At the Sheffield University gig in June 1983, to fill the time between songs as the band struggled (not for the first time) with a combination of the difficulties of keeping two guitars in tune with each other and of operating an increasingly recalcitrant drum machine, Andrew Eldritch can clearly be heard engaging in a bit of banter with the loyal Yorkshire following. “Who’s coming to Europe with us ?” he enquires, eliciting cheers of approval.
One wonders what the gig schedule looked like at that stage, as it has been the work of many aficionados and three decades to re-create such a list. As we established in a previous post, it was only comparatively recently that the date of the Mallemunt Festival in Brussels was definitively established as 5th August 1983, installing it as the band’s first date overseas.
Incredibly, however, more recent research by legendary TSOM archivist LG has revealed that TSOM played much further afield a week earlier than the Belgian date, in the historic Italian Adriatic port of Ancona. To my astonishment, LG had acquired a poster listing TSOM as playing in the Italian town on Sunday 31st July 1983, billing it as their “unica data” and “primo concert in Italia”.
The port of Ancona had a long-established musical festival which tended to draw an older audience, but in the early 80’s municipal funding was made available for the production of an alternative version, Parkingang, to be held in the historic Piazza del Plebiscito, a beautiful traditional square complete with mediaeval town hall with clock tower, baroque church, and restaurants whose terraces spilled out over the cobbled interior.
Incredibly, at a time when punk musicians had been harassed and almost driven to extinction by UK authorities, in Ancona this alternative festival was entrusted to a collective comprising a local video art group, “Video Pallidi”, who planned to show early alternative films (Man Ray, H. Richter etc) and local punk bands Cracked Hirn and Rivolta dell’Odio. The latter were an established Italian anarcho-punk band who had released their first single by this stage, but were being increasingly influenced by the positive punk movement in the UK. This influence can be seen in the list of bands whose videos would be shown in the video bar during the five day festival, as can be seen on the bottom left hand corner of a second, more detailed poster for the gig, which I recently discovered after many hours of previously fruitless Googling.
The scheduling of the gig is further confirmed by further extracts from LG’s collection. He discovered this advert for the gig in an Italian music magazine, although the excerpt suggests that the gig took place on the Saturday (rather than the Sunday) night.
Hardly conclusive evidence of the gig having taken place though, and the assumption was that it was an idea which hadn't come to fruition. But LG then revealed his pièce de resistance, an Italian fanzine interview published in Tribal Cabaret Mag no 6 (“84/85”). During Daniela Giombini’s interview (Munich, 11/11/84) one of the band states “Yes, we played in Ancona two summers ago. That was the time when Gary threw Ben’s camera into the sea”. (I, for one, would love to hear more about this anecdote, from a time when young Master Gunn was clearly beginning to consider his future in the band!).
For further confirmation about the gig, I tracked down one of the members of The Sisters’ support band and festival organisers, Oskar Barrile of Rivolta dell’Odio, who passed my queries on to bass player Amedeo Bruni. The latter was only too pleased to confirm the details of how the gig had come about, and sent me a complete account of the events of that summer, all written in perfect English :
“That year, the City Council in Ancona gave us some money to organize a small festival in a beautiful in the city centre, near the port. We were really into UK post-punk at the time, Sex Gang Children, Uk Decay, Play Dead, 1919, March Violets, Blood and Roses, Ausgang, you know, that sort of great stuff,” he told me.
They could therefore use some of this generous budget to attract a UK big name. “We managed to have a link with an Italian agency who gave us the name of some bands available for a show, and we choose The Sisters of Mercy,” Amedeo continued. “They were to top the bill, with the rest of the line-up consisting of local bands.”
As we have seen in previous posts about gigs of that era, the promoters were responsible for pretty much every aspect of the touring band. Amedeo told me that “the deal with the agency was that I had to pick up the band in Milan, where they landed. I remember they arrived in Milan (about 450 km north of Ancona) in the middle of the night. So me and my mate went to the airport, met the band and took them to the train station. They were quite talkative, and quite amazed some guys wanted them to play outside England for the first time. That was a one-off, there was no tour ongoing, they flew straight from Leeds to Milan (and back again).”
Despite the band’s taciturn reputation back home, Amedeo found them to be quite the opposite. “During the train ride (about 3 hours) they spent all the time drinking....
In the early hours of the morning we arrived in Ancona, took the band to their hotel and left them there.”
One can imagine the “this is the life” feeling that TSOM must have felt at the time, after years of humping their gear into Transits and sleeping on fans’ floors the only alternative to a bleary-eyed drive back up the M1 to Leeds.
Although Amadeo has very clear memories of that first meeting with the band, his recollections of the festival itself are less strong, as he and the rest of Rivolta dell’Odio would have been primarily focussed on what was a big night in their own careers, supporting TSOM. He said “I don't remember much about their show, just a bone-shaking version of Gimme Shelter. Also, I don't remember anything about their departure: this means the show involved hard partying, a lot of alcohol … and a massive hangover!" he added, charmingly.
So, we can now confirm the Parkingang Festival as the very first TSOM show outside the UK, but Amedeo had another fascinating anecdote to share. “Some year later, already big and famous, The Sisters of Mercy returned to Italy. I went to their concert at Budrio near Bologna (the subject of a previous post on this blog), but I was skeptical about the chance to meet Andrew E. and the rest of the band : I thought they wouldn't give a f… about meeting me. On the contrary, he was quite happy to talk to me before the show, we drank a bottle of Port together, and he remembered perfectly everything about their show in Ancona, and took a lot of time to let me know how much he appreciated the Cassette Album of my band I had given him in Ancona. 'A very raw and strong band', he said.”
Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, it is still possible to hear contemporary Rivolta dell’Odio recordings, such as “Altari delTerrore”, which appeared on their next single the following year, which features many of the features (driving tribal drumming, slightly whining post-Lydon vocals, interesting guitar chord progressions) prevalent amongst the scene at the time, and certainly well-worthy of Eldritch's approval. The orange vinyl single, like other Rivolta dell'Odio releases, now commands upward of £25 as interest continues to grow in these Italian post-punk pioneers.
Amadeo concluded : “Much time has passed, new bands and music attracted my attention, and I can't even remember the last time I listened to the Sisters, but this is a memory I will hold dear forever.”
On behalf of all TSOM aficianados, I would like to thank Amadeo for taking the time and trouble to share with us his memories of this historic and unique occasion. The square the Sisters played in still features concerts to this day, with Nick Cave and (in this video) Mumford and Sons amongst those to attract a crowd to its attractive confines. As usual, my thanks are also hugely due to LG for his key role in helping to solve at last one of the longest running Sisters Mysteries, that of the first TSOM show outside of England.
(I would love to hear from anyone who was at one of the 1983 gigs (or earlier) not yet covered on the blog – Newcastle Dingwalls, the Hacienda and the Bradford Manhattan being good examples.)