Friday, 25 May 2012

Sister Ray

The highlight of any live Sisters show in the 80s was undoubtedly Sister Ray, played as the final encore at the end of particularly successful gigs. From the first gig in York in Feb 81 until the European festivals of 98 the format would always be the same, based on a legendary repeated drum loop from the good Doktor. The drum machine would often rattle on for a good minute before the rest of the band plugged in for the Velvets' classic, and would also continue for another minute after the last guitar had been dumped on the stage in a squeal of feedback as the band left the stage one by one. In between times, Von would have "sung" his way through several other songs with a similar beat to Sister Ray, usually "Louie, Louie" and "Ghostrider" in the early days, but snatches of anything he fancied were possible on a good night. The overall impression was always of a band on the top of their game enjoying jamming together, with Eldritch's impassioned vocal rising and reverberating hypnotically around the venue. This week's welcome news (via Chris Catalyst on Formspring) that the band sometimes end up jamming the song including Hawkwind's "Silver Machine" gives hope that on day soon this Sisters classic will soon be restored to its rightful place.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Dust Up

The summer of 83 saw a new band on the Merciful Release roster, with Salvation seemingly replacing the March Violets as Eldritch's pet project once Simon Denbigh had formed the Rebirth label for his own band's future releases after their first two MR's.
The Salvation website confirms popular wisdom that through his friendship with Sallies' frontman Danny Mass, Von agreed to produce the band's first single on the MR imprint and took them off to Kenny Giles' Bridlington Studios just after recording The Reptile House EP there. Released in a white sleeve to differentiate Salvation's hippy roots from the usual black-tinged MR doom-rock, the Girlsoul EP was an indie chart hit and the A side was a regular on alternative radio at the time.
Legend has it that Mr E was paid in "speed" for his time and investment, and that is one possible explanation for the pure genius of the track lurking on the AA side of the 12" version of the Girlsoul EP. Whilst the title track (and the AA side of the 7" and second track on the A side of the 12", Evelyn) were fairly awkward, stilted pieces of sub-Sisters "North-doth-rise-again" drum machine (Dr A)-driven angst rock, "Dust Up" was a magnificent ten minute psychedelic wig-out that would presage Eldritch's interest in "techno" a decade later.
The total antithesis of the rest of Salvation's lukewarm recorded output, " Dust Up" remains one of the undiscovered highlights of Von's precocious talent, an unsurpassed mash-up of low-fi synthesised drum beats, blissed out guitars and insistent bass - if only "Gift" had sounded half as innovative as this.
Incredibly, the 12" of Girlsoul continues to trade for around ten dollars on auction sites despite the relatively small number of copies in circulation, as "Dust Up" continues to sneak beneath the otherwise very effective AE/TOM netscape radar. It still sounds ominously futuristic (in the proper sense of the word) today, but back in the summer of 1983 it was yet another (seemingly missable for the music press) sign for the cognoscenti that here was a major talent emerging, rather than just anther indie chart five-minute wonder. The message scratched on the run-out track says it all : "Salto nel vuoto" - "Leap into the Void".

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Chinese at Leeds

It's strange to think that like many things in life, the Sisters of Mercy would never have happened were it nor for a series of coincidences which brought people (in this case Marx and Eldritch) into each other's company. Andrew Taylor was clearly a highly academic linguist as a young man, having acquired sufficient proficiency in both French and German (two languages being a minimum there in the late 1970s) to satisfy the dons at Oxford. Having failed to make the most of that educational opportunity, where weekly essays and tutorials during the infamously short terms push even the most asiduous undergraduate to breaking point, his previous qualifications were impressive enough to grant entry onto Leeds University's Chinese B.A. degree programme, an intensive four year ab initio course and one of the few universities in the UK offering such a course (there having been a UK government plan to promote Far Eastern languages as long  as fifty years ago, long before phrases such as "tiger economies" were coined).
Most language degrees require(d) students to spend the third year of their course in a country where the language was spoken, but Leeds students of Chinese, most of whom were total beginners, spent their second year abroad, after only a year's exposure to the language (the average European language undergraduate would in contrast have spent a decade learning French or Spanish, for example, before living abroad for a year). The fact that unappetising stories about the year in China - students were allegedly housed in a bleak academic residence outside Beijing and chaperoned on all excursions by "guides" - were circulating in the student community at the time made the year in China seem even more unappealing to some, and Eldritch was not the only student to bail out rather than face the apparent ordeal of the year in China at a time when most students were still struggling to master basic characters and intonations, despite Leeds' ground-breaking language labs.
Dropping out for a second time, Taylor's academic career had clearly come to a grinding halt, and it would be interesting to speculate as to which path his life may have taken him had his initial partnership with Marx not blossomed within a few years into the innovative and dramatic rock beat which we all know and love.