Saturday, 19 September 2015

Sisters Mysteries III part 2

Another candidate for smallest audience for a Sisters gig would be a further 1983 gig, that on 27th April  at Swindon's Solitaire club. Swindon, famous for its connections with Brunel and the Great Western Railway, the infamous traffic Magic Roundabout and an enormous Honda factory, has a population almost ten times that of Retford, but the Wednesday night gig by TSOM at the Solitaire venue drew only a small crowd. Fortunately amongst those who were present was stalwart Sisters fan Simon Clifford, who says "I don't think that there were that many people at the gig, 30 at the most I would say." For many years there was a doubt that the gig had even taken place at all, until Simon generously shared his recording of the gig with the MyHeartland community of Sisters fans, and listening to that recording,
the small smattering of applause that follows each track gives a strong indication of the size of the gathering.
The venue itself was not a natural choice for a goth gig. As Simon recalls, "The venue was fairly small and was more of a nightclub than a concert venue. I can't remember if there was a support band - if there was, they obviously didn't make much of an impression on me.I only went to the Solitaire for two gigs, the Sisters being the first, and Xmal Deutschland was the second a few months later. The most interesting thing about that gig was that Liz and Robin from the Cocteau Twins were in the audience." A further indication that the nightclub had not really grasped the kind of clientele its series of alternative gigs would attract can be seen in this picture of a Hanoi Rocks gig there in 1983 which I found on the net (no tickets having surfaced from the TSOM gig).
The "solitaire" diamond ring logo hardly seems apt for a rock club, and the request that patrons wear "smart casual dress" might be judged a tad optimistic. Perhaps this clause and the management reserving the right of admission might account for the relatively low number of attendees at the Sisters gig! The gig itself saw the band rip through a familiar setlist, Von bigging up the then forthcoming Reptile House EP after "Burn" in his only real onstage comment, the rest of the songs following on from each other after only a few seconds left for the enthusiastic but unsustained applause from the small crowd. Even adding in the misfiring start for encore Body Electric, the whole gig weighs in at under 40 minutes, certainly not the longest they played that year, but the versions of Jolene, Floorshow and Gimme Shelter towards the end of the main setshow that the band could always rise to the occasion even if crowd numbers were disappointing.
Visitors to Swindon today would struggle to find the venue, as it has changed hands - and name - many times since. Like many of the other TSOM venues in 1983, it was in fact a part of a pub complex, in this case the Rolleston Arms in central Swindon.
A popular traditional pub built in 1890, the 300 capacity basement accessed via a separate entrance (under the red sign to the left of the picture) was the location of the Solitaire Club in the 1980s. As this BBC News article shows , the venue briefly hit the headlines two years ago when it closed shortly after an ill-fated revamp from the much-loved "The Furnace" rock club to the unsuccesful "Basement 73". After a period of uncertainty, the venue has reverted to its' post-Solitaire and pre-Furnace name, "Level 3", and hosts a fairly broad range of rock bands, many of which are tribute acts. If ever Ben Christo reactivates NightxNight as a touring band, he could do worse than seek out this dark and sweaty historic venue which rightly has a place in The Sisters' history.

(I would like to record my special thanks to Simon Clifford for his assistance with this post, and for sharing the reording of the gig. Not for the first time, I would also like to thank legendary archivist Phil "spiggytapes" Verne for his advice and support, including the extract from the contemporary NME gig guide above. Sounds like an interesting night in Sheffield - Leo Sayer or The Angelic Upstarts !)


  1. Very informative post. I lived in Swindon for a while in the 90s and wondered where the Sisters had played. Level 3 was an odd place. It put on bands once in a while, including The Fall and various mates' bands. It was seen as the "alternative" hangout, but at the weekend played distinctly non-alternative music. We only really went as somewhere to drink after the pubs had closed and that wasn't a cheesy wine bar.