Wednesday, 25 May 2016

No Tyne To Cry

For any TSOM fan of the 1980-1985 era (and if you are but haven’t yet joined Phil Verne’s Facebook group devoted to that era, it’s about time you did), mention of the northern English city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne brings memories of two gigs in particular: the March 1985 Tiffany’s date at which Disguised in Black (commonly held as the best live Sisters bootleg of all time) was recorded just three weeks before Gary Marx left the band; and a much earlier alleged gig supporting The Clash at the City Hall in July 1982. However, the band also played there on the Black October jaunt, and would have also played on the Spring 1984 tour if the promoter of the Middlesbrough gig hadn’t pointed out that his contract precluded the band from doing so (the towns being only some forty miles apart).

The band’s other gig in Newcastle took place the previous year on Friday April 22nd 1983, on the tour with The Gun Club, at the city’s branch of the short-lived Dingwall’s chain, which would also host TSOM gigs in Hull and Sheffield later that spring. The Newcastle Dingwall’s was situated in the confines of the once magnificent Alfred Wilson House on Waterloo St, built as a drapery warehouse by the Co-operative Society some fifty years earlier. By the early 80’s the lower floors of this art deco masterpiece were trading as the multi-purpose Newcastle Entertainment Complex, although the Studio 1-2-3-4 cinema had closed its doors for the last time the previous month. There were also two night clubs in the building, with Dingwall’s being (as in the other cities) a converted Hofbrauhaus bierkeller on the lower ground floor.

From what I can discover, advertising for the Newcastle Dingwall’s was handled by none other than that major novocastrian institution Viz Productions, who were responsible for the rapidly expanding comic of the same name, and whose afternoon launch parties for each issue of the comic were held at Dingwall’s at this time. The Viz moniker is clearly visible at the bottom of this contemporary poster advertising gigs at the venue in April 1982, which reveals that advance tickets for this post-punk double bill were a paltry two pounds, and which has been shared here thanks (once again) to the generosity of the foremost Sisters archivist LG. This gig was the penultimate one with The Gun Club, and immediately precedes the legendary Peterborough show (the following evening, without The Gun Club) and the London Lyceum gig two nights later. The gigs with the late Jeffrey Lee Pierce’s ensemble left Eldritch with two legacies, first in the shape of his crushed velvet coat which he wore on and off for the next year, and of course his friendship with Patricia Morrison, his first port of call when Hussey and Adams left in 1985 (ironic that his first thought then was for a bassist, deemed surplus to requirements in the band’s current incarnation).

A live recording of the gig (the only “uncut” version of the gig in circulation), lent to me by the ever-helpful cassette overlord Phil Verne, reveals that the setlist was almost identical to the other gigs on The Gun Club tour, featuring a truncated show to reflect their status as the support act (in name at least). This may have also resulted in a shorter than usual soundcheck, as the opening crowd-pleaser (barely audible over the audience chatter) Alice has some sound issues, seemingly affecting Ben’s rhythm guitar part, and there are short squalls of feedback as the band tune up for the next track, which Eldritch wittily introduces as “This one’s called “Anaconda”... with a load of whistling”. The latter fares a little better, and is followed by a coruscating and unique “Burn”, still affected slightly by feedback issues, with Von ad-libbing the middle “Face in the fire” section a little more than usual and missing some cues towards the end as a result.
After Eldritch asks for better sound from the “monitor” (speaker providing sound for the stage so that the band can hear themselves), things improve somewhat, and as on the previous three nights (Leeds, Manchester and Norwich) the set continues with “Heartland”, “Jolene”, “Adrenochrome” and “Floorshow”, with the shortened repertoire brought to an end by “Body Electric”, an apologetic Eldritch telling the appreciative crowd “We’re short on time tonight so this is the last one.” The gig is mainly remembered for the encore however, as on most of the other dates around this time audiences were treated to either “Gimme Shelter” or “Emma”. However, as Gary jams somewhat aimlessly over a familiar rattling Doktor Avalanche intro, Eldritch informs the crowd “We’re gonna play you something I know The Gun Club can do because if we don’t play it tonight they’ll play it first”, before screaming “Sister Ray”. Eldritch in particular seems up for the encore, which we can all enjoy thanks to the generous uploading of the track onto YouTube by MonsieurVerne. Despite continued guitar feedback, the song is punctuated by enthusiastic cheers from the crowd, especially about 2.19 when Eldritch screams something that sounds like a possible reference to TSOM roadie and future Salvation main man Dan Mass. As at some other gigs of that era, the song builds to a dramatic ending, the rest of the band gradually grinding to a halt whilst the singer repeatedly screams the final “It’s just like Sister Ray said!” refrain, the perfect end to a Sisters’ gig.

Like the other branches of the chain, Newcastle Dingwall’s closed its doors for the last time in the summer of 1983, an event celebrated in typically irreverent style by Viz in this contemporary fake flyer.

The venue lived on under various guises until the early years of this millennium, when the whole building was given an overhaul and turned into a block of apartments, which will come as little surprise to regular readers of this blog as it appears to be the fate of choice of former live venues. However, the Centralofts development has mercifully retained the distinctive 1930s fa├žade, and the building looks more dignified than it did when the Sisters played there all those years ago.

Once again my grateful thanks are extended to the usual suspects, LG and Phil Verne, for supplementing my largely online detective work with items from their own archive to really bring another Ben Gunn era gig back to life.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

(Body) Electric Garden - Stockholm October 1983

The events of Autumn 1983 have always been one of the murkier periods of TSOM’s past, as the band’s first stable line-up imploded just as (I believe) they stood at the threshold of greatness, with the Temple of Love 12” EP about to be released and the first European and US dates having been an unqualified success. However, Ben Gunn’s sudden departure after the East Coast US dates threw all plans into confusion, and for decades opinion was divided as to whether certain gigs even took place at all.

One such concert was that at Stockholm’s Electric Garden on October 26th 1983, sandwiched as it appeared to be between the dates in New York and Philly and those at SF and LA at the end of the month. Despite the existence of a bootleg seemingly recorded at the gig, which first reached wider circulation many years after the concert itself there was much debate as to whether this was actually recorded in Scandinavia at all, or at a different date in the UK, despite the very obviously Swedish chatter amongst the crowd near the taper (apparently a young man called Mats).
However, a variety of comparatively recent revelations have enabled us to recreate the events of the gig, very probably the first to be undertaken as a three piece in the hiatus between Gunn’s departure and Hussey’s arrival. Six years ago, a newarchive website appeared devoted to the Electric Garden, a club night which was a moveable feast, taking in various Stockholm locations in the early 80’s promoting top independent talent, driven by genial Irishman Harry Byrne who had settled in the city. Like many other such operations across Europe, the Electric Garden was very much a cottage industry, designing and producing their own posters which would be silk screen printed and then flyposted around the Swedish capital (allegedly by Byrne himself). The poster for the Sisters gig was very much in the house style, and is nearly identical in design to that of the next single of the support band, local Stockholm band Man Klan, when Electric Garden branched out into label management the following year.

The gig was also advertised in the local press, as this newspaper extract also taken from the Electric Garden archive site will testify, and was one of a shortlived Electric Garden residency at the very posh BZ nightclub, housed on the penthouse floor of the building which to this day also hosts the China Theatre.

The state of the art BZ (Berzelii Terrassen) club not only featured glass walls, but a retractable ceiling, allowing the well-heeled weekend punters to dance under the stars (or snow), and its low stage can allegedly be seen in the video to ABBA’s legendary Dancing Queen, which it is claimed was shot at the location some years earlier, testament to the venue’s status amongst the Nordic elite (or possibly not, as other accounts state that Dancing Queen was actually filmed at the city’s Alexandra club).

Further revelations came about in comments underneath a post in a Swedish blog“dropsofdew” about TSOM’s gig in Stockholm in 1985. One correspondent, “Bladerunner”, confirmed that he had been at the earlier Electric Garden gig – “a really good show”, and told an amusing tale of how his girlfriend had wanted to change seats at the bar because she felt uncomfortable because of a “sleazy guy” standing behind her. The gentleman in question of course turned out to be Von. “Bladerunner” had watched the whole show side on, and “I noted that Doktor Avalanche” was replaced by cassette tape …for every song played the cassette was changed so that the correct pre-recorded drum sound played back.”

This version of events was confirmed by a further commenter who was a member of the support act Man Klan. “The Sisters played on our equipment! They also helped to lug it through the town, super quiet dudes that you could hang out with backstage before and after the concert. I got a ride home in their limo and a case of beer.  Indeed, Andrew had no drum machine, but everything was on tape (a Nakamichi tape player).”
Fortunately the gig was recorded for posterity and is widely available amongst fans, making it onto a vinyl LP (minus Emma and Adrenochrome) entitled Electric Garden. Considering that they were one guitarist down, the sound remains relatively full, and the version of Temple of Love is arguably the best recorded around that time. The gig is probably best remembered for some of Von’s inter-song banter as the tapes are regularly changed in the makeshift Doktor. Swedish punter : “Where’s the drummer ?” Von : “He’s in the box. (affects voice of character of the then current American cult horror film Basket Case) What’s in the basket ?”. Later in the gig (between Adrenochrome and Floorshow), Von refers to the fact that they will soon be up to the full complement of band members, Hussey having already agreed to join the band following his own departure from Dead or Alive. “We’ve got a new guitarist who can’t be with us today, so next time we’ll be four people. …This is called “Floorshow” and it’s bloody good!” We can all now enjoy this particular section of the gig, as the ever generous Phil Verne has kindlyuploaded it to YouTube. Eldritch is in particularly fine form during this gig, although some fans find the “taped” Doktor somewhat intrusive and lacking in crispness. However, the positive side of the lack of a second guitarist is that Craig’s pulsating bass is also considerably higher in the mix, particularly in songs like “Emma” and “Anaconda”. After a punishing “Body Electric”, the band return for an unlikely encore of “Kiss The Carpet” (“Burn” having started the set), with “Alice” (Marx coping admirably with the even more exposed solo) and a rare second encore, in this case Sister Ray.

The gig was also reviewed as part of an interview (with photos) in the Swedish fanzine Kemisk Afton (issue three from Feb 1984), with writer Sven-Eric Nilsson stating “Which are your influences? Andrew:  -Early 70´s bands from the us like MC5. Music that's "loud funny and cheap". The Sisters of Mercy themselves fulfil these three criteria when you see them live and despite the fact that just previous to the gig at Electric Garden in Stockholm they had lost one of their guitarists, Ben Gunn, the music had an incredible energy and substance. Andrew leaning over the microphone in his black leather clothes, long hair drenched with gel and sunglasses (you recognize the description…?). Andrew’s incredible and dark voice is unforgettable. On one side of the stage Gary Marx "stands" playing wildly on his guitar, falling and the question is how he manages to play the right chord. After a while you realize he's not always hitting the right chord. On the other side is stands Craig Adams, that also nurses the drum-machine Doctor Avalanche, calm and almost childish.” As can be seen from the photos, this gig also saw the debut of the infamous Eldritch beard (his own ABBA tribute?), seen in the same straggly state the later in the same week in the US and in much bushier form at Wayne’s debut the following April as the band resumed live duties.

For the purposes of this blog entry, I tracked down the gig promoter, Harry Byrne, “Mr Electric Garden” and asked him for his own reminiscences, and he very kindly got back to me, saying that he had heard that there was a bootleg in existence and that he had kept his interest in the band. “I did a Sisters show a couple of years ago, on their last Euro tour”, he added.
The BZ club continued to thrive until its closure and demolition as part of a wider refurbishment of the area in 1999, although the Electric Garden moved on again shortly after TSOM’s gig and took up residence at new premises at Wavel.

As usual this blog post is the work of many individuals, and I would like to acknowledge and thank not only Harry Byrne for taking the time and trouble to respond to my enquiries, but also LG who owns a copy of both the poster and the fanzine, Phil Verne for allowing me to hear his excellent copy of the gig and for uploading a video onto YouTube, and on this occasion Swedish superfan “Drsisters” (Anders) for the various translations, tips and snippets of information about a gig he has himself researched for many years. My grateful thanks to you all.