After a forty year drought, the past eighteen months had already seen the publication of two excellent books on the mid-80’s heyday of The Sisters of Mercy, Wayne Hussey’s entertaining autobiography Salad Daze and Trevor Ristow’s potted history Waiting For Another War, but this week’s long-awaited publication of Mark Andrews’ definitive biography of the band’s early years, Paint My Name In Black And Gold finally explains the fascinating genesis and enduring legacy of a Northern British provincial band whose influence is still felt four decades later.
Funded through a subscriber publishing site, Unbound, Andrews’ magnum opus took a while to reach its financial target when first mooted, and the global pandemic delayed matters further, but the appetites whetted by Andrews’ superlative articles about the band’s early years for The Quietus will be fully sated by the finished product, published in a pleasingly weighty hardback edition fully worthy of the subject matter within.
Whereas Ristow’s book lifted the lid primarily on the pivotal Autumn 1983 North American tour that saw the band spectacularly broaden its reach and horizons yet lose second guitarist Ben Gunn in the process, Andrews’ book focuses on an equally little-known period of the band’s history, its formation in the politically-charged post-punk scene in Leeds in the late 1970’s, for which only Eldritch’s own “official version” on the band’s archaic website was known. Andrews’ skilful way with words and carefully chosen prose lends the same gravitas to the biography as Eldritch’s own utterances in contemporary interviews, making him the ideal biographer for a band for whom their fans’ never-ending and reverent fascination will only be heightened by this skilful demystification of the groups’ early days, which had been shrouded in a mystery as thick as the dry ice which enveloped the band’s mesmeric live performances.
Whereas the US-domiciled Ristow painstakingly reconstructed the band’s history by pulling together facts gleaned from a lifetime of study of previously-published interviews in oft-obscure fanzines and magazines, Andrews ventured forth from his Belgian base to interview the key players on the Leeds scene, from promoters and producers to members of contemporary bands, including, crucially, members of The Sisters of Mercy themselves. Andrew Eldritch did not participate directly in the book, but Andrews was able to use material gathered when he spoke with the enigmatic singer for one of the Quietus interviews, again adding to the authenticity of the text.
Interviews with fellow founder member Gary Marx from his brief solo career in the early 2000’s had revealed him to be a wry and pithy raconteur, with an excellent memory for detail, a self-deprecating wit and a ready ability to prick the pomposity which often surrounds the band, all whilst cogently analysing the reasons for the band’s successes and failures. It therefore comes as no surprise that quotes from Marx illuminate all sections of the band’s story, and his willingness to pin most of the credit on Eldritch, despite the acrimonious nature of his own departure from the band (and being let down by Eldritch on multiple occasions subsequently) reveal him to still be the modest and thoroughly decent man that those who followed the band in those early days recall.
Andrews’ real trump card however is having persuaded bassist Craig Adams to open up on his reminiscences, no small achievement given that even in the 1980’s Adams was famously taciturn and at best monosyllabic in interview situations. But here he also proves to be an entertaining storyteller, willing to share anecdotes particularly about the least glamorous aspects of life in the band, always delivered with the frankness for which he is well-known but with a surprisingly subtle and humorous touch.
Quotes from new interviews with the key members of the band’s wider entourage – Eldritch’s girlfriend and F-Club DJ Claire Shearsby, former roadies Danny Mass (who went on to become the vocalist with Salvation) and Jez Webb, legendary Leeds promoter John F Keenan, FALAA producer Dave Allen and Bridlington recording studio owner Ken Giles, to name but a few – significantly enhance the book, adding colour and depth to a band understandably mostly viewed in monochrome.
Every page teems with fascinating new facts and details of life in contemporary Leeds and the idiosyncrasies in particular of the key protagonist (and enduring gothic icon) Andrew Eldritch. Andrews skilfully traces his development from jeans-wearing nerdy metal fan Andy Taylor to the almost cartoonish “godfather of goth” Andrew Eldritch persona. Eldritch’s gimlet eye for detail, punishing work ethic and all-embracing passions drove him inexorably towards an alternative superstardom that clearly came as little surprise to those who knew him, as most of his fellow travellers recognised his genius, however infuriating they found him to work with.
The most parochial portraits on offer here – a photo of Eldritch (presumably his most regular customer) with a local tobacconist, or tales of the band’s amicable relationship with the elderly couple next door to their infamous headquarters at 7 Village Place for example – paint an endearing picture of the non-descript daily lives of the amphetamine-addicted young men who created one of the greatest and most legendary rock’n’roll bands of the late twentieth century, and of their symbiotic relationship with the city that spawned them.
Incredibly for someone who never visited Leeds during the band’s age d’or, Andrews recreates the city’s multiple inter-connected facets utterly convincingly, allowing the reader to enter the world they inhabited and making their seemingly unique musical choices appear almost inevitable. Paint My Name In Black And Gold is not only a scholarly and in-depth examination of the history of the band, but also a stunningly accurate portrayal of the synergical relationships, both within and outwith the band, that forged its unique image, ethos and music. It is also a frank and expurgated analysis of one of the alternative music scene’s great innovators, a figure mysteriously shunned by most journalists who lived in fear of his self-created reputation. Andrews manages to get beneath the shades and to strip away Eldritch’s carefully constructed artifice, yet as the smoke and mirrors are removed, the character who emerges is still intensely likeable and strangely enigmatic.
This astonishing and utterly essential biography stands as a tribute to all those who participated in it, whether band members and their entourage, veteran industry movers and shakers, Andrews himself of course (and his publishing team), and those many subscribers without whose faith and devotion to all things TSOM this project would never have happened. This belated tome may be the first serious attempt to chronicle the rise of Leeds’ finest, but it was certainly worth the wait.
Paint My Name In Black and Gold is now available via independent book retailers and online sellers, and is published by Unbound