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.