” LP did indeed relaunch the band’s career, but at the time of the Newcastle gigs neither had yet been released, and The Clash seemed to be going through a terminal decline. Nevertheless, supporting the biggest remaining name in the punk movement in a major provincial venue in front of a large crowd was another major achievement for the Sisters, although they themselves would be headlining the grandest of Britain’s concert venues, London’s Royal Albert Hall, fewer than three years later.

I would like to thank all who have helped with this particular post, particularly “Nod”, Simon, and especially Paul Wallace and Hendy, all of whom were only too happy to give full and prompt answers to my questions Thanks to their contributions, another Sisters Mystery can finally be resolved.