Sunday, 26 January 2020

Gnome Time To Cry - Zurich, 26/4/1985

When The Sisters of Mercy arrived in Switzerland for their first ever gig in the cantons towards the end of April in 1985, one can easily imagine their state of mind. The first leg of the gruelling Armageddon tour was now behind them, with ten gigs in Belgium, Holland and (West) Germany completed in the past thirteen days, their first as a three-piece after Gary Marx’s departure, so there must have been a palpable sense of relief. This was evident a few days beforehand when Wayne Hussey had taken part in a phone interview with a Swiss radio station, where he discussed how well the band were coping with him as sole guitarist, to the extent of the very strong likelihood that Gary would not replaced. Wayne was even compos mentis enough to correct the radio DJ on the date of the forthcoming Zurich gig.

The Zurich gig (advertised on Swiss copies of FALAA by this sticker, from the collection of LG) was very much in the middle of a brief lull in the middle of the touring schedule being the only gig in a four day spell between gigs in Munich and Milan, with  a further dozen dates in sixteen days in Italy, Germany (again) and Scandinavia to follow (tour book extract courtesy of Graeme Salt who shared it on the TSOM 1980-1985 FB group). One can imagine how relieved Eldritch and co must have been to see the words "Band and crew: NO TRAVEL". 

The band certainly seem to have been in relaxed mood during interviews around the gig, with a further Swiss radio interview featuring all three remaining members also broadcast and with this presumably also being the venue for Judith Ammann’s interview with Eldritch which featured in her 1987 German language book of interviews with post-punk acts, Who’s Been Sleeping In My Brain? (Ammann being originally from Lucerne).

The interview focusses on the lyrics of two of the tracks on the recently released debut LP, No Time To Cry and Possession. A live version of the latter was one of two tracks (Body and Soul being the other) which have been widely bootlegged from the gig at the Zurich Volkshaus on Friday 26th April 1985, featuring on both the Echoes series of LPs and the Acid Rain 12”. Eldritch, clearly tiring of touring and feeling overwhelmed by the responsibilities of the figurehead position which he had rapidly attained, speaks with great candour about the “Possession” lyrics (the Zurich version of which has been kindly uploaded to Soundcloud by Phil Verne of The Sisters of Mercy 1980 – 1985Facebook group) in the Ammann interview.

Lines in the song such as :

I'll be your imagination
Tear apart what you believe
Make a mess of your conviction
Take away my pride and leave
Nothing, but the debris
Cuts, two ways.

take on extra meaning in the context of Eldritch’s comments in reply to Ammann who had asked him if he felt like a screen on which the audience projected their own dreams and desires that were not a true reflection of Eldritch himself. “Not if you play the game the way I do,” the singer replied (if my approximate translation of the German is correct). “Our song Possession is about this very subject. I’m simply trying to show an image of the relationship between the writer, the singer, the song and the audience. If singers and audiences continue to insist on sticking to their roles as they are normally understood, nothing remains [after the end of the song].” Ammann asks Eldritch what he IS trying to project, eliciting the answer: “I'm just trying to be a responsible puppet for other people’s emotions; no matter what you try to represent, this is what it always comes down to. That's what the audience demands and understands …It can be soul-destroying. Sometimes you almost feel contempt [for the audience]. In this particular song [Possession] I was trying to say: Please don’t trust me too much, because this is still me [Andrew] and not something that you want to see in me. Be careful, because if you trust me even more, I may just become what you want to see in me, and that won’t help anyone. So there’s this balance between contempt and the responsibility that anyone feels when standing up there and singing about pain. That's exactly what we sing about.” This probably helps to explain why the vocal on the FALAA version of Possession sounds particularly raw, as Eldritch strove to convey the extent of his emotion on the issue, rather than the more polished and enhanced vocal on most of the rest of the band’s canon.

But back to the puppet show. Possibly as a result of the radio pre-publicity, the fact that it was the band’s first ever show in Switzerland, and this rather fine and unique advert for the show which appeared in Swiss magazines, the show at the Volkshaus was very well-attended, as can be seen in the wonderful contemporary photo below ((c) Sonja Flurry)  According to reports from those who were there, it wasn’t just the cramped audience conditions and the apparent heat (see the sweat on the face of the Jordan Pickford lookalike at the bottom right of the photo) which made the gig an intense experience for those in attendance, but also the sheer volume at which the band played that night.

Tom G Warrior of contemporary and highly influential Swiss “extreme metal” band Celtic Frost (and therefore something of an occupational expert in loud concerts) was at the gig, and spoke about it in an interview with The Quietus’ Jimmy Martin in 2017. “I saw The Sisters of Mercy with Martin Ain from Celtic Frost in Zurich in April 1985 on the tour [for FALAA]. It was the loudest concert I’ve ever heard in my life. It was so loud that you had to leave the hall periodically because it was so painful. But at the same time we witnessed something that we had never witnessed before. When we stood there and we saw Marian and …First And Last And Always live, with that heaviness, that darkness, that volume, it was amazing.”

Blogger JHG Shark was also at the gig, and also found it a unique experience amongst the many shows catalogued on his website : “It was a strange gig, because people screamed and whistled between the songs, but there was no applause! I’d never experienced anything like it. I don’t think it was because of the band’s sound or the show on stage, it’s just how Sisters fans were. I personally really enjoyed the gig, even though the sound was thinner than on the record.” [This could of course be due to the fact that there was only the one guitarist, with Marx back in West Yorkshire] “After the gig I had to go to the Big Apple Club to do my DJ shift. The Sisters and some of their fans also found their way to the club, and some fans requested that I play a few TSOM tracks. I thought, “No way,” and just played the usual records. Eventually, the members of the band got up to dance … and to the great astonishment of all their fans present, they were dancing to… SIMPLE MINDS”. Sadly no video evidence of this event has yet surfaced…

The gig itself was however recorded by several attendees, and listening to a copy of the show (kindly provided to me by Phil Verne of the TSOM 1980-1985 Facebook fan group) the volume issues and the strange atmosphere are immediately apparent. Doktor Avalanche is incredibly high in the mix, the beats bludgeoning the senses, and this is probably the only gig of this era I have heard where Eldritch doesn’t utter a single word during the entire show between the songs, save for the title of the next number. The Volkshaus acoustics are particularly effective on Body and Soul, with Hussey’s guitar reverberating around the arena, whilst the thin-ness of the guitar sound is all too apparent on Walk Away. Hussey makes a guitar pitch error during his “No…No…No…” backing vocals section on No Time To Cry, but Eldritch makes an even bigger gaffe on Amphetamine Logic, coming in two lines early and singing the chorus over the verse backing, leaving Adams and Hussey to play the chorus as an instrumental on the first play-through. The singer was in notably finer form on Emma and Marian, and the recording ends with the best live version which I have heard of Train, sadly and suddenly curtailed on this copy of the recording. 

So a distinctive as much as a legendary gig in one of the more attractive venues on the tour (pic above, credit Wikipedia) and one which I'm pleased to report is still going strong today (as is the Seegarten Hotel where they stayed, now charging around £175 a night for a standard double room - the band had clearly arrived!). Having originally opened back in 1910, The Volkshaus’ 1200 capacity hall hosted recent gigs for As I Lay Dying and Vampire Weekend amongst others, but many bands, including TSOM, now play at the city’s “Rote Fabrik” (“Red Factory”) instead.

My grateful thanks for this post are due to LG, to Phil Verne of the TSOM 1980-1985 Facebook fan group, to Graeme Salt, to JHG Shark and all others who have contributed.

Sunday, 5 January 2020

The Sisterhood - interview with Lucas Fox

Lucas Fox was Andrew Eldritch’s right hand man on The Sisterhood project in 1986, helping the Sisters’ vocalist to rush-record and release the Giving Ground single to wrest control of The Sisterhood band name from Wayne Hussey and Craig Adams, and then working on the follow-up Gift mini-LP, a remastered version of which is due to be re-released on Cadiz Music in 2020. Fox, who famously was Motörhead’s first drummer before also being a founder member of London punk band Warsaw Pakt (whose only LP was released within twenty-four hours of being recorded in 1977 – a useful experience for the Giving Ground project!) and a touring and session drummer and producer for countless other acts before supporting The Sisters as a temporary member of The Scientists in 1985.

Thereafter Fox relocated to France where he became a well-respected industry figure,  resurfacing as a musician when drumming on the Pink Faeries’ new album for Cleopatra Records in 2018. Now writing his musical autobiography, Lucas Fox gave a series of interviews last year in which he spoke in some detail about his involvement with The Sisterhood (notably in this Croatian interview) amongst many other projects, and when his old friend and music paper lensman Tony Mottram kindly suggested to The Sisters of Mercy 1980-1985 Facebook fan group administrator that he would be happy to pass on any questions to Lucas Fox, I jumped at the opportunity to find out more about one of the most fascinating periods of both his and Andrew Eldritch’s very different forty year musical careers.

Lucas very kindly provided full answers to my questions below, which help to confirm many aspects of The Sisterhood project and to add some extra details in places. I am very grateful to Phil, to Tony and of course to Lucas, and hope that you find the latter’s answers as interesting as I do.

NVL: What can you remember of when you first met the Sisters?
Lucas Fox: We were based at the same office Ladbroke Grove in London. Like other Gothic bands of the time they wore only black, as did I.

NVL: What were your first impressions?
Lucas Fox: Andrew was austere and aloof, but Wayne and Craig and I got on straight away. Andrew and I warmed to each other as we got to know each other.

NVL: Eldritch has often stated that he was a big Motörhead fan – did he regularly grill you about your time in the band?
Lucas Fox: Not “grill”… but he would ask questions about Lemmy occasionally - about sulphate consumption,  about our musical interests when we (Lemmy and I) started the band…

NVL: Could you hear much of a Motörhead influence in the Sisters’ sound?
Lucas Fox: Not really. There were/are far more dynamics in the Sisters’ song arrangements. At full tilt there are some likenesses, but I couldn’t really say that I see a lot of influence.

NVL: Eldritch drummed on the first TSOM single but has employed a drum machine ever since. Did you often discuss this issue with him, the merits of human versus machine?
Lucas Fox: After he’d seen me play with The Scientists and knew I’d been producing. My drumming style with The Scientists intrigued him and I think he had a yearning.

NVL: When you toured with The Sisters as last-minute replacement drummer for the Scientists, was that your first major tour for a while, as it was seven years since Warsaw Pakt split up?
Lucas Fox: I worked with Carl Groszman’s White Lightning, recording and touring, with SPYS (same), Walking Wounded, Freddie “Fingers Lee”, Fools Dance (Simon Gallup of the Cure)… I played, recorded and toured with Martin Stephenson (& the Daintees)... and many sessions..

NVL: Were you aware on the Scientists’ tour with The Sisters that the band was on the verge of splitting up?
Lucas Fox: No

NVL: When you were asked to join the Sisters for Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door [at the Brighton Top Rank gig on April 1st, 1985), was that pre-planned, or just a last-minute spur of the moment thing?
Lucas Fox: On the moment, it was Andrew’s idea.

NVL: That gig was Gary Marx’s last show with the Sisters. Did you know that this would be the case at the time?
Lucas Fox: No, I didn’t.

NVL: Was it a surprise when Andrew contacted you to work at the beginning of 1986 to work on the Sisterhood project, or had he already mooted the idea the previous year?
Lucas Fox: No, it was a reaction to Wayne & co wanting to use the name Sisterhood (the Sisters fan club)...

NVL: As you may be aware, Andrew has the reputation of being something of a perfectionist in the studio, and some have found him difficult to work with as a result. How did you find him in that regard?
Lucas Fox: Complicated, fascinating, sometimes difficult, always obsessive...

NVL: Were you aware of the importance of rush-releasing the “Giving Ground” to secure the band name and the publishing deal advance when you were recording the song?
Lucas Fox: Yes, but not the publishing advance part.

NVL: Was there a lot of pressure?
Lucas Fox: Well, I just went for it as usual.

Was the atmosphere different when you went to Fairview to record “Gift”?
Lucas Fox: Yes it was just me and Andrew and Roy the engineer for 6 weeks, only at night, apart from when James Ray or Patricia were there.

NVL: Were the songs in a fully finished form and it was just a case of recording them, or were they basic ideas which were then worked out in the studio?
Lucas Fox: Most didn’t exist at all!

NVL: Were you surprised by the content of The Sisterhood material, which was very different to The Sisters of Mercy’s output?
Lucas Fox: No, it was still obviously Andrew’s work and style.

NVL: Have you listened back to the album much since?
Lucas Fox: Yes, quite a few times.

NVL: Did Alan Vega visit the studio or did he contribute via tape ?
Lucas Fox: No, it was by tape.

NVL: Was there any other times subsequently when you worked with Andrew?
Lucas Fox: No, just the mixes at Eel Pie [Pete Townshend’s studios in Twickenham near London] after the sessions at Hull.

NVL: More recently, The Sisters of Mercy have covered Motörhead’s Capricorn and Larry Wallis’ Police Car in live shows. Have you heard either of them (easily findable on YouTube) and if so, what did you think of them?
Lucas Fox: No, I must listen to them!

NVL: Where do you rank The Sisterhood in the various musical projects you have been involved in over your career?
Lucas Fox: As a very interesting project.

NVL: You drummed on some old Motörhead songs at a show with a Greek tribute towards the end of 2019 ….
Lucas Fox: Yes, it went fabulously well, hundreds of autograph signings (+selfies etc) and I got to play 3 Motörhead songs that hadn’t been played in that version since 1975, an awesome experience! Greek metal fans are great and know all the words ...

NVL: And would you like to work with Eldritch again one day? Are you still in touch with him?
Lucas Fox: Yes, I wouldn’t mind but I can’t see it being likely, and no, we’re not in touch.

Thanks again to Lucas for his reminiscences of a facinating time in TSOM history. Keep an eye out for his musical autobiography which will be a wonderful insight into the early days of metal, punk and goth!

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Andrew Eldritch's Leeds, pt 2 - Campus culture

(This is the second of a three part series looking at Andrew Eldritch’s Leeds from the air, thanks to the wonders of Google Maps)

When Andy Taylor arrived in Leeds in October 1978 to enrol at the city’s university, it represented a fresh start for him after what must have been the disappointment of dropping out of Oxford University. Leeds had been chosen almost by chance, as it was one of fewer than half a dozen universities in the UK at the time offering an undergraduate degree in Chinese, and possessing the impressive A Level grades required for entry to his previous academic institution, being accepted by the University of Leeds was something of a formality for the confirmed Southerner.

However, once again fate would take a hand, and a combination of factors (not least the requirement to spend a heavily-chaperoned second year of the course studying in Beijing) would lead to Eldritch dropping out for a second time after a mere year's study, but not before he had immersed himself in the city’s emerging punk culture and the more centralised fun offered by a large city campus.

The left-hand side of this aerial photo of the campus is virtually unchanged in the forty years since Eldritch completed his matriculation in the formal surroundings of the Parkinson Building, which features an Italianate/phallic (depending on your level of maturity) white tower in the upper centre left of the picture, just above the circular Brotherton Library. The lower part of the campus however has changed significantly since the 1980’s, as can be seen by comparing an aerial photo from the early 80’s (recently shared by the University online) with a similar view from Google maps.

The first stop-off for a TSOM heritage tourist however would most likely be St George’s Field (labelled with a number “1” on the image), one of the few remaining areas of greenery on an increasingly dense campus, for it is here that one of the most iconic images of the band was taken (by Tom Sheehan in early 1985), oft-reproduced because of the graveyard feel which reinforced the media’s goth stereotyping of the band. The stone memorial has become a place of pilgrimage for Sisters fans (the bottom photo below, for example was taken by noted Belgian collector Bruno Bossier and is reproduced with thanks), and TSOM tribute band The Marching Men (with The Blogging Goth curator Tim in the Eldritch role) recreated the classic shot during their own all-too-brief heyday (middle photo), a photo often confused with the real McCoy (write your own goth pun).

(Tom Sheehan photo of TSOM, 1985)

(TSOM tribute band The Marching Men)

(Photo of St George's Field by Bruno Bossier)

Central to campus life for all Leeds students was the University Union, a social and cultural centre for students which was – and still is - one of the largest and most dynamic in the country. On this image, it’s the group of buildings (of different eras and styles) to the right of the red number “2”. The Union houses the Riley Smith Hall, where TSOM gigs played in 1981, 1982 and 1984, and this can be seen (with a dirty red roof) just under the “Lee” of “University of Leeds” on the aerial photo at the top of this blog. The Refectory, the canteen-cum-concert hall where they played on the Black October tour and then again in March 1985, is also part of this collection of buildings, the long thin red-roofed building just to the left of the red number 3. In a very early piece on this blog I described it thus: “The Refectory was basically the respectable student and staff self-service restaurant serving glorified school meals and salads during the day, but transformed into a rather unconvincing concert venue in the evening. The balcony added some atmosphere, and also gave more extrovert performers like Bono and Lux Interior somewhere to climb up to during the inevitable “Look at me!!” phases of their gigs”. This was also the hall where The Who recorded what is considered to be one of the best-ever live albums, “Live In Leeds”, and there is now a blue plaque outside the building commemorating this fact. The Riley Smith Hall was (according to the same blog post) “the union’s main debating hall and home of the weekly political bearpit, the OGM (“Ordinary General Meeting”), where party hacks of the future lined up to take on the all-powerful Socialist Workers’ Party”. All gigs at the university were put on by the Union’s “Ents” and “Events” committees, dedicated groups of music-loving students who volunteered to cook, steward or do a variety of other jobs to keep ticket prices down for students and non-students alike.

Also visible on this aerial image at the top of the page are the two pubs indelibly linked with The Sisters of Mercy. The building just underneath the red number 4 is the Faversham (known to one and all as the “Fav”), literally a stone’s throw from the campus edge and immediately next to the most upmarket and therefore expensive of the student residences, Charles Morris Hall (known as “Charlie Mo” to its upper middle-class inhabitants), which provided most of its clientele. Allegedly because of its late night bar and its pool table (and according to Mark Andrews’ article on TSOM for The Quietus, Eldritch’s girlfriend Claire was a real pool shark), the “Fav” became the unofficial base of the band and its entourage, and on my one visit to sup the over-priced (compared to the Union) beer there Ben Gunn was at seated at an adjoining table and Eldritch was over by the bar with a group of fawning acolytes. It was also probably the closest pub to Eldritch’s early 80’s flat on Bellevue Road, undoubtedly another reason for its popularity with the singer.

(Faversham advert from Leeds Student newspaper, 1985)

The other pub with a heavy TSOM connection is The Fenton, indicated by the red number 5 on the aerial shot and directly opposite the sandstone church on Woodhouse Road. Eldritch spoke enthusiastically of the Tetley’s pub when reminiscing with Mark Andrews for his Quietus piece: “It was the pub you went to before gigs at the uni. Everybody thought fondly of the Fenton. Going back to the days when there was street fighting, the Fenton was very unwelcoming of Nazis and welcoming of the likes of us. The whole atmosphere was very politically-charged and we were very clear which side we were on.” It was no accident that The Fenton for the warm-up gig (billed as “Near Meth Experience”) when TSOM returned to gigging after a three year hiatus to tour as main support to The Sex Pistols on their own legendary comeback tour in Germany in 1996.

The other number marked on our photo of the university campus (“6”) marks the location of the university’s Chinese department in the late 1970’s. The singer would spend only last one year of the four year course in the then modern building before dropping out for the second time.

The third and final post in this trilogy on Andrew Eldritch's Leeds will focus on the city centre. My thanks for this post are due to Bruno Bossier, Phil Verne of the 1980-1985 TSOM FB fan page, and to others who have helped.

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Book Review – It Ain’t Peters & Lee! – Richard Rouska

When I started this blog towards the beginning of this decade, my aim was to shed a bit of light on what life was like in Leeds in the early 1980’s, so that The Sisters of Mercy fans from other cities or countries, or those who had only discovered the band more recently, might have a better understanding of the context in which the band was formed and developed. Ignored by mainstream media or derided (along with the rest of the goth “movement”) as a joke, it seemed as if future generations would only have TSOM’s records and the few surviving Eldritch interviews to try to piece together the band’s rationale and genesis.

Unlike other Northern British cities (in particular those on the other side of the Pennines), the typically modest and self-deprecating Leeds character had discouraged any belief that the wider world might have an interest in what was happening in ther city in the post-punk era when its bands were (albeit briefly) at the forefront of British cultural life, developing a unique musical and political aesthetic that continues to fascinate to this day.

Over the past five years, however, a variety of high-quality works have sought to correct the imbalance in this regard (compared to the scenes of Liverpool and in particular Manchester), more searingly honest and less self-congratulatory in tone than those examining other cities. In particular, there’s been the Sound City documentary, Mark Andrews’ articles for the Quietus (and more recently Dave Simpson’s piece in the Guardian), the recent volume reprinting the issues of seminal contemporary Leeds fanzine Whippings and Apologies, Wayne Hussey's autobiography and a series of self-published tomes by former Leeds resident Richard Rouska, the latest of which, “It Ain’t Peters and Lee – The Leeds rock, pop, punk, new wave and indie scene 1977-87” has just been published.

Leaving aside the dreadful title (and cover), this latest work is wonderful treasure trove of detailed information about what was happening in the city over that crucial eleven year period, presented in almanac form, taking one month at a time. Amongst the train-spotter facts – for example, the list of gigs in the city which appears at the end of each month’s entry – there are mini pen-portraits of pretty much every band on the scene, however successful or short-lived, detailing the band’s members, their record releases and a brief but honest appraisal of their place in the overall scheme of things. For those not intimately involved in the Leeds scene at the time, much of this information will be of little intrinsic interest, but it does show the vast array of different musical strands being developed at any one time, and will be of real interest to future researchers into the Leeds scene.

There are also highly readable mini-essays and opinion pieces throughout, about the crucial role of promoter John Keenan, for example, or the relative merits of other fanzine writers. In many ways this is where Rouska is at his best, as was always the case with his own fanzine which he ran in the city in the mid-80’s before launching his own record label which notably brought goth/EBM legends The Cassandra Complex to a wider audience. Possessing tremendous drive and enthusiasm, Rouska carved himself a central position in the Leeds music scene and his knowledge of that era is unrivalled. Through his contacts at the time, he even got to perform (as a punk poet) between the bands at the 1984 York Rock Festival.

But what about The Sisters, I hear you ask? Rouska has always been aware of his potential market, and therefore TSOM do indeed have a central role in the book. Using rarely seen but excellent Steve Drury photos, Rouska charts the familiar chapters of the band’s history in the appropriate months (see the example below quoting this very blog), helpfully listing at the end of each entry when the band next appear in the book. Although very few new facts about the band emerge, there are many insights into Eldritch’s character from those who knew him at the time, plus little-known quotes from reviews from the contemporary independent magazine Leeds’ Other Paper (LOP), a periodical which I must confess I never once read during my years in the city.

Rouska also gives prominence to other bands on the 80’s scene, from Red Lorry Yellow Lorry to The Rose of Avalanche, and the earlier bands (GO4, Mekons, Delta 5 etc) are also covered in appropriate detail. Other well-known local bands who were unheard of outside of the LS postcode area (e.g. Xero Slingsby, The Prowlers etc) are also recorded for posterity in the book. But again, it’s in the analysis of the scene that Rouska is at his strongest, as he builds a convincing picture of what was a very fragmented scene where people stayed within their own circles rather than it being one big happy post-punk family, which is very much how I also personally remember it.

Inevitably, some will find this labour of love a little disjointed given the almanac approach, or quibble with minor details (there are a couple of common inaccuracies regarding the Sisters for example), but these two hundred and twenty pages of densely packed information create a real sense of the reality of life in Leeds in the decade under discussion, and this book is an essential purchase for those with an interest in the Leeds music scene at that time whilst further whetting the appetite for Mark Andrews' forthcoming biography of the early years of The Sisters of Mercy

It Ain’t Peters & Lee is available directly from the author’s own website for £15 (with free p and p for UK purchasers). Mine arrived within three days so you can order with confidence!

Friday, 28 June 2019

The Arsonist Entertains - review of Salad Daze, Wayne Hussey's autobiography

Barely a month goes by without my local Waterstone’s displaying a new tome devoted to one of the cult bands of the 1980’s, be it The Smiths, Joy Division or even Motley Crüe. Yet curiously not one major book has yet been written chronicling the history of one of the most wilfully mysterious, most avidly collected and most revered bands of that era, The Sisters of Mercy.

The endless fascination of both TSOM fans and media alike has been with a brief period of the band’s near forty year existence, between the release of the Alice single in late 1982 and the acrimonious split in the band in 1985, shortly after the release of debut album First and Last And Always, often referred to as the cornerstone of gothic culture.

A couple of years ago, a fan commented on the Heartland TSOM fan forum that he had wanted to answer questions on the band for his specialist round on BBC TV’s Mastermind quiz programme, but had been prevented from doing so because of the lack of any formal books published about the band. However, this situation is finally now changing with the future publication of Mark Andrews’ crowd-funded history of the band, and this memoir from guitarist Wayne Hussey, whose career is always seen through the prism of the two years which he spent in the band between the autumns of 1983 and 1985.

Salad Daze is the first of his two-part autobiography, and charts the Mission frontman’s life from his birth and early years in Bristol through to his departure from the Sisters of Mercy thirty-four years ago. The eagerly anticipated book promised to lift the lid on Hussey’s time in the band, and given his penchant for amusingly provocative yet self-deprecatory soundbites, it was clearly going to be an unmissable read for all Sisters fans.

I have to confess to being disappointed on receiving my copy and discovering that two hundred of  the three hundred and fifty pages dealt with his life before he joined TSOM, but I expected that I would skip through these chapters at some pace in order to get to the “real deal”.

However, this mood changed instantly as I began to read the Prologue, an incredibly moving account of the circumstances of his mother’s pregnancy and of his birth, which was both well-written and a coruscating exposé of the moral double-standards of the late 1950’s. Indeed, rather than flicking rapidly through them, I really savoured the early chapters, which would strike a chord with anyone who grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, with its everyman tales of family holidays, conflicting emotions and chance encounters with minor celebrities from Specimen/Banshees guitarist Jon Klein to former Villa winger Ray Graydon. Wryly observed and well-expressed, Hussey’s memoir is both engaging and thought-provoking, and he is (retrospectively at least) generous in his assessment and evaluation of those who played key roles in his formative years. I can well imagine that even the resolutely non-goth Mrs L will enjoy reading these early chapters when I pass the book to her.

So it’s over one hundred pages in before Wayne joins his first really serious band (Ded Byrds) having moved to Liverpool, and each subsequent band up to and including Dead or Alive is dealt with in impressive detail, with Hussey’s memory untainted by the ravages of drugs and alcohol at this point, as he stayed true to the teachings of his strict Mormon upbringing. This means that we get an insight into the legendary Eric’s scene and the development of Scouse luminaries such as Echo and the Bunnymen, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and, erm, A Flock of Seagulls, plus the development of Planet X club where Hussey used to DJ.

During his latter years in Liverpool and his time in Dead or Alive in particular, the guitarist began to dabble in drugs, discovering the joys of speed in particular, and his touring experiences thereafter become a bit of a haze. Sadly, this is particularly the case during his stint in the Sisters, and Hussey himself confesses that for some tours he remembers virtually nothing! For others he has vivid memories of the sex and the drugs, but sadly very little of the rock’n’roll, so what should be the most fascinating chapters of the book become a tedious litany of whizz and groupie reminiscences, which nonetheless reveal that Eldritch would not have had to use much imagination in coming up with many of the lyrics for the songs on FALAA (“nothing but the knife to live for”, “And I don’t care what you’re called, tell me later if at all” etc).

However, Wayne is never shy of an opinion or an amusing anecdote, and is particularly strong and surprisingly objective at analysing the subtext of the group dynamic, stating that with hindsight the band’s ultimate 1985 split(s) seemed almost inevitable from the moment he joined the band, and providing a great deal of evidence to back up his assertion.

Although he acknowledges that it is difficult to reconstitute with total accuracy events of almost thirty five years ago, Hussey presents his recollections of the reasons and issues which finally saw him leaving Eldritch and forming his own band with Craig Adams, accepting that the “real truth” would emerge from an amalgam of the reminiscences of all four members, rather than just his own “truth”. His account is however the only one published in detail to date, and is sufficiently honest and candid to give a highly credible breakdown and timeline for the band’s demise, which is incidentally largely similar to the version (factual or otherwise) uncovered by “enthusiastic online sleuthing by a fan”. In particular, his portrayal of the complex character and behaviour of Andrew Eldritch is laudably even-handed given both the huge frustration which this had caused him at the time, and the way in which he has been subsequently viewed by a zealous faction of rabidly pro-Eldritch Sisters fans (whom he describes as “a bigoted, sour bunch”) who continue to hold him (Hussey) solely responsible for the 1985 break-up. Although proud of the fact that (like Craig Adams) he refused to change his name to join the group (as Andrew, Mark and Ben had done), it has to be said that Hussey like Eldritch becomes a rock’n’roll caricature with his shades, hat and black clothing, enthusiastically adopting the trademark lifestyle far removed from his previous and subsequent existence.

Even for the most obsessed TSOM fan, there are plenty of new facts and anecdotes in Salad Daze about Hussey’s time in the group, from technical details of the guitars he played through information about song-writing credits to stories about the likes of Jez, Danny and Grape which some of them might wish had remained private. And certain long-standing mysteries, such as why Eldritch began wearing hats, the circumstances in which Marx and Hussey had a trial at replacing Eldritch as vocalist and the origin of the phrase “Victims of Circumstance” are elucidated en passant.

By turns entertaining, enlightening and though-provoking but always disarmingly frank, Salad Daze is a great read despite some sloppy editing which has failed to remove some basic errors, contradictions and repetitions. But these are minor quibbles with what is a highly recommended publication, which comes with its own WH curated Spotify and YouTube playlists and a variety of editions including a deluxe package which contains previously unheard recordings from Wayne's early years in bands in Liverpool. Chapeau, Wayne!

Salad Daze is out now, published by Omnibus Press, and is available online from The Mission's website.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Andrew Eldritch's Leeds - part 1, red brick studentsville

(To mark Andrew Eldritch’s 60th birthday, this blog is publishing a three-part guide to the frontman’s most famous haunts of the early 1980s)

Californian lo-fi indie folk band the Mountain Goats gained some press inches and media hype last year with their single “Andrew Eldritch is moving back to Leeds”, a witty song about the general indifference that would surround the prodigal son’s return to the self-proclaimed capital of the People’s Republic of West Yorkshire. Whilst the song’s central concept is based on a false premise, in that Eldritch has maintained a presence in the Leeds area over the years despite spending much of his time on mainland Europe (primarily in [West] Germany, the Netherlands and Spain according to his own interviews), there was one section of the lyrics (“Guys in Motorhead jackets, Who knew him way back then, Haven’t raised a drink in years, But now meet up again”) which reminded me that goth nostalgia tourism was once a thing in Leeds. Indeed, the very university from which Eldritch dropped out at the turn of the 1980s began to use the city’s “birthplace of goth” image to market itself at impressionable Sixth Formers less than a decade later, and even now I (as no doubt are many others) am occasionally contacted by fans of the band from all over the world who are making a pilgrimage to the city and want to know the best places to visit.

One day in the future, long after Eldritch has shuffled off this mortal coil, the city will belatedly embrace the legacy of a rare creative flourish within the metropolis and will hopefully site “black plaques” on some of the key buildings to help goth tourists eager to spend the “dark pound” in the city to navigate their way around. But until then, hopefully these few annotated aerial photos from the ever-wonderful Google Maps might be of use to some.

Photo 1 – Studentsville

To those who have never lived in Leeds, the northern suburb of Headingly is synonymous with sport, being the home of and giving its name to the back-to-back rugby league (Leeds Rhinos) and cricket (Yorkshire CCC) stadia labelled at the bottom left of the image above. But to Leodensians the suburb and the neighbouring districts of Hyde Park and Burley have in recent generations been first and foremost linked to the city’s transient student population which has colonised the seemingly endless rows of red brick terraced streets originally intended to house the workers from city’s many cotton mills back in the days when the city dominated the British Empire’s rag trade. These streets dominate this aerial image, and one of these, marked at the bottom of the red number 1 on the image, was (and indeed still is) Village Place, a cul-de-sac in the Burley area down towards Kirkstall Abbey, where Eldritch and Marx lived at house number 7 (along with Eldritch’s girlfriend Claire) in the mid-1980s. This unprepossessing house was effectively the headquarters of Merciful Release records, and its address famously featured on the lyric sheet of The Reptile House EP. Gary Marx described the house superbly in Mark Andrews’ piece for The Quietus: “The popular myth appears to be of Hunter S. Thompson taking over Bruce Wayne’s Batcave, with high-tech excess being the order of the day. The curtains downstairs stayed closed at the front of the house all the time, which no doubt gave it the air of a drug-den. The reality was that it was in a quiet street of about 20 houses and our neighbours – Jack and Nora – were people we got on with, amazingly given the racket they had to tolerate.” 

(Photo credit - Mike Read)

The house was also the scene of Wayne Hussey’s infamous audition to join the band in October 1983, as humorously recounted in the first volume of his autobiography published in May 2018, Salad Daze. Incidentally, Si Denbigh inherited the house’s sofa (which seems to feature in most stories about 7VP) when Eldritch moved on from the house, and he himself in turn gave it away just a couple of years ago having advertised it on Facebook thus: “This is the sofa that used to reside in 7 Village Place, also known as The Reptile House. Many songs were written upon it, much excess performed, schemes hatched, dark games played, and many a famous arse has sat upon it. At some point I inherited it. This sofa is more gothic than anyone! If it could write a book …A bit of Leeds history”. Hopefully the sofa has been preserved for posterity (although not necessarily, given its condition, for more posteriors), as one wag commented at the time “Ben Gunn is probably still down the back of it.”

Anyone wishing to make a pilgrimage to Village Place from central Leeds could either take a bus up Burley Road or take the train just one stop from the main Leeds railway station on the Harrogate line, alighting at Burley Park station (marked with the British Rail symbol on the Google aerial photo), which is just a few minutes’ walk from 7VP. Incidentally, Wayne Hussey would move into a house directly opposite this station when he himself came through to live in Leeds after the successful audition. Burley Park itself (i.e. the actual park, not the station) is the site of one of the more famous TSOM photoshoots of the Hussey era, when Tony Mottram snapped the group there in full gothed-up hat regalia on a chilly but sunny day, prints of which can still be ordered from the photographer in question.

(12, St John's Terrace - Google Streetview)

Our Sisters tourist could then walk south (although it looks north on this image) past the wonderful contemporary venue The Brudenell Social Club (where Near Meth Experience – who may or may not be relevant to us - played a benefit gig for Si Denbigh a couple of years back) towards Woodhouse Moor, the large park at the top of the image which is effectively the dividing line between residential Headingly/Hyde Park area and the university precinct beyond. No. 2 on our map marks the location of 12, St John’s Terrace, where Eldritch lived before moving to 7VP, much more conveniently situated for the university and indeed the city itself. This address featured on the band’s first promotional demo tape, and Eldritch was based here for the first couple of years of the 1980s. Jon Langford (or The Three Johns, who guested for the band at some live shows in early 1982) recalled in a 2016 interview, “Andy lived in the same street as me…On Bellevue Road.” (St John’s Terrace being one block of large terraced houses on that road).

The other numbers (3, 4 and 5) on the bird's eye view of Leeds' student residential district refer to places either on or in the vicinity of the university campus itself, being St George’s Field, the University Union and the Faversham pub respectively….but these will feature in the second part of our aerial guide to Eldritch’s Leeds.

(Thanks to Mike for sharing the photos of his pilgrimage to 7VP with the 1980-1985 TSOM FB Fan Group, and to Ed, Phil , Bruno, Si, Wayne and others who have helped either willingly or inadvertently with this post.)

Sunday, 5 May 2019

The prodigal son returns - Leeds, Sat 5th May 1984

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and that was certainly the case in May 1984 when The Sisters of Mercy arrived back in Leeds for the fourth date of the tour to support their forthcoming major label release, the "Body and Soul" EP which would finally arrive in the record stores the following month. After the fan club gig in Birmingham in early April 1984 to introduce new guitarist Wayne Hussey to the fanbase and literally get the show back on the road after a six month hiatus, the band had undertaken a second East Coast US tour, playing half a dozen shows in as many nights as they prepared for what would be their first major headlining UK tour, with Flesh For Lulu as opening act.

Despite their relative inactivity over the preceding six months, since the last TSOM gig in Leeds a year earlier the band had released the Alice 12”, The Reptile House EP and the Temple of Love 12”, played extensively in London and in Europe, played their first dates in the US, lost guitarist Ben Gunn and replaced him with Hussey, as well as eventually signing a distribution deal with Warners after lengthy negotiations, and with the band's records now staples in even the most mainstream of Leeds clubs, the hometown gig was particularly eagerly awaited.

The tour book (issued to band members and crew, detailing hotels, timings, stage dimensions, load in times and the like) for this Spring trek across the UK bears the title “British Pilgrimage”, presumably a reference to the religious connotations of the band’s name, but this featured in none of the publicity surrounding the tour and I have never seen it quoted anywhere else. The Leeds date came after excellent shows at Nottingham’s Rock City (where Gary wrecked his guitar), Middlesbrough Town Hall, and a legendary banter-filled show in the upstairs hall at Manchester University Students’ Union, and was their fourth show in the Leeds University Union Riley Smith Hall, the main theatre/debating chamber used for smaller touring bands (the band's three pervious appearances being the two Music For The Masses gigs in June and November 1981 and the Furs support in October 1982).

A live recording of the May 5th 1984 show has survived and confirms that there was a sizeable audience present for the homecoming, with Eldritch referencing their lengthy time away from the Leeds live circuit in a semi-audible comment before the gig starts with the usual Doktor Avalanche introduction to “Burn”. Whether Gary is struggling with his new guitar, or whether the chemistry between himself and Hussey had yet to develop to telepathic levels, there are some technical issues in the opening song, after which the first predictable chants of “God Squad” can be clearly heard. After Eldritch has informed a heckler that the band no longer plays “Jolene”, the customary second song “Heartland” begins, with Eldritch in final vocal form despite tuning and tone problems again from Marx’s guitar.

The first of the new songs, “Walk Away” follows, still in very embryonic form and with lyrics which bear little relation to the version ultimately released as a single some five months later. After muted applause, the band launch into “Anaconda” which receives the loudest cheers to date, but before any real rhythm can be established, forthcoming single “Body and Soul” gets an airing, with further guitar pedal and volume issues. There’s also a rougher, choppier than usual guitar sound on “Floorshow”, although the Doktor, Adams and Eldritch see the song to a successful conclusion as usual. So far in the gig the band’s sound quality, to judge by the surviving recording, is less polished than at any time since 1982, but the loud cheers at the end of the perennial alternative dancefloor favourite show either that the audience couldn’t care less or (as is often the case to this day) that it sounded better in the hall on the night than on a tinny recording many years later.

After the kind of lengthy minor guitar retuning break which regular TSOM bootleg tape listeners will be more than familiar with, the booming bass intro to “Emma” rings out, both guitars now intertwining more successfully than earlier in the set. Eldritch is of course in wonderful form, recounting Errol Brown’s wonderful lyric, allegedly about his own mother’s untimely death.
The pace picks up immediately again with a superb “Adrenochrome”, which proves that the sound issues have been largely solved, and as with the other gigs on the tour, the “oldies” see the set through to a successful conclusion, with “Alice” and “Body Electric” played back-to-back. To the delight of the long-term fans in the audience, the traditional covers of “Gimme Shelter” and “Sister Ray” are offered as encores, with a confident Hussey improvising a little more than Gunn had done in the former, whilst the latter is as experimental and focussed as I have ever heard it, with Eldritch primarily singing rather than screaming and screeching, certainly far removed from the seriously unhinged versions of the early gigs or in 1985 for example.

The Leeds Student newspaper digital archive contains a review of the gig that was published at the time, by “Sister Morphine”, but which has not been widely circulated amongst fans. Interestingly, rather than focussing on gig itself, bar mentions for a couple of song titles, the “review” is instead fixated on the increasingly important figure of Andrew Eldritch, his stage persona and his relationship with the band’s devoted followers. The journalist seems convinced that Eldritch too is contemplating the theme of the returning messiah, which seems entirely appropriate given the reaction given to the band for what was clearly far from one of their best live performances.

On their return to the University Union during the Black October tour later in the year, The Sisters of Mercy would finally get to headline the university’s main stage, The Refectory, as their fame and legend spread and with Hussey becoming firmly ensconced within the band. By then however, the various pressures that would lead to the cracks that would split the band apart in 1985 had already began to appear. Back in May 1984, with the ink barely dry on the major label deal, a new single in the can and a new guitarist fitting in well, there seemed to be only unlimited potential.

My thanks to all who have helped with this post, including Circle, Phil Verne of The Sisters of Mercy 1980-1985 FB group, collector LG, and to my own brother whose ticket is displayed here.