Thursday, 22 December 2016

Gary's gaffer-taped boots, 1981-1985!

When you think of classic early 1980’s The Sisters of Mercy, certain iconic objects come to mind: Eldritch’s shades, Ben’s NHS specs, Gary’s Hawaiian shirts, Edritch’s leather jacket and later frock coat, Craig’s mercifully short-lived 1984 stetson, Wayne’s collection of hats, Von’s sideburns … the list is endless. Yet one item is more symbolic than any other of the esprit de corps in the band in those breakthrough years .... Gary’s gaffer-taped boots.

Over on the wonderful 1980-1985 FB fanpage, kind-hearted Belgian collector Bruno Bossier shared some magnificently sharp photos which he had acquired of the Hull Tiffany’s gig on Monday 18th March 1985 on the Tune In, Turn On, Burn Out tour to coincide with the release of FALAA the previous week. One of the photos (reproduced here) shows the prized footwear in all its self-repaired three-buckled glory. 

The boots had become a bit of a cause célèbre, and went on to feature in Gary’s last interview as a Sister which duly appeared in Artificial Life fanzine. The interview took place on the early afternoon of Sunday March 24th, as on the cassette recording of the chat, a TV in the background can be heard playing the familiar theme tunes of (the end of that day’s omnibus edition of) Eastenders and Match of The Day (the start of live coverage of the Norwich v Sunderland League Cup Final).

At one point in the interview, the journalist (Jake Jacobs) notices Marx’s unusual footwear and asks him about it. Marx’s response shows the level of commitment which and other band members had to the project, having already said “There’s a lot of sacrifices for the band.” Many 1980’s artists would have been provided (out of their advance) with the latest fashions and a dresser to help with sartorial purchases, but TSOM continued to plough their meagre finances back into the band:

Four years! This might seem to be a gross exaggeration, but in the aftershow footage of the legendary Peterborough gig two years earlier (again kindly uploaded to YT by Phil Verne, watch out for Gary at about 10:27), the offending shoes were already patched up with (a smaller amount of) gaffer tape, and are the identifying feature as Marx walks through the shot. The situation is summed up at the end of the Artificial Life interview, where Jacobs pays a fine tribute to the guitarist, just after the latter has humorously stated his ambitions, including a desire to be (sort of) better shod:

My thanks for this post go to two of my regular partners-in-crime, Phil Verne of the 8085 FB group for the extracts from the fanzine (the full print interview can be seen on that FB group) and to Bruno Bossier for sharing the wonderful photo.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Reluctant Stereotypes - March 10th 1981 ?

Thirty-five years on, the very earliest gigs by The Sisters of Mercy in the early Spring of 1981 remain shrouded in mystery, with those concerts that are listed in gigographies largely based on dates on cassettes which may or may not contain tracks recorded on those particular days.

The very first gig, supporting The Thompson Twins in a college JCR at the University of York, was often referred to by the band in interviews in the 80s, and even on stage by Eldritch, and the date of the show (16th Feb) subsequently featured in 10th, 20th and 30th anniversary shows and celebrations.

The probable date and location of the second gig was for a long time unknown, but research by Phil Verne of the 1980-1985 TSOM FB group a few years ago confirmed that the band played a very early gig in support of Altered Images at the F Club in Leeds on March 19th 1981, unearthing a review from the Bradford fanzine Wool City Rocker to prove that the gig had actually taken place. This concert was also discussed in the earliest known interview with the band from spring of 1981 which featured in local Leeds fanzine “Whippings and Apologies”. “Without a decent PA, we sound really crap. Like when we supported Altered Images at the F-Club, that was a real balls-up because of the bad sound,” was what a not-particularly-eloquent Eldritch remembered of the show.

Earlier in that W+A interview, Eldritch had stated, “We’ve only ever played three gigs before,” so it seemed reasonable to assume that the Altered Images gig was the band’s second ever concert, and their first in their home city of Leeds, a supposition repeated by Mark Andrews in his fantastic recent article on the early days in The Quietus.

However, this month (December 2016), the 8085 Facebook group has been holding an impromptu Gary Marx retrospective, with members sharing artefacts and memories of one of the two founding members of the band who rarely gets the credit he deserves these days. Looking through his extensive collection for more material to share with the group, Phil Verne came across a cassette which he had had in his possession for some time, containing a fanzine interview (Artificial Life) with Gary from 1985, which he had purchased off leading Sisters historian Mark W... some time before. Background noise from a blaring television during the interview makes it difficult to pick out some of the comments, so Phil asked me to have a listen through a couple of sections to see if there was anything of interest amongst the usual well-known facts and opinions.

The interviewer mentions that he had seen TSOM supporting Brilliant and The Smiths supporting TSOM, and how the band’s fortunes had been reversed since in both cases. Marx tells him (in this extract kindly uploaded onto YouTube by Phil) “When we first started out, in our first gig we supported the Thompson Twins….The second or the third... It was something like The Thompson Twins, then Altered Images, and then the band that are now King – they were called The Reluctant Stereotypes I think at the time. So that was.. our first three gigs,” before going on to discuss Brilliant and The Smiths.

To me, this was incredible new information- no Sisters gig with Reluctant Stereotypes is currently listed. Reluctant Stereotypes singer Paul King, after his five minutes of fame with “Love and Pride”, eventually washed up as a VJ on the rapidly expanding MTV satellite channel, and surprisingly to many people became their in-house "alternative music" expert, hosting the “120 Minutes” show, for which in 1991 he ended up interviewing .... none other than a Vision Thing era Andrew Eldritch, during which as usual the TSOM frontman ironically had to spend much time defending their position as reluctant (gothic) sterotypes.

The former police cadet King did have a more alternative past himself however, with the Reluctant Stereotypes. As they were from Coventry, the avant-garde jazz ska art-rock ensemble had become caught up in the Two-Tone wave, taking part in a second wave seaside tour in the summer of 1980 with the likes of the Bodysnatchers. By 1981 however, it was clear that they were unlikely to break thorough, and they disbanded after a final show at the Reading Festival (still in its Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts phase) that year.

Earlier in 1981, however, they had undertaken a few dates in the early Spring, and Phil Verne has unearthed this poster from the Leeds Warehouse (again from Wool City Rocker) advertising gigs in March of that month, with the Reluctant Stereotypes clearly listed as playing on 10th March, a week before the TSOM gig with Altered Images (which took place on the same night as the Orange Juice gig at the Warehouse). That the gigs were close together makes it totally understandable that Marx would have been uncertain some four years later about the exact sequence of events.

Although no other evidence yet exists for this gig, and TSOM are not even listed as support, Marx’s reminiscences make it clear that this Warehouse gig was in all likelihood the band’s second gig and their home town debut, as it is unlikely that a band like Reluctant Stereotypes would have played twice in the area within a matter of weeks. (Edit : However, evidence uncovered after the publication of this post has established that the Warehouse gig did not feature the Sisters - the Reluctant Stereotypes gig referred to by Gary Marx, with TSOM as support) in fact took place on 7th May 1981 at York University. - edited by NVL, October 2017)

It is incredible that three and a half decades on, significant new facts continue to emerge about the band’s early days, with the recent interview with Jon Langford, Mark Andrews’ Quietus piece and John Robb’spiece for LTW all adding to the picture. I would like to once again pay tribute to the generosity of Phil Verne for sharing items from his archive and allowing us to piece together another section of the 1981 jigsaw. If anyone can confirm this informed speculation, we would be delighted to hear from you!

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

TSOM with a different singer! - Munster Odeon, 1st September 1983

After the major cities of Berlin and Hamburg, the venue for the Sisters’ third German date on their inaugural European tour in Autumn 1983 was the less well known “stadt” of Munster, perhaps an appropriate choice for a goth band given the American “spoof vampire gothic horror” 60s TV series of the same name. Twin town of the city of York, where TSOM had played their first ever gig, Munster was also the home in the 1980s of the largest British Army base outside the UK, the huge Osnabruck garrison.

Not surprisingly, there was generally an anglo-centric slant to the nightlife on offer in Munster, and so it was that The Sisters were booked in to play at the Odeon venue in the town on 1st September 1983. Until researching this gig I had always imagined that this concert hall was the equivalent of the vast Hammersmith Odeon, which at the time was the UK’s largest regular gig venue, but nothing could be further from the truth, as can be seen in this wonderful archive video from 1986 posted on YouTube last year. The video takes us on a guided tour of the premises starting outside on Frauenstrasse, before coming inside and finally (around two minutes in) arriving in the somewhat cramped gig venue, which will be instantly recognisable to anyone who has seen still photos from the TSOM concert thanks to the garish and distinctly ungothic mural in front of which the band had to play, a backdrop perhaps more suited to one of Mr Tumble’s CBeebies TV shows for the under 5s. On a Husker Du website, a Munster native (“Kirsty”) said "[Odeon] was one of Münster's most famous venues for smaller concerts, with a capacity of only 500 people. Many bands played there during the 80s and 90s who later became famous. Unfortunately the Odeon was closed in 2002 and the building demolished. After they built a new building, a restaurant called Monegro was located there," whilst “James” added “It was also reasonably popular with a small group of UK servicemen in the 80s. We had a small crew that used it regularly” reinforcing the impression one gets from listening to a recording of the gig that there were more Brits present at this show than at the other dates on the Trans Europe Excess jaunt.

For many years, many collectors believed that they had a copy of this gig, which in fact merely turned out to be a different recording of the Hamburg show of the night before. The Munster gig was indeed taped by a member of the audience, and has become one of the most talked about bootleg recordings of Gunn era Sisters, partly because it was only ever available as part of a limited edition box set of only twenty copies (uniquely containing both vinyl and cassette), but largely because of the encore, the usual choice on that tour of the Sister Ray medley backbeat. What is different on this occasion, however, is that Eldritch has clearly remained in the dressing room for reasons unknown, and the first half of the track is therefore instrumental only, before a unique occurrence in TSOM history … a different vocalist completes the song! Over the years there have been many theories as to whom this may have been – Ben Gunn, Danny from Salvation and even Wayne Hussey have been suggested by some of the more outlandish conspiracy theorists (you know who you are!).

However, in the absence of a definitive and authoritative account of what actually happened that night, from what we can gather it would appear that a fan, who can be heard noisily on the audio recording earlier in the show, grew tired of waiting for Eldritch to return to the stage and three minutes into the recording of the encore kindly shared by Phil Verne  (allowing us all to judge for ourselves) began shouting out the relevant section of Ghostrider over a quieter section of the familiar medley. The mystery would-be vocalist then seems to be told to "come up here",  and to cheers from his friends in the audience he grabbed the mic himself and entered Sisters folklore by belting out a full verse of the Suicide classic, just after the band had ad-libbed a section of Louie Louie. With Craig seemingly moving on to the bass part of Sister Ray, the fan (?) falls quiet before suddenly announcing "Good night", to which one of the band seems to forlornly request that he "sing more", before the song grinds to a sudden halt to raucous applause from the crowd.  

There was, of course, a near repetition at the Royal Albert Hall two years later, but the late Lemmy allegedly persuaded an under-the-weather Eldritch to take to the stage for the much-delayed encore on that occasion. The rest of the Munster show, which was one song shorter than in Hamburg the previous night (no “Lights”), also had its unusual moments, such as the unique version of Floorshow (which has a unique Doktor Avalanche backing track featuring a highly original opening, and a messed up final solo from Mr Marx, who was having a somewhat erratic evening) and the famous Eldritch retort “only if somebody gives me a drink” when audience members shout for "Body Electric" and “Jolene” after “Kiss The Carpet”. For the record, “Jolene” was not played that night (or indeed at all anymore by this stage). It was also one of the gigs where Gary Marx ad-libbed a section from “Ghostriders In The Sky” between songs, as can be heard in this version of Emma kindly uploaded on to YouTube by Phil Verne (of TSOM 8085 FB group fame) which also features a wonderful photo of Ben in one of his final European TSOM gigs. Clearly visible is the mural which is in front of what was clearly a much lower stage in 1983 than was the case in 1986 when the “guided tour” video was filmed. The “Ghostriders” crowd response, plus the chanting ("Ha'way the lads", "Sisters!" etc) before the encore, reveals that this crowd was clearly livelier and more raucous in Munster than on the other German tour dates (the Spex magazine reviewer complained that at the Aratta in Moers the following and final night, the crowd were so static that they didn’t even cheer for an encore), with Eldritch trying to reason with them : “Listen, don’t do that! There’s someone from Wolverhampton down there and he’s not going to take kindly to that, is he?” (the mind boggles as to what was going on at this point).

The Odeon continued as a bar and music venue for many years, and was revisited a year later by TSOM, but was closed and gutted in the early years of this millennium as can be seen in the photo reproduced here (from ). But of the many hundreds of venues The Sisters have played over the past thirty five years, the Munster Odeon has kept the distinction of being the only one to have experienced (albeit for just one song) the band with a vocalist other than Andrew Eldritch.

As always, my grateful thanks are extended to all those who helped with this post, particularly my usual partners-in-crime LG and Phil Verne, and to those who have helped to archive what was clearly a much-loved venue locally.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

The Lights Shine Kir - Hamburg, 31st August 1983

Having myself endured the conditions at some of the venues TSOM played in the early days, I’d always imagined that the Kir Club would be in the one of the less salubrious parts of the noble Hanseatic port of Hamburg where Eldritch was later to make his home. Like The Beatles before them, I pictured the four plucky English lads (plus the usual assortment of roadies) hastily unloading their precious equipment into some dingy cellar amongst a row of disreputable sex shops on the infamous Reeperbahn, tiptoeing through a morass of broken glass, abandoned syringes and used condoms, or perhaps into some hastily-converted tobacco warehouse down by the docks which had been previously squatted by a hippy community in the 60s.

However, far from being in the creative communes of Sankt Pauli, the Kir Club (in 1983 at least) was situated in the leafy outer suburbs of the city in Poppenbuettel, right next to the riverside Marienhof (interesting name) Marina and a stone’s throw from the houses built by the forced labour of Jewish women from the local concentration camp during the Second World War, one of which (next to the modern shopping mall) now houses a small museum.

The Kir was founded in August 1983 (on the final day of which month TSOM played) by Clemens Grun as an indie venue in the long-established Sitrone disco and restaurant, and TSOM were one of comparatively few bands to play there before it was mysteriously burned down in February 1984, forcing the club to relocate more centrally, and with the site being cleared and replaced by a look-alike boutique hotel known today as the Hotel Poppenbuetteler Hof (very highly rated on Trip Advisor if a little pricey). The club had a distinctive rainbow-arched front of the stage, and as this fake palm and dry ice shot (all photos here are copyright NDR) from its Sitrone days will testify, was clearly a sizzling place for groovy young Hamburgers to hang out in the late 70s.

Jens Paulsen, who was attending his first Sisters gig that night at the end of August 1983 on the second night of TSOM’s inaugural four date German tour, told me that Poppenbuettel was “a conservative area. The club was pretty far out from town but was totally hip. At the front there was a restaurant (I think a Chinese) and at the side there was the Kir. It was a very small club. When you went in, the small stage was just on the left.”

Jens himself had never heard any of the Sisters’ music before that night, and like most British indie bands trying their luck on the continent for the first time, the Sisters were known only to a few music-obsessed locals. “I would estimate that the club was about half-full. The atmosphere inside was sinister and gloomy, with everyone trying hard to look cool. ” This was in stark contrast to the band, whose appearance was “still modest and normal-looking” in those days. “Everything was still very simple – things had really changed by the next time I saw them, at the Markthalle in May 1984,” Jens continued.

Jens was instantly impressed by TSOM’s music : “I was immediately thrilled by the dark sound and the guitars, and they instantly became one of my favourite bands.” Thanks to several excellent live bootlegs of the show, including extracts featured on the “The Damage is Done” bootleg, everyone can still enjoy one of the better live shows of 1983, a fourteen track epic that featured most of the band’s recorded output to date plus three covers. Listening back to Phil Verne’s best version, the show opened with an unbalanced “Burn”, with Marx and Dr Avalanche high in the mix and Ben and Craig reduced to a fuzzy mush. Eldritch too had issues, claiming before (a much-improved) “Valentine” that the “vocals sound weird”. The gig is best remembered amongst collectors for several reasons, first for a rare and decent (if imperfect) run-through of “Temple of Love” (already kindly shared by Phil on You Tube), secondly for the fact that many cassette copies feature a truncated final encore of “Sister Ray” (although a complete version has been added from a different, only marginally inferior source in Phil’s master), and for some of the legendary inter-song banter. Eldritch seems to be enjoying himself, speaking to the crowd in both his own (“OK hippies, here it comes” before “Gimme Shelter”) and the audience’s native tongues, but the most remarkable intervention is Craig’s after the end of Kiss The Carpet when (seconds after the unmistakable thud of bottle on stage) he suddenly and memorably shouts (and this would have been a great title for a Live LP) “The next person who chucks a f#cking bottle gets his head kicked in.” This was referred to by the interviewer of Spex magazine, who questioned Eldritch about the incident (in German) during a chat two days later before the Aratta show, but the frontman laughed off the incident, saying words to the effect that “a bit of tension in the air makes for a better atmosphere” (as it had also memorably done at that other legendary show in Peterborough five months earlier). Certainly the band are on top form as the gig progresses, with both sides of the second and third singles getting an airing (and a slightly shambolic run-through of fourth single “Anaconda”), a rare outing (in 1983 at least) for “Lights”, and particularly impressive versions of “Emma”, “Gimme Shelter” (with the final acapella phrase listened to in reverent silence by the audience for once) and a fitting finale of a wild and wonderful “Sister Ray.”

The Kir Club after the 1984 fire – note the Cure record still on the turntable

Little did Eldritch know on heading to the gig that night that the Hanseatic city was to become his home for most of the remainder of that decade, but that initial visit must have made as strong an impression on him as the band did on Jens and the rest of the Hamburg in-crowd who have for their part remained loyal to TSOM to this day.

My grateful thanks for their help in compiling this post are due to my long-term collaborators LG and Phil Verne, and in particular a big “vielen dank” to Jens Paulsen for sharing his memories of the Kir gig. Those who have enjoyed this post and have an interest in this era of TSOM history would do well to keep an eye on Phil’s Facebook group The Sisters of Mercy 19801985 (everyone welcome to join!) over the next couple of days ;-) ...

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Black October - Colchester, 20th October 1984

Of all the gigs covered thus far in this blog, not one has been from possibly the most defining tour of the 1980s (or indeed any other era’s) incarnation of The Sisters of Mercy, the Black October tour, a gruelling trek which saw the band play sixteen shows in eighteen days after a relatively sedate start (seven dates in the preceding twelve days), at a time immediately after Eldritch’s health issues earlier in the late summer/early autumn of 1984.

The Black October tour was a crucial moment for the band, for whom word of mouth support had continued to grow over the summer, and took place crucially at the start of the academic year when students flush with previously untold riches (in the form of the legendary grant cheque) would flock to see bands on the say-so of new friends like at no other time of the year. With a catchy new single (“Walk Away”) being released to coincide with the tour, and with merchandising finally reaching professional industry standards, this was indeed a make or break moment for the band, with heavy major label support under pressure with continued delays to the debut LP and the lukewarm reception given to previous single “Body and Soul”.

For many fans of the era, the Black October tour marked the high point of the Hussey era, with several FALAA songs given their first “live” outing and the band yet to suffer from the personality issues and clashes which would make the following spring’s tour a more overwrought, bombastic and ultimately soulless experience. The very name of the tour saw the band flirting as much as they ever would with the imagery of what was rapidly becoming the gothic “scene”, with the more psychedelic touches of earlier in the year becoming distinctly more sombre.

The tour showed to what extent the band’s popularity had grown. As we have seen in previous posts, TSOM would often struggle to attract a crowd of more than a couple of dozen punters to their incendiary 1983 live shows outside of their Northern fiefdom, yet by autumn of the following year, “Sold Out” signs would appear in the most unlikely of places. One such show was that on the 20th October, bang in the middle of the 23 date tour, held at the University of Essex, a 1960’s concrete and glass “new university” situated on a leafy campus at Wivenhoe Park on the outskirts of Colchester.

As a town, Colchester seemed to have been on a steady decline since its heyday as the principal garrison town of the Roman army back in the days when it was known as Camulodunum, and its musical claim to fame (in these pre-Blur days) was that the nursery rhyme “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” was composed there. Like most campus universities, Essex had a thriving Students’ Union, whose basement Dance Hall had hosted gigs since its opening, with a capacity of about 1000 concert-goers.      

The Sisters’ show had clearly not been expected to be a sell-out as the official-looking poster now residing in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (no less!) promises that briefs will be available on the night, although the other poster hastily produced for the show (and kindly shared by collector David Manlove) did warn, with typical Students Ents Committee hyperbole “tickets possibly available on the door – buy early.”

Long-term fan Paul Scrutton told me, “I was at this show. The venue was really nice. The ceiling had a mega acoustic treatment with foam spikes all over it.” This is possibly the reason why the recording of this show, available on the bootleg double LP Black Pack and also on the superior sounding bootleg CD Revelations, is generally regarded as being one of the best recordings of the Black October tour, with a crisp if a little trebley sound mix with Doktor Avalanche very high in the mix, and so much reverb on Eldritch’s vocals that his inter-song banter is almost totally unintelligible.

Other reasons for this particular show being such a success are hinted at in the fascinating minor detail of the tour schedule, a document (kindly shared by legendary Sisters fan Lachert) which shows how much planning now went into a Sisters tour. As well as what must have been a depressing revelation for a band becoming infamous for bacchanalian over-indulgence (“no spirits on rider”), the late hour at which the band was to take the stage would also have been to the band’s liking.

The show began with a lively “Burn”, whose sound is a little muffled at times, possibly because the taper may have had to momentarily remove his/her Walkman from public view to avoid detection. Eldritch gives it laldy, however, adding an extra vocal section full of “whoas”. A relatively new addition to the set, Marian, was another highlight, whilst the encore of Ghost Rider/Sister Ray features extensive soloing/riffing on the first half of the medley which lasts a full eight and a half minutes before morphing slowly into Sister Ray. Thanks (once again) to the generosity of Ade Matthews, all of the show can now be enjoyed via the wonders of YouTube (for example, Train, Adrenochrome, Walk Away, Emma and Gimme Shelter) whilst Phil Verne has provided this wonderful photo of Eldritch mid-scream, the only known shot taken at the Colchester gig.

When Jem of Artificial Life fanzine interviewed Wayne Hussey in 1985, he referred to having been at the Colchester gig the previous year, where he had been amazed at what he had seen. “You attract a wide audience, at Colchester there were hippies, flat-tops, punks and everyone….I went to the Colchester gig ready to slag you off. Well when I got there, and you came on, I realised that this was the best gig I’d been to in ages, there was a great atmosphere too, it was the fullest I’ve ever seen the place (appreciative noises from Wayne).”

This reaction was typical of the shows on the tour, with the Sisters finally inching towards the commercial and critical success that “First and Last and Always” would finally achieve.  The band may never since have returned to Colchester, or to several other stops on the lengthy Black October trek, but these gigs were an integral part of the creation of the legend which sustains such a cult following over thirty years later.

A huge thank you to all who have helped with this post, including regulars LG, Phil Verne, Bruno Bossier and Ade Matthews, plus Paul Scrutton, David Manlove, Lachert and others. This blog is very much a team effort, and all contributions (whether physical ephemera or simply personal memories) are always very gratefully received.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

9 while 9:30 Washington DC, 10th September 1983

With the schedule retrospectively filling up rapidly, it’s difficult to believe that there are many more unlisted TSOM gigs in 1983 left to rediscover, but another show which definitely took place is the band’s first visit to the legendary 9:30 club in Washington DC on Saturday 10th September 1983 as part of their first US mini-tour.

Those who have only begun to follow the band more recently may well recognise the name of this venue, a stalwart of the DC live music scene for thirty-five years, as TSOM have visited the iconic club subsequently in 1999, 2006 and 2008, but by these shows the club had moved to larger and more salubrious premises than in 1983, when it occupied the rear lower floor of the Atlantic Building at 930 F Street Northwest, hence the name of the club. In those days, the club was synonymous with the capital’s vibrant punk scene, and the ambiance of the long entrance hall can be seen in this fabulous archive footage of a surprisingly normal looking audience filing in and out of a Minor Threat gig in 1983, proving that the American punk look was never more extreme than that modelled by Johnny Slash on contemporary US high school comedy Square Pegs. The hallway (inspiration for future Eldritch lyrics??) was the scene of a shooting after a Yellowman gig in October 1983, just a month after TSOM’s visit, as the club had begun to acquire a violent reputation very different to the original atmosphere of the early 80’s as described in the Washington City Paper in 1995 : “In addition to music fans, the club attracted gays, art-scene makers, and new wave socialites like Natasha Reatig. ‘The place looked absolutely beautiful,’ remembers Reatig, a regular during the early years. ‘It was dark and very spare. The back bar was very elegant.”

Originally rented as rehearsal space in the somewhat faded grandeur of the Atlantic Building (at the cutting edge of contemporary architecture when it was built in 1888), the 9:30 club inherited from its predecessor Atlantis the mantle of being the punk place to hang out in Washington, and The Police, Cramps, REM, Killing Joke, Dead Kennedys and Nirvana were amongst many up-and-coming bands who paid their dues at the 9:30, attracted by promoter Seth Hurwitz’s ambitious booking policy. According to the local history blog Boundary Stones, the “cramped, L-shaped space…legally only accommodated 199 patrons, but often attracted many more. In 1983, then-Washington Post feature writer Lloyd Grove described it as “a bit of down-town Washington awash in the New Wave, replete with exotic characters clad in biker jackets…It’s fairly cheap, usually a $5 cover – but it’s also almost unrelievedly, crashingly loud”, noting a total lack of seating inspired by New York’s Danceteria and intended to keep the punters dancing.
TSOM’s visit to the club in 1983 isn’t mentioned in the official gigography on the band’s website, nor is it listed on the increasingly accurate records of the Wiki gigography. However, Eldritch made a very brief mention of it in a New York radio interview later (on 15th September 1983), when discussing how the band had gone down on the US tour so far, a fact that ubiquitous collector Phil Verne had picked up on. “To me, records are for assessing, gigs are for participating, especially when you come over on tour, it’s a strange place and you have sound problems, you really need the feedback more than usual from an audience. In Philadelphia we didn’t really get it, Washington was pretty much the same, Boston was good.”
Intriguing, but hardly definitive evidence of the gig having been played at the 9:30. However, Phil also came across a fellow TSOM fan on FB who had been at the gig. Ginnie Hruz Miller was certain that she had seen the band in DC, but puzzled that it wasn’t listed anywhere. “I definitely saw them in Washington DC in the early 80s. It was at the 9:30 Club which used to have an early show and a late show for some bands (yes, two shows in one night). My friend and I got lost on the way from Baltimore to DC and we missed the first show and were very happy to learn there was a second one, which we saw in its entirety. It was at the former 9:30 location, which was very small, and I was right up in front of Andrew, literally within an arm's reach. It was thrilling. I also have a close up few photos taken by my friend who went with me. Sadly, I cannot find the ticket, but the 9:30 Club was a very small venue back in those days, so perhaps they did not issue officially printed tickets as they do nowadays. I do recall that my friend and I did not buy tickets in advance for the 9:30 Club show in DC. We just drove down there and paid admission at the door, which could explain why there is no ticket in my collection.” As well as her detailed memories of that night, Ginnie hopes to soon be able to locate, digitise and share some pictures from the show, as a tribute to her late friend Larry Rodriguez (RIP), who took the photos that night but who sadly passed away in 2005.

Whilst there was no firm date for the show, it was now certain that the gig took place, although no audience recording has yet surfaced from the show, nor contemporary posters or flyers.
However, after days of fruitless Googling, I decided to do a digital search of the Washington Post’s archive, which threw up a fragment of a gig review from the issues dated Monday 12th September. Reviewer Joe Sasfy was clearly less than impressed, stating that the band showed such “witless passion and conviction” that the venue became a “musical morgue”. The reviewer mentions that the gig took place on “Saturday night, therefore cementing 10th September as the definitive date for this gig. Ginnie has tracked down the full, very poetic text of the critical yet fair review, which appeared in the respected paper’s Performing Arts pages, and in which Sasfy admits that at their best, “songs uncoiled in dramatic waves of droning guitar dissonance,” whilst Eldritch “hung and writhed diabolically on his mike stand, groaning and moaning through a wall of reverb.” How delighted the singer must have been with such a mention in a major national paper, which would be unthinkable back in the UK for such a defiantly independent Northern band.

However, the 9:30 club was destined to ultimately move on to bigger and better premises, and sadly the Atlantic Building was gutted as the area was gentrified in the early years of this millennium, with only the unique façade retained, with no trace or indication of the location’s pre-eminent place in the capital city’s musical development. The 9:30 has recently commemorated its 20th anniversary in its current, larger location, and its 35th overall ... much like TSOM themselves.

My particular thanks for this post are due to Phil Verne once again - check out his TSOM 80-85 FB group, to Ginnie Hruz Miller for sharing her wonderful memories,  and to the many Washington music fans who have ensured that this iconic venue has been properly archived on the internet.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Love for the Party - Futurama 1981

As the current incarnation of The Sisters of Mercy continue on their sporadic "tour" of minor European festivals, this weekend marks the 35th anniversary of the band's first festival appearance. 

Of all the TSOM gigs played in their maiden year as a “live” band in 1981, by far and away the most populous and important was Futurama 3, the third edition of the “World’s First Science Fiction Music Festival”, the first two versions of which had been staged in Leeds’ cavernous and dilapidated Queen’s Hall in the preceding years. Organised by legendary Leeds promoter John F Keenan, who was the man behind the seminal late 70's F Club punk gigs where Eldritch met Marx, and who still organises gigs in the city to this day, the third edition of Futurama took place in the slightly incongruous surroundings of Bingley Hall, Stafford. Hearing that name one might imagine a venerable red-brick provincial town centre English concert hall with neo-classical pillars at the entrance (like many of those played by TSOM on their 1984 and 1985 tours), but New Bingley Hall, to give it its full name (to avoid confusion with a venue in the nearby Birmingham area), was nothing of the sort : it was in fact (and still is) the main show hall of the Staffordshire County Showground, the hangar-like pavilion where once a year the region’s prime bullocks and tractors were displayed to an admiring trade audience.

I got in touch with John Keenan and asked him about the change of venue from the previous years, and he told me that the move had not been intentional. "The 1980 Futurama was very successful, and I was looking forward to establishing the event. Unfortunately, I went on holiday after the show to wind down for a while. When I came back, John Curd, a promoter from London, had booked the Queen's Hall for the following September with a copy-cat, two-day indie festival called "Daze of Future Past". It was my first introduction to the unscrupulous world of the music business. It took me a lot of ringing around to find another venue. It was an enjoyable event, fun to do, but with all the messing about it didn't make any money. Eventually, John Curd's company, "Straight Music" (ha!), went bust and I moved back to the Queen's Hall in 1983."

Early adverts for the gig fail to list TSOM amongst the participants, as they were a late addition to the bill, but later posters and flyers did indeed list them, and as the stage times attached indicate, they had a half-hour mid-afternoon slot many hours before the big names (Theatre of Hate, Bauhaus, Gang of Four, all of whom ironically were also to go on to appear at the "Daze..." event) took to the stage on Saturday 5th September 1981. Again John Keenan can clear up the mystery of the band's last-minute appearance on the programme : "Andy and Craig were friends of mine, I used to see them every week at the F Club. When I first started compiling the 1981 festival, they weren't ready. Nearer the date they came and asked if I could put them on, and I fitted them onto the bill." Incidentally, the band "Cry" listed as second band on has been confirmed by Paul Gregory as the final incarnation of Expelaires, featuring Paul himself, Dave Wolfenden, and the late John Plumb and Phil Dye. The band finally split later that year.

A wonderfully laconic post by “Loki” on Heartland Forum in 2004 provides some fantastic background detail about what it must have been like to attend the two-day festival, one of the first real gatherings of the positive punk crowd that would ultimately be saddled with the dismissive “goth” label. “The gig took place in what I can only describe as a very large cattle-shed/warehouse thing. I’m surprised it had electricity and it smelt bad. The only other facilities were some portaloos and a little club-house pavilion thing bar that wouldn’t have been out of place beside a cricket village green. We had draconian licensing laws in 81 so it only opened 12-2pm and 7-10pm…. Everyone was kicked out of the shed at the end of the night as we weren’t allowed to sleep with the beer cans [!].However there was a cattle parade ring outside and they did allow us to sleep in the little grandstand that overlooked it. The organisers even handed out black bin-liners to kip in. A thoughtful gesture…. So after forty-eight hours in the same clothes we trudged home. Much like a modern two-day festival but as kids we weren’t rich enough to own a tent to be burgled”.

Gary Marx himself also recalled his memories of the gig in response to a question from a Ghost Dance fan on his later band’s forum. “The Sisters’ line-up that day included a certain Dave Humphries on 2nd guitar (it was actually his last Sisters gig I think). Not a name I’ve seen mentioned too many times in the Sisters’ story.” Marx also recalled a classic bit of early Von banter, the first attempt at distancing himself from the nascent gothic movement. “My memories are of playing very early in the day and Andy walking onstage and yelling “Bring out your dead” to the few Bauhaus and Theatre of Hate fans scattered around the largely empty hall.”

Marx is almost correct in his assertion, although Eldritch in fact uttered the immortal words after the set-opening Floorshow (set to very different Doktor Avalanche pattern, and with somewhat wayward Eldritch vocals in the latter stages), as can be heard at the end of an audio recording of the song now available on YouTube thanks to "endemoniada75". The rest of the show is also available from the same source, featuring a primitive rare live recording of “Good Things”, plus the more familiar “Watch”, a barely recognisable “Damage Done”, “Adrenochrome "(this link leads to a superior version kindly uploaded to coincide with this blog post by TSOM live tape tsar Phil Verne), the latter following on as was then the custom from Leonard Cohen's “Teachers”, plus the other usual covers of "1969" and the set-closing “Sister Ray”, already becoming the band’s signature tune, and like the Banshees’ “Lord’s Prayer” played differently every night (although it barely weighs in at three and a half minutes on this occasion). The band have more of the angular guitar sound heard on the first single, with the Pere Ubu/Gang of Four/ Joy Division influences significantly more apparent than in what was to follow.

Not only was the gig's audio recorded, but it was also videoed, although no physical evidence has ever surfaced amongst collectors. Organiser John Keenan told an online Leeds music forum some years ago “Yes, Futurama 3 was filmed, some great footage of Simple Minds, Gang of Four, Bauhaus and early Sisters," a fact he was happy to confirm and explain further. Asked about a rumour that the video tapes had been stolen, he told me : "They never disappeared, I still have them! They were recorded, on bad advice, on Sony U-Matic tape and I suspect that because the tapes have been stored for so long, they will have 'bled' and are probably useless now. There may have been a few VHS demos recorded at the time, but I don't have any. I know that we edited a lot of it, including a full set by Simple Minds. Virgin Records [Simple Minds' label] were supposed to be paying for it, but changed their minds at the last minute and the guy running the film crew was crooked. They tried to charge me weekend rates at double time, even though they hadn't worked for me before! I do remember co-editing a 20 minute version of Sister Ray by The Sisters - they didn't have many songs in their set at that time!"

Loki stated that he “doesn’t remember The Sisters playing, but a mate who was also there has assured me that they did.” However, the band made a much bigger impression on Robin Wardell : “I went to see UK Decay, Bauhaus, Bow Wow Wow and Theatre of Hate but came home with The Sisters of Mercy in my head as a band to keep an eye on.” Futurama changed location again the following year, with Wayne Hussey’s Dead or Alive on the bill at the Deeside Leisure Centre in North Wales alongside the likes of The Danse Society, The March Violets and Southern Death Cult, before returning to Leeds for edition 5 in 1983 (RLYL, KJ, NMA, Play Dead etc) and a final three day edition 6 at Bradford University in 1989  featuring Salvation and The Rose of Avalanche, by which time a Belgian festival of the same name was doing good annual business at the Brielpoort in Deinze (a venue well-known to Sisters fans), although this too was the result of another unscrupulous promoter according to John Keenan : "I called to ask him why he was using my festival name. He answered, 'It's not a rip-off, it's a tribute to you!'". 

With his enthusiastic promotion style and eye for a decent band, John is still regularly promoting gigs to this day in West Yorkshire (including a forthcoming Brudenell Social Club date by Theatre of Hate, to bring things full circle, a band reformed in 2014 to support the Damned at the request of....John Curd!). Meanwhile the Stafford County Showground and New Bingley Hall go from strength to strength, and this year are holding the UK Parrot Society’s annual show, the national Chrysanthemum Show, and the annual Christian youth festival Soul Survivor amongst other equally eclectic offerings.

My thanks for this post are due to the ever helpful LG, who has once again opened up his vast treasure trove of early TSOM artefacts, Robin and Loki for the reminiscences, and to the afore-mentioned generous long-term fans Ade Matthews and Phil Verne (host of The Sisters of Mercy 1980-1985 FB page) for uploading the songs on to YT. In particular, I would like to record my enormous gratitude to Leeds legend John F Keenan for taking time out of his still-busy schedule to answer (and in such entertaining detail) questions which he must have heard many times before.

Friday, 29 July 2016

The 1985 Split – the real truth is never spoken ??

Even over thirty years on, it seems that every journalist writing about either TSOM or (in particular) The Mission is contractually obliged to refer to the original TSOM’s very public disintegration in 1985.

This is usually based on a version of history presented piecemeal in the UK music press in early 1986, at the height of the dispute over who held the rights to the band’s name, and generally features the following apparent facts :

  • ·         Gary Marx left the band after the BBC OGWT performance in early April 1985 for “personal reasons”;
  • ·         The rest of the band completed the European and American tours and then the Royal Albert Hall gig as a three piece (although Marx had been expected to re-appear for the latter);
  • ·         The remaining three members reconvened in Hamburg to begin work on a second album in late summer 1985, but there were arguments about musical direction;
  • ·         Adams walked out over the Torch bassline which he likened to the band Prefab Sprout (an AOR band canned off stage in Lier the previous year just before the Sisters’ spot at that indoor festival);
  • ·         Hussey left the day after, and went on to form the band that would become The Mission with Adams and others, whilst Eldritch contacted Patricia Morrison “the day after” to start his own next project ;
  • ·         Hussey and co. wished to keep the TSOM name, or a derivative of it, which Eldritch objected to;
  • ·         After a bitter dispute involving lawyers, publishing companies and record labels, Eldritch won the right to the name by speed-releasing “Giving Ground”.

Inevitably, given the acrimonious and messy “divorce”, fans of the original band tended to take sides in the dispute, division lines which largely remain in place amongst the fanbase even today, but for those reading subsequent interviews, other and more complex issues which had a greater bearing on the split have emerged, which shed a new light on the real reasons for the original band’s break-up at a time when they appeared to be on the verge of greatness.

Clues about the stresses and strains in the band were already apparent to those closely following the band – the seemingly endless delays in the release of the FALAA album (originally intended for autumn 1984, then January 1985 and finally released in March of that year), a cancelled Japanese tour in summer 1984, stories of Eldritch’s ill-health over that summer prior to the Ahlen and York festivals – and further details about these internal strains gradually began to emerge.

With the chart success of This Corrosion eclipsing the previous early successes of The Mission, a more relaxed Eldritch began to open up about the realities of life in TSOM in the 84/85 era. Speaking to Q magazine’s Paul du Noyer in an interview published in January 1988, Eldritch said : “I didn’t want to be taken for granted again. I was killing myself on the road and nobody was really saying thank you…I almost dropped dead during the recording of the first album and the band didn’t thank me, maybe they were trying to tell me something.” Then, incredibly, he goes on to seemingly suggest that they carry on without him : “I told them they’d have to get a new singer because I wasn’t prepared to go on doing it that way. And so, discreetly, abroad everybody had a go at singing, and decided that they weren’t very good..” (“everybody” ? “abroad” ? does this include Marx ? Europe or America ?) Du Noyer summarises another issue at the heart of Eldritch’s stance “As he tells it, things began to sour when he refused to aggravate his ill-health by touring, preferring in any case to work in the studio.”

In 1986, the “musical differences” cited as the reason for the split seemed to revolve around Edritch’s penchant for Stevie Nicks whilst the others still preferred Motorhead, but it would appear that the singer’s overall modus operandi had also begun to frustrate his colleagues. Ironically using exactly the same phrase as his predecessor Ben Gunn, Wayne Hussey said in 1986 “We’d done what we wanted to achieve. In doing that we’d lost the original essence of it….we’d lost the joke of it. Because that’s what it was originally meant to be. A joke”. Gary Marx, interviewed in Glasperlenspiel in 2003, says something similar similar. “Those trips to Bridlington and the gigs around the time of Alice 1982/83 were very special, far less sanitised than the bigger tours which followed – chaotic, violent, sexy, distorted and a word which evaporated quicker than the dry ice – fun.”

In another 2003 interview on Heartland Forum, Marx states that leaving TSOM “was as obvious as leaving school at sixteen. My relationship with all three of them was completely shattered. If anything I felt more animosity towards Craig and Wayne than I did to Andrew, because they hadn’t had the balls to leave when I did….you can only tour with no-one talking to each other so many times.” (In 1986 Hussey had also said “we did the album hardly talking to each other”). In the Glasperlenspiel interview, Marx eloquently (and very impartially) analyses the split further : “In essence the securing of the Warners deal had taken an awful lot out of Andrew, who was the sole manager of the band by this point. It had also caused a rift between him and the rest of us and, perhaps most significantly, it had taken him away from being a singer and a songwriter. In the studio all of this was amplified – it’s a surprise that an album emerged at all and no surprise to anyone close to the band that we had all parted company within a few months of its release. A very messy end to it all and annoyingly a very clichéd end on the surface at least – the drug-addled lead singer on a power trip and the “dum-dum boys/spiders from mars” squabbling over a few quid in the back room.” In a third 1983 interview, with the French website Prémonition, Marx again talks of Eldritch’s desire to control every aspect of the group, which he felt was both insulting to him as the fellow founder member and very frustrating as it took so long for anything to happen, particularly in the studio.

Eldritch’s post-split interviews also hint at these issues – “the same old musician power against responsibility equation”, “after five years without a day off the time came to lie low for a while”, “I wasn’t well, I’d done three tours that year”, - but there were also the first real hints that the singer (now tired of touring and wishing to do his own thing in the studio) had possibly – shock, horror - deliberately engineered the end of his own band. In a Melody Maker interview in September 1987 he said “I thought we’d come to the end of a logical course. I titled that Albert Hall gig “Wake” about four months before it actually happened and the band are probably still wondering why. I mean, I thought it should still have gone on but I knew it wasn’t going to.” 

Hindsight? The truth and then some back-tracking? It all depends on which side of the argument you were on. But for the real story, we have to travel further back to pre-split, and Eldritch’s incredibly candid interviews (seemingly never discussed outwith Italian circles) with Italian fans Daniela Gombini and Romano Pasquini, who had interviewed Marx and Hussey at the Munich show in November 1984 and invited Eldritch to Rome, where he visited during the Sisters’ brief time off in December 1984 before returning to the UK to complete (at last!) the recording and production of FALAA. In Rome, Eldritch told the Italians (in an interview published in Tribal Cabaret in March 1985) that not only was he planning on disbanding the current band, but that plans were well-advanced for the replacement ! “I think that after the world tour that will follow the release of the album I’ll leave the group ... I'm going to stay just as a manager ... I can’t be both the manager and the singer ... I have no time for myself and the things I’d rather do, such as learning how to play the guitar.” And then the real bombshell, revealing that this is no mere pipe dream : “I’ve already contacted Patricia Morrison and Alan Vega to form a supergroup before the end of the year.” 

How much of this information he had shared with Adams, Marx and Hussey is unclear, but he was certainly happy to reiterate his plans in a further interview carried out at the Rome gig in May 1985 and originally published in another Italian fanzine Il Mucchio Selvaggio in June of that year. Asked about the album’s title, Eldritch replies “Because it is the first and will be the last. And as for the "always" ... I don’t know, we’re saying that hopefully it’ll be around ‘until the end of time’. The interviewer retorts, “Why the last? Is it true what you have said in interviews [presumably referring to Tribal Cabaret], that you're going to disband the group?”, to which the singer replies “Well ... yes. I'm tired, I’m not feeling great. Now, with Gary Marx’s departure, there are just three of us in the band, and I think before the summer there’ll be just one single person left; the current lineup is quite united, but I don’t think that working in this way is the best thing for me. In the last five years I have learned to make records, to publish, to design the sleeves, to manage the band, and I found the whole thing so much more satisfying than just "being in a band." Asked if he’ll pursue a solo career, he answers “Yes, that's probably what I'll do….In the last two years I have been very busy dealing with practical management issues, so I’ve let Gary Marx and Wayne Hussey take care of writing the music for the songs. Previously that wasn’t the case, in fact many of the old songs were composed entirely by myself. It was just a question of having enough time to commit to song-writing: I do like to write and I can’t wait to get started. When I’ve finished a tour I love to sit on the couch with a guitar in my hand, in front of the television, with my girlfriend and my cat beside me - I am completely happy doing that. After a while though, the whole merry-go-round starts up again and there’s another tour. However, I promised that once I’ve finished the current set of dates, I won’t be out on the road for a while.” (“promised”? unfortunately, to whom this promise had been made is not made clear).

(this is the key section of the December 1984 interview from Tribal Cabaret)

These incredible quotes reveal that Eldritch was indeed well aware that the “Wake” would be just that for the current incarnation of the group (and explains his willingness to have Marx back in the band for that show – for old times’ sake?), and that any attempts at working on new songs with Craig and Wayne would be half-hearted at best, given his pronouncements and advanced plans for TSOM mk 2, and the fact that sources close to the Mission reveal that they have no knowledge of many of the titles on the proposed tracklisting for “Left On Mission and Revenge” given to Daniela and Romano in summer 1985 (and recently shared on FB) would tend to confirm this.

The saga of the Sisters split seemed even at the time to have many twists and turns, with all the main members’ motivations under suspicion. Was Wayne Hussey perhaps a power-crazy band-name-stealing would-be-frontman who unlawfully exploited the temporary weakness of a dictator singer to usurp his crown ? On the evidence available at the time, some long-term TSOM fans certainly saw things that way (and continue to do so to this day in some cases). Were the tensions that exist in any band exacerbated by the wounded pride of the overlooked, slightly jealous and very frustrated founder member Gary Marx ? Certainly many whose journey with the band started in the FALAA era seemed to shed few tears over his departure and have been happy to see him relegated to a footnote in TSOM history. Or, as these contemporary interviews seem to suggest, was the 1985 split in fact entirely planned and orchestrated by the ever Machiavellian “puppet master” Andrew Eldritch himself, as the unpalatable but essential “third way” when forced to choose between further damaging his own mental and physical health or relinquishing control over key aspects of the future of the band in which he had invested so much? Maybe “the real truth is never spoken”, but the revelations of these Italian interviews for English-speaking fans certainly add a further dimension to one of the alternative rock world’s most fascinating chapters.

Even more than usual, I am hugely indebted to all those who have helped with this post. Daniela Gombini has shared a large number of photos and artefacts on the Tribal Cabaret FB page, and Federico Guglielmi has posted the text of his exclusive interview with Eldritch on his blog, including a charming introduction. I am especially grateful to LG for sharing items from his extensive collection, and some help with translation, and to Phil Verne for drawing my attention to the significance of the Tribal Cabaret interview and for all of his help and advice with this post. Want to comment on this post ? Join the debate on this and other topics on Phil Verne's (unofficial) TSOM 1980-1985 FB group