Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Sisters Mysteries III

What was the smallest audience the Sisters ever played to ? Unfortunately, there are few eye witness accounts from the every earliest gigs in 1981, and those that there are tend to be very sketchy on details such as the size of the crowd.
There was of course the infamous gig in 1992 in the front room of competition winner Sabine Retz in Oberhausen, Germany (I remember being relieved at that time that I was not the "lucky" winner of the UTR subscriber prize draw and therefore did not have to submit the relative squalor I was then living in to a worldwide audience), but for regular gigs it would be hard to beat the tiny gathering at Retford's Porterhouse venue several months after Alice/Floorshow when the band had already been Sounds cover stars.
The tiny Georgian market town of Retford might be on the East Coast mainline of the UK railway system, but the sleepy North Nottinghamshire market town was a culture free zone before becoming famous in the 70s and 80s for the Porterhouse. The venue became a stop off for all up-and-coming bands making their way in the UK, and far more famous bands than TSOM (e.g. U2, AC/DC) also played there. The club was owned by the enterprising South Yorkshire businessman Sammy Jackson, and was situated on the pedestrianised Carolgate right in the town centre. Operating over two floors, the club hosted bands upstairs at weekends whilst DJs spun the usual chart fodder downstairs for the TopShop masses (on the same night !).
Generally speaking, the Porterhouse was a massive success, so much so that Jackson was able to scrape together the finance to launch Rock City in nearby Nottingham, which with similar excellent promotion and attention to detail has become one of Europe's top venues, and celebrates (like TSOM) its own thirty-fifth birthday this year.

The night TSOM played at the Porterhouse (a Saturday), 12th Feb 1983, must have been a real disappointment to Mr Jackson, however, as the two reports which have surfaced will testify. One fan, who posted their reminiscences on the My Heartland Forum, states that there "only about thirty or forty people there, and about ten of them (myself included) had travelled down there from Wakefield". The other account was discovered on a fitness website, with one poster stating that she saw TSOM "with ten others in Retford Porterhouse many moons ago". (an average of the two estimates gives us just twenty-five punters to see the number one indie band of the time !). Not surprisingly, no photos or tapes have emerged from the gig so far, but as with so many such cases, collectors live in hope that one day some artefacts will materialise.
As this wonderful archive photo of a Meteors gig (from a Porterhouse appreciation FB page) will demonstrate, the venue was relatively small, only holding 200 poeple, the walls were black and there was a tiny stage which offered no barrier between the band and fans, and was barely raised because of the low ceiling.This video of the UK Subs at the venue (which those with musical taste might want to view with the sound turned down) gives some impression of the atmosphere and intimacy of the club.
Sadly, like so many venues wehere TSOM played, the Porterhouse became a much trendier club with little or no emphasis on live music, and eventually closed its doors, being sold at auction in 2011 for £114,000, despite an online campaign to save it as a venue.

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