Today marks thirty years since the famed TSOM gig at the Royal Albert Hall, the inevitable over-the-top conclusion of the band’s descent into pompous self-parody, and a concert which has become engrained in the consciousness of British alternative rock music thanks to the subsequent release of the “Wake” video recording of (most of) the events of that evening. My own personal festival of remembrance today however is to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the departure of the kingpin of the band’s rise from obscurity in 82/83, bass guitarist Craig Adams, whose near four year stint in the band ended that evening (along with that of a much more recent arrival).
A talented pianist, Adams’ first band experience had been as keyboardist in The (now reformed) Expelaires, but he was put in touch with Eldritch and Marx who were looking for a bassist. Adams borrowed an instrument off a friend, and armed with a fuzzbox, went along for what turned out to be a somewhat perfunctory audition. His first recorded contribution to the band was the “Body Electric/ Adrenochrome” single, but although his part is muffled somewhat in the rather muddy mix, one can already detect his trademark eight-to-the-bar steady driving riff style, with Peter Hook style motifs occasionally at the end of a bar. On both tracks, he plays a crucial role in the build-up to a final crescendo, his buzzing descending solo introducing the “The way is clear..” finale of Adrenochrome, whilst on BE his inverted riff on the final “Through the cables” section creates the claustrophobic conclusion the lyrics demand.
However, it was on the next three, crucial tracks that Adams really made his mark, his bass dominating the wordless opening minute of “Alice”, and then striking up the main riff in both “Anaconda” and “Floorshow”. The latter was probably his finest hour with TSOM, and my favourite clip of this is from the the Peterborough gig in April 1983 on this video , about fourteen minutes in. Not only does the (admittedly poor quality) recording capture the in-your-face scuzziness of his playing “live” on that opening riff, but it also gives an insight into one of his key roles at those early gigs where there was no security between band and audience, as he stops playing momentarily to deal with a hapless stage invader in typically robust style. On the cramped and sometimes impromptu stages where the band had to perform, Von invariably stayed centre stage, with Marx staggering and flailing all over the (from an audience standpoint) left hand side. On the far right, Gunn had his own space and pootered to the back of the stage between songs to re-boot the oft-malfunctioning Doktor, leaving Adams to take up a spot directly behind Eldritch (a kind of early version of the diamond formation), but regularly wandering up to the front of the stage to stare at some unfortunate soul in the crowd who had annoyed him, leaving all four human members of the band in a line across the front of the stage, boyband style. At another favourite early gig of mine (Sheffield 1983), Von was plagued as usual by a few obnoxious locals (“Thanks…even to the man who keeps emptying his brain on my chest”), and used the threat of swift justice from his bassist henchman to put an end to the situation (“The thing is, he can see you even if I can’t, and he’s more vindictive than me. I’m the nice one. …And he’s got a very heavy bass guitar in his hands”).
Eldritch, always happy to give credit where it is due (but, crucially, only where it is due), freely admits that Adams played a defining role in creating the Sisters sound, although this was to change somewhat on his remaining releases. The slower Reptile House songs demanded that he show his versatility, from providing the opening drone on Kiss The Carpet to taking the lead on Fix. There’s even a wonderful moment in the instrumental passage of the imperious “Lights” where he starts a riff and one realises that he hasn’t been playing for the past twenty seconds. With Ben Gunn and Gary Marx now taking both primary and secondary melody parts and intertwining ever more successfully, as on Temple of Love, Adams’ role diminished further, and with the ambitious Hussey’s arrival, things got worse, with his bass barely audible on the opening two tracks (on most mixes) of FALAA (although he did have a key, if rather funky part on both “ARAAHP” and “Possession”). With Von becoming increasingly isolated in the group, and with new songs less and less to his taste, Adams decided to leave the band with Hussey in what would become an acrimonious split, with Eldritch and his former bassist not having been in contact with each other since.
After a successful spell with The Mission, whom he has recently rejoined, Adams successfully integrated various other bands of the era, including The Alarm, Spear of Destiny and (for a while) The Cult, and has even released a (surprisingly soft and melodious) solo album. In reality, he was never replaced in TSOM, and after various temporary incumbents (Patricia Morrison and Tony James being the most famous), Eldritch has dispensed with a live bass sound altogether, relying on a pre-recorded Midi version which has clearly diminished the band’s live power. Whilst most retrospectives to mark today’s anniversary will focus on the spat which developed between Eldritch and Hussey, I’ll be spending my time listening back through the “golden run” of singles on SGWBM as a tribute to a man who did more than most to cement the legend of TSOM.