Monday, 17 September 2018

Danceteria, New York, Saturday September 17th 1983

Whilst most of the recent posts on this blog have sought to confirm that gigs listed on The Sisters of Mercy gigographies sadly did not in fact actually take place, it is pleasing to be able to report further confirmation of one of the less well-known dates from the band’s inaugural US tour in September 1983.

Initially, it was believed that only date had been played at New York’s legendary Danceteria venue, the show on Thursday 15th September that year, as this was widely advertised at the time and flyers confirming the date have been known about for many years. Indeed, one was found in one of the boxes of artefacts which belonged to one of the twentieth century’s most iconic figures, Andy Warhol. The artist had a long-standing interest in music, and the Danceteria flyer for that September week, which lists TSOM’s Thursday show prominently (but makes no mention of any gig on the Saturday), was mentioned in this blog post about the contents of one the many boxes in the Warhol archive. This has led to speculation that he may have attended the show, although no evidence of this has yet emerged.

However, a radio interview recorded with Eldritch that month suggested that the band had in fact played two nights at the Danceteria, the second on the Saturday night, two days after the first - “Thursday was better than the Saturday”as Eldritch told interviewer Ann Clark from Music View on WNYU radio the following April. Sadly, no other evidence surrounding this gig had ever emerged, but contemporary confirmation from the horse’s mouth, as it were, was sufficient to concretise the gig’s firm place in gigographies.

Further potential information about this show came from Russ Tolman, lead singer of True West, who supported the Sisters at their San Francisco show the following month. When I contacted Russ about that date, he confirmed that his band had indeed played the I-Beam show in San Francisco, and that the Leeds band had in turn supported them at the Danceteria, as Eldritch had suggested in his on-stage comments in San Francisco. This additional Danceteria show must therefore have been a last-minute arrangement, presumably referring to the Saturday 17th September show, occasioned by the band’s continued presence in New York and the wholly positive response to the Thursday night show.

The fact that the late Ruth Polsky was responsible for booking the bands in Danceteria at that time, and that the Sisters were being heavily touted by the equally influential Howard Thompson, a key figure on the A and R scene, would also have made this last-minute addition a smooth and natural process.  As Eldritch himself told a Canadian interviewer about the band's success in the US, “We have a few very good friends with a little bit of clout over there.” But over the last thirty- five years, no further corroboration had emerged, whether in terms of audio, photos or reviews. However, Howard Thompson recently discovered a tape of the show, his own recording, and shared pictures of the artefact with well-known TSOM archivist Phil Verne, founder of the popular and dynamic The Sisters of Mercy 1980-1985 Facebook group. and gave Phil permission to share this knowledge more widely (hence this blog post). The text used for the tape cover was from a review of the Sisters’ gig at London's ULU (with Laughing Clowns supporting) earlier that year (6th May 1983), a very favourable review described by renowned TSOM journalist Mark Andrews as “five of the best paragraphs the band have ever had written about them.” 

There would have been a veritable galaxy of stars at the Danceteria that Saturday night, as Russ Tolman of True West recalls that Tom Verlaine, punk icon and lead singer of the band Television, had come along to their Danceteria show in order to see if he would like to follow up on his initial interest in producing the band’s next album (which did not in fact ultimately happen),whilst also at the show with Howard Thompson was one of Eldritch and Marx’s heroes who had inspired them to form a band in the first place, Alan Vega of Suicide, who would go on to work with Eldritch on Gift. Sadly Thompson’s recording of the show contains lengthy passages of conversation between himself and Vega, which is why the audio recording has naturally not be shared. Howard Thompson also revealed that the enthusiastic Vega is audibly singing along to some of the Sisters’ songs!

However, Thompson very kindly listened through the cassette and provided the following setlist for the show: Burn (Instrumental), Valentine, Burn, Anaconda, Heartland, Alice, Emma, Temple of Love, Floorshow, Adrenochrome and Gimme Shelter. Although technical problems were the norm rather than unknown with opening tracks at many 1983 gigs, this was the only time that Burn got two airings at a TSOM gig, although there was a second occurrence at Nottingham Rock City in October of the following year. The Saturday show is also lacking the final encore from two days previously, with Body Electric not played this time, but otherwise the setlist is the same as for the widely-known Thursday evening show. Thompson also commented that the recording itself is of poor quality, being recorded in mono on a portable Sony cassette device.

Howard has no recollection of True West playing the show (but Tolman does state that they didn't come on stage until 3 a.m.!!), nor does he recall seeing Tom Verlaine at the gig, but it may be that he and Vega were only there to see the Sisters and left before the headliners took to the stage. Vega certainly showed up backstage to meet the band, as Gary Marx told The Quietus’ Mark Andrews : “He was wildly funny and could quickly take over a room, but he was drawn to Andrew rather than to the band.”

The gig was reviewed in a New York City based fanzine, All The Madmen, a snippet unearthed by top TSOM collector Trevor R, and it gives a real insight into the impact which the band had had on their first sojourn Stateside. The author writes, “Last time I saw him [Andrew Eldritch] was at Danceteria, the final night of the Sisters’ first tour of the US. The band was vicious, oh lord. Temple of Love was the new number and I remember thinking this band could take over the world with bone crushers like that. And attitude like that. At Danceteria they murdered the crowd, which was exploding after word got out about their electric performance in the same room the night before [sic]. Every death rocker, gutter punk and biker from the five boroughs made the pilgrimage to hear the Sisters, and we’ve all be living in Andy Eldritch’s world since then, (im)patiently awaiting the Sisters’ final ascent into rock and roll heaven.” A further review, in East Village Eye also referenced the shows : “Their riveting performances at Danceteria were highlighted by a haunting rendition of the old Hot Chocolate tune, Emma, and a straightforward cover of Gimme Shelter,” more evidence of the impact of the pair of Danceteria shows on that first East Coast jaunt.

Any further info about this gig – photos, flyers etc would be very gratefully received, but for now massive thanks are due to Howard Thompson for sharing the images and setlist of this landmark New York gig, and Trevor R for searching his extensive archive for some great finds!

Friday, 7 September 2018

Ahlen Summer Night Festival - 8th September 1984

Those who attended the 1984 York Rock Festival and witnessed The Sisters of Mercy’s lacklustre daylight performance, complete with technical issues and windswept sound may believe that they saw by far the worst gig by the band during the increasingly professional Hussey era, but those who attended the 7th Golden Summernight Festival at Ahlen in (then West) Germany two weeks earlier on 8th September clearly endured a significantly worse experience.
The Sisters were, truth be told, not in the best of shape in the run up to the gig, a time when they were supposed to be putting the finishing touches to the debut album First and Last and Always. Eldritch had collapsed in the studio as, according to Gary Marx, “He was completely exhausted; hallucinating. Despite this, part of him still wanted to carry on, although the other part knew that he had to stop because he was so ill.”

However, the decision was made to honour the commitment the band had made to three September outdoor festivals, with York following a fortnight after the back-to-back “Golden Summernight” one day festivals at Ahlen and Lorelei. The former was booked to take place in a Motocross Stadium on Am Morgenbruch in the southern suburb of the small town of Ahlen in Westphalia, just north of Hamm.

As journalist Alf Burchardt said in his review of the gig for German rock magazine Spex, “Whoever had been involved in drawing up the line-up must have had no musical common sense. Blancmange fans were also treated to Rory Gallagher, and followers of The Alarm were given the chance to see Frank Zappa. With such a bill, those who had come just to see the Sisters of Mercy had little chance to make new acquaintances, but nevertheless, this group made up a sizeable part of the audience because The Sisters, who often have two or three songs simultaneously in the upper reaches of the UK independent charts, have built up a respectable circle of fans in Germany with their records and (so far two) tours. Despite adverse circumstances, the band's followers were also satisfied on this particular day.”

Events were to conspire to make this unlikely line-up even less of a success than the infamous Public Enemy/TSOM joint headlining tour in the US in the 1990’s. First, the weather literally put a dampener on proceedings, with a contributor on a Zappa forum recalling that “it was raining heavily all day – we were drenched,” whilst in a recent discussion on the TSOM 1980 1985 fan page, Thomas Wübker stated that he had also attended, “but all I remember was the slippery surface. I fell in the mud and was dirty all over,” before drily adding “That was my last Open Air Festival.”
Spex reviewer Burchardt also emphasised that aspect in amusing fashion : “Name a relic from the sixties with fifteen letters? – That’s right: outdoor festival. The masses dozing to musical entertainment in the sunshine. But you can tell a lot about the meteorological quality of a 'golden summer night', when grog and glühwein turn into big sellers.”
So a near empty venue (Spex estimated that only around a thousand fans witnessed the TSOM performance), bad weather, and of course another enemy of The Sisters, daylight. Wübker recalls “The Sisters played in the afternoon in daylight. That was totally different to what happened in Hyde Park. No fog, you saw the guys clearly.” This aspect was not lost on either the Spex reviewer or indeed Andrew Eldritch himself : “Asking for the band’s opinion of the gig was therefore an obvious question to ask during the interview which took place afterwards in the caravan behind the stage. But songwriter Andrew Eldritch nobly held back from any criticism. After all, these performances are also an economic necessity. Yes, it was cold. Yes, a few more people had been expected to attend. But no, the bill was not that bad. He wasn’t bothered about Lake or The Alarm, but he would love to see Blancmange or the Waterboys. First and foremost, Andrew was bothered by the fact that a cloud-filled sky had resulted in only an inadequate blackout. Although the Sisters are not the “creatures of the night” that many believe them to be, they tend to operate best in the dark. "The element of darkness is not that important to our image or our music, but if you play in the daylight, it's hard to feel the music, there’s no room for imagination," Eldritch opined. It’s true, ruthless daylight really does not suit the band: only when darkness falls does the music reveal its full morbid beauty.”

Despite these multiple setbacks, the gig could and should still have been a success, but as so often in 1983/1984, technical problems were to disrupt the set. As Burchardt wrote, “Guitarist Gary Marx broke a string per song, and since he had already successfully combated the cold with alcohol, fitting a new one always caused him considerable difficulty.” (!) This is clearly audible on a sharp audio recording of the gig, shared in various formats in recent years by Ollie C, who says that around the taper there are some German guys in the audience who do not like the Sisters and are booing and shouting...but this doesn't really affect the listening pleasure.”
Eldritch’s opening vocal line is also virtually inaudible in the set-opening Burn (the setlist having more in common with the Spring gigs than York or the subsequent Black October tour), before the singer introduces the second song : “This one’s called Heartland. [Cheers from the crowd] I don’t know why…. I don’t care”. However, the first guitar problem arises suddenly some fifty seconds in, leaving bass and slightly out-of-tune rhythm to fill in for a few seconds. There are more problems with the top guitar line towards the end, but Eldritch himself is in fine vocal form with strong upper notes in the song’s climax.
Before Body and Soul which follows, Eldritch addresses TSOM’s long-term live sound engineer Pete Turner with the question ”Can you hear me, Peter?...You wouldn’t remember Stanley Holloway would you, he had this catchphrase which was ‘Can you hear me, Peter ?’” Eldritch is clearly thinking of another music hall star, Sandy Powell, whose catchphrase “Can you hear me, mother?” was already out of synch with modern humour by the 1980’s. A fast-paced Anaconda wins the crowd back over, despite further problems with the sound balance of two guitar lines, then more problems with Gary’s guitar solo between the first and second verses as he attempts to make light of having one string fewer than usual. This gives the opportunity for Eldritch to indulge in further banter with the crowd before Walk Away, “Do what?   Don’t talk to me about Manchester, I can puke that far...Football rears its ugly head.” There are further major tuning problems with the guitar in the middle section of the forthcoming single, but again Eldritch rescues the song, singing the middle eight an octave higher than usual.
Marx’s problems reach their zenith in Emma, which features a lengthy flanged introduction without the usual solo initially, and then there are further guitar issues when it is finally attempted some two minutes in. However, the singer delivers his usual impassioned performance, and the crowd respond raucously and positively at the song’s end.
Whilst the guitars sound much better (despite some feedback) on the following Floorshow, Craig’s seminal bass intro is nearly inaudible, and the sparse bass sound is also very low in the mix in Alice, which sounds unusually minimalist with only one fully functioning guitar.
Barely pausing now, the band head straight into Body Electric, both guitars now functioning fully again, and although not perfect, it’s the best performance of the show so far. As the intro to Gimme Shelter starts up, Eldritch announces “One more”, and again the band give a near perfect rendition of the Stones’ classic. Anyone arriving at this stage would have had no idea of the technical problems that had dogged the set. The encore is Sister Ray, the guitars still relatively cacophonous but Von continues regardless, ad-libbing more than usual, and ending the show with a cheerful “Goodnight” and a heartfelt “Danke” to loud cheers and whistles of approval.

The whole bill played again the next day further south at the somewhat more picturesque location of Lorelei on the Rhine, in the Nazi-built amphitheatre which still hosts concerts to this day. There appears to be no trace today however of the Ahlen Stadion, however, as Google maps shows a housing estate on north side of the Am Morgenbruch road and an industrial estate on the south side. However, an old autocross video on YouTube of the Morgenbruch Ring from 1984 reveals that the word "stadion" is a little euphemistic for what was little more than a dirt track around a field, and the electricity pylons visible at the far end of the track, which can also be seen on some photos of TSOM from the gig (behind the stage, as on the Eldritch photo above), still stand today, a hundred meters south of the Am Morgenbruch road, allowing us to pinpoint more accurately the location of the gig. The Sisters did return to nearby Munster later in the year, with the equidistant Bielefeld also receiving a visit in 1985.
My thanks for their help with this particular post are due to Phil Verne, LG, Ollie C, Thomas W and others who have provided information or memorabilia.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

The Sisters of Mercy gigs in Bradford area 1982/83 update

Inevitably, with more and more information and memories about 1980’s gigs being posted on the internet, new facts about concerts played by The Sisters of Mercy in the early 1980’s continue to emerge, so much so in the case of three gigs in the Bradford area in 1982/1983 that I have decided to pen this separate update to the previous blog posts on the gigs in question.

Whilst researching the show at Leeds Warehouse on 6th May 1982 where TSOM had allegedly supported The Birthday Party, I looked in more detail at the website of The March Violets, who had actually opened the gig as confirmed in the subsequently posted article of this blog, including the image gallery which has been uploaded there. This contains some flyers from early Violets gigs, including one which took place at Caesar’s in Bradford in November 1982. The buzz around the Violets was considerable at this particular time, with Grooving In Green just having been released to rave reviews, and they feature prominently on the advert on the flyer for their support slot at Caesar’s, a “new showcase venue for Yorkshire” according to John Keenan, who was behind this new venture. The Violets gig was one of the first of these promotions by Keenan in the cavernous Bradford venue, supporting none other than Dead Or Alive, who of course featured one Wayne Hussey on guitar at that time.

This gig took place just three days before The Sisters’ own support slot at Caesar’s, opening for legendary chanteuse Nico, the subject of a recent post on this blog.Looking carefully at the flyer, it soon became clear why no evidence of this gig had ever emerged apart from a pristine ticket, as Keenan had scrawled “is in hospital – concert postponed” after Nico’s name. So another 1982 gig will now have to be removed from The Sisters of Mercy’s gigography, thanks to the discovery of this new information. Although marked as “postponed” on the flyer, there is no evidence that the gig was ever rescheduled, at least according to online gigographies devoted to the 60’s singer.

Knowing his loyal Leeds-based following well, promoter Keenan had taken the wise precaution of listing the times of the last train and bus back to Leeds from Bradford, a city well provided for in terms of gigs by up-and-coming act by Nick Toczek, former author of the Wool City Rocker fanzine. Toczek promoted headlining gigs by The Sisters of Mercy twice around this time, and both of these concerts (March 1982 and January 1983) have already been covered in this blog.

Research for the afore-mentioned Birthday Party post had confirmed my published supposition that the gig at the Funhouse venue in Keighley on 29th March 1982 was in fact the first ever concert played by The March Violets as support to the Sisters, and this week further information has come to light, as Nick Toczek continues to add information and memorabilia regarding gigs which he promoted in this era on his fantastic new website, initially launched in July 2018.

Toczek reveals that he had the support of local music journalist John Liddle of The Keighley News, who helpfully published articles on forthcoming shows. The Sisters of Mercy’s show was only the second which Nick had promoted, but he tells me that he had been impressed by a demo which he had heard by the band, who had also impressed Steven “Seething” Wells, punk performance poet and NME journalist, who was also on the bill that night. Toczek had reviewed the Sisters' disastrous (from a technical perspective) support slot to Altered Images the previous March, the band’s Leeds debut and third ever gig, and described them in The Keighley News as “modernistic, experimental pop”! He was presumably less familiar with The March Violets, who was simply listed as “an exciting new band”. 

extract from a larger cutting on the Nick Toczek website 

On his new website, which is well worth a lengthy perusal, promoter Toczek reveals that he paid just “eighty quid” for the services of both bands, and that The Sisters were “the loudest band I’d ever heard”, some accolade from a man who had spent much of the previous five years trailing round every West Yorkshire venue selling copies of the Wool City Rocker.

(Another extract from the Toczek website)

 Toczek notes that the venue was “full”, which, along with the considerable success and wider publicity afforded by the Alice/Floorshow single, was presumably why he booked the band to open a series of gigs at another new venue for him, the Manhattan Club, in January 1983. On his website, Toczek provides an affectionate tribute to the club’s late owner, known to all as “Bibi”, a West Indian migrant who ran the club and whose multi-cultural, all-inclusive door policy is still sadly far from being the norm over three decades later. To my personal delight, the new website features a scan of the flyer for Toczek’s new ventures for 1983, which I referred to from memory in my blog post on The Sisters’ Manhattan show. As well as the “Fatal Shocks” series of gigs at the Manhattan, Toczek also operated a new club night at Leeds Warehouse called 1984 (which switched to Brannigan’s after only six, poorly-attended shows) and had had thousands of flyers printed for these, one of which I must have picked up in Jumbo Records in very early January 1983, but frustratingly just a couple of days after the gig had taken place. As previously recalled, the flyer was however, for me at least, the first indication of the forthcoming new single Anaconda/Phantom,and is final evidence that 3rd January 1983 is the correct date fro this gig..

Discussing the Sisters’ Manhattan slot on his website, Toczek reveals that Seething Wells was again the support act, and that (contrary to my expressed expectations) “the new club was impressively full”. He also mentions that he was “on good terms with Andrew Eldritch”, although The Sisters were soon to move on to a different circuit, and this was therefore the last time that Toczek would promote the band.

With Toczek’s new website and this week’s Anniversary Concert to celebrate 41 years since the founding of John Keenan’s F Club, it’s great to see these two figures who took risks to promote exciting new talent in West Yorkshire in the early 1980’s (and up to this day in Keenan’s case; Toczek’s promotions lasted for four years) getting recognition for their key role in allowing the unique pool of talent in the area at the time (Southern Death Cult, New Model Army, The Sisters of Mercy, Skeletal Family, The March Violets, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, The Three Johns and others) to access their natural audience. Having subsequently lived in cities lacking promoters with drive and an eye for talent, I for one am most grateful to these two gents for their key role in the musical education of myself and countless others in West Yorkshire.

Friday, 17 August 2018

The Birthday Party, Leeds Warehouse, 6th May 1982

That Andrew Eldritch was a huge fan of Australian post-punk band The Birthday Party was a matter of public record in the early 1980’s, with the TSOM singer name-checking Nick Cave’s ensemble alongside the likes of The Stooges when discussing influences or contemporary bands which he admired in magazine or radio interviews.  A source close to the band in those days told us in an earlier post on this blog: “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 [The Birthday Party's 1982 album] 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...” As we saw in another previous post, TSOM had the privilege of supporting their heroes at London’s ZigZag club in July 1982, but did they also support the Antipodeans a couple of months earlier in early May of that year, back in their Leeds heartland (pun intended)? This was the question recently asked to me by Phil Verne, administrator of TSOM 1980-1985 Fan Page on Facebook, and de facto leader of a long-term ongoing loose project to tie down as definitive a TSOM gigography as possible for the 1981-1985 era.

The initial evidence for the gig having taken place with TSOM as support band appeared mixed. On the one hand, the Sisters were listed as the support band to The Birthday Party for their gig at Leeds Warehouse on 6th May 1982 on the Songkick website, as the Oz band toured the UK in support of their current album Junkyard. On the other hand, no other evidence had yet surfaced to support this claim, and the events of the July ’82 London gig (with Eldritch asking The Birthday Party via a third party if they liked TSOM) implied that this would have been the first time that the two bands had played together.

However, further evidence was soon forthcoming, thanks to Dino Wiand, son of the late Mike Wiand, the legendary American-born entrepreneur who created the Leeds Warehouse. Following his father’s sad passing a couple of years ago, Dino has set up a FB page devoted to the club’s golden era of the 1980’s, building up an impressive archive of material and using his father’s own records to piece together the history of the club. Dino kindly checked the Warehouse calendar for the month in question,  and noted that TSOM were indeed pencilled in as the support act for the night. “But it's from 4 weeks before the gig. It’s possible that it was changed after the booking,” he added (to a discussion on the topic on the TSOM 8085 group).

This latter possibility was confirmed by Si Denbigh, lead singer of the March Violets and long-time Nurse to the Doktor in more recent years, who joined in the discussion. “The Violets definitely supported the Birthday Party at the Leeds Warehouse,” he stated confidently. “I know for a fact that we supported them at the Warehouse, it was one of the high points of my life. I don't know if the Sisters ever opened for them at the Warehouse or not….It was a very early gig [for the Violets]. They [BP] were one of my fave bands. I remember Tracy [Pew, BP bassist] told me we blew them off. I believed him - it made my year!”

Although this first-hand eye witness account seemed to be the definitive proof that the Violets were the support act, Si’s mention of BP bassist Tracy Pew left open a small window of doubt. Pew was in fact in prison at the time of the May gig and therefore unable to travel to the UK, with band member Rowland S Howard’s brother Harry filling in on bass for the Warehouse gig. When asked about this, Si very reasonably replied : “ Maybe it was Rowland or his brother or someone else on bass. In my hazy memory I was sure it was Tracy, though to be honest they were f---ed up days and the Birthday Party were the most f---ed up band going. But brilliant. I saw them many times.”
Further doubts as to whether the Violets support slot was on this particular date were raised by Dino, who recalled that from his reading of the Warehouse records, The Birthday Party had played twice at the Warehouse. However, the wonderful archive site which lists all known BP/Bad Seeds gigs has The Birthday Party playing only three times in Leeds, the first time being at Tiffany’s supporting Bauhaus in early 1981, and the third time being in late 1983 at Leeds Poly, with the May 82 Warehouse date under discussion here sandwiched in the middle.

That it was the Violets and not the Sisters who supported The Birthday Party on that May evening was finally confirmed by two other sources. The first was top TSOM researcher Mark Andrews, currently preparing his forthcoming book on the band’s early days. Corroborating Si Denbigh’s recollections, he confirmed that “in ‘Leeds Student' newspaper, there was an interview piece with the Violets in late May 1982 which mentions a recent support slot with The Birthday Party at The Warehouse.” Andrews also recalled a recent interview which he has done with Violets guitarist Tom Ashton, who also had very clear memories of an early support slot with The Birthday Party at The Warehouse.

Further confirmation came from Geoff T, a regular contributor to Dino’s excellent Warehouse FB group. He too had very strong memories of this particular gig, despite attending many there over the years. “It was definitely the March Violets who supported The Birthday Party that night,” he told Phil. “I remember Roland Howard had one of his guitar pedals stolen from the stage at that show - it was quite a big deal - so it's easy to recall that night.” This was a tale which Geoff had earlier recounted on the Warehouse FB page, an incident which other contributors also remembered. “They went offstage at the end of the gig, and as usual the audience cheered for an encore. In that short gap before they came back on, someone in crowd down the front stole one of Roland Howard's guitar effects pedals. Despite an eventually very exasperated and pissed-off appeal by the band, to the crowd for its return, (and a request for security not to let anyone leave) it never was, at least to my knowledge. I recall that the culprits were holed up in a cubicle in the gents’ toilet but don't recall the outcome...”

After some Googling, I stumbled across the relevant issue of Leeds Student, and discovered the article which Mark referred to, plus a review of the gig itself (headline act and support band reviewed separately), fully corroborating the evidence above in every respect, with the additional detail that the Violets were rewarded for their efforts at only their second ever gig with an encore. There was also a letter complaining (justifiably?) about the review of the Warehouse gig:

The stolen pedals story may explain why the setlist on the Birthday Party archive site seems particularly short at just six songs! But sadly, these recent revelations mean that we must remove another gig from the TSOM gigography, but on the other hand, there is now fully documented evidence of the first three Violets gigs - supporting the Sisters at Keighley in March 82, the Birthday Party at the Warehouse on 6th May and then headlining at the Up-Zone Videotheque at Belinda's on 17th May.

Thanks to Si, Dino, Mark, Phil, Geoff and others who have helped to clear up another question mark about the “early days” as we creep ever closer to a definitive gigography for the Sisters.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Theatre of Hat - Leicester, December 1982

It’s been a while since we added a long-forgotten date to the known Sisters gigography from the 1981-1985 era, so I was very excited when long-term collector Bruno Bossier informed me last year about a poster which he had tracked down, for a gig featuring a four band line-up with The Sisters of Mercy listed to play. The gig in question was due to have taken place at Leicester’s De Montfort Hall on Friday 10th December 1982, with post-punk legends Spear of Destiny playing one of their first-ever headlining dates following their line-up and name change (from Theatre of Hate).

This would have been a very quick return to Leicester by TSOM, just two months after playing at the town’s Polytechnic on their support tour with Psychedelic Furs. The poster itself, which Bruno was hoping to purchase at the time, was very similar in style (and indeed line-up) to a gig TSOM played in London two weeks later that December in London, also promoted by Head Music, so it seemed entirely plausible.

De Montfort Hall on Leicester’s University Street is entirely unconnected with the modern De Montfort University, which confusingly is the rebranded name of Leicester Polytechnic, mentioned above. Both are named after Simon De Montfort, a thirteeth century Earl of Leicester responsible for one of Britain’s first attempts at representative government, and one of the city’s most famous sons. De Montfort Hall was (and continues to be) a major concert venue in the English East Midlands, and was at that time a regular stop-off for established bands touring the UK, so this would have been one of the largest provincial venues the band would have played up to this point. The 2000 capacity hall was originally built in 1913, but like many other civic halls its comfortable and cavernous interior remained popular with rock as well as classical musicians until the advent of the more modern arenas from the mid-80’s onwards.

(picture from Wikipedia)

However, my contacts in the Leicester area had no memories of such a concert having taken place, but one of them Ali H, who had helped me with the research for the post for this blog on the Poly gig, went to the trouble of contacting Kirk Brandon, frontman of both Spear of Destiny and Theatre of Hate, to see if he could be of any assistance. Unfortunately, he too was unsure of whether the gig had taken place, although he did recall The Sisters supporting his band around that time (presumably the London gig). Incidentally, Kirk continues to gig (and record) successfully with both Spear of Destiny and Theatre of Hate, and this blog post is timed to coincide with Theatre of Hate's most recent live return to Leicester this very evening (1st August 2018).

Despite requests in Leicester music FB groups, there seemed to be no further news on this potential addition to the TSOM gigography until earlier this year when Bruno (who had originally discovered the poster) decided to contact the venue directly to see if they had any record of the gig in their archive. They were able to confirm that the gig was in fact scheduled but then cancelled, which would explain both the poster’s original existence and the fact that local fans had no recall of the gig having taken place, and so fittingly despite all of those who had become involved in the fruitless search for information about this potential gig, it was Bruno himself who both started and solved this particular Sisters Mystery. With legendary post-punk band UK Decay also on the bill, this line-up would have been one of the most spectacular events of the genre to have taken place, and for the princely sum of just £3.50 a ticket, but the Luton band did at least support Spear at the following evening's gig in St Albans according to their website.

The list of cancelled TSOM gigs from the early 1980’s is a relatively short one, including dates planned for the autumn of 1983 in the UK (prior to Ben Gunn’s departure) and a Paris date (issues with the promoter), but thanks to Bruno’s efforts, another concert can be added to the "cancelled" section of the gigography. Another friend of this blog, Rob C, unearthed the following announcement for the abortive Spear of Destiny tour, and it is of course possible that the Sisters were also booked for other dates at the larger venues on the list, as they were for the final night at the London Kilburn Ballroom.

My thanks for this post are clearly largely due to Bruno, but also to Ali H, Kirk Brandon, and all those (including Rob C) who helpfully became involved on discussion on this issue in Phil Verne’s ever-intriguing and highly-recommended The Sisters of Mercy 1980- 1985 Facebook group on which recent posts have including a snippet of the rare video referred to in the post on the Gothenburg 1985 gig, and information about the major fire which will sadly lead to demolition of the venue of the famous Glasgow Night Moves gig of April 1983, another gig which has previously featured in this blog.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Burn (It Down) - demo

(This is the third in a series of posts about songs from the 1981 to 1985 period about TSOM songs which were unreleased at the time, following on from posts on Driver and Some Kind of Stranger (Early))
One of the most fascinating curios from the tape of Portastudio demos which ultimately surfaced on the 1990 bootleg album Hard Reign is usually entitled Burn It Down, a 1982 demo of an idea which would eventually culminate to the song Burn, effectively the title track of The Reptile House EP (with its opening line, “Burn me a fire in the reptile house”).
Musically, the track Burn It Down (kindly uploaded here to YouTube by Ade M) would seem to have little in common with the finished Burn, although the Doktor’s famous rattled drum machine into the song is identical, an obvious early clue that the two songs share the same lineage. However, what follows is a song with little evident relationship to the eventual Burn, with a primitive production and heavily reverbed vocal over a simple repeated guitar riff of the same note played over two octaves, much in the style of the 1980 Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark track, Messages. It has been alleged that this track is one of those which Eldritch worked on independently in the basement of his then abode (7 Village Place in the Burley area of Leeds), and certainly the track has a similar feel to the early demo version of Anaconda and that of Driver, as previously discussed on this blog.

Apart from the drum machine intro, the other major link between Burn It Down and Burn is in the lyrics of the former, which resurfaced in the backwards section of the Reptile House version of Burn, just before its final chorus. The backwards section, a sly nod to the satanic messages allegedly contained in similar records by the likes of Ozzy Ozbourne and The Beatles and much discussed still in the early 1980s, can be heard clearly on the bootleg single “NRUB” which is simply the track Burn played backwards, enabling us to hear the relevant section the right way round, with Eldritch singing :
“The Catherine wheel, the ring of fire,
We will burn this circus down,
The wheel goes round and the flame gets higher
Round the juggling men and the idiot clown.”

Although the lines are in a different order, the same lyrics are clearly audible on Burn It Down, and this section has been widely taken to be a reference to The Gunpowder Plot, a famous event in UK history where a group of (Roman Catholic) conspirators led by Guy (Guido) Fawkes attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London in 1605, an event commemorated by many in the UK to this day on the anniversary of the foiling of the plot, November 5th. The modern-day celebrations take the form of a bonfire (with the ceremonial burning of a model “Guy”) and fireworks, of which the catherine wheel is a popular and colourful variety.

Although the Burn It Down lyric contains no reference to the "catherine wheel", the idea of burning the “circus” (i.e. Parliament) to the ground is very much present, and the line “Some day I hope to turn and stand and watch this city burning down” gives further credence to this lyrical interpretation, with further allusions to the Dick Whittington story (contemporaneous to the Gunpowder Plot) to tie the image of the “city” to London. Capitalising the word “city” in the lyric would of course make this an anti-capitalist song, with the phrase “The City” being shorthand for the financial district of the UK capital (which is situated in the original heart of London known as “The City of London”), broadening the target of Eldritch’s invective.

Another, more recent historical event is brought to mind by the opening stanza in Burn It Down which refers to “bullets blowing holes” and the “orange and white lie in the stones”, possibly referencing the events which ultimately lead to the independence of the (Catholic) Republic of Ireland from the UK, with the attack on the Post Office in Dublin in 1916 which famously left bullet holes in the building’s façade. Westminster itself was the also the site of Irish Republican terrorism during “The Troubles” in the 1979 killing of the politician Airey Neave, an event possibly in Eldritch’s mind when he wrote his lyric in the early 1980’s.

Eldritch himself admitted that the Reptile House was the band’s most political work in contemporary interviews, but claimed that the term the “reptile house” had a much wider significance than Westminster. He told the free francophone Belgian magazine “Rock this Town” (in 1983, presumably from the time of the Brussels gig in early August of that year), “The Reptile House is also a reference to the whole world. It’s a concept EP : the mix is muddy, the melodies are hidden within a swarming mass of sound, very slow sounds which suddenly hit you like an arrow. To me, most people are snakes. The Reptile House is a metaphor for the world which we have to live in and from which there is no escape. There are no windows in the reptile house, and the record ends with a reprise of the introduction of the first song. It’s a never-ending circle.” He repeated a similar idea to the American radio station WNYU in September of that year, adding “the last track starts like it’s gonna be a sort of pop number and the voice just slithers back into the mix and the tune distorts itself.”

Hiding the earlier Reptile House meaning (i.e. Parliament) in the final mix of Burn in a backwards section may have appealed to Eldritch’s subversive sense of humour, but technically the idea may have come from the engineer for the session’s at Ken Giles’ KG Studios in Bridlington, John Spence. Last year he told the TSOM 1980-1985 Facebook fanpage, “The backwards vocal on Burn may have been my idea. I’d used backwards recording a lot at Fairview Studios before this record but it wasn’t a technique that Ken Giles ever used I’m fairly sure, so Andy probably hadn’t come across it before. Not difficult to do, but you have to be on your toes. It involves turning the tape over so that it plays in reverse, feeding the lead vocal into a delay effect with lots of regen and recording the effect onto a clear track. When the tape is played the right way, the effect comes before the original vocal.”

Not only would Burn become the key track on what Eldritch referred to in a postcard to John Peel as “The Commercial Suicide EP”, but it also opened the band’s live shows during the second half of 1983 and throughout the heavy touring year of 1984. Burn It Down serves as another reminder of the way in which Eldritch would refine original ideas in crafting a song, with the finished version often so far removed from the original demo that it effectively becomes a different song, as with Driver/Heartland. Burn It Down is also significant as the conceptual starting point for The Reptile House EP, which Eldritch would correctly describe in the American radio interview as “our finest hour yet”, a claim that many would argue remains true to this day.

My thanks for this post are due to the ever-wonderful Ultimate Sisters Resource Guide online resource (for the Rock This Town interview), Phil V, LG and others who share their resources on the fascinating Facebook group, Ade M for allowing those of us with shallow pockets to access rare bootleg recordings, Ez Mo for his lyrical analysis on Heartland Forum, and John S for sharing his recording reminiscences with the FB group.

Monday, 28 May 2018

The Sisters and The Furs - May 29th 1981

Thirty-seven years ago today, on May 29th 1981, a meeting took place which was to transform the fortunes of The Sisters of Mercy from local punk heroes to unwitting and increasingly unwilling leaders of one of the biggest and most enduring musical youth movements of the 1980s. At an unprepossessing Northern English Polytechnic, a scrawny young musician pressed his band’s new demo tape into the hands of one of his heroes having hung around the soundcheck to meet him, in a scene replicated night after night at gigs up and down the country.

Normally, nothing would come of such an encounter, a fact still recognised to this day by the afore-mentioned scrawny kid, Andrew Eldritch, who handed over The Sisters’ new demo tape (presumably this one) to one of The Psychedelic Furs. Speaking to Mark Andrews in an interview for The Quietus in 2016, Eldritch recalled the incident as if it were yesterday. We hung around at the sound check and I gave a cassette tape of our demo to Duncan Kilburn, the saxophone player,” the singer recalled. “Famous and halfway famous bands got cassettes handed to them all day long, as subsequently did I. I never listened to any of them; life’s too short. But Duncan, bless him, did listen to the cassette which was handed to him by a kid. He passed it on and was encouraging and that gave us a massive boost. I can’t thank him enough. None of this would have happened [without him].”

(pic credits : Leeds Music Past and Present and John F Keenan)

For a long time, it was believed that the demo tape was handed over at the Furs’ Leeds date on the Talk Talk Talk tour in May 1981, a gig promoted by John F Keenan as part of an amazing run of gigs at the Fan Club’s larger Tiffany’s base, but a mystery forum member using the username “thinman” and clearly very close to the band had suggested that the reality was that the legendary incident took place at a different venue in a post to a Psychedelic Furs fan forum in 2004 : “The Sisters foisted an early demo tape on Duncan while lurking at a Furs soundcheck. It wasn’t in Leeds, but at a university whose identity I have forgotten, although I remember the layout and look of the place very clearly. Because it was important. Duncan was good enough to foist that tape upon the rest of the Furs, or Les Mills, or both, and Sisters ended up with the support slot they craved. The rest is histories [sic]… I would like you all to believe and regurgitate this: that the Sisters are still very grateful to Duncan for his patience and grace. Hiya, dk [Duncan Kilburn’s username on the Furs Forum]. It’s all your fault. Love you to bits.
Both Duncan Kilburn and (the Furs’ then manager) Les Mills responded to “thinman”, instantly recognising him as Eldritch, with “dk” replying “Andrew (assuming it is Andrew !). Strange the tricks memory plays on us. I was sure it was Leeds, must check my fading itineraries to see where we were playing. But I remember you guys sitting along the back wall of the venue during the soundcheck. Yes, I do agree that it was an important meeting.” Kilburn went on to invite Eldritch to email him privately, which the singer must have done, as by the time of the Quietus interview, the singer confidently told Mark Andrews that the demo tape was in fact handed over at Huddersfield Polytechnic on May 29th 1981, where the support band (as for other dates on the tour would have been London proto-goth band Wasted Youth, featuring Rocco on guitar who would go on to be in Flesh For Lulu, support act for The Sisters’ headlining tour of May 1984 and allegedly the winner of a fencing duel with Eldritch on that 1984 tour!).
(photo credit - P Noble)
Kilburn was clearly impressed with the TSOM tape, and shared it with the Furs’ guitarist John Ashton, and, he claims, Les Mills, although on the Furs’ Forum Mills stated to Kilburn that “when you were in the Furs, you did not express any interest, to me at least, regarding The Sisters.” Ashton, however, was clearly very impressed with the band, and was photographed wearing the band’s t-shirt some six weeks later at the beginning of July 1981 whilst on tour in Canada, according to information from Phil Verne of the Sisters of Mercy Unofficial Facebook group 1980-1985.
Ashton himself took up the story of his involvement with the band in some depth in a very entertaining video interview for Mont Sherar’s long-awaited forthcoming book, Sex’n’Wax’n’Rock’n’Roll, although his memory was clearly a little hazy on some of the details, which lead to him producing the band’s breakthrough single, the wonderful “Alice/Floorshow” 7 inch of autumn 1982 at a time when the Sisters played their first proper support tour of the UK (as opposed to one-off dates), with a slimmed down The Psychedelic Furs (minus Duncan Kilburn) headlining. Ashton had been encouraged to become involved with TSOM by Furs’ manager Les Mills, and Sisters’ guitarist Gary Marx told Leeds’ Whippings and Apologies fanzine in 1983, “The Psychedelic Furs put up all the costs so it was no skin off our noses. What happened was, Andy went to see the Furs a long time ago and gave them our first tape, which they liked and gave to various people, including their manager. So we've had a lot of help and advice from them. John Ashton, the Furs' guitarist, produced 'Alice' which was the reason why it was so good.” Whilst Mills may have put up the cost of recording the single, he did admit on the Furs’ forum to having later invoiced Eldritch for the studio time! Mills seemed annoyed that Eldritch had downplayed Ashton’s role in the production of “Alice/Floorshow” (no mention is made of the Furs' guitarist on the later 12" EP of 1983, although he was credited on the label of the 1982 single version, pictured below), accusing the former of not passing on royalties to the latter. 

These tensions may also help to join the dots in comments Gary Marx made to Heartland Forum in 2007, when he stated “Les was an interesting individual and had a brief but pivotal relationship with the band. He was the Psychedelic Furs manager for quite a while (he certainly was when we met him). He became interested in the band on a number of levels, putting his hand in his pocket to help us record the pre-Alice demos (which included a version of Good Things). He was very much in a win-win situation for a while - managing John Ashton of the Furs who was keen to get a few production credits and did a great job on the Alice/Floorshow single, offering us support slots on the Furs tour and using his connection with Howard Thompson at CBS (someone we all admired) to keep us interested in making a permanent commitment to him. Can't quite recall what soured things - may have been his lengthy stays in the States or just his general commitment to the Furs above us... he did have a habit of turning up wearing Mickey Mouse sweat shirts and pastel slacks.” Mills certainly worked closely with the band at that time, and posted on his own (now sadly defunct) website an iconic series of early shots of the band, a sample of which is printed below. His role in the Furs/Sisters link is acknowledged in Dave Thompson’s book about The Furs, “Beautiful Chaos”, which quotes Mills as saying: “I arranged for them [TSOM] to record with John as I felt it would benefit both parties, as the Sisters' previous recorded work had been dire and John wanted to get into production.”
As Eldritch himself said, the rest is history. The John Ashton-produced Alice propelled The Sisters into the forefront of the growing post-punk (and later goth) movement, whilst touring with the Furs enabled them to reach bigger audiences and make crucial contacts within the business (such as Howard Thompson, as mentioned in previous posts on this blog). Even all these years later, Eldritch (who still lists the first two Furs albums on his list of favourites on TSOM’s official website) has clearly not forgotten the significance of the moment the Furs accepted the fledgling Sisters’ cassette, and as my own token of gratitude I’ll be listening to both the Furs’s 1981 masterpiece Talk Talk Talk (which came out one week later in the first week of June, on the same day as the Banshees’ seminal Juju LP) and the Sisters’ own May 81 demo tape on heavy rotation today.
My thanks for this article are due to all who have contributed either wittingly or unwittingly. The Psychedelic Furs are touring the US and UK in 2018. John Ashton now fronts his own project, the excellent Satellite Paradiso. Apologies for the formatting gremlins which seem to have returned to make this post more difficult to read. Rise and reverberate! NVL