Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Eldritch and The Botha Boys ?

It has often been retrospectively claimed that Andrew Eldritch played all of the instruments on many of The Sisters of Mercy’s early releases (for example The Reptile House EP), sometimes by the great man himself, and his performance on the drums (dropped sticks’n’all) is there for all to hear on the first single. However, his prowess on the guitar has been less a matter of public record, excepting a tale that the only reason Temple of Love didn’t feature regularly in the live set in the 1983-1985 era was that Eldritch was the only one who could play the song all the way through without making a mistake.

However, a German press clipping (probably from Spex magazine) which had lain in a major collector’s filing system for many years sheds light on a more public possible Eldritch appearance on guitar, alongside many other legendary figures on the Leeds music scene in the early 80s. As part of the magazine’s piece on the Three Johns, there was mention of an earlier, post-Mekons incarnation called the Botha Boys, who had also done a “hugely impressive” version of English White Boy Engineer, the first Three Johns single which was released in 1982, the year after the band was formed in Leeds. The song was written by Langford and originally recorded by him for a Mekons BBC John Peel session in December 1980, and satirizes self-justifying middle-class British engineering graduates who would accept inflated salaries to work in apartheid South Africa, then of course ruled by President PW Botha.

The German magazine then quoted Jon Langford (who famously filled in for Craig Adams at a York University TSOM gig in February 1982) as saying, “The Botha Boys were actually The Mekons. It was a long time ago, but on stage there was me, John Hyatt from the Three Johns, Kevin, the Mekons’ bassist on drums, and Andrew Eldritch from The Sisters of Mercy was playing guitar, I believe”. Langford went on to describe the circumstances of the song. “Basically it was an attack on one member of the audience…She started crying and had to leave. We were living in the same house at the time, and her boyfriend had moved to South Africa, which we used to argue about all the time. All she could ever say was rubbish like “he’s going over there to make things better”, so she deserved it. Naturally she didn’t like the song, and she sent me a postcard from Zimbabwe some time later. I hate people who go to South Africa.” The lyric, "You won't know until you've been there, there've been changes since last year, blame it on the Afrikaner, English White Boy Engineer" was a withering attack on her attitude, so typical of the numerous shoulder-shrugging Leeds engineering graduates who took the krugerrand route to fortune.

The Kevin mentioned in Langford's Botha Boys roll-call is Kevin Lycett, whom Andrew Eldritch credited (in Mark Andrews’ wonderful article on the band’s early years for The Quietus last year) as being a major formative influence on his career : “I owe a lot to him. He encouraged me in my quest to learn a little bit about being in a band and scrimp and save for visits to the studio and keep hammering away at it. By the time he stopped being that kind of mentor, we still had nothing to show for it, but his encouragement never wavered.”

The exact date of the alleged Botha Boys’ show has never been established, but the live version of English White Boy Engineer which the German magazine was referring to appeared on a UK indie compilation on Norwich based Grunt Grunt A Go Go records in 1985 called Good Morning Mister Presley. The LP featured a variety of excellent bands including The Bomb Party and Marc Riley and the Creepers, and featured a front cover designed by Langford (see pic below from Discogs website).

I contacted Kevin Lycett to see if he could shed any more light on the story, but he had no recollection whatsoever of the Botha Boys, and certainly didn’t think he had ever played drums on stage at any point, so wondered if something had got lost in translation for the initial interview. He added that it was not Eldritch’s style to take part in such an ad hoc ensemble (although of course he did join Skeletal Family on stage in Hamburg in 1985, and famously strummed a bass at a charity benefit gig in 2001).

Undeterred, I tried to get in touch with Jon Langford himself, to see if he could confirm the details in the German magazine, albeit some thirty years after the event, but sadly no further information was forthcoming. Langford has recently spoken extensively about his very brief time in The Sisters, and has not made any mention of the Botha Boys, so it seems likely that the original tale is apocryphal. However, as ever, I would be only too delighted to be proved wrong.

My thanks to collectors LG and Phil Verne of the unofficial FB TSOM 1980-1985 group (where discussion of this post will no doubt continue), journalist Mark A, and Kevin L for their help in exploring one of the enduring TSOM myths.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

The first interview - March 1981

On this blog we’ve revealed a number of firsts for The Sisters of Mercy over the past couple of years : a review of the first ever gig, the re-discovery of the first Leeds gig and the amazing story of the first gig abroad to name but three.

In this post we’re going to look in detail at the band’s first-ever interview, with the Leeds fanzine Whippings and Apologies, which was published in September 1981. The interview first re-surfaced in the voluminous archive of the revered collector LG, and was first shared to the wider fan community by Phil Verne on the Heartland Forum two years ago. At the time, it was acknowledged to be the earliest existing interview with Eldritch, and the contents were dissected both on Heartland and then again last year when Phil again shared the interview on his then newly-created unofficial The Sisters of Mercy 1980-1985 Facebook fan group (which after only fifteen months in existence already has nearly seven thousand members, demonstrating the continuing interest in this seminal phase of the band' career).

Reading through Eldritch’s confident manifesto, it’s astonishing how little has changed in the intervening thirty-six years, as his mantra will be familiar even to those who have only recently discovered the group. Given the band’s lowly status, having played only a handful of gigs, it’s perhaps understandable that many in the music press found the singer to be arrogant, given his pronouncements on the band’s place in the wider history of rock music, but his charisma, single-minded determination and detailed understanding of the inner workings of the industry are there for all to see.

In terms of the detail, Eldritch makes it clear that he has no interest in the pub circuit (The Packhorse and The Royal Park are both pubs in the university district of Leeds, close to opposite corners of Woodhouse Moor), and reveals that the band has only played the three gigs up until this point. The latest of these, supporting a fledgling Altered Images at the city's Warehouse club, is mentioned in the context of the dreadful sound mix the band had to suffer, and the first was the well-known York University debut show the previous month. The “middle” gig is now known to be the Reluctant Stereotypes support show at the Warehouse on 10th March.

This assumed chronology was confirmed only last week, when Mark J, one of the creators of Whippings and Apologies fanzine, commented on Phil’s thread on Heartland Forum, stating that he had himself conducted the interview “in a little cafe on Briggate” in Leeds, adding the statement, “It happened to be the first interview they had ever done.”

I asked Mark on the thread if he could recall how the interview had come about, and whether the photograph which accompanied the original interview was taken at the same time and place, and he replied with some wonderful detail about the day.  “Andy brought the photo with him to the cafe. As I remember it was the only band picture they had at the time. At the end of '79 and into '80, Steve [fellow creator of W+A] and I started going to the F-Club, downstairs at Brannigans. All the same faces went there every Thursday regardless of who was playing so we all knew each other to nod to, dance with or snog 😝. Andy and Craig were regulars as well and Andy used to go out with Claire the DJ. It was obvious he was a Stooges fan cause he sometimes wore silver trousers like Iggy. Anyway, me and Steve made our first fanzine 'Primitive ' and sold it down the F-Club. Andy saw it & told us he had just started a new band and asked if we would interview them and do a piece for issue 2. Which we did. I saw them supporting Altered Images at the F-Club but they were awful cos of the bad sound. We interviewed Clare [Grogan, singer of Altered Images] & co after the gig in the dressing room then arranged to meet 'The Sisters' a day or two later. I brought my tape recorder but Steve forgot his camera, so Andy gave us the picture that we ended up using. The newspaper quotes were made up. It was done in the little cafe in the arcade next to the old Virgin Megastore on Briggate. The rest as they say is history.”

The location and date of the photo therefore remain a mystery, but certainly predate the Altered Images gig. However, Mark J’s detailed account confirms that the interview itself took place between that gig on 19th March 1981 and the next gig on 22nd March, and as he has stated, the band confirmed to him that this was their first-ever interview.

One interesting comment sees Eldritch stating that the band might be seen with four five or six members on stage, although the most likely combination would be just the three of them. This is presumably a reference to an early, embryonic version of the band referred to in the biographical slip of paper which accompanied later, re-distributed copies of Damage Done (see above). With Eldritch still on drums at this stage before the purchase of the Doktor, this version featured a “Leeds face Keith Fuller” on vocals, with Eldritch’s muse Claire Shearsby on keyboards, and a guy called Johnny on bass, according to guitarist Gary Marx in his Glasperlenspiel interview in 2003, and confirmed by Paul Gregory of Expelaires in Mark Andrews’ definitive account of the very early TSOM years for The Quietus.

Whippings and Apologies was started by (Sparks fans) Mark J, Steve T and Mark C "in 1980 after leaving school.. Back in the day, there were one or two “glue and felt pen” fanzines knocking around in Leeds so Steve and I thought that we would chance our arm and produce our own. We didn’t expect it to last for eleven issues between ’81 and ’86. Sorry to disappoint, but the [Eldritch interview] tape was lost in the mists of time. At the time, there was nothing to indicate that the Sisters would go on to be the force that they eventually became. We hadn’t even heard them properly. It was just so early,” Mark J told me on Facebook.

The discovery of this interview and the contextualising commentary from the man who conducted it give a fascinating insight into Eldritch’s solid masterplan, with the silence of the other members present a common feature of band interviews until Wayne Hussey joined some three years later. My grateful thanks are extended to both LG and Phil Verne for their willingness to share their TSOM treasures with the worldwide on-line fan diaspora, and of course to Mark J for the local detail which has added some gravitas to earlier suppositions.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

I hear you Koling(sborg) – Stockholm, 17th May 1985

This is the final post of a trilogy about The Sisters of Mercy's Scandinavian gigs in 1985, following on from posts about gigs in Gothenburg (here) and Oslo (here).

The Sisters of Mercy, Kolingsborg, 1985 - photo credit Bådde Sundqvist

The Sisters of Mercy’s final mainland European gig of the 1980’s was a memorable affair, and marked their return to the scene of their first ever Scandinavian gig in October 1983, Stockholm. On this occasion they had been upgraded from the smaller BZ club to the larger Kolingsborg venue (anglicised to Colinsburg on the band's own tour itinerary), an interesting landmark marooned on a complex multi-level multi-modal traffic island (with trains and a canal running below!), well-known to anyone familiar with the Swedish capital city in the second half of the twentieth century.

Whilst the Electric Garden gig some eighteen months previously had been the first (and indeed only) European gig after Ben Gunn left and before Wayne Hussey officially joined the band, the Kolingsborg concert, as the final date on a gruelling forty-five show UK and European tour, would turn out to be both Hussey and Craig Adams’ final continental show with the Sisters (although both of course featured in the Royal Albert Hall gig a month later, following the American leg of the tour in early June 1985).
The strains within the band at this stage were reaching crisis point, and the end of the tour seems to have only exacerbated the situation. It’s notable for example that Eldritch was missing from the opening ten minutes of the Press Conference held on the afternoon of the gig, with the other two band members left to field the first ten minutes of questions from the largely hapless Swedish journalists, who had clearly been expecting to be fed information (i.e. expecting some prepared band statement, as is often the case at a Press Conference) rather than having to elicit it themselves with detailed questioning. The lengthy embarrassing silences that punctuate the Conference (the band’s second-ever, following on from the Rome event earlier on the tour) make for an excruciating listen, with the constant whirr of camera flashes only adding to the band’s discomfort. Eventually, the group was coaxed outside for some very awkward looking photos, blinking in the Stockholm sunshine as in the example below (kindly supplied from LG's vast collection).

Other rumours have circulated since about the gig, notably around Hussey and Adams’ alcohol consumption as they marked the end of what had been a particularly fraught European tour, covering long distances and effectively playing with one man down after Marx’s sudden departure on the eve of the tour. One account has Hussey being physically sick in the DJ booth at the Kolingsborg venue, another (apparently from the horse’s mouth) has both Hussey and Adams being arrested by the police and being forced to spend the night (after the gig) in the cells to sober up – very rock’n’roll!

What is certainly true is that (for the only time I am aware of) the internal band strife momentarily spilled into their performance, with an angry Von snapping (at Hussey?) half-way through Gimme Shelter “This time get it right [then half-singing to keep the song going] Sister….After forty nights, he still f****ing gets it wrong”, before recovering his composure to complete the song. The large and enthusiastic audience also seemed to evoke the singer’s wrath, chastising one whooping fan with “You don’t know what it is yet, chicken sh*t” over the opening backbeat of Gimme Shelter, whilst another, who requested 1969 was tod that he was "Sixteen years too late"! Apart from the fact that it was a Friday night, part of the reason that the audience was so welcoming was the fact that they had enjoyed the rare privilege on this tour of being treated to a support act (the local synth-based group “Houses and Gardens” who had their only single out on UK-based Wire records at the time). The crowd would have been unaware of these tensions however, as the concert enjoyed a fine acoustic in the round Slussen venue, and a recording of the show, initially released as a bootleg vinyl under the name of “Opus Dei”, is widely regarded by collectors to be one of the finest. The two months on the road had enabled the band to perfect the songs from FALAA and the likes of Amphetamine Logic, Possession and A Rock And A Hard Place sound a lot more potent here than on the vinyl studio versions. The band even treated the Swedish audience to a final encore of Ghostrider, an occasional "extra" on this tour, with Craig in particular reluctant to leave the stage, playing his final three notes slowly and repeatedly after the rest of the band (including the Doktor) had finished before finally departing. The whole concert (most likely from the “Trans-Europe Excess” bootleg CD recording) is now available for all to enjoy on YouTube. 

Whereas most shows on the tour went unreviewed, both an interview from the Press Conference and a review of the Kolingsborg show (above) were published in the Swedish rock magazine Schlager (kindly rediscovered, shared and translated by Anders R), with impressed journalist Per Wirten waxing lyrical on the band’s “black, dramatic songs”, their imagery, and the knowing way that they controlled and drew in an audience. The article was accompanied by a photo taken by Uffe Berglund, one of many photographers there that evening, as the selection of photos below from the collection of hardcore TSOM collector LG (and previously shared on the fantastic (unofficial) TSOM 1980-1985 Facebook Group (all welcome!) will testify.

Although this wonderful poster advertising the event is still in existence, the iconic venue itself, originally built as a harbour offic,  has recently been demolished, having subsequently served as a gay nightclub and even an architect’s office. An excellent English language blogpost details the venue’s last days, when it was used as an art project prior to its controversial demolition in 2016.

Given the popularity of the band in continental Europe (“now as then”), it’s entirely fitting that the final mainland show by the remainder of (arguably) the most iconic of The Sisters of Mercy's various line-ups is so well-documented, mainly thanks to the usual group of inveterate collectors and historians who strive to keep the band’s legacy safe : Phil Verne, LG, Bruno Bossier, Anders R and the many others – we salute you!

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Rain from Haven - Oslo 16th May 1985

Despite the herculean efforts of Andrew Eldritch during lengthy negotiations with experienced major record labels to ensure that the Sisters’ future releases would be managed in a way that met his own exacting standards with Merciful Release, the singer famously ended up (like so many musicians before and since) at war with the label to whom the band signed, culminating in the contract ending SSV (non-)release in 1997.
The seeds of this growing unrest with Warners can be seen very early in the relationship, although in 84/85 interviews Eldritch seems to seek to placate fans unhappy at the hook-up with a major corporation by stressing that all was going well. Although that may have been the case in the UK, and the band continued to get on famously with certain individuals at Elektra (WEA’s US imprint), in others territories the band’s relationship with the label was already at breaking point.
This was certainly the case for arguably the least successful of the Armageddon tour in 1985, the stop at the Vikateateret in Oslo on Thursday May 16th, the penultimate night of TSOM’s European tour. One can imagine that the band would already not have been happy that the itinerary caused them (and their alleged) contraband to cross country borders two nights in a row (Gothenburg in Sweden to Oslo in Norway then back into Sweden for the Stockholm finale) at the end of an exhausting pancontinental trek, but to arrive for the under-advertised show to find that the Norwegian branch of the record label had unilaterally decided to delay the release of FALAA really aggravated Eldritch, as he confessed in an interview recorded immediately after the Stockholm press conference the following day.

As a result, the band’s Norwegian debut drew only a small crowd compared to the adulation which they had received earlier in the month in Germany (Wayne Hussey telling “Wot!” fanzine that they had had “a Duran Duran type reception” which he described as “funny”). Even worse, those who did attend further invoked the singer’s wrath by indulging in the traditional punk habit of spitting at the band to show their appreciation, an occurrence which had died out in the UK some five years earlier. They had clearly not read the contemporary interview in Kerrang, in which the singer had railed at the entire Welsh nation for a similar reason: “No, I mean to be fair to the Welsh,” begins Eldritch, stops, considering and starts anew: “No, let’s not be fair to the Welsh at all! You spat at us, you! We’ve only ever played in Wales once and you spat at us. Give me one good reason why we should EVER play in your God-forsaken country again!” Some thirty-two years later, TSOM have not returned to Wales, despite playing many times in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Eire.

The Norwegians were still very much in Eldritch’s mind several weeks after the Vikateateret gig, when the singer was interviewed in early June for the American Rockpool magazine. During a discussion about whether the band would continue to play gigs in the near future, Eldritch said. “We commit ourselves so easily to doing people favours like playing in Norway to 211 people who only spit at you and you have to be hospitalised”. Sadly the conversation then takes a different tack, and we never get to hear of the reason for the hospitalisation, unless Eldritch is speaking in general terms about the strains and stresses of touring, rather than any specific incident in Norway. Although the singer did turn up so late to the following day’s Stockholm press conference that Adams and Hussey started without him, subsequent answers that day reveal that he had travelled through from Norway with the rest of the band as planned, and no direct mention is made any mishap the previous evening. However in the interview recorded straight after the official conference, Eldritch said “Oslo got rained off pretty much (sniggers from the other two). We thought that Oslo was a capital city until we went there (more sniggers). They spat at us in Oslo so we hit them...So they spat some more so we hit them again. And then we went off….The idea of Norwegian punk rockers is somewhat strange to us...(more sniggers)..I think it was a bit strange to them… They did what they thought they were supposed to do, but didn’t realise that we would hospitalise them for doing it. And they’ll know better next time, if we let there be a next time. I don’t think that there will be…. I’d rather not talk too much about Norway.” It may therefore be that the final “you” of the Rockpool quote is superfluous.
A bootleg recording of the Oslo gig does exist, but contains a truncated set ending in Floorshow. It is generally assumed that this is an incomplete recording, with the taper’s cassette running out towards the end of Floorshow, 45 minutes (the length of the average cassette tape) into the set. Eldritch expresses his displeasure with the spitter(s) in his usual style, during No Time To Cry (kindly uploaded by Phil Verne of the unofficial TSOM 1980 - 1985 FB fan group): two minutes into the song, Eldritch interrupts the middle eight to tell the offender that if they do it again, whoever they are, he will “have” them with the microphone stand. He then misses his cue for the final verse, presumably still occupied with the other matter. The next few songs seem to pass without incident, but at the end of Logic the singer mysteriously announces that “We’ve decided that you can all go home now.” Again the gig continues, with Eldritch reassuring the (otherwise appreciative) crowd that he likes them at the beginning of the final recorded track, Floorshow, only to again miss his cue for the song’s opening verse, almost certainly the result of a further incident. With the final section of the gig possibly unrecorded and definitely uncirculated, what happened thereafter is anyone’s guess, but Eldritch’s later comments (quoted above) would tend to suggest that the gig didn’t end happily. Anders R recalls meeting a fan at the 2009 Oslo show who had been at the 1985 gig, and thought that the band had ended with either Sister Ray or Ghost Rider (or possibly both).Only one photo purportedly from the gig has ever surfaced (and is reproduced below), and as ever it would be great to see any other ephemera (poster, ticket stub, reviews etc) from this gig. The photo came from Heartland Forum member”psy”, who added that “the Norwegian music magazine Puls reviewed the concert, but I can’t remember what they said. Probably hated it.”

The audio recording was only rumoured to exist for over twenty years and only surfaced after another Heartland Forum member “tripleson” shared it in 2008, adding “I’ve been told that Harald A Lund from NRK radio station had a deal with the band to record and transmit parts of the show. Just minutes before they got on stage, Andrew ‘changed his mind’ and no recording was allowed.” “Tripleson” also mentioned that “17th May is the national day here in Norway and traditionally on the 16th youngsters drink themselves totally wasted. This reflects on the atmosphere in this recording” and the problems which Eldritch himself was referring to in the afore-mentioned Stockholm interview. The “Russefeiring” is a noble end of high school rite of passage for Norwegian youngsters that even merits its own Wikipedia entry, a bacchanalian tour de force lasting more than two weeks and with levels of alcohol consumption that should have drawn approving nods from the equally excess-prone band.
The venue for the gig, the Vikateatret (“Bay Theatre”) was in the Aker Brygge area down by the seafront in the Norwegian capital, an area that was modernised and restyled in the late 1980s, leading to the theatre’s demolition as the surrounding traditional industries were swept away. One Norwegian blogger, bemoaning the modern shopping centres now based in the trendy area, reminisced about the previous factories and warehouses in the district, claiming that “you had to travel through an area of rusty metal to get to the Vikateateret.” The venue’s interior can be seen in two concerts from 1986 available on the state broadcaster’s on-demand service (although I would recommend turning the sound down!), and it was the scene of the recording of some of the tracks on Husker Du’s live album, “Makes No Sense At All”, recorded in September 1985. Alan Vega, Jeffrey Lee Pierce and Nick Cave (all of course associates of Eldritch) also appeared at the venue around this time, which respected Norwegian journalist Guttorm Andreasen described as “the best rock club in the world” at that time. Rather than a traditional theatre, the Vikateateret appears to have been a relatively short-lived affair based in one of the disused workshops of the "Akers mekaniske verksted", the abandoned former traditional shipyard at the Aker Brygge, which was being demolished in the mid-80s. Pictures available on the "oslobilder" website certainly show the "areas of rusty metal" which the hardy gig-goer would have had to traverse, as well as some early shots of the shopping centre. The Vikateateret gig was Hussey's second visit to Oslo, having previously played there on a 1981 TV show which he probably wishes hadn't recently been uploaded to YouTube, and in which he hears an uncanny resemblance to Ben Gunn! The Sisters eventually returned to Oslo in 2009 for a sold out gig at the Sentrum, and have been back again since then, having clearly forgiven the Norwegians for the May 1985 madness. 

My thanks for this and other posts in this Scandinavian Armageddon mini-series of blog posts are due to the usual triumvirate of Phil Verne, Bruno Bossier and LG, and especially to Anders and other Scandinavian Sisters fans who have provided fascinating info. Rise and reverberate!

Friday, 16 June 2017

Who put the Goth in Gothenburg – May 15th 1985

Like many second cities, Sweden’s Göteborg works hard to keep up with its more illustrious rival Stockholm, and in particular revels in a musical past that has produced the likes of Ace of Bass and current melodic death metal darlings At The Gates, In Flames and Dark Tranquility. A visitor to the city’s premier museum anytime between November 2015 and January 2018 will have had the chance to see the major exhibition on the city’s music scene between 1955 and 2018, emphasising both the past and the present of this vibrant port which works hard to dispel the “safe but boring” tag associated with the city’s major employer, the Volvo corporation. Although featuring the city’s punk scene, the exhibition is disappointingly light on the Sisters’ main contemporaries from the area, Leather Nun, whose knowing guitar-and-iconic vocalist swagger, history and attitude made them worthy rivals of Leeds’ finest.

Gothenburg has become a semi-regular stopping point for the current incarnation of The Sisters of Mercy in their gigging-only mindset, possibly as a result of their first visit there back in 1985, towards the end of the Armageddon European tour following Gary Marx’s departure from the band. The Gothenburg gig took place in the Mudd Club on Kungstorget, which in an earlier life had been The Cue Club, an organisation which was based in a series of venues over the years and hosted gigs by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple and Yes.

The Mudd Club was the brainchild of the late John Lindholm, who brought Johnny Thunders, Nick Cave and a host of metal bands to the venue in the mid-1980s. On the occasion of his untimely death at the age of 56 in 2010 (in a bizarre accident in which he was hit by a tram trying to save the life of his dog which had strayed into the vehicle's path), local paper GT included a tribute which contained a section about the Mudd Club, stating that he painted the whole club black (a feature which means that there are some excellent photos of many of the bands who played there) and put on mud wrestling events (giving the club its unusual name) in the venerable building, which is now home to the Tranquilo restaurant and the (Some Kind of?) Stranger Bar.

The Sisters' gig at the Mudd Club, which took place on Wednesday 15thMay was memorable for several reasons. Of course it was Eldritch’s birthday, which meant that the FALAA reference to “twenty-five years of ever after, ever more, more more” needed to be updated by one for the first time, a lyrical change which was repeated in some of the US dates and at the Royal Albert Hall. Phil Verne of the ever fascinating TSOM 1980 1985 unofficial FB fan page has kindly uploaded this first "twenty-six years" FALAA to YouTube for us all to enjoy. As Eldritch explained at the Stockholm Press Conference later that week, “We had a lot of problems in the afternoon [in Gothenburg]….all the barriers collapsed.” However, a lively and supportive crowd resulted in a memorable show “Gothenburg was ok, a good audience…It was still a good show because the audience were good in the end….The Swedish audience is fine”, was the singer’s considered (if slightly repetitive)  opinion. Encores Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door and Train from this gig later surfaced on the well-known Opus Dei bootleg double vinyl live collection, and a high-quality cassette of the full gig is in circulation amongst the usual collectors. It reveals an enthusiastic audience who not only clap along to the Doktor’s opening drumbeats for the set-opener FALAA, but cheer when Hussey begins the “Scottish” riff, like Sinatra fans applauding their approval after the opening line of a song. Their enthusiasm is maintained to the end, continuing to attempt to sing the “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” chorus after the singer has left the stage at the end of the first encore, making tapes of this show easy to identify. Eldritch is in fantastic voice throughout but is uncharacteristically quiet between the songs for the first 45 minutes, but before the encore (KOHD and Train) he does address the crowd with the legendary “Hey, Eengleesh, why you no play Temple of Love?” before answering in his own sotto voce "Because we played it last time", referring to the Stockholm 1983 gig. Craig’s bass is particularly prominent on some tracks, particularly towards the end of the main set with a rapid-fire punky Floorshow/Alice and an arguably never-bettered Gimme Shelter (bizarrely introduced by a possibly not-all-there Von as Body Electric), where it buzzes towards the end in a style rarely heard since 1983. Hussey responds as he did throughout the European tour with some virtuoso psychedelic rock soloing of his own, wigging out big time in a mesmeric version of the song. With Wayne also rocking out on the next song, KOHD, the amused (annoyed?) singer drily comments “Sorry, this one doesn’t have a guitar solo…much” before the “Train” finale. There has been no mass copying of a video of the show which is said to exist, as the alleged owner of the master has apparently kept it in his private collection, although this could be an apocryphal tale.

Most photos of TSOM shows of that era are grainy shots taken by an eager fan from the moshpit with a basic instamatic, yet from the Gothenburg gig not one but two sets of excellent black and white prints have emerged. The first collection, taken by Per-Ake Wôrn is well-known as it contains some of the best in circulation of the band at their best, and feature the author’s copyright watermark in the bottom corner. Arguably even better is a set of photos taken by Henrik Rylander (later of the band Union Carbide Productions and still a major figure on the Gothenburg arts scene) and feature on his excellent tumblr archive “Welcome to Gothenburg 80s 90s”. Posted on the internet five years ago, the silhouetted shots of Eldritch against the dry ice, dramatic stage lighting and the club’s monochromatic décor make for a memorable and powerful reminder of the importance of the singer’s iconic appearance at this stage of the band’s career, such as the example reproduced below.

The Sisters of Mercy have become semi-regular visitors to Gothenburg since this initial visit in 1985, and later this year they are returning once more, for a show which is already sold-out. If it’s anything like the 1985 gig, the fans are in for a real treat. My thanks for this and others in this Scandinavian Armageddon mini-series of blog posts are due to the usual triumvirate of Phil Verne, Bruno Bossier and LG, and especially to Anders and other Scandinavian Sisters fans who have provided fascinating info. Rise and reverberate! 

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Scared to Dance – The Skids and the Scottish Punk Revolution, 1977

[Apologies to those whose only interest is in The Sisters of Mercy – normal service will be resumed later this week ;-)]

Anyone spending a few days in Edinburgh over the next month could do worse than hop on a train over the iconic Forth Bridge to visit the Scottish nation’s ancient capital, Dunfermline, burial place of Robert the Bruce and birthplace of arch capitalist turned philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

The “Auld Grey Toon”’s modern claim to fame was as the home of punk legends The Skids, and this week saw the opening of a new exhibition (which continues until July 2nd) to mark the fortieth anniversary of the arrival of punk in Eastern Scotland as it broke free of its London roots. There are some who feel that for the movement to celebrate an anniversary goes against its founding principles, but for those of us with an interest in musical history and ensuring that it is fully and properly archived, this small exhibition is totally welcome.

The location of the exhibition could hardly be more appropriate, in Dunfermline’s Fire Station Creative, a recently opened arts co-operative housed as its name suggests in the town’s city centre art deco former fire brigade headquarters. Not only has Skids frontman Richard Jobson been one of the Creative’s most prominent supporters, but the gallery (the white building on the right of this photograph) is almost directly opposite the old Kinema Ballroom, home of the earliest punk gigs in the town in 1977, which can be seen the left of the photo sporting the name of its most recent incarnation, Velocity, although it has been closed for a number of years.

The Fire Station Creative hosts a number of resident artists in the upper floors, with the ground floor given over to a combined café and gallery space. On my visit to the exhibition, it seemed slightly incongruous to be looking at photos of wide-eyed young revolutionary idealists whilst almost trampling over the predominantly middle class clientele who had just popped in for a skinny latte, but the venue does a slightly bohemian alternative buzz not found in your average Costa, in keeping with punk’s art school roots.

“Scared to Dance – The Skids and the Scottish Punk Revolution 1977” has been co-curated by Jobson and fellow Scot Ronnie Gurr, a name I remember from his journalistic strapline in the Record Mirror in the late 1970’s. Gurr went on to manage Simple Minds before moving on to manage Culture Club at the height of their fame, but in 1977 he was a fanzine editor who documented the East of Scotland punk scene with his pen and his camera, and about one third of the exhibition features his small monochrome prints of the great and good of the London punk scene – Pistols, Clash, Stranglers etc – on their first visits to Scotland’s capital, as well as more local acts such as Johnny and the Self Absusers (who would famously resurface as Simple Minds). These crowded images successfully capture punk's whiff of excitement and revolution in an increasingly regressive 70’s society, and are more in tune with the punk ideal than the professional and impressive portraits of punk icons from Lou Reed to Jean-Jacques Burnel, large prints of whom ornament the gallery/café’s entrance area and make up a further third of the exhibition. These large and frequently inconic prints (Sid and Nancy, anyone?) are primarily the work of Steve Emberton, a snapper for the London music weeklies, and they are embellished here by comments from Jobson on their influence on him and their dealings with him. Appropriately, Jobson’s commentary is presented as stark back typeface on white paper blue tac’ed under the prints, rather than the more fancy Perspex adornments preferred by modern galleries. Jobson speaks of the long-lasting friendship The Skids have enjoyed with the Stranglers, and reminisces fondly about filling in briefly for Hugh Cornwell when the latter was infamously jailed, but also speaks about the power of Iggy Pop and Patti Smith and their influence on his own performances. There are also some Paul Slattery pictures from an early Skids photoshoot which capture their looks of youthful incredulity of four young lads from Fife getting the superstar treatment as they pose in front of the afore-mentioned rail bridge.

For me, the highlight of the exhibition is a new piece of work by Jobson and Gurr themselves, a wall-to ceiling collage spelling “1977” in a punk fanzinesque stencil font. Each of the figures is richly decorated with fascinating artefacts from the era – press reviews, tickets, hand-written Skids lyrics, even a page from a personal address book listing Captain Sensible’s then phone number – over a backdrop of reproduced button badges of bands from that era (on the "9"), and is a powerful reminder of the do-it-yourself cut-and-paste aesthetic that punk brought to the fore, and which was concretised as the same generation brought about the realisation of the ultimate democratic tool, the internet.

The re-formed Skids are celebrating their own fortieth anniversary with their first new album for thirty-five years and a lengthy tour, and this exhibition highlights their importance in the Scottish scene. Those wishing to explore the late 70's Scottish punk scene further will find plenty to satisfy their curiosity at this wonderful website which includes scans of the late Johnny Waller’s Dunfermline-based punk fanzine, Kingdom Come.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

The first encore, Leeds October 1982

More information has emerged about the very early days of TSOM (i.e. pre “Alice”) in the last couple of years than in the previous thirty-five, allowing researchers such as Mark Andrews (author of this legendary Quietus piece last year) and others to piece together not only a chronology of events, but an insight into the lifestyle of the band and its entourage in those fledgling years.

Even Eldritch himself, well-known for his dislike of any discussion about his past (either in the band or his life before that) seems to have mellowed, allowing himself to reflect on his career with a little more pride and humility. In a 2015 Greek interview, the singer was asked about his best and worst touring experiences. “I’ve been in hospital quite a lot, that’s the bad experiences. About the best…..I think was the first time we did an encore, you see when you’re a junior band, you don’t expect to be asked for more. That was a good one.”

I assumed that this first encore was the famous double playing of “1969” at Leeds University in October 1982,  my first ever Sisters gig (and the subject of the first post on this blog some six years ago), presumably because the band had already played the entireity of their “live” repertoire and had nothing else left to play! Then late last year, on the TSOM page on a ticket website, another Leeds alumnus confirmed this theory. “Jeremy” added a comment to the effect that, as Stage Manager at the Riley Smith Hall, he fondly recalled giving the band an encore, “much to the consternation of the headliner”.

I contacted Jeremy for more details, and he was only too happy to share his memories of Leeds in the early 80s. “What a vibrant time that was, I was so pleased to be part of it… Most of The Sisters lived in a typical Woodhouse Terrace [studentsville Victorian terraced house] dump with the windows covered up….I was good friends with Craig so I went by frequently. They just listened to The Stooges and The Birthday Party all night, smoking copious amounts. Even in the dark room Andrew never took off his leather jacket or his dark glasses, and never said a word. He was like a god to the collected masses! Someone would say, “I think Andrew wants to hear ‘Junkyard,’ and someone would dutifully put it on! Later, someone would say, “Andrew wants everyone to go away.” So everyone did! It was hysterically funny, the disciples really followed the piper...The brilliance of TSOM in 80-82 was that the band built up a culture with a few EPs and press, and there you all were smoking in a crappy house in Leeds. Genius, seriously.”

Fast forward to October 1982, and the night of the first encore which Eldritch recalls even today with a sense of achievement. “This was the Sisters’ first real tour,” Jeremy told me, “as support act to the Furs. They played the set and left the stage as normal. As stage manager I was in charge of the gig and told Craig, ‘Get back on and play an encore.’ He had to talk to Andrew, of course! There was some delay – I nearly had to push them on stage. They went back on stage and couldn’t find the drum machine track! I got into trouble with the Furs’ management, though – you don’t do that for a support band, haha!” A drum track was eventually selected, and the band duly played "1969" for the second time that evening, albeit with a somewhat different introduction.

Jeremy eventually got thanked by Eldritch for the compliment. “I was also recording the gig – I knew the sound guy on the desk, when you do hundreds of gigs it becomes a small world. After the gig one of Andrew’s cronies came up to me and told me that he wanted the tape.” Jeremy passed on a copy via Craig and thought nothing of it until The Sisters’ gig at the warehouse in January 1983. Still sweating from a lively moshpit after the gig, Jeremy was surprised to be approached by Eldritch, who spoke to him directly for the first time in their years of acquaintance. “You’re Jeremy, aren’t you? I hear that you put on the encore and got the tape. Thank you.” Sadly, like many fans of the early era, Jeremy lost his copy of the master tape in a subsequent house move.

However, as we discussed the early TSOM shows which we had both witnessed, Jeremy also told me about a gig which isn’t listed on any TSOM gigography. “We did a one-off gig at one of the halls of residence [at Leeds University].” Amazed, I suggested the names of a few of the main halls back in the early 80’s. “Yes, it was Bodington. We definitely did Bodington. I remember it well as a ‘surprise gig’.” Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn that Bodington Hall has been bulldozed (some five years ago) and replaced with a housing development, but for some fifty years (from its 1960s inception) Bodington was the largest of the university’s halls, a sprawling mass of low-rise concrete clocks with over 600 study bedrooms and associated facilities including a large refectory. The complex had been built on green-belt land adjacent to the city’s then new northern relief road, some four miles north of the city centre, effectively condemning its residents to a daily commute into the university, where they were then “stranded” for the day, unlike students of campus residences who could return home in the many “free” slots on their timetable. “Bod” residents then had to return to the halls for their evening meal, before deciding whether to trek back to campus or town for a night out. Unsurprisingly therefore, Bodington developed a social scene of its own, so a ‘surprise gig’ by a local up-and-coming band would not have been a particularly unusual event. Sadly (if understandably), Jeremy cannot recall any further details of the gig, such as a likely date, but if anyone else has further information I would be delighted to hear from them! He did however confirm that it took place in the Refectory at Bodington, shown below in a photo taken shortly before its demolition at the start of this decade.

I am very grateful to Jeremy for taking the time and trouble to share his reminiscences with us, to Phil Verne of the unofficial TSOM 1980-1985 FB fan page, and (once again) to the venerable Ade M for creating the YouTube video which means that we can all experience again the “rite of passage” that was the band’s first ever encore.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Review of first ever TSOM gig found ! - York, 16th Feb 1981

That the Sisters of Mercy played their first gig at Alcuin College at The University of York on 16th February 1981 has long been an accepted fact, and indeed an event celebrated by the band themselves every decade with a pair of anniversary shows. Eldritch himself referred to the first-ever show when on stage at the York Rock Festival some three and a half years later, informing the audience that they had played their first gig in the city supporting The Thompson Twins, back when the latter were “groovy”, adding (Michael Caine style) “Not a lot of people know that.”

That the Thompson Twins played the gig has never been in question, with music press adverts having surfaced (like the one featured below, from the collection of Phil Verne) which feature the York date amongst others on their Feb 1981 UK tour which was both promoting their “Perfect Game” single (on their own “T Records” label) and also in support of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’s “No Nukes” policy, a campaign aimed squarely at the younger politically-aware citizens of the UK. But the only evidence that TSOM played at this gig so far has come from Eldritch himself, primarily in the form of a brief description in the Biography section of the band’s official website. “The band makes its live debut on February 16th, somewhere between The Stooges and Suicide, or Motorhead and Chrome. Marx has connected his guitar to a record-player pre-amp which feeds back uncontrollably and Eldritch has shifted the vocal echo into overdrive. It’s metal dub without any spaces, on a shuddering mechanoid backdrop. The first-ever set kicks off with a twisted version of Cohen’s “Teachers”, and ends with a juggernaut howl which might have been “Silver Machine” but was in fact “Sister Ray”. The audience gets the point.”

Impressive stuff, but still clearly just Eldritch’s own recollections (albeit in the third person), written some years after the event, and yet the one online eye-witness account of the gig, by “Carl1960” on states, “Can’t remember anything about The Sisters of Mercy.” Finding some kind of bona fide evidence from the show – a poster, genuine live recording (there are several which claim to be from this show), ticket or review – became the holy grail for a generation of Sisters’ collectors, as I became aware when legendary aficianados Phil Verne, LG and Bruno Bossier started helping me with this blog a few years ago.
Phil in particular has made this a personal quest over the past thirty years. The closest he had come was finding online a scanned issue of well-known contemporary Yorkshire fanzine “Wool City Rocker”, but in the relevant edition the promised “Yorkshire gig guide” (which may have listed TSOM as support) apparently came as a separate fold-out poster, which was not scanned. After many years, LG finally tracked down a copy of the poster that came with WCR but sadly only the Thompson Twins were listed.

Having belatedly joined the hunt, I too found that the trail was cold, despite mentions of the gig on various York websites (which had seemingly taken their info directly from the TSOM official site). I was therefore delighted earlier this year to find on Ebay a copy of a very professional York fanzine from the early 80s, “Beaten to the Punch”, which contained “live” reviews from the latter part of 1981, and had clearly been in existence at the time of the 16th February gig, raising hopes that there might be a definitive mention of the gig in a previous edition.
Searching online, I was astonished to find that sections of a copy of the relevant issue of “Beaten to the Punch” (dated May 1981) had been scanned and featured on a superb fanzine archive blog by a user called “still unusual”, hosted by Tumblr (a recommended site for a lazy afternoon’s nostalgic browse). The author of the blog had chosen this issue to feature from his vast collection as it contained an interview with much-missed Leeds new-wave indie pop ensemble Girls at Our Best, which was reproduced in full on the blog. I could hardly believe my eyes when I read the next sentence of the blogger’s summary of the fanzine’s contents : “Apart from that … there’s reviews of recent gigs by the likes of Siouxsie and the Banshees, Misty in Roots, Aswad and The Thompson Twins.” Sadly, however these sections had not been scanned into the blog post.

I quickly signed up for a Tumblr account and messaged the anonymous blogger, asking if he/she could possibly scan in the live review sections as I would be very interested in seeing them. I got an almost instant reply, “Don’t have much time for fanzines at the moment, but I’ll take a look over the Easter weekend.” I checked back on the Tumblr site regularly within the last month to read “still unusual”’s latest posts (incidentally a lot of cool but non-TSOM-related stuff), but nothing relevant appeared to have been posted, until earlier this week when I checked back on the “Beaten to the Punch” post, to find that it had been updated with the requested reviews, and incredibly TSOM are not only mentioned by the fanzine’s reviewer of the Thompson Twins gig, John MacLaverty, but reviewed in a brief section about the two support bands.
Whilst Eldritch feels that “the audience got the point”, MacLaverty takes a different view (see cutting at top of article). “As the assembling audience got tanked up in the bar, the two support bands failed to grab the attention of the few in the hall.” Fortunately, the fanzine journalist remained alert however, and was able to add a further sentence “Maybe Sisters of Mercy opened up a bit gloomily, all suitably bleak and industrial featuring the mandatory drum machine.” Harsh but probably fair, indeed not too dissimilar to Eldritch’s own appraisal of events on stage, but including a few epithets that hint towards the “goth” label which would soon be attached to the group and plagues them to this day. The reviewer clearly preferred the (sunk without trace) other support band Able Kars (which sounds like a taxi firm), before drily noting “lift-off failed and the bar did good business”.
The rest of the review rails at the audience for showing no interest in the political cause which the event was purporting to publicise, but includes a decent review of the (indeed then “groovy”) Thompson Twins. The latter were at that stage a seven-piece, and purveyors of a tribal funk-pop (influenced by Adam and the Ants, who had undergone a punk rebel to pop star route that both The Thompson Twins and The Sisters of Mercy were to follow) and creating an upbeat, almost party atmosphere amongst usually po-faced indie gig-goers. I once saw The Thompson Twins live myself (between this gig and the April 1982 split which would leave the chart-bound nucleus of three people), and vividly recall the band handing out drums/percussion items and encouraging the audience to join them onstage for the finale, as happened at the York gig described here, one of very few bands to risk such an audacious move in the post-punk days.

The discovery of this wonderful artefact proves that TSOM did indeed play at the Feb 16th gig, their first ever.  Why a Leeds band’s live debut took place on the University of York's campus, situated in the village of Heslington, a few miles to the south of the flood-prone historic city is still not entirely clear, but TSOM became very popular with the Ents Committees responsible for putting on gigs in the JCR of their college (rather grandly, York uni modelled itself on Oxford and Cambridge in having a collegiate structure, a bit like the Houses at Hogwarts) as they would feature there several more times in 1981 and 1982. The fact that Eldritch was well-known for hanging around (and possibly even employed at) city punk t-shirt emporium Priestley’s, would certainly help to explain his connections with the movers and shakers of the York gig scene, however. This pic of a very young Eldritch in Priestley’s was posted on FB by Russ C who said, “It was taken by friend of mine, around the time the Sisters were conceived. As the taker of it rightly states (or words to that effect), “he was always, and even then, way head of the rest of ‘em.””

I will leave for others to discuss the long-running issues of whether the gig took place in Alcuin (as most now agree) or Vanburgh College, or whether the alleged live recordings are actually from this gig – and I imagine that the debate will rage on over on the unofficial The Sisters of Mercy 1980-1985 FB page. But for now, I would like to thank the blogger “stillunusual” for their key role in providing indisputable evidence that TSOM did indeed support The Thompson Twins in York on that February 1981 evening, and to Russ C, Phil and LG once again for sharing items from their vast collections with us.