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.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

No Tyne To Cry

For any TSOM fan of the 1980-1985 era (and if you are but haven’t yet joined Phil Verne’s Facebook group devoted to that era, it’s about time you did), mention of the northern English city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne brings memories of two gigs in particular: the March 1985 Tiffany’s date at which Disguised in Black (commonly held as the best live Sisters bootleg of all time) was recorded just three weeks before Gary Marx left the band; and a much earlier alleged gig supporting The Clash at the City Hall in July 1982. However, the band also played there on the Black October jaunt, and would have also played on the Spring 1984 tour if the promoter of the Middlesbrough gig hadn’t pointed out that his contract precluded the band from doing so (the towns being only some forty miles apart).

The band’s other gig in Newcastle took place the previous year on Friday April 22nd 1983, on the tour with The Gun Club, at the city’s branch of the short-lived Dingwall’s chain, which would also host TSOM gigs in Hull and Sheffield later that spring. The Newcastle Dingwall’s was situated in the confines of the once magnificent Alfred Wilson House on Waterloo St, built as a drapery warehouse by the Co-operative Society some fifty years earlier. By the early 80’s the lower floors of this art deco masterpiece were trading as the multi-purpose Newcastle Entertainment Complex, although the Studio 1-2-3-4 cinema had closed its doors for the last time the previous month. There were also two night clubs in the building, with Dingwall’s being (as in the other cities) a converted Hofbrauhaus bierkeller on the lower ground floor.

From what I can discover, advertising for the Newcastle Dingwall’s was handled by none other than that major novocastrian institution Viz Productions, who were responsible for the rapidly expanding comic of the same name, and whose afternoon launch parties for each issue of the comic were held at Dingwall’s at this time. The Viz moniker is clearly visible at the bottom of this contemporary poster advertising gigs at the venue in April 1982, which reveals that advance tickets for this post-punk double bill were a paltry two pounds, and which has been shared here thanks (once again) to the generosity of the foremost Sisters archivist LG. This gig was the penultimate one with The Gun Club, and immediately precedes the legendary Peterborough show (the following evening, without The Gun Club) and the London Lyceum gig two nights later. The gigs with the late Jeffrey Lee Pierce’s ensemble left Eldritch with two legacies, first in the shape of his crushed velvet coat which he wore on and off for the next year, and of course his friendship with Patricia Morrison, his first port of call when Hussey and Adams left in 1985 (ironic that his first thought then was for a bassist, deemed surplus to requirements in the band’s current incarnation).

A live recording of the gig (the only “uncut” version of the gig in circulation), lent to me by the ever-helpful cassette overlord Phil Verne, reveals that the setlist was almost identical to the other gigs on The Gun Club tour, featuring a truncated show to reflect their status as the support act (in name at least). This may have also resulted in a shorter than usual soundcheck, as the opening crowd-pleaser (barely audible over the audience chatter) Alice has some sound issues, seemingly affecting Ben’s rhythm guitar part, and there are short squalls of feedback as the band tune up for the next track, which Eldritch wittily introduces as “This one’s called “Anaconda”... with a load of whistling”. The latter fares a little better, and is followed by a coruscating and unique “Burn”, still affected slightly by feedback issues, with Von ad-libbing the middle “Face in the fire” section a little more than usual and missing some cues towards the end as a result.
After Eldritch asks for better sound from the “monitor” (speaker providing sound for the stage so that the band can hear themselves), things improve somewhat, and as on the previous three nights (Leeds, Manchester and Norwich) the set continues with “Heartland”, “Jolene”, “Adrenochrome” and “Floorshow”, with the shortened repertoire brought to an end by “Body Electric”, an apologetic Eldritch telling the appreciative crowd “We’re short on time tonight so this is the last one.” The gig is mainly remembered for the encore however, as on most of the other dates around this time audiences were treated to either “Gimme Shelter” or “Emma”. However, as Gary jams somewhat aimlessly over a familiar rattling Doktor Avalanche intro, Eldritch informs the crowd “We’re gonna play you something I know The Gun Club can do because if we don’t play it tonight they’ll play it first”, before screaming “Sister Ray”. Eldritch in particular seems up for the encore, which we can all enjoy thanks to the generous uploading of the track onto YouTube by MonsieurVerne. Despite continued guitar feedback, the song is punctuated by enthusiastic cheers from the crowd, especially about 2.19 when Eldritch screams something that sounds like a possible reference to TSOM roadie and future Salvation main man Dan Mass. As at some other gigs of that era, the song builds to a dramatic ending, the rest of the band gradually grinding to a halt whilst the singer repeatedly screams the final “It’s just like Sister Ray said!” refrain, the perfect end to a Sisters’ gig.

Like the other branches of the chain, Newcastle Dingwall’s closed its doors for the last time in the summer of 1983, an event celebrated in typically irreverent style by Viz in this contemporary fake flyer.

The venue lived on under various guises until the early years of this millennium, when the whole building was given an overhaul and turned into a block of apartments, which will come as little surprise to regular readers of this blog as it appears to be the fate of choice of former live venues. However, the Centralofts development has mercifully retained the distinctive 1930s façade, and the building looks more dignified than it did when the Sisters played there all those years ago.

Once again my grateful thanks are extended to the usual suspects, LG and Phil Verne, for supplementing my largely online detective work with items from their own archive to really bring another Ben Gunn era gig back to life.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

(Body) Electric Garden - Stockholm October 1983

The events of Autumn 1983 have always been one of the murkier periods of TSOM’s past, as the band’s first stable line-up imploded just as (I believe) they stood at the threshold of greatness, with the Temple of Love 12” EP about to be released and the first European and US dates having been an unqualified success. However, Ben Gunn’s sudden departure after the East Coast US dates threw all plans into confusion, and for decades opinion was divided as to whether certain gigs even took place at all.

One such concert was that at Stockholm’s Electric Garden on October 26th 1983, sandwiched as it appeared to be between the dates in New York and Philly and those at SF and LA at the end of the month. Despite the existence of a bootleg seemingly recorded at the gig, which first reached wider circulation many years after the concert itself there was much debate as to whether this was actually recorded in Scandinavia at all, or at a different date in the UK, despite the very obviously Swedish chatter amongst the crowd near the taper (apparently a young man called Mats).
However, a variety of comparatively recent revelations have enabled us to recreate the events of the gig, very probably the first to be undertaken as a three piece in the hiatus between Gunn’s departure and Hussey’s arrival. Six years ago, a newarchive website appeared devoted to the Electric Garden, a club night which was a moveable feast, taking in various Stockholm locations in the early 80’s promoting top independent talent, driven by genial Irishman Harry Byrne who had settled in the city. Like many other such operations across Europe, the Electric Garden was very much a cottage industry, designing and producing their own posters which would be silk screen printed and then flyposted around the Swedish capital (allegedly by Byrne himself). The poster for the Sisters gig was very much in the house style, and is nearly identical in design to that of the next single of the support band, local Stockholm band Man Klan, when Electric Garden branched out into label management the following year.

The gig was also advertised in the local press, as this newspaper extract also taken from the Electric Garden archive site will testify, and was one of a shortlived Electric Garden residency at the very posh BZ nightclub, housed on the penthouse floor of the building which to this day also hosts the China Theatre.

The state of the art BZ (Berzelii Terrassen) club not only featured glass walls, but a retractable ceiling, allowing the well-heeled weekend punters to dance under the stars (or snow), and its low stage can allegedly be seen in the video to ABBA’s legendary Dancing Queen, which it is claimed was shot at the location some years earlier, testament to the venue’s status amongst the Nordic elite (or possibly not, as other accounts state that Dancing Queen was actually filmed at the city’s Alexandra club).

Further revelations came about in comments underneath a post in a Swedish blog“dropsofdew” about TSOM’s gig in Stockholm in 1985. One correspondent, “Bladerunner”, confirmed that he had been at the earlier Electric Garden gig – “a really good show”, and told an amusing tale of how his girlfriend had wanted to change seats at the bar because she felt uncomfortable because of a “sleazy guy” standing behind her. The gentleman in question of course turned out to be Von. “Bladerunner” had watched the whole show side on, and “I noted that Doktor Avalanche” was replaced by cassette tape …for every song played the cassette was changed so that the correct pre-recorded drum sound played back.”

This version of events was confirmed by a further commenter who was a member of the support act Man Klan. “The Sisters played on our equipment! They also helped to lug it through the town, super quiet dudes that you could hang out with backstage before and after the concert. I got a ride home in their limo and a case of beer.  Indeed, Andrew had no drum machine, but everything was on tape (a Nakamichi tape player).”
Fortunately the gig was recorded for posterity and is widely available amongst fans, making it onto a vinyl LP (minus Emma and Adrenochrome) entitled Electric Garden. Considering that they were one guitarist down, the sound remains relatively full, and the version of Temple of Love is arguably the best recorded around that time. The gig is probably best remembered for some of Von’s inter-song banter as the tapes are regularly changed in the makeshift Doktor. Swedish punter : “Where’s the drummer ?” Von : “He’s in the box. (affects voice of character of the then current American cult horror film Basket Case) What’s in the basket ?”. Later in the gig (between Adrenochrome and Floorshow), Von refers to the fact that they will soon be up to the full complement of band members, Hussey having already agreed to join the band following his own departure from Dead or Alive. “We’ve got a new guitarist who can’t be with us today, so next time we’ll be four people. …This is called “Floorshow” and it’s bloody good!” We can all now enjoy this particular section of the gig, as the ever generous Phil Verne has kindlyuploaded it to YouTube. Eldritch is in particularly fine form during this gig, although some fans find the “taped” Doktor somewhat intrusive and lacking in crispness. However, the positive side of the lack of a second guitarist is that Craig’s pulsating bass is also considerably higher in the mix, particularly in songs like “Emma” and “Anaconda”. After a punishing “Body Electric”, the band return for an unlikely encore of “Kiss The Carpet” (“Burn” having started the set), with “Alice” (Marx coping admirably with the even more exposed solo) and a rare second encore, in this case Sister Ray.

The gig was also reviewed as part of an interview (with photos) in the Swedish fanzine Kemisk Afton (issue three from Feb 1984), with writer Sven-Eric Nilsson stating “Which are your influences? Andrew:  -Early 70´s bands from the us like MC5. Music that's "loud funny and cheap". The Sisters of Mercy themselves fulfil these three criteria when you see them live and despite the fact that just previous to the gig at Electric Garden in Stockholm they had lost one of their guitarists, Ben Gunn, the music had an incredible energy and substance. Andrew leaning over the microphone in his black leather clothes, long hair drenched with gel and sunglasses (you recognize the description…?). Andrew’s incredible and dark voice is unforgettable. On one side of the stage Gary Marx "stands" playing wildly on his guitar, falling and the question is how he manages to play the right chord. After a while you realize he's not always hitting the right chord. On the other side is stands Craig Adams, that also nurses the drum-machine Doctor Avalanche, calm and almost childish.” As can be seen from the photos, this gig also saw the debut of the infamous Eldritch beard (his own ABBA tribute?), seen in the same straggly state the later in the same week in the US and in much bushier form at Wayne’s debut the following April as the band resumed live duties.

For the purposes of this blog entry, I tracked down the gig promoter, Harry Byrne, “Mr Electric Garden” and asked him for his own reminiscences, and he very kindly got back to me, saying that he had heard that there was a bootleg in existence and that he had kept his interest in the band. “I did a Sisters show a couple of years ago, on their last Euro tour”, he added.
The BZ club continued to thrive until its closure and demolition as part of a wider refurbishment of the area in 1999, although the Electric Garden moved on again shortly after TSOM’s gig and took up residence at new premises at Wavel.

As usual this blog post is the work of many individuals, and I would like to acknowledge and thank not only Harry Byrne for taking the time and trouble to respond to my enquiries, but also LG who owns a copy of both the poster and the fanzine, Phil Verne for allowing me to hear his excellent copy of the gig and for uploading a video onto YouTube, and on this occasion Swedish superfan “Drsisters” (Anders) for the various translations, tips and snippets of information about a gig he has himself researched for many years. My grateful thanks to you all.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

The first "Alice" ? Zig Zag Club London July 1982

By the summer of 1982, it was clear that Andrew Eldritch’s masterplan was beginning to take shape. Ben Gunn had been recruited, the second single (Body Electric/Adrenochrome) had eventually been released on CNT to positive reviews and regular plays on John Peel, and the band were beginning to pick up some decent support slots that included the likes of Nico and (allegedly) The Clash, exposing them to a wider range of industry figures and audiences than possible in Leeds.

Sadly, not much has surfaced from most of these gigs, with the exception of the gig at the Zig Zag Club in London on Saturday 10th July 1982, where TSOM played as support to The Birthday Party alongside a group called Play School of whom I have found no further information. They were listed in both this magnificent pink flyer (the property of generous collector LG) and this advert from that month’s Zig Zag magazine (photo courtesy of Tony P who runs an Appreciation page for the magazine). 

Headliners The Birthday Party were a band for whom AE had expressed admiration earlier in the year in an interview with Melody Maker’s Adam Sweeting "We're not as good as Motörhead but we're better than The Birthday Party. That makes us pretty damned good." Unfortunately, Eldritch’s rosy-eyed view of The Birthday Party was not reciprocated, as this seemingly irony-free recounting of a story from Ian Johnston’s book “Bad Seed” will testify :  “The support group were the then little known Leeds Gothic rock band The Sisters of Mercy, fronted by the enigmatic Andrew Eldritch. 'At the end of their set Mr Eldritch and friends wanted to know what The Birthday Party thought of them, and asked me to find out,' recalls Chris Carr with a wry grin. ' I asked them if they were sure about this, they were, so I went off to the dressing room. The only person who saw anything of their show was Mr Mick Harvey, who announced that The Sisters of Mercy were the worst band to have ever supported The Birthday Party. I went back and recounted this to Mr Eldritch. The following Monday I got a call from The Sisters of Mercy saying that the band had had a meeting and had decided to continue, and to wish The Birthday Party all the best in the future. They understood their criticism but thought rather than break up, they'd carry on. it was all very dramatic.' Carr laughs. Within six years The Sisters of Mercy would become one of the UK's most successful rock groups.”

Listening back to a recording of the gig, one can only assume that Mr Harvey’s comments were motivated by jealousy. The gig opens with a historical gem, the earliest known version of “Alice”, which features a very tinny intro and a slightly different opening riff, and a more metronomic delivery from Eldritch, as the band’s sound echoes around the former cinema, as can be heard on this extract kindly uploaded onto YouTube by live cassette aficionado Phil Verne. Gary’s riff grinds to a halt at one stage, but the band keep going and follow on with Floorshow, Eldritch introducing the band “We are the Sisters of Mercy” and then screaming “Floorshow” (rather too loudly) over the familiar buzzing intro, singing the first verse an octave higher than usual. Floorshow too retains its earlier simplified guitar riffs, but the band have now hit their full stride and a wild “Watch” follows on, Eldritch’s Stooges and Furs influences apparent on extended “Watch us fall” sections. “Body Electric” sees the band pick up the pace further, the then single being faithfully rendered, albeit with another slightly pitchy vocal from a clearly nervous Von when he switches to his upper register for the second half of the song. Showing an increasing ability to pace a set, the band then launch into a note perfect version of “Lights” (still almost a year before it would appear on vinyl), before a scream filled “1969” and a suddenly truncated “Sister Ray” bring the support set to a close. With what sounds like a healthy sized crowd cheering for an encore, Von is forced to come back on stage to thank the crowd for their support but explain that there was no more time, “so as Morrison said, “this is the end”, see you guys soon. Good night.” Immediately, the rather nasal DJ takes over and says “Thanks a lot, The Sisters of Mercy, sorry there’s no more time but coming next tonight, The Birthday Party. Now a video …”

The Zig Zag Club had been set up by the well-known music magazine of the same name, which by the early 1980’s had increasingly become interested in the growing post punk scene, and decided to branch out into club management. The terms of their licence meant that everyone attending was supposed to be a member of the club, although an associate membership could be bought along with tickets (even on the door) to get round this issue, and this example comes from

The ZigZag was housed in the former Grand Cinema on Great Western Road in London’s Westbourne Park district, which had opened in 1912 with a seating capacity of approx. 1250. The auditorium was destroyed by German bombs in the Second World War, but the original art deco façade (seen in this magnificent 1930’s picture on the "cinema treasures" website) was maintained when it was rebuilt in the 1950s as part of the Essoldo chain.

After a brief period as a Bingo hall, it was relaunched as the ZigZag club in April 1982 in what turned out to be a short-lived affair, as the club had closed again by the end of the year and was infamously squatted by Crass that Christmas for a free gig which still gets anarcho-punks misty eyed. Sadly, after a spell as a rehearsal space, dereliction took hold and the cinema was demolished in 1994, its place taken by a block of modern red and tan coloured flats. 

Intriguingly, another gig listed on contemporary announcements features TSOM billed as support to Dead or Alive, then of course featuring one Wayne Hussey on guitar in their pre-disco phase. Sadly, no further evidence has yet surfaced to suggest that this gig was ever played by the band, although the Sisters did increasingly come to see their London gigs as their chance to take further strides in the industry, despite all their fanzine protestations that this was not strictly necessary for a provincial Northern band determined to “make it” on their own terms.

My thanks are again due to LG for his help with this gig, being the source of the pink flyer and the gig adverts which have now been circulating for some time, and to Phil Verne for allowing me to hear his recording of the gig, one of the earliest of the band outside of their native Yorkshire, and for sharing with us all his YT upload of the earliest known version of "Alice". Thanks too to Tony P for the ZigZag extract.

More Ben Gunn era gigs coming soon - if you were at any not yet covered, please get in touch !