Sunday, 22 November 2015

The Sisters of Mersey

There were probably more people at Eleanor Rigby’s funeral. Four lads (and a drum machine) who shook the alternative musical world played their first gig in the self-proclaimed world music capital on March 24th 1983 – and nobody came ! Playing the role of Father Mackenzie that night at the short-lived Club Fiasco at the equally short-lived Liverpool Warehouse venue was Roger Hill, punk fanzine editor turned presenter of BBC Radio Merseyside’s “Rockaround” alternative music programme, who recalled the night when he interviewed Wayne and Mark (Gary) on his show immediately prior to the May 1984 date at Liverpool University’s Students Union.
Asked if remembered the show, Marx admitted “Yes, it was the night New Order played – it was practically empty!” (As regular readers of this blog will know, this was not an unusual occurrence for the band outside their native West Yorkshire as late as Spring 1983, but Marx was indeed correct in his recollection, as New Order did indeed play in the city that night, at the State Ballroom on Dale St.)
Hill retorted, “Yes, it was practically empty. There were more of what I thought were roadies but were probably your followers than anybody else…there was a lot of ferocious sort of electrical dancing going on that night.” Later in the same interview, when discussing the differences in the band since the Warehouse gig (“fuller sound…better guitars and amplification”), Hill stated that the concert was “one of the half dozen best I’ve ever been to…It seemed like everyone in the band was off their head. I don’t know if it was the music or anything else (!).Most of what I thought were your roadies were going beserk but down in the body of the Warehouse there wasn’t an awful lot else going on.”
Marx merely replied that “We’re not used to playing at such volume, and when we do, there’s an electricity that runs through us.” Listening to an excellent quality recording of the gig, it’s hard not to agree that there might be another (more chemical ?) reason for the band’s unchained performance. Von misses vocal cues in several songs having sung the memorable couplet “I kissed the curtain, I climbed the carpet” in the set opener. His performance in “Burn” would probably be euphemistically described by veteran American Idol judge Randy Jackson as “pitchy”, whilst the final chorus of “Jolene” is delivered in the voice usual reserved for the final “go go go go GO !” of Floorshow.

Between songs Vons’s mogadon tones merely informed the sparse audience of the age of the various songs “This is an old one. Not that old. Not as old as some of them….This is fairly old” (Adrenochrome), “This is a new one” (Burn) and very appropriately “The newest song of all” after set newcomer “Heartland”. (click on the name of the song to hear this song from the gig, thanks to the generosity of Phil Verne).
After an incendiary “Body Electric”, the band leave the stage briefly before returning for the encore, Craig admitting “It dern’t tek much to gerr us back on”. Returning to the evening’s theme, Von introduces “This is the oldest one of all. Someone else has put this one together, with loads of nice, melodic bits and stuff that we don’t usually bother with much. You get the gist.” The band launch into what turns out to be a somewhat shambolic version of “Gimme Shelter”, Gary messing up one of his mini guitar solos resulting in Von coming in for the second verse in the wrong key, and Craig ending up doing an impromptu bass finale after the good Doktor and the rest of the band have finished.

Apart from the audio recording, there is no other memorabilia from the gig (but if you have a ticket, flyer or poster, please share!), although some of the bizarre “exercise book” style flyers for other months of gigs at the Warehouse have seen the light of day, plus a few contemporary photos of other bands on stage there (easily identifiable as “Liverpool Warehouse” was written in big letters on the back wall of the stage). The Warehouse, in common with other legendary Liverpool venues The Cavern and Eric’s, was in a basement of a much older building, and since the closure of Eric’s had become the major live music venue in the city. The venue, part of an actual former warehouse (funnily enough), was gutted by fire a month after the Sisters visit, but as a brick-built building survived, and by my reckoning is now part of the Krazyhouse complex (judging by the address on the flier).
Roger Hill combined a career as a radio presenter (“Rockaround” changed into “Pure Musical Sensations” the longest running alternative radio show on BC local radio) with various other roles on the arts scene and his film “Punk Snow” based on his diaries as a young punk in Liverpool in the late 70’s is now available on YouTube. He also spent some time as a lecturer at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (LIPA), just like his erstwhile interviewee Mr Pearman.

As for TSOM, Eldritch developed a famous disdain for the city, but was happy to use a photo of the Mersey as the backdrop for the cover of the “Floodland” LP in 1987.

My thanks are once again due to Phil Verne for allowing me to access the relevant parts of his massive TSOM audio archive. If anyone has old cassettes of TSOM gathering dust, why not contact him at

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