Thursday, 14 April 2016

The first "Alice" ? Zig Zag Club London July 1982

By the summer of 1982, it was clear that Andrew Eldritch’s masterplan was beginning to take shape. Ben Gunn had been recruited, the second single (Body Electric/Adrenochrome) had eventually been released on CNT to positive reviews and regular plays on John Peel, and the band were beginning to pick up some decent support slots that included the likes of Nico and (allegedly) The Clash, exposing them to a wider range of industry figures and audiences than possible in Leeds.

Sadly, not much has surfaced from most of these gigs, with the exception of the gig at the Zig Zag Club in London on Saturday 10th July 1982, where TSOM played as support to The Birthday Party alongside a group called Play School of whom I have found no further information. They were listed in both this magnificent pink flyer (the property of generous collector LG) and this advert from that month’s Zig Zag magazine (photo courtesy of Tony P who runs an Appreciation page for the magazine). 

Headliners The Birthday Party were a band for whom AE had expressed admiration earlier in the year in an interview with Melody Maker’s Adam Sweeting "We're not as good as Motörhead but we're better than The Birthday Party. That makes us pretty damned good." Unfortunately, Eldritch’s rosy-eyed view of The Birthday Party was not reciprocated, as this seemingly irony-free recounting of a story from Ian Johnston’s book “Bad Seed” will testify :  “The support group were the then little known Leeds Gothic rock band The Sisters of Mercy, fronted by the enigmatic Andrew Eldritch. 'At the end of their set Mr Eldritch and friends wanted to know what The Birthday Party thought of them, and asked me to find out,' recalls Chris Carr with a wry grin. ' I asked them if they were sure about this, they were, so I went off to the dressing room. The only person who saw anything of their show was Mr Mick Harvey, who announced that The Sisters of Mercy were the worst band to have ever supported The Birthday Party. I went back and recounted this to Mr Eldritch. The following Monday I got a call from The Sisters of Mercy saying that the band had had a meeting and had decided to continue, and to wish The Birthday Party all the best in the future. They understood their criticism but thought rather than break up, they'd carry on. it was all very dramatic.' Carr laughs. Within six years The Sisters of Mercy would become one of the UK's most successful rock groups.”

Listening back to a recording of the gig, one can only assume that Mr Harvey’s comments were motivated by jealousy. The gig opens with a historical gem, the earliest known version of “Alice”, which features a very tinny intro and a slightly different opening riff, and a more metronomic delivery from Eldritch, as the band’s sound echoes around the former cinema, as can be heard on this extract kindly uploaded onto YouTube by live cassette aficionado Phil Verne. Gary’s riff grinds to a halt at one stage, but the band keep going and follow on with Floorshow, Eldritch introducing the band “We are the Sisters of Mercy” and then screaming “Floorshow” (rather too loudly) over the familiar buzzing intro, singing the first verse an octave higher than usual. Floorshow too retains its earlier simplified guitar riffs, but the band have now hit their full stride and a wild “Watch” follows on, Eldritch’s Stooges and Furs influences apparent on extended “Watch us fall” sections. “Body Electric” sees the band pick up the pace further, the then single being faithfully rendered, albeit with another slightly pitchy vocal from a clearly nervous Von when he switches to his upper register for the second half of the song. Showing an increasing ability to pace a set, the band then launch into a note perfect version of “Lights” (still almost a year before it would appear on vinyl), before a scream filled “1969” and a suddenly truncated “Sister Ray” bring the support set to a close. With what sounds like a healthy sized crowd cheering for an encore, Von is forced to come back on stage to thank the crowd for their support but explain that there was no more time, “so as Morrison said, “this is the end”, see you guys soon. Good night.” Immediately, the rather nasal DJ takes over and says “Thanks a lot, The Sisters of Mercy, sorry there’s no more time but coming next tonight, The Birthday Party. Now a video …”

The Zig Zag Club had been set up by the well-known music magazine of the same name, which by the early 1980’s had increasingly become interested in the growing post punk scene, and decided to branch out into club management. The terms of their licence meant that everyone attending was supposed to be a member of the club, although an associate membership could be bought along with tickets (even on the door) to get round this issue, and this example comes from

The ZigZag was housed in the former Grand Cinema on Great Western Road in London’s Westbourne Park district, which had opened in 1912 with a seating capacity of approx. 1250. The auditorium was destroyed by German bombs in the Second World War, but the original art deco façade (seen in this magnificent 1930’s picture on the "cinema treasures" website) was maintained when it was rebuilt in the 1950s as part of the Essoldo chain.

After a brief period as a Bingo hall, it was relaunched as the ZigZag club in April 1982 in what turned out to be a short-lived affair, as the club had closed again by the end of the year and was infamously squatted by Crass that Christmas for a free gig which still gets anarcho-punks misty eyed. Sadly, after a spell as a rehearsal space, dereliction took hold and the cinema was demolished in 1994, its place taken by a block of modern red and tan coloured flats. 

Intriguingly, another gig listed on contemporary announcements features TSOM billed as support to Dead or Alive, then of course featuring one Wayne Hussey on guitar in their pre-disco phase. Sadly, no further evidence has yet surfaced to suggest that this gig was ever played by the band, although the Sisters did increasingly come to see their London gigs as their chance to take further strides in the industry, despite all their fanzine protestations that this was not strictly necessary for a provincial Northern band determined to “make it” on their own terms.

My thanks are again due to LG for his help with this gig, being the source of the pink flyer and the gig adverts which have now been circulating for some time, and to Phil Verne for allowing me to hear his recording of the gig, one of the earliest of the band outside of their native Yorkshire, and for sharing with us all his YT upload of the earliest known version of "Alice". Thanks too to Tony P for the ZigZag extract.

More Ben Gunn era gigs coming soon - if you were at any not yet covered, please get in touch !

Monday, 4 April 2016

The incredible untold story of the first TSOM gig abroad

At the Sheffield University gig in June 1983, to fill the time between songs as the band struggled (not for the first time) with a combination of the difficulties of keeping two guitars in tune with each other and of operating an increasingly recalcitrant drum machine, Andrew Eldritch can clearly be heard engaging in a bit of banter with the loyal Yorkshire following. “Who’s coming to Europe with us ?” he enquires, eliciting cheers of approval.
One wonders what the gig schedule looked like at that stage, as it has been the work of many aficionados and three decades to re-create such a list. As we established in a previous post, it was only comparatively recently that the date of the Mallemunt Festival in Brussels was definitively established as 5th August 1983, installing it as the band’s first date overseas.

Incredibly, however, more recent research by legendary TSOM archivist LG has revealed that TSOM played much further afield a week earlier than the Belgian date, in the historic Italian Adriatic port of Ancona. To my astonishment, LG had acquired a poster listing TSOM as playing in the Italian town on Sunday 31st July 1983, billing it as their “unica data” and “primo concert in Italia”.

The port of Ancona had a long-established musical festival which tended to draw an older audience, but in the early 80’s municipal funding was made available for the production of an alternative version, Parkingang, to be held in the historic Piazza del Plebiscito, a beautiful traditional square complete with mediaeval town hall with clock tower, baroque church, and restaurants whose terraces spilled out over the cobbled interior.

Incredibly, at a time when punk musicians had been harassed and almost driven to extinction by UK authorities, in Ancona this alternative festival was entrusted to a collective comprising a local video art group, “Video Pallidi”, who planned to show early alternative films (Man Ray, H. Richter etc) and local punk bands Cracked Hirn and Rivolta dell’Odio. The latter were an established Italian anarcho-punk band who had released their first single by this stage, but were being increasingly influenced by the positive punk movement in the UK. This influence can be seen in the list of bands whose videos would be shown in the video bar during the five day festival, as can be seen on the bottom left hand corner of a second, more detailed poster for the gig, which I recently discovered after many hours of previously fruitless Googling.

The scheduling of the gig is further confirmed by further extracts from LG’s collection. He discovered this advert for the gig in an Italian music magazine, although the excerpt suggests that the gig took place on the Saturday (rather than the Sunday) night.

Hardly conclusive evidence of the gig having taken place though, and the assumption was that it was an idea which hadn't come to fruition. But LG then revealed his pièce de resistance, an Italian fanzine interview published in Tribal Cabaret Mag no 6 (“84/85”). During Daniela Giombini’s interview (Munich, 11/11/84) one of the band states “Yes, we played in Ancona two summers ago. That was the time when Gary threw Ben’s camera into the sea”. (I, for one, would love to hear more about this anecdote, from a time when young Master Gunn was clearly beginning to consider his future in the band!).

For further confirmation about the gig, I tracked down one of the members of The Sisters’ support band and festival organisers, Oskar Barrile of Rivolta dell’Odio, who passed my queries on to bass player Amedeo Bruni. The latter was only too pleased to confirm the details of how the gig had come about, and sent me a complete account of the events of that summer, all written in perfect English :
“That year, the City Council in Ancona gave us some money to organize a small festival in a beautiful in the city centre, near the port. We were really into UK post-punk at the time, Sex Gang Children, Uk Decay, Play Dead, 1919, March Violets, Blood and Roses, Ausgang, you know, that sort of great stuff,” he told me.
They could therefore use some of this generous budget to attract a UK big name. “We managed to have a link with an Italian agency who gave us the name of some bands available for a show, and we choose The Sisters of Mercy,” Amedeo continued. “They were to top the bill, with the rest of the line-up consisting of local bands.”
As we have seen in previous posts about gigs of that era, the promoters were responsible for pretty much every aspect of the touring band. Amedeo told me that “the deal with the agency was that I had to pick up the band in Milan, where they landed. I remember they arrived in Milan (about 450 km north of Ancona) in the middle of the night. So me and my mate went to the airport, met the band and took them to the train station. They were quite talkative, and quite amazed some guys wanted them to play outside England for the first time. That was a one-off, there was no tour ongoing, they flew straight from Leeds to Milan (and back again).”
Despite the band’s taciturn reputation back home, Amedeo found them to be quite the opposite. “During the train ride (about 3 hours) they spent all the time drinking....
In the early hours of the morning we arrived in Ancona, took the band to their hotel and left them there.”
One can imagine the “this is the life” feeling that TSOM must have felt at the time, after years of humping their gear into Transits and sleeping on fans’ floors the only alternative to a bleary-eyed drive back up the M1 to Leeds.
Although Amadeo has very clear memories of that first meeting with the band, his recollections of the festival itself are less strong, as he and the rest of Rivolta dell’Odio would have been primarily focussed on what was a big night in their own careers, supporting TSOM. He said “I don't remember much about their show, just a bone-shaking version of Gimme Shelter. Also, I don't remember anything about their departure: this means the show involved hard partying, a lot of alcohol … and a massive hangover!" he added, charmingly.
So, we can now confirm the Parkingang Festival as the very first TSOM show outside the UK, but Amedeo had another fascinating anecdote to share. “Some year later, already big and famous, The Sisters of  Mercy returned to Italy. I went to their concert at Budrio near Bologna (the subject of a previous post on this blog), but I was skeptical about the chance to meet Andrew E. and the rest of the band : I thought they wouldn't give a f… about meeting me. On the contrary, he was quite happy to talk to me before the show, we drank a bottle of Port together, and he remembered perfectly everything about their show in Ancona, and took a lot of time to let me know how much he appreciated the Cassette Album of my band I had given him in Ancona. 'A very raw and strong band', he said.”
Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, it is still possible to hear contemporary Rivolta dell’Odio recordings, such as “Altari delTerrore”, which appeared on their next single the following year, which features many of the features (driving tribal drumming, slightly whining post-Lydon vocals, interesting guitar chord progressions) prevalent amongst the scene at the time, and certainly well-worthy of Eldritch's approval. The orange vinyl single, like other Rivolta dell'Odio releases, now commands upward of £25 as interest continues to grow in these Italian post-punk pioneers.
Amadeo concluded : “Much time has passed, new bands and music attracted my attention, and I can't even remember the last time I listened to the Sisters, but this is a memory I will hold dear forever.”
On behalf of all TSOM aficianados, I would like to thank Amadeo for taking the time and trouble to share with us his memories of this historic and unique occasion. The square the Sisters played in still features concerts to this day, with Nick Cave and (in this video) Mumford and Sons amongst those to attract a crowd to its attractive confines. As usual, my thanks are also hugely due to LG for his key role in helping to solve at last one of the longest running Sisters Mysteries, that of the first TSOM show outside of England.

(I would love to hear from anyone who was at one of the 1983 gigs (or earlier) not yet covered on the blog – Newcastle Dingwalls, the Hacienda and the Bradford Manhattan being good examples.)