Friday, 29 July 2016

The 1985 Split – the real truth is never spoken ??

Even over thirty years on, it seems that every journalist writing about either TSOM or (in particular) The Mission is contractually obliged to refer to the original TSOM’s very public disintegration in 1985.

This is usually based on a version of history presented piecemeal in the UK music press in early 1986, at the height of the dispute over who held the rights to the band’s name, and generally features the following apparent facts :

  • ·         Gary Marx left the band after the BBC OGWT performance in early April 1985 for “personal reasons”;
  • ·         The rest of the band completed the European and American tours and then the Royal Albert Hall gig as a three piece (although Marx had been expected to re-appear for the latter);
  • ·         The remaining three members reconvened in Hamburg to begin work on a second album in late summer 1985, but there were arguments about musical direction;
  • ·         Adams walked out over the Torch bassline which he likened to the band Prefab Sprout (an AOR band canned off stage in Lier the previous year just before the Sisters’ spot at that indoor festival);
  • ·         Hussey left the day after, and went on to form the band that would become The Mission with Adams and others, whilst Eldritch contacted Patricia Morrison “the day after” to start his own next project ;
  • ·         Hussey and co. wished to keep the TSOM name, or a derivative of it, which Eldritch objected to;
  • ·         After a bitter dispute involving lawyers, publishing companies and record labels, Eldritch won the right to the name by speed-releasing “Giving Ground”.

Inevitably, given the acrimonious and messy “divorce”, fans of the original band tended to take sides in the dispute, division lines which largely remain in place amongst the fanbase even today, but for those reading subsequent interviews, other and more complex issues which had a greater bearing on the split have emerged, which shed a new light on the real reasons for the original band’s break-up at a time when they appeared to be on the verge of greatness.

Clues about the stresses and strains in the band were already apparent to those closely following the band – the seemingly endless delays in the release of the FALAA album (originally intended for autumn 1984, then January 1985 and finally released in March of that year), a cancelled Japanese tour in summer 1984, stories of Eldritch’s ill-health over that summer prior to the Ahlen and York festivals – and further details about these internal strains gradually began to emerge.

With the chart success of This Corrosion eclipsing the previous early successes of The Mission, a more relaxed Eldritch began to open up about the realities of life in TSOM in the 84/85 era. Speaking to Q magazine’s Paul du Noyer in an interview published in January 1988, Eldritch said : “I didn’t want to be taken for granted again. I was killing myself on the road and nobody was really saying thank you…I almost dropped dead during the recording of the first album and the band didn’t thank me, maybe they were trying to tell me something.” Then, incredibly, he goes on to seemingly suggest that they carry on without him : “I told them they’d have to get a new singer because I wasn’t prepared to go on doing it that way. And so, discreetly, abroad everybody had a go at singing, and decided that they weren’t very good..” (“everybody” ? “abroad” ? does this include Marx ? Europe or America ?) Du Noyer summarises another issue at the heart of Eldritch’s stance “As he tells it, things began to sour when he refused to aggravate his ill-health by touring, preferring in any case to work in the studio.”

In 1986, the “musical differences” cited as the reason for the split seemed to revolve around Edritch’s penchant for Stevie Nicks whilst the others still preferred Motorhead, but it would appear that the singer’s overall modus operandi had also begun to frustrate his colleagues. Ironically using exactly the same phrase as his predecessor Ben Gunn, Wayne Hussey said in 1986 “We’d done what we wanted to achieve. In doing that we’d lost the original essence of it….we’d lost the joke of it. Because that’s what it was originally meant to be. A joke”. Gary Marx, interviewed in Glasperlenspiel in 2003, says something similar similar. “Those trips to Bridlington and the gigs around the time of Alice 1982/83 were very special, far less sanitised than the bigger tours which followed – chaotic, violent, sexy, distorted and a word which evaporated quicker than the dry ice – fun.”

In another 2003 interview on Heartland Forum, Marx states that leaving TSOM “was as obvious as leaving school at sixteen. My relationship with all three of them was completely shattered. If anything I felt more animosity towards Craig and Wayne than I did to Andrew, because they hadn’t had the balls to leave when I did….you can only tour with no-one talking to each other so many times.” (In 1986 Hussey had also said “we did the album hardly talking to each other”). In the Glasperlenspiel interview, Marx eloquently (and very impartially) analyses the split further : “In essence the securing of the Warners deal had taken an awful lot out of Andrew, who was the sole manager of the band by this point. It had also caused a rift between him and the rest of us and, perhaps most significantly, it had taken him away from being a singer and a songwriter. In the studio all of this was amplified – it’s a surprise that an album emerged at all and no surprise to anyone close to the band that we had all parted company within a few months of its release. A very messy end to it all and annoyingly a very clichéd end on the surface at least – the drug-addled lead singer on a power trip and the “dum-dum boys/spiders from mars” squabbling over a few quid in the back room.” In a third 1983 interview, with the French website Prémonition, Marx again talks of Eldritch’s desire to control every aspect of the group, which he felt was both insulting to him as the fellow founder member and very frustrating as it took so long for anything to happen, particularly in the studio.

Eldritch’s post-split interviews also hint at these issues – “the same old musician power against responsibility equation”, “after five years without a day off the time came to lie low for a while”, “I wasn’t well, I’d done three tours that year”, - but there were also the first real hints that the singer (now tired of touring and wishing to do his own thing in the studio) had possibly – shock, horror - deliberately engineered the end of his own band. In a Melody Maker interview in September 1987 he said “I thought we’d come to the end of a logical course. I titled that Albert Hall gig “Wake” about four months before it actually happened and the band are probably still wondering why. I mean, I thought it should still have gone on but I knew it wasn’t going to.” 

Hindsight? The truth and then some back-tracking? It all depends on which side of the argument you were on. But for the real story, we have to travel further back to pre-split, and Eldritch’s incredibly candid interviews (seemingly never discussed outwith Italian circles) with Italian fans Daniela Gombini and Romano Pasquini, who had interviewed Marx and Hussey at the Munich show in November 1984 and invited Eldritch to Rome, where he visited during the Sisters’ brief time off in December 1984 before returning to the UK to complete (at last!) the recording and production of FALAA. In Rome, Eldritch told the Italians (in an interview published in Tribal Cabaret in March 1985) that not only was he planning on disbanding the current band, but that plans were well-advanced for the replacement ! “I think that after the world tour that will follow the release of the album I’ll leave the group ... I'm going to stay just as a manager ... I can’t be both the manager and the singer ... I have no time for myself and the things I’d rather do, such as learning how to play the guitar.” And then the real bombshell, revealing that this is no mere pipe dream : “I’ve already contacted Patricia Morrison and Alan Vega to form a supergroup before the end of the year.” 

How much of this information he had shared with Adams, Marx and Hussey is unclear, but he was certainly happy to reiterate his plans in a further interview carried out at the Rome gig in May 1985 and originally published in another Italian fanzine Il Mucchio Selvaggio in June of that year. Asked about the album’s title, Eldritch replies “Because it is the first and will be the last. And as for the "always" ... I don’t know, we’re saying that hopefully it’ll be around ‘until the end of time’. The interviewer retorts, “Why the last? Is it true what you have said in interviews [presumably referring to Tribal Cabaret], that you're going to disband the group?”, to which the singer replies “Well ... yes. I'm tired, I’m not feeling great. Now, with Gary Marx’s departure, there are just three of us in the band, and I think before the summer there’ll be just one single person left; the current lineup is quite united, but I don’t think that working in this way is the best thing for me. In the last five years I have learned to make records, to publish, to design the sleeves, to manage the band, and I found the whole thing so much more satisfying than just "being in a band." Asked if he’ll pursue a solo career, he answers “Yes, that's probably what I'll do….In the last two years I have been very busy dealing with practical management issues, so I’ve let Gary Marx and Wayne Hussey take care of writing the music for the songs. Previously that wasn’t the case, in fact many of the old songs were composed entirely by myself. It was just a question of having enough time to commit to song-writing: I do like to write and I can’t wait to get started. When I’ve finished a tour I love to sit on the couch with a guitar in my hand, in front of the television, with my girlfriend and my cat beside me - I am completely happy doing that. After a while though, the whole merry-go-round starts up again and there’s another tour. However, I promised that once I’ve finished the current set of dates, I won’t be out on the road for a while.” (“promised”? unfortunately, to whom this promise had been made is not made clear).

(this is the key section of the December 1984 interview from Tribal Cabaret)

These incredible quotes reveal that Eldritch was indeed well aware that the “Wake” would be just that for the current incarnation of the group (and explains his willingness to have Marx back in the band for that show – for old times’ sake?), and that any attempts at working on new songs with Craig and Wayne would be half-hearted at best, given his pronouncements and advanced plans for TSOM mk 2, and the fact that sources close to the Mission reveal that they have no knowledge of many of the titles on the proposed tracklisting for “Left On Mission and Revenge” given to Daniela and Romano in summer 1985 (and recently shared on FB) would tend to confirm this.

The saga of the Sisters split seemed even at the time to have many twists and turns, with all the main members’ motivations under suspicion. Was Wayne Hussey perhaps a power-crazy band-name-stealing would-be-frontman who unlawfully exploited the temporary weakness of a dictator singer to usurp his crown ? On the evidence available at the time, some long-term TSOM fans certainly saw things that way (and continue to do so to this day in some cases). Were the tensions that exist in any band exacerbated by the wounded pride of the overlooked, slightly jealous and very frustrated founder member Gary Marx ? Certainly many whose journey with the band started in the FALAA era seemed to shed few tears over his departure and have been happy to see him relegated to a footnote in TSOM history. Or, as these contemporary interviews seem to suggest, was the 1985 split in fact entirely planned and orchestrated by the ever Machiavellian “puppet master” Andrew Eldritch himself, as the unpalatable but essential “third way” when forced to choose between further damaging his own mental and physical health or relinquishing control over key aspects of the future of the band in which he had invested so much? Maybe “the real truth is never spoken”, but the revelations of these Italian interviews for English-speaking fans certainly add a further dimension to one of the alternative rock world’s most fascinating chapters.

Even more than usual, I am hugely indebted to all those who have helped with this post. Daniela Gombini has shared a large number of photos and artefacts on the Tribal Cabaret FB page, and Federico Guglielmi has posted the text of his exclusive interview with Eldritch on his blog, including a charming introduction. I am especially grateful to LG for sharing items from his extensive collection, and some help with translation, and to Phil Verne for drawing my attention to the significance of the Tribal Cabaret interview and for all of his help and advice with this post. Want to comment on this post ? Join the debate on this and other topics on Phil Verne's (unofficial) TSOM 1980-1985 FB group        

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Temple of Cov Lanchester Poly, May 1983

As the years passed, the chance of discovering a long-lost TSOM gig no-one had ever heard of (the Holy Grail for long-term fans) receded into the distance as the band’s fanbase started to decline, with live shows attracting dwindling audiences and bootleg prices starting to fall. However, the advent of social media, and the belated embracing of this new phenomenon by forty- and fifty-somethings, has seen many old fans return to the fold, bringing with them both memories and memorabilia.

Already in the past couple of years we have seen dates for several possible 1981 and 1982 gigs firmed up, the rediscovery of TSOM’s first venture abroad to Ancona in Italy in July 1983, and other gigs from that most prolific of years retrospectively added to the Wiki’s gigography. There is nothing more satisfying than finally pinning down details of a gig whose existence had been totally forgotten about, but at times one comes up against so many dead ends that the inevitable assumption is made that a particular alleged concert never actually took place.

This was certainly the likely scenario for one Spring 1983 TSOM gig which supposedly took place at one of Coventry’s two universities, a few miles from the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) by Birmingham Airport where TSOM regularly played to packed houses in the early 1990s. Back in 1983, the very highly regarded Warwick University (actually situated on a leafy campus near the Peugeot factory on the outskirts of Coventry) had an upstart city-centre rival, the somewhat confusingly-named Lanchester Polytechnic, most of whose students apocryphally believed they would be studying in groovy Manchester or rural Lancaster rather than the somewhat less sexy Midlands city of Coventry, which had been heavily rebuilt after massive Luftwaffe bombing raids in the Second World War, but which was undergoing a cultural renaissance on the back of the Two Tone music movement (The Specials, The Beat etc) which was based in the town.

As well as having a reputation for ground-breaking Industrial Design courses (at least according my Careers Adviser in 1981), "the Lanch" (as it was affectionately known locally) was also something of an Arts hub, with a well-regarded degree course in Fine Art from which Horace Panter of the city-based Two Tone legends The Specials had graduated, and a Students’ Union (see pic below) with a reputation for putting on unusual gigs, such as a Clash/Pistols double bill in November 1976.
Earlier this year, after the blog piece on Ancona was published, I was therefore set another challenge when I received (from an anonymous collector) this grainy photo of part of a poster for an alleged gig by TSOM at the Lanch on Saturday 7th May 1983. Although Lanchester didn’t formally change its name to Coventry Poly until 1987, assuming its current name of Coventry University in 1992, it was also listed under the name Coventry Poly when TSOM subsequently stopped there (playing in the larger hall) in both 1984 and 1985. However, there was enough local detail to encourage further investigation. One old fan had a former friend whom they remembered had talked about a gig in Coventry around that time, but nothing concrete was forthcoming, and internet searches on the gig or even the name of the local support band (“The Whores of Babylon”) drew a total blank. I even tried to contact Coventry’s “Mr Music”, Pete Chambers, who has written about the city’s music scene for nearly forty years, but to no avail.

Incredibly, only a month after The Sisters of Mercy 1980-1985 FB group was set up by Phil Verne earlier this year, a post appeared from a Tracey S, asking if anyone had any photos of the gig at the Lanch in 1983, as her band called “A Set Movement” had been the support that night. Astonished, I contacted Tracey to see if this was indeed the same gig, mentioning that a different band had been advertised as support. “We were later renamed The Whores of Babylon”, she told me in reply to my query. “I couldn’t remember if we were still A Set Movement at that point. We had two drummers, and I was a mere eighteen-year-old then! I still have one of those drummers (Whippet) in the band I’m in today.”
Those who attend punk festivals in the UK might well recognise Tracey, as she plays in the wonderfully-named and well-known band Army of Skanks, a popular draw on the punk circuit (they are playing Rebellion in August and their high octane second album had rave reviews in both Louder Than War and Uber Rock).  She still has strong memories however of that early gig supporting a band on the verge of becoming a real cult. “I remember being rather terrified yet totally excited. I remember lots of smoke and an electric atmosphere. From what I can remember it was full enough - the Cellar Bar was a small and intimate venue. I don't think that we hung out with The Sisters, we were very young and rather shy at the time, so probably didn't feel worthy. We did go down well though - good memories"

Unfortunately, no further memorabilia is currently in the public domain for this gig, and therefore no set list is known, although given that it took place the night after the ULU gig in London [Coventry is conveniently situated half-way between London and Leeds] at which The Smiths were famously the support, it is highly likely that it was virtually identical, commencing with Kiss The Carpet and ending with either Body Electric or Gimme Shelter.
Hopefully one day an audio tape will materialise, along with photos for which Tracey is still on the lookout. Contemporary TSOM fan Ali H, who saw many Sisters' gigs in 1982 and 1983 has confirmed that she too was at the Lanchester show ("a fab gig!" is her recollection) and had taken some photos, but these (along with others) were loaned to someone but sadly never returned. In the meantime we can finally firm up this date in the TSOM gigography, another long-term mystery finally solved.

My thanks are due to the TSOM collector who launched this search (and loaned the poster image above), to Ali H, and of course in particular to Tracey S who patiently put up with my detailed questions about an event well over thirty years ago.