Sunday, 31 January 2016

Crash and Brum 3

(This blog post is the final one of a trilogy about the gigs played by TSOM for Nitelife Promotions in Birmingham and should be read in conjunction with the previous two).

Barely two months after the triumphant gig at the Fighting Cocks in suburban Moseley, TSOM were back in Birmingham once more on their March '83 mini tour, playing this time at the best known of the pub venues, the legendary Golden Eagle in Hill St in the city centre.

For a long time there was a lot of doubt as to whether this gig took place at all. On Heartland Forum a decade ago, Dave R was adamant that it didn't happen. "The Birmingham date was the Selly Park Taven with the Wild and The Wandering (who became PWEI and the Stuffies) as support. I know because I was there. The only Golden Eagle affair was when Motörhead played the Demolition Party and a few Sisters were in their entourage." (in the first part of his statement he is clearly referring to the Bournbrook and to From Eden who became The Wild and The Wandering)

However, on other online Forums, others began to appear who had allegedly been at the gig, usually as part of a "Who did you see before they were famous?" thread, whilst a Songkick user stated that a band called Step Forward had been the support, an unusual detail for a "phantom" gig.

Within a month of each other two long-term fans furnished me with a photo of the poster for the gig, first the ever-generous uber-collector LG, whose copy is pictured above, and then, even more incredibly a lady called Paula also got in touch, as it was her first TSOM gig and she too had a copy of the same poster. Sadly, however, although she remembers having been to the gig, she understandably couldn't recall any specific details alongside the many other gigs which she attended in that era. Surprisingly, given the extent to which TSOM gigs were being bootlegged as they began to dominate the indie charts, no recording or photos have survived from the gig, which was the night after the Liverpool and the night before the Colne gigs previously covered in this blog. As can be seen from the rather informal poster ("two quid in"), the promoters (Nitelife) were the same local enthusiasts who had put on the previous two gigs, this time elevating the band to the biggest venue on their circuit, and which had a reputation (somewhat unusually given its city centre location) of being a bikers' pub at the time of the TSOM visit.

The Golden Eagle stood on the site of an earlier pub, and was the pride and joy of brewers Holts when it opened in 1936, redesigned by the architect FJ Osborne. With its polished black granite facade, and metallic golden eagle motif by noted local artist William Bloye just above what was originally the main entrance, the venue should have been a listed building in its own right, not to mention its incredible musical heritage stretching back to the 1960's. More recently to the TSOM gig, bands such as Iron Maiden and U2 had stopped off there on early tours, playing the upper floor music room which was only accessible via a steep and winding staircase, on which local band 021 are posing in this contemporary photo from the Birmingham Music Archive website. A member of the Birmingham History website (going by the name of "The Purple Cow") remembers the venue well. "It was a lovely, warm, atmospheric place with extraordinary Art Deco internal architecture, fixtures and fittings. The journey to the men's loo was particularly extraordinary, being a long subterranean journey along an originally tiled corridor with authentic period light fittings and brass handrails"

Generations of bands had lugged their instruments and amps up and down these stairs, but eight months after the TSOM gig the pub closed its doors for the pastime, condemned because of structural faults which would have been difficult and expensive to fix for a pub with a dwindling clientele, the post office having by now vacated the neighbouring building. Apparently, not even the famed brass golden eagle plaque survived the demolition, which was unsuccessfully fought by a pressure group determined to keep one of the finest examples of Art Deco architecture in the West Midlands.

Like so many other demolished former gig venues, the site of the Golden Eagle is now a car park, with no sign of its former glory. TSOM's next visit to Birmingham would be of a much higher profile, the legendary first gig with Wayne Hussey at the Tin Can/Fantasy club just over a year later ...

(My thanks are due once again to those who have provided memories, photos and souvenirs of this gig, particularly Paula and LG on this occasion).

Friday, 22 January 2016

Crash and Brum 2

(This is the second in a series of three posts about gigs TSOM played in the Birmingham area in 1982/1983)

Speaking of The Sisters of Mercy’s special relationship with Birmingham (as well as the three gigs under review, Wayne Hussey’s TSOM debut famously took place there in 1984, and it remained a favoured stop-off) Eldritch told a reporter from Wolverhampton’s Express and Star in 1993 : “I’ve always liked playing ‘Brumidgeham’. We have a certain rapport with the fans.” Unsurprisingly therefore, the Sisters' second visit to the Second City came barely two months after the first, as they were re-engaged by promoters Nitelife to play at one of their more regular venues, the Fighting Cocks pub in Moseley, where they also promoted a legendary gig by The Smiths that year.
As co-promoter Clive Whittaker said in an interview with a local online magazine, once a band came to be established, they would draw a crowd from a wider area, and Nitelife prided themselves on looking after bands sufficiently well when they were less well-known to be able to continue to promote them in the city as they rose up the musical food chain.

Thanks to the generosity of Belgian TSOM archive poster supremo Bruno Bossier and the hunting skills of arch collector LG, we have this little seen striking poster advertising the gig, confirming the date of the show (Friday 21st January 1983) and revealing that up and coming local band "Ourselves Alone" (a translation, from the Irish Gaelic, of Sinn Fein) were the support on this occasion, a band who seem to have sunk without internet trace. Like Clive’s other posters, this was a basic home-made Letraset job, with a medical scalpel used to cut out the different sections.

As these recent (Streetview) photos will attest, The Fighting Cocks is one of the more aesthetically pleasing venues where the band played in the early days, at least from the outside, and was built in 1899 by TWF Newton and Cheattle. With its imposing façade of red brick, sandstone and terracotta, it is a noted local landmark. The downstairs bar boasts many of its original features and looks worthy of a visit in its own right, but the Moseley online magazine B13’s Martin Mullaney has also unearthed pictures of the function room upstairs, where the gigs took place and which seemingly hasn't been used for over twenty years!

Uniquely for the three TSOM Birmingham gigs of the Ben Gunn era, the show was (bootleg) recorded, and thanks to well-known Sisters fan Ade Matthews' upload to YouTube we can enjoy an extract from one of the recordings to surface so far, “Valentine.” Legendary TSOM collector Phil Verne tells me that indeed this was possibly the final gig before the band headed to Kenny Giles’ studio in Bridlington once again to record The Reptile House EP. The rest of the setlist was the same as at the previous night’s gig at the Leeds Warehouse, except that they omitted Lights and Damage Done. Like most concerts of that era, they started with Kiss The Carpet, and ended with Sister Ray, after one of the last playings of 1969. The band again went down a storm with the local fans at the Fighting Cocks, with Clive Whittaker saying “(Blurt blew the house down and) Sisters of Mercy ground it into the dirt.” At least I think he’s being complimentary!

Monday, 11 January 2016

Lemmy, Bowie and Von. A TSOM fan's tribute to two musical icons

The announcement of the untimely death of David Bowie, less than two weeks after Lemmy's passing, means that Andrew Eldritch has lost two of his inspirational heroes within the space of a fortnight.

As well as mourning the loss of two giants of the rock world in their own right, TSOM fans must also admit that without either of these two very different but legendary figures, The Sisters of Mercy would not have existed, a fact that Eldritch has willingly acknowledged on a number of occasions over the years
Like many early teenagers born around the dawning of the 1960's, life for young Andrew Taylor would never be the same again after July 6th 1972, when David Bowie appeared with his band on the BBC's iconic Top Of The Pops TV show. He often referred to this pivotal moment in interviews, telling Record Mirror: "I started with the usual thing - seeing David Bowie and 'Starman' on TOTP. That was brilliant, and I think that he basically kept music going throughout the Seventies." Von's comment about "the usual thing" reflects the fact that this moment had a huge influence not only on him but on a huge number of iconic singers of his generation, a situation referred to by Bauhaus' Daniel Ash in an interview with Zachary Lipez of in 2014 : "You always hear people like Morrissey, Marc Almond, Boy George and George Michael, they all talk about Bowie doing Starman on TOTP where he puts his arm around Mick Ronson...I remember going into town and before I bought this 7" single a voice in my head said, "If you buy this record, your life is never going to be the same. Do you want to go down this road?" Of course, I bought it."

Not only did Ash buy the single, but Bauhaus would pay Bowie a lavish tribute by covering "Ziggy Stardust", a UK top 20 hit some ten years later, whereas it would not be until 2011 that TSOM first performed a Bowie song in public, with Chris Catalyst taking over (most) vocal duties on a rendition of "John, I'm Only Dancing", first performed live in the Netherlands in Tilburg on the XXX tour.
Before then of course, Von had had the pleasure of interviewing his idol Bowie for the German edition of Rolling Stone magazine, around the time that the "Outside" album (influenced by Nine Inch Nails and the industrial scene) was released. Eldritch didn't hide his dislike of the album, and the interview reads a little strained as a result, although writing about the experience in Underneath The Rock afterwards, Eldritch confessed "For what it's worth, I told David Bowie that I think he's a genius...The poor sod actually told me how nice it was to do an interview which didn't ask after his ex-wife, so I reckon he's not going to be too unhappy." Ironically, on Bowie's comeback album of 2013, The Next Day, his vocals were likened to those of Eldritch by some heretical reviewers, and one track, Love Is Lost, certainly seemed to have some Sisterhood influence (all extremely ironic, of course, given the frequent comparisons with Bowie in reviews of Eldritch's own early work).
Motörhead were another frequently acknowledged influence from the early days, with Eldritch telling Adam Sweeting as far back as his first national interview in February 1982, "We're not as good as Motörhead but we're better than the The Birthday Party. That makes us pretty damned good." Or consider this Polish TV interview from 2003 : "Something tells me that when there's nothing left on this planet except for nuclear waste and cockroaches, there'll still be Lemmy."

Eldritch has paid tribute to Lemmy in many different ways throughout his career, with live cover versions of Hawkwind’s "Silver Machine" and of "Capricorn" (from Motorhead's Overkill LP), and a fascination with the early 1975 incarnation of the band which led him to record with drummer Lucas Fox (on "Gift") and then cover guitarist Larry Wallis' solo effort "Police Car" live in 2015. Eldritch told a Czech interviewer (Sukhoi on HL) "We went to see Motorhead in Bradford a few years back and they've still got it." However, Lemmy told the same interviewer "I've not seen TSOM perform on stage but I respect Andre and his commitment to music," showing that the adulation was not enirely mutual. The two had known each other for a long while, and according to the Sisters' official website, fans at the legendary show at the Royal Albert Hall show had Lemmy to thank for the fact that there was a final encore. "Andrew had been performing with a couple of cracked ribs, and he had decided to finish [the show], but Lemmy was in the dressing room to convince him that another encore was in order."

 All of the above anecdotes hint at Von's respect for Bowie and Lemmy, but give little indication of the ways in which their own influence shone through in the Sisters' oeuvre. Bowie unwittingly taught the future Andrew Eldritch a certain theatricality, the ability to adopt a new name and persona, the facility with which an artist could reinvent himself, the ability to flirt publicly with the feminine side of one's personality, the advantages of lyrical obtuseness, the exotic appeal of Mittel Europa and the very idea of rock as an art form. As a live performer, Bowie's various 70's reincarnations revealed to Eldritch, Peter Murphy and many others the blueprint for how a frontman can hold an audience in his power, itself a bastardisation of Iggy's raw power. As a singer, Von's vocal inflections, emotive power (eg in SKOS) or vulnerability (1959) are all redolent of Bowie, albeit with his own idiosyncrasies and in a different octave.

Lemmy, on the other hand, showed Eldritch the joys of life on the road, all lads together, band and roadies living out the rock'n'roll dream to the max, following amphetamine logic. Scuzzy bass driving guitar overload rock, the ultimate industrial groove machine, was the inevitable result, heard to best effect on the likes of Body Electric, Floorshow, or Vision Thing. Lemmy stayed true to his principles, despite the obvious physical ravages of the lifestyle, another similarity with Eldritch, whose vision for the Sisters remains the same as in 1981.

Both Bowie and Lemmy have been greatly and rightly mourned in their own way, but both live on in the legacy they have created, in their own output as much in that of bands they have influenced : go and see TSOM in 2016 and stage left you will find the sleek androgyny of Ben Christo, all flamboyant flourishes and sensitive strumming, whilst stage right Chris Catalyst is the personification of the 100% genuine rocker, living for music and the next tour. And walking the tightrope between these two extremes, and combining the best elements of both, another of the rock pantheon's most unforgettable creations : Andrew Eldritch. 

Friday, 8 January 2016

Crash and Brum 1

Birmingham. Second biggest city in the UK. But it wasn’t always that way. As it became “the workshop of the world”, the fiery furnaces of the iron and steel industry around the Black Country saw the population of “Brum” increase from barely 100,000 in 1830 to a million a century later, as the urban sprawl spread with housing estate after housing estate of red brick terraced homes springing up to support the industrial workforce. Given that foundry work was hot and tiring labour, it was inevitable that hostelries would also be popular and Edwardian and Victorian architects were given licence to create elaborately designed public houses, with a multiplicity of bars and function rooms.
By the early 1960’s, Birmingham had become what’s respected music critic Bruce Eder has described as “a seething cauldron of musical activity”, much of it taking place in the small function rooms above pubs, promoted by enterprising fans/businessmen eager to attract the ever-growing audience for “live” rock and roll, and giving rise to the likes of the Spencer Davis Group/Traffic, The Moody Blues, The Move/ELO and ultimately the heavy metal of Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. By the late 70s and early 80s, after the rise and fall of both punk and ska, Birmingham had what Anthony Burnham (writing in FACT mag) described as “a vibrant but infamously fragmented and undervalued” post-punk scene, and it was in this environment that The Sisters of Mercy made three excursions into the local pub room music scene in 1982/1983.

The first of these was in November 1982 on the sporadic series of dates to promote the “Alice/Floorshow” single and in the same week as the unlikely support appearance with Aswad in London. It was held at the relatively genteel Bournbrook Hotel in Selly Oak, not far from the university on the south side of the city. Like the later two Birmingham gigs, it was promoted by Nitelife Promotions, effectively a group of music fans who did everything from booking the bands to designing the posters. The poster for the TSOM gg there was done by one of the Nitelife promoters called Clive Whittaker, who explained the set-up to Moseley (a Birmingham suburb) onlinemagazine : “We named our outfit Nitelife and amongst us we designed printed and posted our print run of usually 100 posters a week. We rang the bands and agencies and tried to match the musical styles to give our young talented locals some good exposure other than their own mates who would fill the support slot of 8.30 -9ish. The pubs shut at 10.30 at first, moving to 11 every Friday and Saturday night so we had to get the main band off before last orders were pulled.”
Clive shared his memories of the Bournbrook venue on the Birmingham Music Archive website. “I’m trying to remember the gigs we put on there, the stage was frightful, shaped like a horn for acoustic amplification which freaked out the sound engineers.” The Bournbrook Hotel was originally a pub called The Malt Shovel, but was rebuilt in the 1860s. According to a local historian on another Birmingham Forum, there was a large park  behind it where sports events were held, and the first Australian cricket team to tour England played there (nearby Edgbaston only hosting cricket from the 1880s).
Most of what is known about the Bournbrook gig only surfaced a year ago, when a somewhat dishevelled poster from the gig sold on eBay for nearly £80. As well as the Nitelife logo, the poster makes it clear that this was one of a series of Thursday night gigs, and on subsequent weeks both Lords of The New Church and Southern Death Cult supported by local band Ourselves Alone (of whom more in my next post) would appear at the handsome venue, which has subsequently traded as a simple pub as the OVT (Old Varsity Tavern) and the Goose, and the music room no longer promotes touring artists. The lucky local band appearing alongside TSOM on Thurs 25th November were “From Eden”, a goth-tinged band containing founder members of two of the leading lights of the next big movement to come from the area, the ill-fated “grebo”. Adam Mole and Clint Mansell went on to found Pop Will Eat Itself, whilst Miles Hunt and Malc Treece were original and leading members of The Wonder Stuff, both of which bands would ultimately achieve chart success exceeding that of Eldritch’s band. The gig is referred to on websites devoted to both bands. Adam Mole described life in “From Eden” when selling an old t-shirt from the band on eBay a couple of years ago : “We gathered an instant following…From Eden became a promoter’s dream, turning up with a ready-made crowd….Hordes of Stourbridge’s finest crew hired coaches that helped to turn every out-of-town From Eden gig into an “event”.” Thanks to a rare 1983 live track posted on YouTube, the band’s goth leanings are apparent, but also the songwriting craft that would take them all a long way in the business.
The other support act, Little Brother, was even more closely entwined with TSOM. A Bradford ranting poet, Little Brother (or Dave Stockell to his Mum) released that autumn a split single with Steven/Susan Wells (33 RPM EP) of his own rants/poems set to music (written and played by former guest TSOM member John “Three Johns/Mekons” Langford, and produced by Kenny Giles in his own 4-track Bridlington studio well-known to Sisters fans).

Sadly, no audio recording of the Bournbrook gig has yet surfaced, hence the setlist is unknown, but if a poster can suddenly turn up after 32 years, why not a humble cassette … ??