Tuesday, 29 December 2015

The March Violets : Mortality Pledge Project reviewed

(This post breaks with the recent tradition of researching 1983 TSOM gigs and like previous posts reviewing new releases by Leather Nun and Salvation, talks of a new album of interest to TSOM fans)

The Yuletide excitement of childhood returned this year for many ageing goths, with many sprinting down the stairs on Christmas morning to see if the kindly bearded gent had left the promised delivery. Expectation reached fever pitch as laptops and tablets booted up to discover the e-mailed link to the download of the latest March Violets Pledge project, Mortality, put together by said kindly bearded gent, Mr Si Denbigh.
The March Violets are unquestionably the band most inextricably associated with TSOM, initially (summer of 1982) proving more popular than the Girls themselves on Eldritch's Merciful Release label, and Si Denbigh's crew continued to be an (unwitting?) inspiration throughout the 80s. Twin male and female "beauty and the beast" image ? That's the Floodland band image sorted. Old school all-male leather-clad rockers (Batfish Boys) ? Quelle surprise, here comes Vision Thing. Although Denbigh and Eldritch may have fallen out in the early 80s with the Violets leaving to form their own label, Rebirth, the rift was soon healed and Si served for many years as "Nurse to the Doktor", an integral part of TSOM's live entourage, until the successful reformation of the Violets (initially in 2007, then more seriously from 2011) saw him leave to re-graze former pastures.

The Violets' return was concretised with the critical success of their 2013 Pledge project resulting in the Made Glorious album, comprising the best of the songs since the band’s reformation, covering a plethora of styles but with all of the traditional elements still in place : Denbigh and (original) female vocalist Rosie Garland's very different but well-matched vocals complementing each other, the faithful mechanised clank of drum machine Dr Rhythm, the six string alchemy of vastly under-rated guitarist Tom Ashton producing as full a sound from his one guitar as most goth bands manage with two, and the driving bass sound of then new recruit, Jo Violet. However, two years later, in August 2015, the latter's departure from the band was confirmed by Denbigh on social media, as he prepared to launch the new Pledge project for 2015, the Mortality Tour and Album. This innovative idea was to give fans the chance to virtually accompany the Violets on their North American tour in the Autumn, at the end of which the band would head into the studio for a few days to re-record some old favourites in time for Christmas download release. Although the idea only attracted a couple of hundred pledgers initially, those who did sign up received regular video updates from the tour, including video footage of rehearsals, life on the road and some of the weird and wonderful venues which the band were booked into.
Joining the band for this project as Joanna Moy's replacement was none other than American goth royalty William Coulter, better known by his stage name William Faith, and former member of (amongst others) Mephisto Walz and of course Faith and the Muse (his partner in the latter band, the iconic Monica Richards having contributed a remix to the double CD for Pledgers on the Made Glorious project). The tour itself was a great success, with the set list gradually evolving to include more songs from the early 80's and fewer from the reformation, and ending with a gig on (appropriately) Hallowe'en in Chicago where they were joined on stage by the legendary Mars Williams, saxophonist with the current line-up of The Psychedelic Furs, and who coincidentally can beheard on the new promo video by Satellite Paradiso, the latest project by former Furs guitarist and of course Alice/Floorshow producer John Ashton. Mars stayed on in Chicago to add his jazz noodlings to a couple of the tracks in the subsequent recording sessions, which the workaholic Denbigh then tweaked over the remaining weeks of the year whilst also providing Pledgers with a highly novel countdown to the release of the Mortality album download in the form of an online advent calendar, featuring further unseen footage from the tour. Finally, in the early hours of Christmas morning, the download was made available, and we had our first chance to hear the finished songs (although further production and indeed track selection may have taken place by the time the physical CDs and vinyl releases are available later in 2016).
The first thing that was immediately apparent was that we had one brand new track, as previewed during the tour, entitled Mortality, a dark and fast-paced song with an understated chorus which would have sat very happily on Made Glorious. Elsewhere, the final selection of the other nine tracks revealed that none of the songs from the debut Religious as Hell EP had made the cut, but that both A and some B sides of the subsequent five indie chart-topping singles (Grooving in Green, Crow Baby, Snake Dance, Walk Into The Sun and Deep) are all present and correct. It's fair to say that none of the versions are drastically different from the originals - with more "arch" vocal phrasing here, some extra bass motifs there, and a bit (or indeed a lot) of jazz sax squawking on the likes of Lights Go Out and Walk Into The Sun - but the production is much fuller, and the songs which have all stood the test of time sound all the more potent for it. For the anorak completist (guilty as charged m'lud) there is the pleasure of hearing Rosie's more dulcet tones on some of the later tracks (rather than Cleo’s less subtle and pitchier vocals), and Simon's vocal (rightfully) restored to Deep (as he was unceremoniously booted out of the band before the single's release, although he did sing on the earlier BBC session version).
So all in all another successful Pledge project for the Violets, with the latest tally getting on for 200% of the original target set, two more legendary figures (Williams and Faith) added to the mix, and proof that there is still a great deal of interest for Violets music both new and old. With other new songs potentially in the pipeline, plus a large number of unreleased songs from the early/mid 80s (Miracle of the Rose, Big Soul Kiss, Kill The Delight etc etc) still available for (or is this wishful thinking on my part?) a future Pledge project, although the Violets are clearly aware of their own Mortality, this latest offering shows that there is plenty of life left in the old dog yet. Play loud, play purple!

(At the time of writing, it is still possible to "pledge" on this highly recommended project - http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/mortality )

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Wake(y) Wake(y) ! Choruses from behind the chippy ?

Leeds may be by some distance the largest city in West Yorkshire, but traditionally the county town and the site of the local cathedral was the “Merrie City” of Wakefield, some nine miles away and now dominated by its much bigger neighbour. TSOM always had a strong following from the area at early gigs (the self-appointed “God Squad”) and Gary Marx has connections with the town, but gigographies of the band list no concerts by the band there, despite persistent rumours to the contrary. Another Sisters Mystery waiting to be solved?
Heartland member PiB, an authority on most things TSOM from the eighties era, states in a discussion thread on the Forum that the “God Squad” were originally roadies and various hangers-on from the town and that TSOM played “at least two secret gigs for them at a pub in Wakefield. It was the pub where they started. I do know for definite that there was a gig at the Hellfire Club, before the Reptile House tour, and that a tape exists.”

All this remained the second-hand reporting of an ex-roadie’s reminiscences until a few weeks ago, when new Heartland member Poisonheart (describing himself as a “citizen of Wakefield”, a phrase often used by Eldritch to describe the followers back in the day – see the mention on the label of the 7” of 1983’s Temple of Love – “Thanks to Pontiac (Detroit) and the Citizens of Wakefield”) on mentioning how much he’d enjoyed the recent (October 2015)Manchester gig by the current line-up, the first time he’d seen the band since ’84 having increasingly lost interest after the release of The Reptile House EP. Astonishingly, in response to further posts he then revealed, almost en passant, “I’d also swear that I saw the band in Wakefield [in addition to early Leeds gigs], but can’t be 100% on that, but if we did I would say The Strafford Arms ?” This would certainly fit in with PiB’s information, but when the latter joined the conversation to suggest “The Hellfire Club” as the venue, Poisonheart agreed that that was indeed most likely the case.
The Hellfire Club was a noted posi-punk/goth club night based at Heppy’s nightclub, a somewhat unusual venue in the town. Situated in an alleyway off the Bullring, Heppy’s belonged to Frank Hepworth, an old-school nightclub impresario and entertainer known (according to his obituary in the Wakefield Express in 2001) for his “madcap anecdotes and exploits” and who sang with his own band The Kalahari Bushmen, a big local draw.  
He and some friends had converted an old workshop premises into Heppy’s Fish and Chicken restaurant with a nightclub at the rear in the 1960’s in the town’s Radcliffe Yard, and like many clubs at the time, took advantage of a loophole in the licensing laws which meant that punters who were dining could be served alcohol. Effectively, patrons were given a burger or a bag of chips (which they would often instantly bin) with their entry fee, enabling them to be served alcohol! “I always found it strange walking through the chippy to get into a club,” says Poisonheart “but it was part of its character.” The club had already had success in the late 60’s as The Place, a noted Northern Soul night, and tried its luck again in 1983 with a regular series of gigs promoting the cream of the posi-punk movement.
Test Dept, Virgin Prunes, The Fall (Brix Smith’s first ever gig with the band), Flesh for Lulu and The Meteors are just some of the bands who appeared at the venue (on the now renamed Radcliffe Place), with the latter’s performance video-ed and now available on DVD from Cherry Red, who have placed a couple of extracts on YT which allow us to have some idea of the club’s internal dimensions. The club is also mentioned as a seminal outpost of the nascent gothic movement in a couple of recent publications, Dave Haslam’s history of clubbing “Life After Dark”, which quotes David Peace (author of “The Damned United”) as a regular attender,  and the rather more patchy (and bizarre) history of The Batcave scene written in French by Thierry F. (“Le Boucanier”) who toured the UK with his band, Troops for Tomorrow”. “We loved the Hellfire Club in Wakefield which was even dingier than The Batcave and where they played darker, more obscure goth tracks. They even projected the film “The Evil Dead” behind us on stage whilst we played” (the venue having one of the North’s biggest video screens at the time, used mainly on more regular “meat market” clubbing nights during the rest of the week).

Sadly, as this unfocussed aerial photo proves, like its colourful former owner Heppy’s is no more, being now a car park seen towards the centre of the shot.  But what about TSOM - all that was now needed was to ascertain a definitive date for the early Wakefield gig, apparently in Spring 1983. Enter another Sisters veteran fan, one of the founder members of “The God Squad”, “a name that started in Wakefield in early 1983. There were only a few of us at first, but many other people became involved,” he told revered Sisters archivist Phil Verne. Bad news was to follow : “I do not remember the Sisters playing a gig in Wakefield between 1982 and 1984…A few of us used to take turns to DJ at The Hellfire Club. For one night a week we would help convert the club into an indie venue. We had a huge camouflage net that we fixed to the roof and played “horror” videos on the big screen…We were lucky enough to find a copy of “The Evil Dead” before it was censored…. Many bands played there, Gene Loves Jezebel, Living in Texas, 1919 etc…but I am pretty sure that neither the Sisters nor the Violets ever played there. There was quite a bit of damage at the club after one of The Meteors’ gigs, and the owner was not very happy!!! So it was like the beginning of the end of the club.”

This authoritative account is surely also the beginning of the end for this Sisters mystery … unless anyone can prove otherwise?

As usual, many thanks to all who have provided information for this post, including the anonymous veteran Sisters fan, Poisonheart, PiB, Phil Verne and others. Thank you for your generosity in sharing your memories.

Friday, 27 November 2015

A Manc before midnight

Small number of locals, outnumbered by roadies and hangers-on ? Check. Spiggytapes sample song uploaded to YouTube ? Check. Poster from LG on the sisterswiki ? Check. Contemporary Meteors gig footage ? Check. Venue since demolished ? Check.

Yes, it’s another date from the never-ending sporadic series of TSOM shows in the first half of 1983. The date at Manchester’s Gallery venue was in the middle of what Gary Marx later described as “our first proper mini-tour” of half a dozen shows towards the end of March 1983, a useful warm-up for the more high-profile joint tour with The Gun Club the following month. The Sunday night Manchester gig (27th March) therefore followed on from the Liverpool Warehouse, Birmingham Golden Eagle and Colne Franc’s gigs, and came before the Hull Dingwall’s and Glasgow Night Moves shows.

Looking at the somewhat home-made and last-minute nature of the above poster (again from LG’s voluminous and generously shared collection, as regular readers will recognise from the distinctive tv remotes used to weight down the corners for the photo), it’s hardly surprising that the Sisters show failed to draw a capacity crowd. Amongst those who were in attendance was (along with his friend Clive) long-time fan Ed Dobson, seeing TSOM for the very first time, who reckons that “there were less than 100 people at the gig, I’ve always said about 60, with probably about half being the God Squad anyway.”
                    (pic © techno.de and featured on the Pubs of Manchester blogspot)

Like many of the venues played in 1983, The Gallery was a basement room and bar and although it was most famous as a (still fondly remembered) soul club largely patronised by the city’s Afro-Caribbean community, it also regularly featured gigs, and the Happy Mondays made their live debut here. In his autobiography (memorably entitled “Twisting My Melon”), Sean Ryder remembers The Gallery “could be a bit moody, but all those gaffs that were late-night joints back then were like that.” Ed Dobson’s description of the venue, which was on the corner of Deansgate and Peter Street (although “Beesley Street” sounds like a more appropriate location),  is even more evocative : “It was a real sweaty hole with black gloss painted walls on the stairs down into the venue that dribbled condensed sweat and nicotine.”
According to this set of stills taken at the venuethat night (and set to one of their better studio recordings on YT), the support act was local new wave band Nu Tricx (who sound like The Offspring on this track), and the TSOM cloth backdrop banner is clearly visible behind them, but Ed Dobson arrived during their set and has no recollection of them. He does remember chatting to Von sharing a Marlboro and buying him a drink (still your round, Andrew) by the entrance to the changing room to the left of the stage, and asking him how much he wanted for the backdrop banner. “He just laughed”.

(picture from the Manchester District MusicArchive, where a comment below the photo makes the unlikely claim that Alexei sayle was the warm-up man on the night))

A recording of the show has surfaced, beginning with Anaconda, although Ed is almost certainly correct when he states that “I’m pretty sure they started with Kiss the Carpet (as did the other gigs at that time)”. Although some gigs on that tour seemingly ended with Gimme Shelter, those at The Gallery were also treated to the Ghostrider/Louie Louie medley, which Phil Verne has (once again) generously uploaded toYouTube for all to enjoy. This was the moment which ensured Ed’s enduring affection for the band : “The beat from the Dok just made my jaw drop and for me it was the best song of the whole gig.” Ed also states that “Clive always says that Gary fell off the stage during the gig, but I couldn’t swear to that, but as the stage was only about 8” high it wasn’t epic.”
Those wanting to sample the atmosphere of The Gallery in those days could do worse than check out this excellent footage of a Meteors gig from around that time, revealing the small balcony which gave the club its name. Other YouTube footage from the club features The Chameleons, the ubiquitous UK Subs and even REM. Despite a paint job (turning the rather garish green and red colour scheme a pristine white), The Gallery closed for business a couple of years after TSOM’s gig, and the whole building was eventually bulldozed as part of the redevelopment of the Deansgate area, a modernist building surfacing in its place.
 Despite the attempted gentrification of the era, the yuppified Bar 38 and pre-club Purity have both failed to make the new venue pay, and it has lain empty for the past two years.
The Sisters returned to Manchester the following month on the Gun Club tour, famously playing in drag at the more prestigious Hacienda venue (which hey had already visited in October 1982 supporting The Furs). Manchester has remained a popular stop off, and only last month (October 2015) they returned to the city’s Ritz venue, where they had played back in 1985.

My special thanks for this post, in addition to the usual suspects (Phil Verne for the audio and LG for the poster), are due to Ed Dobson for sharing his memories of his first Sisters gig, and for patiently dealing with my follow-up queries. I would be delighted to hear from anyone else who saw the Sisters back in ’81-’83 and wouldn’t mind sharing their reminiscences for a future post.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

The Sisters of Mersey

There were probably more people at Eleanor Rigby’s funeral. Four lads (and a drum machine) who shook the alternative musical world played their first gig in the self-proclaimed world music capital on March 24th 1983 – and nobody came ! Playing the role of Father Mackenzie that night at the short-lived Club Fiasco at the equally short-lived Liverpool Warehouse venue was Roger Hill, punk fanzine editor turned presenter of BBC Radio Merseyside’s “Rockaround” alternative music programme, who recalled the night when he interviewed Wayne and Mark (Gary) on his show immediately prior to the May 1984 date at Liverpool University’s Students Union.
Asked if remembered the show, Marx admitted “Yes, it was the night New Order played – it was practically empty!” (As regular readers of this blog will know, this was not an unusual occurrence for the band outside their native West Yorkshire as late as Spring 1983, but Marx was indeed correct in his recollection, as New Order did indeed play in the city that night, at the State Ballroom on Dale St.)
Hill retorted, “Yes, it was practically empty. There were more of what I thought were roadies but were probably your followers than anybody else…there was a lot of ferocious sort of electrical dancing going on that night.” Later in the same interview, when discussing the differences in the band since the Warehouse gig (“fuller sound…better guitars and amplification”), Hill stated that the concert was “one of the half dozen best I’ve ever been to…It seemed like everyone in the band was off their head. I don’t know if it was the music or anything else (!).Most of what I thought were your roadies were going beserk but down in the body of the Warehouse there wasn’t an awful lot else going on.”
Marx merely replied that “We’re not used to playing at such volume, and when we do, there’s an electricity that runs through us.” Listening to an excellent quality recording of the gig, it’s hard not to agree that there might be another (more chemical ?) reason for the band’s unchained performance. Von misses vocal cues in several songs having sung the memorable couplet “I kissed the curtain, I climbed the carpet” in the set opener. His performance in “Burn” would probably be euphemistically described by veteran American Idol judge Randy Jackson as “pitchy”, whilst the final chorus of “Jolene” is delivered in the voice usual reserved for the final “go go go go GO !” of Floorshow.

Between songs Vons’s mogadon tones merely informed the sparse audience of the age of the various songs “This is an old one. Not that old. Not as old as some of them….This is fairly old” (Adrenochrome), “This is a new one” (Burn) and very appropriately “The newest song of all” after set newcomer “Heartland”. (click on the name of the song to hear this song from the gig, thanks to the generosity of Phil Verne).
After an incendiary “Body Electric”, the band leave the stage briefly before returning for the encore, Craig admitting “It dern’t tek much to gerr us back on”. Returning to the evening’s theme, Von introduces “This is the oldest one of all. Someone else has put this one together, with loads of nice, melodic bits and stuff that we don’t usually bother with much. You get the gist.” The band launch into what turns out to be a somewhat shambolic version of “Gimme Shelter”, Gary messing up one of his mini guitar solos resulting in Von coming in for the second verse in the wrong key, and Craig ending up doing an impromptu bass finale after the good Doktor and the rest of the band have finished.
(photo shared by Marc Jones on FB)

Apart from the audio recording, there is no other memorabilia from the gig (but if you have a ticket, flyer or poster, please share!), although some of the bizarre “exercise book” style flyers for other months of gigs at the Warehouse have seen the light of day, plus a few contemporary photos of other bands on stage there (easily identifiable as “Liverpool Warehouse” was written in big letters on the back wall of the stage). The Warehouse, in common with other legendary Liverpool venues The Cavern and Eric’s, was in a basement of a much older building, and since the closure of Eric’s had become the major live music venue in the city. The venue, part of an actual former warehouse (funnily enough), was gutted by fire a month after the Sisters visit, but as a brick-built building survived, and by my reckoning is now part of the Krazyhouse complex (judging by the address on the flier).
Roger Hill combined a career as a radio presenter (“Rockaround” changed into “Pure Musical Sensations” the longest running alternative radio show on BC local radio) with various other roles on the arts scene and his film “Punk Snow” based on his diaries as a young punk in Liverpool in the late 70’s is now available on YouTube. He also spent some time as a lecturer at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (LIPA), just like his erstwhile interviewee Mr Pearman.

As for TSOM, Eldritch developed a famous disdain for the city, but was happy to use a photo of the Mersey as the backdrop for the cover of the “Floodland” LP in 1987.

My thanks are once again due to Phil Verne for allowing me to access the relevant parts of his massive TSOM audio archive. If anyone has old cassettes of TSOM gathering dust, why not contact him at spiggytapes@free.fr

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Double Hull ?

Not many venues received a double visit from TSOM as they toured relentlessly in the second quarter of 1983 as a series of successive releases (Anaconda 7”, Alice 12” and Reptile House EP) from the band began to dominate the upper reaches of the indie charts. Leeds Warehouse got a couple of visits within three weeksin April, whilst various London venues also enjoyed multiple gigs by TSOM, as the canny Eldritch knew that (despite what he said about not needing to be based in London) impressing in the capital was key to unlocking further growth potential for the band and would unlock vital future friendships for further stages of the slowly evolving meisterplan.

One town which seems to have enjoyed a return trip was Hull, or Kingston upon Hull to give the city its full name, original home town of Gary Marx before he moved to Leeds (and of course also the home town of current Sisters stalwart Chris Catalyst). The owners of successful London venue Dingwalls somehow acquired finance at the start of 1983 to open up a chain of sister venues around the UK to roll out its live music every night of the week (as far as possible – advertised with the strapline “Rhythm and Booze) concept and Hull (along with Bristol, Sheffield, and Newcastle for example) was chosen as one of the cities for the launch.

In Hull as in several other cities, the venue transformed was the former bierkeller the Hofbrauhaus, which had a disco (Scamps then Oddyssey) upstairs, and details of the venue’s history, together with the photo reproduced above can be found on Paul Gibson’s excellent website which provides an exhaustive history of the former nightclubs of Hull. The Sisters were originally booked to play at Dingwalls on March 31st (Maundy Thursday), as can be seen in the music press advert below which gives some idea of the eclecticism of the booking policy, a mixture of disco, reggae and fading new wave artists featuring in the same week as the Sisters. Very little evidence of this first gig has surfaced, as tapes originally circulating amongst fans, and tracks which have appeared on bootleg compilations such as Black Diamonds, are in fact from the following night’s Good Friday gig at Glasgow Nightmoves. A half ticket purporting to be from that night can be seen on the TSOM wiki, but again provides no conclusive evidence that it was from this gig. The best evidence I have been able to find is this conversation on Twitter where a fan who ran the bar at Hull Dingwalls remembers seeing them twice there.

The second Hull Dingwalls gig, and the final UK show of the lengthy spring tour took place on Friday 1st July, as the advert below will testify. There are no doubts about the legitimacy of this second gig, however, as the whole show was recorded via the mixing desk resulting in arguably the finest quality audio bootleg recording of the Gunn era. Our old friend “spiggytapes” has very generously uploaded a couple of samples of this gig on to YouTube, so that everyone can hear the likes of “Valentine” in their live prime. Furthermore, he has also uploaded a snippet of a very rare soundcheck recording of the band, Gimme Shelter, also from the soundboard recording of this gig, with Eldritch complaining “I can’t sing it this fast” about a minute in before the band grind to a halt. Sack the Nurse !

On the internet there are a couple of sets of photos from gigs at the short-lived Hull branch of Dingwalls (the whole chain except London closed abruptly shortly after the Sisters’ second trip to Hull). This very impressive Eurythmics website features a dozen or so shots from that band’s gig there, and give a good idea of what the venue looked like, with the then fashionable bare brick walls and the ubiquitous pillar close to the stage to spoil the sightlines for the audience. Legendary Sisters collector LG has very kindly shared these previously unseen (by me at least) wonderful pics of TSOM’s visit, which again show the close proximity of band and fans in these small, intimate gigs, the likes of which we have not seen since 1983. Von is seen wearing his “Sisters” leather jacket, with a Reptile House sticker armband, not the most effective marketing campaign ever.

Sadly, not long after the venue closed (and before the photo at the top of the page was taken, as eagle eyed readers will no doubt have noticed), the club (including Odyssey upstairs) was badly damaged in a fire, and like so many venues of that era, has subsequently been bulldozed and is now used primarily as a car park. Careful scrutiny of the photo below however will reveal that the original brickwork from the lower fa├žade is still in place, and certainly more than enough to erect a blue plaque on ;-) .

Once again I would like to express my thanks to LG and Spiggytapes (Phil Verne) for sharing the relevant sections of their extensive collections for the purposes of this post, and for those whose own archive sites have helped with research.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Sisters Mysteries IV

It’s hard enough researching gigs from 1983 which one didn’t personally attend when there is ample evidence that they took place and when they are listed in the Gigography on the venerable Sisters wiki, but it’s doubly hard when all of the evidence points to the fact that the gig did not, in fact take place.

Such seemed to be the case for the TSOM gig which allegedly took place at the Sheffield branch of the short-lived Dingwalls chain in the spring of 1983 when the band were on the road to showcase their new material from The Reptile House EP.

A Sheffield Dingwalls advert surfaced some years ago which seemed to indicate a new date on the joint Gun Club/TSOM tour of Saturday 23rd April ’83, but this turned out to be false trail, as that gig never took place, and instead the Sisters appeared at the Peterborough Technical College on that night, a gig that was filmed and where the incendiary nature of the band’s performance and the audience’s enthusiastic response have resulted in that show having a special place in the hearts of all those who hold Gunn era Sisters dear. Further confusion arose when a tape purporting from a Sheffield Dingwalls gig began to circulate, but unfortunately this turned out to be a simple case of mis-labelling (either accidental or, for financial gain, deliberate), with the contents simply the same as those of the Hull Dingwalls gig of July 1st that year, a disappointing experience with which hardy collectors become depressingly over-familiar.
The trail seemed to have reached a dead end, especially as there is a well-known further Sheffield appearance during the never-ending early 1983 tour, the free gig at the university which I myself attended and which is covered in an earlier post on this blog. At that gig though, Eldritch’s first comment to the crowd is “Back in smelly city,” implying that the band had indeed paid a recent visit to the former steel capital of the world, whereas according to all published gigographies this would have been their first visit to Sheffield.

Then in 2012 a website devoted to (of all things) the Evesham legend The Dancing Did turned up this advert from the NME in May 1983, revealing a hastily rearranged gig for TSOM at the Sheffield Dingwalls venue on Friday 20th, an easy nip down the M1 for a quick weekend cash-fix for the band, and a guaranteed decent turn-out at short notice for the already struggling Dingwalls.

A further poster (owned by legendary collector LG and lent by him with typical generosity for this blog post) confirms this date, revealing that the Sisters could be seen for the princely sum of just £1.50, the same price charged for New Model Army with Joolz as support earlier in the week. An interesting artefact, but hard evidence that the gig took place.

Then last year the indefatigable and tenacious French collector Phil “spiggytapes” Verne revealed on Heartland Forum that he had had correspondence with a Richard N from Wakefield who had been at the Dingwalls gig. “Also I have seen one gig in in Sheffield (Dingwalls?) in late April or May 1983. I remember being there because Andrew and Mark (Gary) allowed to sit back stage during the gig because I was in a car accident a week before. It was also one of the first times that the Sisters had a proper merchandise stall at a gig. (Before then, we made and printed our own 'Body Electric' T-Shirts),” Richard had told him.
Scanning through an online discussion forum devoted to live music in Sheffield, I have discovered another mention of the gig, amongst a list of shows which the poster saw at Dingwalls ("I remember the gigs at Dingwalls, man the bouncers were rough in there. Saw Bad Brains, Addicts, Big Country, Sisters of Mercy and loads more"):
Even more incredibly, it turns out that photos shared on the Sisters of Mercy FB page by Ali H a couple of years ago are from this gig, and are part of a much larger series of shots which she took on the night. Ali has kindly agreed to me sharing a couple of the shots here, and told me : “I remember it being quite a decent little venue, but with a very small stage, they all seemed so crammed there. The gig wasn’t that full, and I was quite near the front from where I took the photos. The Sisters sounded very good, but I remember Andrew getting very angry with Dok A, and he kepy kicking and hitting him. Whether this solved the problem I have no idea, but he obviously wasn’t happy with something. I thought they were awesome, and in those days you could sit on the edge of the stage with them.”

With the emergence of the gig adverts, the eye-witness accounts of Richard N and Ali H (plus her photos) and the recollections of the fan on the Sheffield Forum, there already seems to be more than enough evidence (certainly more than for many others already listed) to reinstate this gig on the official list of TSOM gigs played during the busy halcyon days of 1983. However, the icing on the cake is the existence of an audio recording of the gig, which is easily recognisable as being the Dingwalls show. At the end of the Toy Dolls’ incongruous version of the nursery rhyme “Nellie the Elephant”, the club’s DJ announces to cheers “OK Sheffield, The Sisters of Mercy!” over the instantly recognisable opening drum machine intro to Kiss The Carpet. Richard N will be delighted to recall that Heartland was dedicated "For Wakefield" ( a reward for the God Squad's efforts in coming down the motorway and providing their own unique atmosphere), and the end of the gig is just as memorable, with the clearly still misbehaving Doktor Avalanche (and then the guitar) coming to an end just before Eldritch reaches the crescendo of Sister Ray, leaving the singer to end the song acapella (as he often did for Gimme Shelter), screaming the final “It’s just like Sister Ray said!” in a manner that would have Darth Vader diving for cover, or will be familiar to those who heard his version of "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around".

Like the rest of the chain, the transformation from the Hofbrauhaus Bierkeller to the Sheffield Dingwalls live music venue did not last long, the club closing later in the early summer,  and since then the bar has traded successfully as Berlins and then the gay bar Fuel, but has been closed now for the best part of a decade (blue and white For Sale board visible on the left of this photo). Although listed as being on Furnival St on the original NME advert above, the building where Dingwalls was sited is on a section of that street which was (for obscure reasons) renamed Furnival Gate in the 1990s, and in any case the entrance to Dingwalls was round the corner on Eyre Street, underneath the NCP car park (the lower floors of which can be seen at the top of the picture).

This gig has lain in obscurity for far too long, and I would like to once again acknowledge the incredible generosity of Phil Verne and LG for sharing items from their expensively and lengthily acquired collections with me (and, by extension, the readers of this blog who share our obsession with TSOM 81-85 period, but particularly the first two years). If you have any rare items – especially audio -  from that period, Phil can be contacted at spiggytapes@free.fr ). My thanks for this post also to Richard N, and particularly Ali H for being so patient with all my queries.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Balti and Soul

This has to be the most obscure of the venues (where the Sisters played) covered so far in this blog, and it’s also the earliest gig discussed here. There’s never been much to do in the West Yorkshire town of Keighley on a Monday night, but all that was to change in March 1982 when enterprising Bradford music fan Nick Toczek, founder of the local Wool City Rocker fanzine, leased the local Funhouse nightclub for a series of gigs under the name “Gory Details”.

If you head down North Street (the address listed on Toczek’s typically information-rammed hand-written flyer), you’ll come across a fine century old Edwardian cinema known as The Picture House, a venerable institution which as its own website points out, has “remained in continuous use as a cinema without suffering the indignities of bingo”. It did however also stage one off gigs featuring legendary stars such as Billy Fury and Marty (Dad of Kim) Wilde.

However, only if you were peckish after a trip to the cinema are you likely to stumble across the road to the location of the Sisters gig of Monday 29th March 1982, for the second Gory Details gig (like others in the series) took place above the current Mango’s take away restaurant, which as can be seen from the photo has an extensive menu from pizzas to Balti dishes! For information on this gig I am hugely indebted to former Keighley resident Graham Smith, a long-term Sisters fan who was at the gig and has provided much of the supporting material for this post. “The Funhouse entrance was next to what is now Mango’s and is shown on your photo as the Walayat Plaza apartments,” Graham told me. “You used to go through that front door and up a steep staircase to the club.”

Graham also pointed me in the direction of a YT video of his cousin’s band, The Shakes, shot at a Gory Details night at The Funhouse. Not only does it give some decent shots of the venue itself, but it also allows New Model Army fans a sight of a song (51st State) which was to be adapted and made famous by Justin Sullivan’s clog-wearing goth-folk rock ensemble. Keighley is also famous as the home town of Skeletal Family, and many locals started bands after being inspired by what they saw at the Funhouse.

As well as the Sisters, the bill on March 29th also featured labelmates The March Violets surely playing one of their earliest ever gigs here around the time they were to record their first MR single Religious as Hell (released in August of that year), and joining TSOM on stage for the first time (quite literally for the encore, an improvised Silver Machine over a typical Doktor Avalanche encore back-beat). Heartland Forum member Poisonheart, who was also at the gig told me “The Violets seemed quite excited by the gig as a whole to be honest. I can’t remember much of what the Sisters played that night but they definitely played my favourite song – Floorshow”. At the bottom of a memorable bill was ubiquitous ranting poet Seething Wells, better known as the late influential journalist Steven/Susan Wells (described by Everett True as “a tastemaker”) of the NME. 

Unfortunately, there is no recording of the gig currently in circulation, but as further evidence that this gig (for which there is no known recording) actually took place, Graham has kindly shared a second flyer for later gigs in the Gory Details series which lists the previous gigs in the “run”.
Although Southern Death Cult, Dance Society and Sex Gang Children also featured in subsequent events, Toczek increasingly filled the bill with the dying embers of the punk/oi movement, and Graeme, Poisonheart and others drifted elsewhere to the likes of Francs in Colne (covered in a recent post) and The Hellfire Club in Wakefield (to follow shortly) to see more bands from the emerging posi-punk scene. Promoter Toczek himself moved on to present further club nights in the Bradford area for the next couple of years, before (having married and started a family) returning to his original profession as a poet/writer, and he is to this day still very much in demand for school visits as a children’s author.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Pre FALAA at the Gala

A popular BBC celebrity dancing show reminds us that every British provincial town used to have at least one palais de danse, where in the twentieth century young citizens could go to ballroom dance, then jive, then rock’n’roll then disco dance. The Gala Ballroom in Norwich which opened in 1954 was one such venue, at the top of St Stephens Rd and in the wonderful archive photos below is decked out in all its early 70s splendour (pictures lent to author P Goodrum by J Polyblank and I Clark).

In the early 80s, it became the stop-off venue of choice for up-and-coming indie bands wishing to visit the geographic outpost of East Anglia (SDC, Smiths et al), and TSOM Facebook Group member Mike Read who worked there at the time remembers it well. "I used to help to set up the stage which was up the other end [than in the above photo]. The place was used as one of those synthetic ice rinks during the week, then lifted up and stacked for the bands at the weekends. I left for another job just before the Sisters played - gutted!" So it was that The Sisters of Mercy and The Gun Club were booked in to play there on their joint tour in April 1983, as this somewhat garish and definite article averse vintage poster (very kindly shared here by Belgian collector Bruno Bossier) will attest.
The hall’s ballroom past was referred to by Radio One DJ Richard Skinner, who when reading TSOM’s forthcoming tour dates when sitting in for the absent David Jensen and playing the band’s Reptile House era session tracks announced that “They’ll have to take the glitter ball down for that one !” As can be seen from the very original ticket below (again from the collection of the generous Bruno Bossier), the two bands could be seen for the princely sum of just £2.50!
Like many of the dates on that tour, the Sisters were arguably the biggest draw punter-wise although the Gun Club enjoyed the larger billing. The band certainly made a big impression, with two fans nominating it last year on the I-Spy Norwich FB page in a thread asking members to nominate the best ever gig they saw in the town, out od the many thousand possible contenders. Russell J Turner, a poet and actor based in Norwich,  recalled a “Storming gig. The Sisters of Mercy did versions of Jolene and Gimme Shelter, I seem to recall.”
Like almost all of the gigs on that tour, the show was bootlegged and a couple of tracks surfaced in 1986 on an Italian 7” single allegedly limited to 600 copies entitled “Nightmares”. The tracks were the afore-mentioned Jolene and Adrenochrome, but the sound quality was no more than adequate despite the sleeve claiming that the recording engineer was “Andy Taylor”. A full recording of the show has been circulating amongst fans for many years, and Eldritch was on his usual banterous form between songs, teasing the crowd about which cover songs would be played and then dedicating Jolene to “all the people that tolerated us in dresses at the Hacienda last night”, another famous incident which has itself since passed into TSOM folklore.
The Gala Ballroom itself closed shortly after TSOM’s visit, and left Norwich bereft of live venues at a time when with the likes of The Farmers Boys, The Higsons and Testcard F were riding in the indie and occasionallynational charts, it was at its creative height as a musical hub, which in turn led to the campaign which resulted in the wonderful Waterfront Arts Complex being built. The Gala building with its unique 50s architecture is still standing, but for most of the past thirty years has been trading as a laser gun venue – ironically one of the few places where one will see more dry ice than at a Sisters gig !