Having myself endured the conditions at some of the venues TSOM played in the early days, I’d always imagined that the Kir Club would be in the one of the less salubrious parts of the noble Hanseatic port of Hamburg where Eldritch was later to make his home. Like The Beatles before them, I pictured the four plucky English lads (plus the usual assortment of roadies) hastily unloading their precious equipment into some dingy cellar amongst a row of disreputable sex shops on the infamous Reeperbahn, tiptoeing through a morass of broken glass, abandoned syringes and used condoms, or perhaps into some hastily-converted tobacco warehouse down by the docks which had been previously squatted by a hippy community in the 60s.
However, far from being in the creative communes of Sankt Pauli, the Kir Club (in 1983 at least) was situated in the leafy outer suburbs of the city in Poppenbuettel, right next to the riverside Marienhof (interesting name) Marina and a stone’s throw from the houses built by the forced labour of Jewish women from the local concentration camp during the Second World War, one of which (next to the modern shopping mall) now houses a small museum.
The Kir was founded in August 1983 (on the final day of which month TSOM played) by Clemens Grun as an indie venue in the long-established Sitrone disco and restaurant, and TSOM were one of comparatively few bands to play there before it was mysteriously burned down in February 1984, forcing the club to relocate more centrally, and with the site being cleared and replaced by a look-alike boutique hotel known today as the Hotel Poppenbuetteler Hof (very highly rated on Trip Advisor if a little pricey). The club had a distinctive rainbow-arched front of the stage, and as this fake palm and dry ice shot (all photos here are copyright NDR) from its Sitrone days will testify, was clearly a sizzling place for groovy young Hamburgers to hang out in the late 70s.
Jens Paulsen, who was attending his first Sisters gig that night at the end of August 1983 on the second night of TSOM’s inaugural four date German tour, told me that Poppenbuettel was “a conservative area. The club was pretty far out from town but was totally hip. At the front there was a restaurant (I think a Chinese) and at the side there was the Kir. It was a very small club. When you went in, the small stage was just on the left.”
Jens himself had never heard any of the Sisters’ music before that night, and like most British indie bands trying their luck on the continent for the first time, the Sisters were known only to a few music-obsessed locals. “I would estimate that the club was about half-full. The atmosphere inside was sinister and gloomy, with everyone trying hard to look cool. ” This was in stark contrast to the band, whose appearance was “still modest and normal-looking” in those days. “Everything was still very simple – things had really changed by the next time I saw them, at the Markthalle in May 1984,” Jens continued.
Jens was instantly impressed by TSOM’s music : “I was immediately thrilled by the dark sound and the guitars, and they instantly became one of my favourite bands.” Thanks to several excellent live bootlegs of the show, including extracts featured on the “The Damage is Done” bootleg, everyone can still enjoy one of the better live shows of 1983, a fourteen track epic that featured most of the band’s recorded output to date plus three covers. Listening back to Phil Verne’s best version, the show opened with an unbalanced “Burn”, with Marx and Dr Avalanche high in the mix and Ben and Craig reduced to a fuzzy mush. Eldritch too had issues, claiming before (a much-improved) “Valentine” that the “vocals sound weird”. The gig is best remembered amongst collectors for several reasons, first for a rare and decent (if imperfect) run-through of “Temple of Love” (already kindly shared by Phil on You Tube), secondly for the fact that many cassette copies feature a truncated final encore of “Sister Ray” (although a complete version has been added from a different, only marginally inferior source in Phil’s master), and for some of the legendary inter-song banter. Eldritch seems to be enjoying himself, speaking to the crowd in both his own (“OK hippies, here it comes” before “Gimme Shelter”) and the audience’s native tongues, but the most remarkable intervention is Craig’s after the end of Kiss The Carpet when (seconds after the unmistakable thud of bottle on stage) he suddenly and memorably shouts (and this would have been a great title for a Live LP) “The next person who chucks a f#cking bottle gets his head kicked in.” This was referred to by the interviewer of Spex magazine, who questioned Eldritch about the incident (in German) during a chat two days later before the Aratta show, but the frontman laughed off the incident, saying words to the effect that “a bit of tension in the air makes for a better atmosphere” (as it had also memorably done at that other legendary show in Peterborough five months earlier). Certainly the band are on top form as the gig progresses, with both sides of the second and third singles getting an airing (and a slightly shambolic run-through of fourth single “Anaconda”), a rare outing (in 1983 at least) for “Lights”, and particularly impressive versions of “Emma”, “Gimme Shelter” (with the final acapella phrase listened to in reverent silence by the audience for once) and a fitting finale of a wild and wonderful “Sister Ray.”
The Kir Club after the 1984 fire – note the Cure record still on the turntable
Little did Eldritch know on heading to the gig that night that the Hanseatic city was to become his home for most of the remainder of that decade, but that initial visit must have made as strong an impression on him as the band did on Jens and the rest of the Hamburg in-crowd who have for their part remained loyal to TSOM to this day.
My grateful thanks for their help in compiling this post are due to my long-term collaborators LG and Phil Verne, and in particular a big “vielen dank” to Jens Paulsen for sharing his memories of the Kir gig. Those who have enjoyed this post and have an interest in this era of TSOM history would do well to keep an eye on Phil’s Facebook group The Sisters of Mercy 19801985 (everyone welcome to join!) over the next couple of days ;-) ...