Monday, 1 June 2015

Plan K failed

Of all the concerts listed on TSOM gigographies, the one I had hoped most to find some evidence for was the one usually listed as having taken place at Plan K, Brussels, on 24th August 1983 on the Sisters' Trans Europe Excess inaugural trek overseas.

It just seems too perfect. A quick return to the city of their incendiary first overseas gig at the Mallemunt Free Festival (held in the Muntplein or Place de la Monnaie on 5th August) and the city of their subsequent arrest by Belgian Police, memorably captured in Philippe Carly’s fantastic contemporary photos (see here and make a donation !) . What an atmosphere there must have been at the Plan K that night, imagine the word-of-mouth amongst the hip Belgian in-crowd, the fever pitch excitement that they were attending an event as much as a gig. In an interview conducted for a local magazine at the time of the Malemunt gig, Von himself had said that only Belgians really seem to "get" the band's music and attitude, which is arguably still the case today.

And then of course, there is the venue itself, today known as La Raffinerie (see above) and home to the Charleroi Danses network, and exactly the kind of venue TSOM still love to play this day, a proud symbol of Northern Europe’s industrial past, like Dresden’s Alter Schlachtof (“Old Slaghterhouse”), Vienna’s Gasometer, or the Rockhal built on the site of the old steelworks in Luxembourg's Esch-sur-Alzette, all stops on the 2014 tour. The six-storey brick-built Raffinerie was built in the 1880’s, and as its name suggests, was a former sugar refinery of the Gräffe brand, converted in 1979 by Michel Duval and Annik Honoré into the Plan K venue, and it was here that they hosted a multi-media event which has become the stuff of legend. On 16th October 1979, William S Burroughs and Cabaret Voltaire were among the performers, but it was the presence of Joy Division and the fact that they debuted Love Will Tear Us Apart at the (appropriately named) rue de Manchester venue, as well as Curtis’ friendship with the late Honoré, which have made this particular concert a focus point for JD fans. On the thirty-fifth anniversary of the event, ran a fascinating retrospective piece which included a great quote from the ubiquitous Carly, whose images of Curtis that night helped to make his name : “Sometimes it was a bit weird when concerts took place at the same time as dance shows on the upper levels. On their way out, dressed up bourgeois would peek at this strange crowd of leather clad punks listening to noisy obscure bands. But the Plan K was all about this : mixing genres, crowds, events, concepts.”

One can almost imagine that Carly is describing a Sisters gig here, but curiously, despite his clear interest in TSOM, there are no photos of TSOM there. Nor has a live recording emerged, despite the occasional raising of hopes when a cassette allegedly of the performance emerges from a minor collector, only to be proven to be another mislabelled copy of the 5th August Mallemunt gig. (Arguably) the most  respected Sisters live tape collector told me privately that he has “a whole cardboard box full” of what turned out (after expensive investment) to be Auguest '83 Brussels fakes puporting to have taken place at venues as varied as the AB and the Plan K (and on dates including the 17th, 21st, 24th and 27th).

So even the uncertainty of the alleged date of the TSOM Plan K gig adds to suspicions that it did not in fact take place. The otherwise authoritative Sisters wiki gives it as 17th August 1983 but can provide no evidence for this, whilst the official website does not list it at all, but adds to the confusion by attributing an incorrect date to genuine Mallemunt gig. The sad fact agreed by the elite of Sisters cognoscenti (i.e. several rungs above my own level of obsession) is that, wherever the date originally arose from, the gig at the Plan K did not take place in reality.

Like a pre-teen clinging on to the concept of Santa in the face of increasingly overwhelming empirical evidence to the contrary, I still live in the hope that one day, perhaps in the late Honoré’s private collection of Plan K posters (referred to in a Belgian newspaper interview), in a previously forgotten film spool in Carly's dark room or on a long-lost decaying old C90 which has a familiar Home Counties voice intoning “Bonsoir, Plan K” (which I assume is pronounced a bit like the English insult “plonker”), evidence will emerge of a Sisters gig at the venue, which like the Danceteria, the Doornroosje or the Leamington Spa Assembly, was a perfect match for their music, their image and their style. But to be honest, there's sadly more chance of a new TSOM album being released than that.

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