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 façade, 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.