Thursday, 16 April 2015
For a cutting edge band who captured rock's zeitgeist for a couple of years between 1982 and 1985, The Sisters of Mercy had few real champions in the national media. Sure, John Peel gave them their first national radio plays and their first radio sessions, but once they signed with a major he seemed to lose interest as the band's material headed off in a drearier direction (cf the Peel session version of NTTC or the Body and Soul EP lead track which he rightly lambasted on air).
Very few national journalists seemed to really "get " the band, incredibly failing to see any irony or innovation in the Girls' recorded work and seemingly immune to what were incendiary live performances. Whilst their colleagues were falling over themselves to fawn over the mundane likes of Green On Red or Brigandage, only a few hacks seemed to accept at face value Von's claim that the band knew their place in rock's pantheon and were there to praise as much as to subvert. Melody Maker's Adam Sweeting instantly realised that he was in the presence of greatness when he stumbled across the band in York in early 1982, and was a faithful proseytizer for the band's cause over the next few years, writing the programme notes used for the York Rock Festival and continuing to support the band when he switched to The Guardian in the mid-80s, a newspaper for whom he still provides rock obituaries.
If Sweeting was the earliest high-profile supporter of the band, the most enthusiastic was Dave Dickson, the legendary and idiosyncratic contributor to rock bible Kerrang! (their exclamation mark, not mine), who seemed enchanted by the band and made no secret of his admiration for both releases and live shows. Whether many of K!'s readership followed Dickson down this unusual furrow will never be known, but his influential prose helped to propagate the idea that herre was band that defied the simple posi-punk proto-gothic pigeonholing.
The third of the journalistic holy trinity for me was The Times' David Sinclair, who had only started at The Times months before the legendary Albert Hall gig, of which he write an erudite, positive and mellifluous review, pinpointing the band's key reference points and lending a real gravitas to their achievements. He then published a seminal interview with Von (above) conducted in Hamburg, detailing his life as an Englishman abroad and adding several layers of varnish to an already developing tale of Eldritch as a genuine, artful and enigmatically interesting artist. Sinclair also survives to this day as The Times' senior music critic, as like Sweeting his ability to both spot and then write engagingly about a real talent has not deserted him.
By the time the band resurfaced as a live band in rather more cock-rock pantomime style by the time the 90s began, other critics rushed to praise the over-staged and somewhat ropey live performances, which lacked the previous charm, guile, immediacy and the feeling that things could and probably go wrong at any second, ushering in an age of increasingly bland interviews and insipid and unconvincing live reviews. All of which makes the purple prose of Messrs Sweeting, Dickson and Sinclair even more impressive. Gentlemen, I salute you.