Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Temple of Love

My second year at Leeds begin with Jumbo Records’ window a sea of green with the instant release of the latest Sisters’ single, Temple of Love, simultaneously on both 7” and 12” for the first time. Early October releases were very popular with all labels at that time with record companies keen to cash in on the student pound as grant cheques arrived for the start of the academic session, and one year on from the game-changing  Alice/Floorshow 7” the Sisters seemed to be at the height of their powers. The title track, a new song for all aficianados as it had never been performed live (a fact that was to remain true for many years), came in extended version for the indie dancefloor on the 12”, and featured a neat drum solo for the first time by Doktor Avalanche. Even better was the inclusion of a stonking version of live favourite Gimme Shelter, Von’s much professed tribute to the spirit of Altamont from someone who genuinely wished he had been around in 1969. The cover remains one of their finest hours, Marx’s shimmering solo soaring above Gunn’s open chords and Adam’s buzzing repetitive bassline, with a multi-tracked Eldritch intoning the sombre lyric in his finest baritone. The other b-side was the disposable yet inexplicably popular Heartland, more of a riff than a song (like many of the more recent compositions in that respect), with Eldritch repeating the two word chorus ad nauseam. The title track’s dark, gothic (with a small g) lyric and subtle arpeggios which also feature in the other two UK top ten hits (TC and More being ultimately joined by the later version of ToL) gave the glossily produced track hit potential, and despite the lack of accompanying live dates it shot to the top of the indie charts. However, with gigs cancelled and rumours of unrest in the camp, what should have been the launchpad to major global success seemed within weeks to be a fine epitaph for a departing band, with news of Ben Gunn’s departure leaking out and the Sisters withdrawing into a media silence which would last into the New Year …

Leeds venues

Apart from Le Phono and The Warehouse, the main venues for gigs in the City were Leeds Uni and Leeds Poly, although the rather run-down Brannagan’s catered for the dying embers of the punk movement (Vice Squad, G.B.H., UK Subs et al), the tired aircraft hangar of Queens Hall could cater for big gigs and the Fforde Green was used by John Keenan for lesser touring acts. Whilst the Poly only had its cavernous Students’ Union hall, with its echoey acoustics and soulless feel, to host bands, the University’s union building hosted three venues. The main hall was the Refectory, basically the respectable student and staff self-service restaurant serving glorified school meals and salads during the day, but transformed into a rather unconvincing 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. The sisters didn’t play here until their first major(in every sense) tour, in May ’84, returning subsequently for future tours and indeed anniversary gigs in 1991 and 2001. The second hall, the Riley Smith, was the main debating hall of the university 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 SWP. The Riley Smith was where the Who had played thie legendary “Live in Leeds” LP set, and the purple drape curtains either side of the stage certainly seemed to help the acoustics. The RSH was the scene of my first Sisters gig in October 1982, and may also have been the venue for their two listed 1981 gigs (before my time in Leeds), although they are more likely to have taken place in the dreaded Extension bar, the “disco”/bar extension built onto the back of the sturdy brick Union building in the 70s and which was all angles, steps and supporting buttresses as the land fell away down the hill. The acoustics and soundlines were terrible in here, but it was where new bands were expected to play, those who would draw around only on or two hundred revellers. I witnessed some great performances here (one by The Godfathers stands out), but most bands really struggled to create any kind of vibe. With venues like these, it's amazing that anything of note came from the city.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Red Rhino

Whilst on the subject of DIY indie bands in the early 80s, it would be remiss of me not to pay tribute here to the late Tony K (who passed away four eyars ago), founder of the York based Red Rhino Records. A record shop which was a "must" on any trip to York (in its famous  premises at 9 Gillygate), Red Rhino branched out into becoming a record label of mixed quality and fortunes, being home to avant-garde band Zoviet France amongst others, but it was only the success of Killing Joke copyists 1919 riding the posi-punk (i.e. goth) wave in 1982 that heralded an era of success which would be dominated by the recorded output of Red Lorry Yellow Lorry until they signed to Situation 2 at a point when their fortunes were starting to wane. Most importantly from the Sisters point of view, Red Rhino had become an even more successful distribution company, one part fo the new national Cartel system, allowing bands like TSOM to retain their independence on MR long after it should have been possible. The enthusiastic Mr Kostrzewa helped bands like the Sisters to afford studio time to produce the singles which would be his future profit stream. Not a flawless business plan, as it turned out, but like promoters Nick Toczek and John Keenan amongst others, he played a crucial role in allowing a young genius to cut his musical teeth.

Monday, 6 February 2012


In the digital age, you can record a decent quality demo on your laptop, set up your MySpace site and broadcast yourself on YouTube, and within hours you will have diehard fans contacting you from all over the globe. Back in early 80s Yorkshire, any dreams of rock star adulation had to be put on hold whilst the arduous tasks of arranging gigs, studio time for a demo tape, artwork, getting finance to press and then distribute a small pressing of a 7" single came before people even having heard of your band.
It's difficult to imagine now what it must have been like for Eldritch and Marx in the early days of the band - sadly no-one was chronicling their early history - but we can get some idea by checking out the diary of the manager of the Barnsley pop-punk band Party Day, South Yorks contemporaries of the Girls back in the day. Steve Drury's diary of his time working with the band - particularly chapter two of his memoir http://www.party-day.co.uk/not%20enough%20monkeys-%20chapter%202.pdf  - poignantly details some of the trials and tribulations of a band struggling for recognition. Highly recommended !

Friday, 3 February 2012

Nottingham Union Rowing Club, spring 1983

Another legendary gig from the halcyon days of Spring '83. Nottingham had always been a musical desert - to this day it's hard to think of a famous band from there (Paper Lace anyone ? Tindersticks ? Thought not) - and until Rock City emerged in the early 80s it didn't even have a decent music venue. The punk era had seen Sandpipers in the now gentrified but then decaying industrial Lace Market host the Pistols amongst others, but when that closed attention had turned again to those most unlikely of venues, the rowing clubs that line the banks of the Trent on the towpath down to the ground of then European football champions Nottingham Forest. Back in the 60's, the enterprising owners of the Britannia had used the bar and function room above the ground floor storage facility for Boat Race style rowing boats to put on gigs, and after the Sandpiper closed the neighbouring but almost identical Nottingham Boat Club took over the mantle. Thus it was that in 1980-1981 the local punters could see the likes of U2, Killing Joke, Siouxsie and the Banshees (a Futurama warm-up under the name Janet and the Icebergs), the Dead Kennedys and UK Decay in their prime, before Rock City gradually took over. However, bands on the way up had nowhere to go, so the third of the boat clubs, the Union Rowing Club, was hired by a local promoter and thus it was that the Sisters were engaged to headline at the 400 capacity URC, which was packed for the occasion. Support was from Oz punk legend Ed Kuepper (of The Saints of (I'm) Stranded fame) touring his more eclectic Laughing Clowns project. The low ceiling and low stage did not make for the best of gigs, with sweat dripping from the former as the temperature inside soared, and the inexperienced bouncers didn't know how to deal with an ecstatic yet non-aggressive crowd. Still, one storming set later, Eldritch announced that the band would just play the encore straight away, as it seemed pointless to leave the stage to come back when this would require passing through the crowd in both directions en route to the "dressing room". It's funny to think back to such ramshackle surroundings when the band play some slick, huge outdoor festival these days, but as the Boat Club list above shows, all bands went through this in those days, and in the NZ radio interview last year Eldritch too looked back on such days with the same nostalgic affection with which I attempt to write here ...

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Damage Done

By June 1983, my Sisters vinyl collection was virtually complete. A copy of the CNT single (Body Electric/ Adrenochrome) had turned up in the 2nd hand section of a branch of Selectadisc, whilst everything else was still available at any independent record shop (and was clogging up the upper reaches of the indie charts). With uni virtually finished for the year, earlier in the week that would see the Sisters play the legendary free gig at Sheefield Uni, the Steel City also hosted a second memorable gig, with a rapidly disintegrating Bauhaus touring the incendiary (and as it turned out, largely unfinished) Burning from the Inside swansong. An early arrival in the capital of the Republic of South Yorkshire (at the time under David Blunkett's quasi-communist council) meant a bit of time to kill (no 24 hour pubs in those days !), and a chance to browse the record stores. There, incredibly, in the "Reduced to 50p" box at one store were two mint copies of the Sisters' debut single, Damage Done. Heading to a gig is not the best time to buy a single, but the opportunity seemed unique and so the purchase was made (sadly only one copy !) and the vinyl made it back to Leeds in good condition, and it still has pride of place in my collection to this day. Within months, copies of DD would be changing hands for £30 and enterprising bootleggers were knocking out fakes of various quality ; meanwhile smug so-and-so's (like me) were swapping "Where did you get yours ?" stories like anniversary celebrating couples remembering how they first met ...