Monday, 4 May 2015

New York, New York

In most interviews when TSOM were beginning to gather a bit of momentum, any discussion with Von would focus on a few key areas. Where did the band name come from, what kind of music influenced you, why don’t you have a drummer, are you planning on releasing an album (plus ├ža change …) ? etc etc. And for any interview taking place south of Watford, a further question would rear its ugly head, i.e. the band’s “northern-ness” and a perceived need for the band to establish a following in London rather than “just” in Leeds.

The reasoning was varied, but basically Von’s argument was that journalists were lazy and that they would not travel to see and review a relatively new band “in the sticks”, hence the many appearances by TSOM in the capital in the twelve months beginning October 1982, recently lovingly catalogued in some detail by legendary Sisters’ collector “Spiggymr7” (aka “spiggytapes”) over on the Heartland Forum.

What is true for London in the UK was also the case at that time for New York and the USA, and therefore approximately one year later phase two of the meisterplan evolved, i.e. to establish a foothold in New York to build a TSOM groundswell of support in America. Fortunately the band were not short of allies, with Englishman Howard Thompson of Elektra Records already a big early fan of the band, and his friendship with the likes of the late Ruth Polsky, then booker of legendary but sadly long-gone multi-storey NY club Danceteria (and photographer of the famous “Detroit” Sisters pic) and Andy Dunkley (ex Aylesbury Friars and Hawkwind’s resident DJ) of top NY venue (then and now) Irving Plaza, must have helped to “grease the wheels”.

Although interviews and reviews surfaced from some of these early dates in 83/84 (e.g. the first Danceteria dates in September 1983) fairly quickly, much less was known until fairly recently about the Irving Plaza date (6th August 1984). However, just last week Danse Society drummer (both in the original form and the more recent reincarnation) Paul Gilmartin posted an anecdote about the gig on the TSOM fans’ Facebook page, stating that The Chameleons had played with TSOM (as they did at York a month later) and Danse Society that night, and that the latter had won a coin toss with The Sisters to see who crucially went on stage last as “headliners”! (I was thinking of asking him who called what, but thought better of it).

One American fan who attended the gig blogged about it a few years ago: Richard (“Echorich”) told his readers that the gig was a showcase under the auspices of the very influential publication CMJ, who specialise in music for the lucrative College Radio sector, where TSOM and co were already beginning to make inroads. However, the advert featured above (from New York's "East Village Voice") shows that early August 1984 was in fact the time of the rival New Music Seminar, an annual event which started in 1980 to showcase new talent (the CMJ Extravaganza taking place in October). Although the period the ad covers crucially falls short of the Sisters date, there is an intriguing early reference to The Red Hot (Chili) Peppers, recently signed to EMI playing another NMS showcase that same week.

But back to Richard's reminiscences about the TSOM show. Unfortunately, his main memory of what was supposed to be an important gig for the band was of “the Sisters’ continually faulty drum machine that night...”, not an uncommon complaint sadly in those days, but one hardly likely to impress the media and A and R gurus one can imagine had been reluctantly gathered together for such an event. The Sisters of Mercy played a further gig in the Big Apple that week three days later, supporting Rollins-era Black Flag, but judging by the lukewarm support given in the States to the release of FALAA the following year, presumably the damage had been done, to misquote a phrase, and it wouldn’t be until mk. 3 of the band that a degree of success would be achieved Stateside.


  1. Hey Nikolas, you are so very correct. It was the New Music Seminar and not CMJ. The ages have certainly fogged my memory. That was a crucial night though, musically for me. I was a rabid SOM fan at that point and it was just nirvana to have them on stage with Danse Society and The Chameleons. I may have gotten the date and music convention a bit skewed, but I can remember that night in vivid technocolor! Yes, Doktor Avalanche may have had a few too many before the show, but NO ONE complained and Sisters ripped it up that night.

  2. Thanks for your memories, Echorich. Glad to hear it was a great night despite the technical issues, which seemed to be just a normal part of the show in those days. What a line-up you saw that night, three of the best bands of the era. Rise and reverberate!

  3. I was there it was a great show, New Music Seminar rocked that year.