A popular BBC celebrity dancing show reminds us that every British provincial town used to have at least one palais de danse, where in the twentieth century young citizens could go to ballroom dance, then jive, then rock’n’roll then disco dance. The Gala Ballroom in Norwich which opened in 1954 was one such venue, at the top of St Stephens Rd and in the wonderful archive photos below is decked out in all its early 70s splendour (pictures lent to author P Goodrum by J Polyblank and I Clark).
In the early 80s, it became the stop-off venue of choice for up-and-coming indie bands wishing to visit the geographic outpost of East Anglia (SDC, Smiths et al), and TSOM Facebook Group member Mike Read who worked there at the time remembers it well. "I used to help to set up the stage which was up the other end [than in the above photo]. The place was used as one of those synthetic ice rinks during the week, then lifted up and stacked for the bands at the weekends. I left for another job just before the Sisters played - gutted!" So it was that The Sisters of Mercy and The Gun Club were booked in to play there on their joint tour in April 1983, as this somewhat garish and definite article averse vintage poster (very kindly shared here by Belgian collector Bruno Bossier) will attest.
The hall’s ballroom past was referred to by Radio One DJ Richard Skinner, who when reading TSOM’s forthcoming tour dates when sitting in for the absent David Jensen and playing the band’s Reptile House era session tracks announced that “They’ll have to take the glitter ball down for that one !” As can be seen from the very original ticket below (again from the collection of the generous Bruno Bossier), the two bands could be seen for the princely sum of just £2.50!
Like many of the dates on that tour, the Sisters were arguably the biggest draw punter-wise although the Gun Club enjoyed the larger billing. The band certainly made a big impression, with two fans nominating it last year on the I-Spy Norwich FB page in a thread asking members to nominate the best ever gig they saw in the town, out od the many thousand possible contenders. Russell J Turner, a poet and actor based in Norwich, recalled a “Storming gig. The Sisters of Mercy did versions of Jolene and Gimme Shelter, I seem to recall.”
Like almost all of the gigs on that tour, the show was bootlegged and a couple of tracks surfaced in 1986 on an Italian 7” single allegedly limited to 600 copies entitled “Nightmares”. The tracks were the afore-mentioned Jolene and Adrenochrome, but the sound quality was no more than adequate despite the sleeve claiming that the recording engineer was “Andy Taylor”. A full recording of the show has been circulating amongst fans for many years, and Eldritch was on his usual banterous form between songs, teasing the crowd about which cover songs would be played and then dedicating Jolene to “all the people that tolerated us in dresses at the Hacienda last night”, another famous incident which has itself since passed into TSOM folklore.
The Gala Ballroom itself closed shortly after TSOM’s visit, and left Norwich bereft of live venues at a time when with the likes of The Farmers Boys, The Higsons and Testcard F were riding in the indie and occasionallynational charts, it was at its creative height as a musical hub, which in turn led to the campaign which resulted in the wonderful Waterfront Arts Complex being built. The Gala building with its unique 50s architecture is still standing, but for most of the past thirty years has been trading as a laser gun venue – ironically one of the few places where one will see more dry ice than at a Sisters gig !