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.