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 !

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