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 allmusic.com’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 … ??