Thursday, 27 October 2016

The Lights Shine Kir - Hamburg, 31st August 1983

Having myself endured the conditions at some of the venues TSOM played in the early days, I’d always imagined that the Kir Club would be in the one of the less salubrious parts of the noble Hanseatic port of Hamburg where Eldritch was later to make his home. Like The Beatles before them, I pictured the four plucky English lads (plus the usual assortment of roadies) hastily unloading their precious equipment into some dingy cellar amongst a row of disreputable sex shops on the infamous Reeperbahn, tiptoeing through a morass of broken glass, abandoned syringes and used condoms, or perhaps into some hastily-converted tobacco warehouse down by the docks which had been previously squatted by a hippy community in the 60s.

However, far from being in the creative communes of Sankt Pauli, the Kir Club (in 1983 at least) was situated in the leafy outer suburbs of the city in Poppenbuettel, right next to the riverside Marienhof (interesting name) Marina and a stone’s throw from the houses built by the forced labour of Jewish women from the local concentration camp during the Second World War, one of which (next to the modern shopping mall) now houses a small museum.

The Kir was founded in August 1983 (on the final day of which month TSOM played) by Clemens Grun as an indie venue in the long-established Sitrone disco and restaurant, and TSOM were one of comparatively few bands to play there before it was mysteriously burned down in February 1984, forcing the club to relocate more centrally, and with the site being cleared and replaced by a look-alike boutique hotel known today as the Hotel Poppenbuetteler Hof (very highly rated on Trip Advisor if a little pricey). The club had a distinctive rainbow-arched front of the stage, and as this fake palm and dry ice shot (all photos here are copyright NDR) from its Sitrone days will testify, was clearly a sizzling place for groovy young Hamburgers to hang out in the late 70s.

Jens Paulsen, who was attending his first Sisters gig that night at the end of August 1983 on the second night of TSOM’s inaugural four date German tour, told me that Poppenbuettel was “a conservative area. The club was pretty far out from town but was totally hip. At the front there was a restaurant (I think a Chinese) and at the side there was the Kir. It was a very small club. When you went in, the small stage was just on the left.”

Jens himself had never heard any of the Sisters’ music before that night, and like most British indie bands trying their luck on the continent for the first time, the Sisters were known only to a few music-obsessed locals. “I would estimate that the club was about half-full. The atmosphere inside was sinister and gloomy, with everyone trying hard to look cool. ” This was in stark contrast to the band, whose appearance was “still modest and normal-looking” in those days. “Everything was still very simple – things had really changed by the next time I saw them, at the Markthalle in May 1984,” Jens continued.

Jens was instantly impressed by TSOM’s music : “I was immediately thrilled by the dark sound and the guitars, and they instantly became one of my favourite bands.” Thanks to several excellent live bootlegs of the show, including extracts featured on the “The Damage is Done” bootleg, everyone can still enjoy one of the better live shows of 1983, a fourteen track epic that featured most of the band’s recorded output to date plus three covers. Listening back to Phil Verne’s best version, the show opened with an unbalanced “Burn”, with Marx and Dr Avalanche high in the mix and Ben and Craig reduced to a fuzzy mush. Eldritch too had issues, claiming before (a much-improved) “Valentine” that the “vocals sound weird”. The gig is best remembered amongst collectors for several reasons, first for a rare and decent (if imperfect) run-through of “Temple of Love” (already kindly shared by Phil on You Tube), secondly for the fact that many cassette copies feature a truncated final encore of “Sister Ray” (although a complete version has been added from a different, only marginally inferior source in Phil’s master), and for some of the legendary inter-song banter. Eldritch seems to be enjoying himself, speaking to the crowd in both his own (“OK hippies, here it comes” before “Gimme Shelter”) and the audience’s native tongues, but the most remarkable intervention is Craig’s after the end of Kiss The Carpet when (seconds after the unmistakable thud of bottle on stage) he suddenly and memorably shouts (and this would have been a great title for a Live LP) “The next person who chucks a f#cking bottle gets his head kicked in.” This was referred to by the interviewer of Spex magazine, who questioned Eldritch about the incident (in German) during a chat two days later before the Aratta show, but the frontman laughed off the incident, saying words to the effect that “a bit of tension in the air makes for a better atmosphere” (as it had also memorably done at that other legendary show in Peterborough five months earlier). Certainly the band are on top form as the gig progresses, with both sides of the second and third singles getting an airing (and a slightly shambolic run-through of fourth single “Anaconda”), a rare outing (in 1983 at least) for “Lights”, and particularly impressive versions of “Emma”, “Gimme Shelter” (with the final acapella phrase listened to in reverent silence by the audience for once) and a fitting finale of a wild and wonderful “Sister Ray.”

The Kir Club after the 1984 fire – note the Cure record still on the turntable

Little did Eldritch know on heading to the gig that night that the Hanseatic city was to become his home for most of the remainder of that decade, but that initial visit must have made as strong an impression on him as the band did on Jens and the rest of the Hamburg in-crowd who have for their part remained loyal to TSOM to this day.

My grateful thanks for their help in compiling this post are due to my long-term collaborators LG and Phil Verne, and in particular a big “vielen dank” to Jens Paulsen for sharing his memories of the Kir gig. Those who have enjoyed this post and have an interest in this era of TSOM history would do well to keep an eye on Phil’s Facebook group The Sisters of Mercy 19801985 (everyone welcome to join!) over the next couple of days ;-) ...

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Black October - Colchester, 20th October 1984

Of all the gigs covered thus far in this blog, not one has been from possibly the most defining tour of the 1980s (or indeed any other era’s) incarnation of The Sisters of Mercy, the Black October tour, a gruelling trek which saw the band play sixteen shows in eighteen days after a relatively sedate start (seven dates in the preceding twelve days), at a time immediately after Eldritch’s health issues earlier in the late summer/early autumn of 1984.

The Black October tour was a crucial moment for the band, for whom word of mouth support had continued to grow over the summer, and took place crucially at the start of the academic year when students flush with previously untold riches (in the form of the legendary grant cheque) would flock to see bands on the say-so of new friends like at no other time of the year. With a catchy new single (“Walk Away”) being released to coincide with the tour, and with merchandising finally reaching professional industry standards, this was indeed a make or break moment for the band, with heavy major label support under pressure with continued delays to the debut LP and the lukewarm reception given to previous single “Body and Soul”.

For many fans of the era, the Black October tour marked the high point of the Hussey era, with several FALAA songs given their first “live” outing and the band yet to suffer from the personality issues and clashes which would make the following spring’s tour a more overwrought, bombastic and ultimately soulless experience. The very name of the tour saw the band flirting as much as they ever would with the imagery of what was rapidly becoming the gothic “scene”, with the more psychedelic touches of earlier in the year becoming distinctly more sombre.

The tour showed to what extent the band’s popularity had grown. As we have seen in previous posts, TSOM would often struggle to attract a crowd of more than a couple of dozen punters to their incendiary 1983 live shows outside of their Northern fiefdom, yet by autumn of the following year, “Sold Out” signs would appear in the most unlikely of places. One such show was that on the 20th October, bang in the middle of the 23 date tour, held at the University of Essex, a 1960’s concrete and glass “new university” situated on a leafy campus at Wivenhoe Park on the outskirts of Colchester.

As a town, Colchester seemed to have been on a steady decline since its heyday as the principal garrison town of the Roman army back in the days when it was known as Camulodunum, and its musical claim to fame (in these pre-Blur days) was that the nursery rhyme “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” was composed there. Like most campus universities, Essex had a thriving Students’ Union, whose basement Dance Hall had hosted gigs since its opening, with a capacity of about 1000 concert-goers.      

The Sisters’ show had clearly not been expected to be a sell-out as the official-looking poster now residing in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (no less!) promises that briefs will be available on the night, although the other poster hastily produced for the show (and kindly shared by collector David Manlove) did warn, with typical Students Ents Committee hyperbole “tickets possibly available on the door – buy early.”

Long-term fan Paul Scrutton told me, “I was at this show. The venue was really nice. The ceiling had a mega acoustic treatment with foam spikes all over it.” This is possibly the reason why the recording of this show, available on the bootleg double LP Black Pack and also on the superior sounding bootleg CD Revelations, is generally regarded as being one of the best recordings of the Black October tour, with a crisp if a little trebley sound mix with Doktor Avalanche very high in the mix, and so much reverb on Eldritch’s vocals that his inter-song banter is almost totally unintelligible.

Other reasons for this particular show being such a success are hinted at in the fascinating minor detail of the tour schedule, a document (kindly shared by legendary Sisters fan Lachert) which shows how much planning now went into a Sisters tour. As well as what must have been a depressing revelation for a band becoming infamous for bacchanalian over-indulgence (“no spirits on rider”), the late hour at which the band was to take the stage would also have been to the band’s liking.

The show began with a lively “Burn”, whose sound is a little muffled at times, possibly because the taper may have had to momentarily remove his/her Walkman from public view to avoid detection. Eldritch gives it laldy, however, adding an extra vocal section full of “whoas”. A relatively new addition to the set, Marian, was another highlight, whilst the encore of Ghost Rider/Sister Ray features extensive soloing/riffing on the first half of the medley which lasts a full eight and a half minutes before morphing slowly into Sister Ray. Thanks (once again) to the generosity of Ade Matthews, all of the show can now be enjoyed via the wonders of YouTube (for example, Train, Adrenochrome, Walk Away, Emma and Gimme Shelter) whilst Phil Verne has provided this wonderful photo of Eldritch mid-scream, the only known shot taken at the Colchester gig.

When Jem of Artificial Life fanzine interviewed Wayne Hussey in 1985, he referred to having been at the Colchester gig the previous year, where he had been amazed at what he had seen. “You attract a wide audience, at Colchester there were hippies, flat-tops, punks and everyone….I went to the Colchester gig ready to slag you off. Well when I got there, and you came on, I realised that this was the best gig I’d been to in ages, there was a great atmosphere too, it was the fullest I’ve ever seen the place (appreciative noises from Wayne).”

This reaction was typical of the shows on the tour, with the Sisters finally inching towards the commercial and critical success that “First and Last and Always” would finally achieve.  The band may never since have returned to Colchester, or to several other stops on the lengthy Black October trek, but these gigs were an integral part of the creation of the legend which sustains such a cult following over thirty years later.

A huge thank you to all who have helped with this post, including regulars LG, Phil Verne, Bruno Bossier and Ade Matthews, plus Paul Scrutton, David Manlove, Lachert and others. This blog is very much a team effort, and all contributions (whether physical ephemera or simply personal memories) are always very gratefully received.