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.