Wednesday, 22 June 2016

See Those Pagans Glas-gow go go go ! Night Moves, April 1983

Although it has now been established that the first TSOM gig outside the UK took place in Ancona (Italy) at the end of July 1983, the band had of course already been out of England once before, for a gig at Glasgow’s Night Moves venue on 1st April of that year, a concert which has taken on legendary status thanks to the existence of a relatively high quality video of the entire show, filmed from a camera fitted to an elevated position opposite the stage.

Night Moves was a club with a rather mixed historical local reputation, situated a few blocks up Sauchiehall Street from the ABC venue that seems to feature on every TSOM UK tour itinerary these days, and those passing the New City Palace Chinese restaurant today at number 92 would have no idea that they are in the immediate vicinity of a venue which promoted gigs by many of the great and good on the UK indie scene between 1982 and 1984 (The Birthday Party, Culture Club, Eurythmics, The Smiths and REM to name but a few).

Rob C was present at the Sisters gig, which took place on April Fools’ Day 1983, along with many others at Night Moves, a venue which he has extensively researched : “It is a strange building in that the gig hall was up 4 flights of a winding staircase above an oriental restaurant. There is a reason for this. The original building was built as a cinema/music hall in the early 20th Century, with a ballroom on top. This was not unusual in the early 20 Century with the advent of moving pictures Cinema. The much bigger Glasgow Apollo just round the corner has a similar bigger design, although the cinema below Night Moves had been gutted and turned into three floors of office space by the Night Moves days. The entrance was up a winding staircase that had passageways on each floor, although there is also a lift [behind the metal shutter] beside the stairs."

"Bands used this to get their gear up to the venue in, when it was working, but it was a very small lift. Once at the top there was a door and you entered what is roughly the top floor on the outside of the building. On this floor were the toilets, cloak room and pay-in desk, also another room which was used as a smaller disco called Secrets in the Night Moves days. You then walked past the pay desk along a corridor and upstairs into the gig venue area. This had the dance floor and stage, with a balcony mezzanine that had rounded booths when there were stools to sit it. This was accessed by two opposing staircases just in front of the bar. Night Moves was probably the most difficult place to bootleg gigs back then in Glasgow due to the quite invasive search the Bouncers carried out on entry. The Sisters gig was busy, I think Anaconda was out or due out and it was busy, not absolutely rammed but busy. I recently found out that the fire certificate capacity was only about 400 whereas the rammed gigs there such as The Cult / Cocteau Twins must have had about 800/900 people in. Alice was a Night Moves dance floor favourite and I think most were there on the back of that. It was a Friday so it would have been £2 / £2.50 to get in. It’s funny watching videos back of gigs,  I always think they are not really representative of the gig as you can’t really get the atmosphere. The Sisters would have gone on late, as the doors used to not open till about 9pm with the bands on about midnight.” 

 Glasgow crowds have always had a reputation as being tough to please going back to the days of the Music Hall, and so it proves as TSOM open their set with a slow-building KTC before launching into blistering versions of Anaconda, Alice and Adrenochrome. Compared to Peterborough, the crowd seem strangely static as the Eldritch, at his sinuous best, contorts himself in his black leathers around the mic stand delivering a perfect baritone whilst Marx careers around the tiny stage, or poses one foot up on the monitors, Adams stares out into the crowd from the back of the stage whilst picking out timeless basslines, and Gunn nonchalantly strums out power chords between forays to the back of the stage to kick-start the Doktor for the next track.
The gig was certainly better attended than many others around that time, with the West of Scotland boasting a thriving post-punk scene. Alexander T recently recalled on FB : “The Sisters had their own section at Virgin Records on Union Street. There was a decent alternative shop in Falkirk which made clothes to order – not the best quality, but it allowed for originality. I loved the Cocteau Twins who were from the neighbouring town Grangemouth. There was a huge “goth” scene there at the time. Robin Guthrie of the Cocteaus had worked at BP at Grangemouth (a massive oil refinery) and buses were run to both The Sisters’ and Bauhaus’ gigs at Night Moves”.

The concert itself continued with the band slowing things down for a full-on Valentine and a blistering Burn from the forthcoming Reptile House EP, featuring a more aggressive chorus from Doktor Avalanche than on record. Von confesses “I’ve never been to Scotland before”, as the band burst into an incendiary Jolene, a song well-known to the punters in a city well-known for its long-lasting love affair with Country and Western music, rendering Eldritch’s comment “We didn’t actually write that one” somewhat superfluous. “We did write this one”, he adds proudly as the distinctive beat to Floorshow starts up, and the first evidence of “chicken dancing” amongst the crowd eventually becomes apparent amongst the feedback and screams from the stage. Andy then disappears to the back of the stage to light up a cigarette (clearly visible as these were the days before the omnipresent dry ice) at the start of Heartland, as the camera pans further into the seemingly well-attended venue. “Ye’re rubbish”, shouts a lone and somewhat cowardly voice after the lengthy dirge eventually reaches its climax, and the band responds with a high octane Body Electric, Eldritch taking up residence stage left, allowing Marx more room for his own jerky cabaret, and bringing the main set to a climax. With a brief “Thanks, good night” the band are gone, and fortunately only a few, half-hearted cheers are required to get the group back on stage, the rest of the crowd still in “Impress us” mode. (The Birthday Party gig at the same venue the previous November “descended into chaos” according to, with “Nick jumping from the low stage to fight with a member of the audience”). Lights, the fourth track to be played that evening from The Reptile House, is the first encore, Gunn’s guitar mixed very low as Adams’ bass dominates the opening verse. Eldritch slowly brings the song to its emotional climax before taking an extravagant bow as they begin their last song, Gimme Shelter, which ends (as at most 1983 gigs) with just Adams and Eldritch for the final chorus, before leaving the stage to appreciative applause. As a decent quality visual and aural record of the band at the top of their form in the original line-up, the video of the Night Moves show is hard to beat, and cements its place in Sisters’ folklore. By the time the band returned to Scotland the following year, they had outgrown such small venues and had a new setlist of songs that would form the basis of FALAA, shorn of many of the earlier, punkier classics.

According to Rob C, Night Moves had been the Piccadilly Club around WWII the White Elephant club, but a criminal fire one night when the club was packed in 1977 saw it fully refurbished and relaunched as the Roseland in 1978. After Night Moves, it became (appropriately, given its location). Rooftops in about 1986 and continued with similar types of gigs, eg XMal, Ghost Dance, The Rose Of Avalanche, The Stone Roses and Batfish Boys all played there. Effectively layout and decor-wise it was exactly the same. It was rebranded as the more mianstream Moon Nite Club for many years until finally closing as a club earlier this millennium.

As ever, huge thanks to all who have contributed to this post, but particularly to Rob C for sharing both his memories of the gig and his research on the venue, including making a special trip to take some of the photos. Cheers, Rob!

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Sisters Mysteries V : The signals Clash, Newcastle July 1982

One of the longest-running TSOM mysteries dates all the way back to July 1982, as legend (and indeed the gigography on the officialband website, listing the date as Sunday 4th July 1982) has it that TSOM played as support to mighty punk stalwarts The Clash on their Club Casbah tour at the City Hall in Newcastle. The City Hall was a famed concert hall dating back to 1927 and where the year previously Motorhead had recorded the majority of the tracks for their seminal “No Sleep ‘til Hammersmith” live set. No hard evidence of this gig having taken place has ever surfaced however, and whether or not the band actually played with The Clash is still a point of some discussion amongst long-term fans.

The Clash were very much in a period of flux and transition at the time, with the first single “Know Your Rights” of the projected new album having failed to chart in the Top 40. There were also reports of poor advance ticket sales for the spring tour, which then had to be postponed when Joe Strummer mysteriously disappeared. The tour was due to feature gigs at the City Hall in Newcastle on May 4th and 5th, but ticket-holders were told their stubs would remain valid for rescheduled dates. Whether Strummer’s disappearance was a McLaren style stunt orchestrated by the band’s manager or whether Joe was genuinely suffering from mental health issues has never been proven definitively either way (and is frankly none of our business), but the band’s spiritual leader returned from France shortly afterwards and the postponed concerts were rescheduled for July, including the ambitious two dates (now on the 14th and 15th July) in Newcastle at the City Hall.

The concept of Club Casbah was a noble one (and very much ahead of its time), providing fans with a whole evening of entertainment to take them out of their comfort zone, rather than just the usual “two bands and that’s yer lot” gig format, and The Clash had a long history of dabbling in other musical genres with various degrees of success. In addition to decorating the venues to create a different vibe and having challenging live DJ sets, local artists were recruited (often at short notice) to flesh out the Club Casbah bill (for example BBC Evening Session favourites APB opened for the Londoners at their Inverness gig). Unfortunately for the now ambitious Eldritch, the Leeds date of the tour, at the University Union, was the last concert promoted by future Radio 1 DJ Andy Kershaw in his role as Ents Secretary at Leeds Uni, so there would be no possibility of sneaking onto that bill given Kershaw’s antipathy towards the band.

Newcastle was a different scenario however, although some gig guides list a well-known local character, Nod the Geordie Poet as having been the support act. I managed to track down Nod, now known as respectable part-time University of Hertfordshire Lecturer AP Clark. Alan was only too happy to confirm to me details of his own support slot on the 15th: “I got to do the support for only one of the two gigs as my friend was Mickey Gallagher [keyboard player with The Clash]’s brother and we just pitched the idea of doing it after meeting him on the night before. As far as I remember, there was no other support on that night, which might have been the reason that they gave me the gig!”

The last minute addition of a performance poet not only fits in with the eclectic spirit of the “crazy Casbah sound”, but also gives an indication as to the somewhat chaotic nature of the Clash gigs at the City Hall. This shambolic impression is reinforced by the band themselves in an interview with the contemporary local Newcastle fanzine Eccentric Sleeve Notes, now available online. Sadly, no details of the support band are mentioned here either, however, but the downbeat atmosphere of the gig comes through, with Strummer admitting “We want to make the gig more fun for the audience. Like, it didn’t go down well tonight….It’s seats…The car broke down today and the soundcheck was f---ed. It was such a crap show …tonight we didn’t feel like it.”” ESN editor (and interviewer/reviewer for that article) Simon McKay states that “The Clash musically were unstable”, with recently reinstated drummer Terry Chimes (replacing Topper Headon who had suddenly left the band owing to his own ongoing health issues) having to be “coached along”.

I contacted Simon to see what he could remember of the gigs, in the vain hope that TSOM might have been the support act on the first night, but again there was bad news : “There might have been local supports on those nights. Not Sisters though. The only time I saw them was at Leeds Warehouse in July 1981 immediately after I'd seen Iggy at Leeds University. Not a night to forget!” This confirmation from someone who had already seen the band seemed to be the end of the trail…until long-standing fan Paul Wallace, who had been so helpful on earlier posts on this blog, offered his assistance by getting in touch with some of his long list of contacts. The first attempt just led straight back to Nod the Geordie Poet (just two degrees of separation!), who again kindly confirmed what he had told me earlier in the week (although he must have been bemused at suddenly getting the same obscure query twice in a week some thirty-four years later!). The second, who was sadly away in the States at the time of the Clash gigs, turned out to be none other than North-East demi-god Mensi from the North East’s late 70s/early 80s punk sensations Angelic Upstarts, but with the third, a merchandiser called Hendy, he hit gold.

Incredibly, Hendy confirmed that he had been at both Clash gigs…and that The Sisters of Mercy were definitely the support on the first night. “I was in front row, on the guest list, along with other kids who’d gone to the sound-check for signatures,” he told me. “The Sisters were unrecognisable from the band they became though & I must admit I didn`t know who they were at the time but a handful of people did. I remember one of the members of the band was very nerdy with big plastic spectacles. A few people got down the front and stood at the stage for their slot but in general not a lot of folk knew who they were.” Definitive proof then, from a reliable eye-witness that The Sisters did indeed support The Clash on July 14th, and other members of his friendship group have confirmed that it was indeed TSOM who played that night.

Sadly no further details of the gig (setlist for example) are known, but The Clash remained personal heroes of TSOM, and were cited by both Ben and Gary in an interview with Artificial Life fanzine the following year. Invited to criticise The Clash for “selling out”, Gary told the interviewer “Everybody slags off The Clash but they’ve always had good tunes.” Ben adds, “They still write great songs. “Combat Rock” was brilliant, with songs like “Rock the Casbah” [ironically mostly written by Headon] and “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”” The latter two songs from 1982’s “Combat Rock” LP did indeed relaunch the band’s career, but at the time of the Newcastle gigs neither had yet been released, and The Clash seemed to be going through a terminal decline. Nevertheless, supporting the biggest remaining name in the punk movement in a major provincial venue in front of a large crowd was another major achievement for the Sisters, although they themselves would be headlining the grandest of Britain’s concert venues, London’s Royal Albert Hall, fewer than three years later.

I would like to thank all who have helped with this particular post, particularly “Nod”, Simon, and especially Paul Wallace and Hendy, all of whom were only too happy to give full and prompt answers to my questions Thanks to their contributions, another Sisters Mystery can finally be resolved.