Wednesday, 25 January 2017

The 1985 split pt 2 - Did Gary jump or was he pushed?

The comparative success of my earlier blog post on the mid-80’s TSOM split, which has enjoyed twice as many distinct “page views” as any other, reveals just how much interest there still is in the events of 1985 despite the many years which have elapsed since then.

Indeed, over thirty years later, more facts, artefacts and reminiscences continue to emerge, so much so that I have decided to publish this addendum to the earlier post, hopefully the first of several over the next few months as the exact sequence of events becomes clearer.

Just a couple of months ago, in interviews for the latest (and critically-acclaimed) Mission album “Another Fall From Grace”, Wayne Hussey revealed that not only had “First and Last and Always” been the inspiration for the new record (there being a clear link between certain of the new songs and some Sisters classics), but that he and Craig were thinking of doing a tour featuring songs from the Sisters’ 1985 debut LP but with a different vocalist, if Eldritch was unwilling or unable to play his part. Furthermore, they had already had a run-through of the FALAA songs with Billy Corgan (of Smashing Pumpkins fame).

Predictably (Wayne was trying to drum up interest in the new album after all), this provoked some typically lively debate on social media, with the old fault lines appearing within the traditional TSOM fanbase, dividing seemingly equally into the rapidly pro- and mildly anti-Eldritch camps. Hussey commented on this in some of the later promotional interviews, opining that there was still some “sourness” towards him amongst TSOM fans, probably because the latter still blamed him for the 1985 split, a topic which came up in his interview with well-respected goth DJ Mark M which aired on YouTube. If you watch from 3:30 onwards, you will hear (above the background pub chit-chat) Hussey repeat a claim he had made in other interviews in 2016 that it was Andrew Eldritch who had “fired” Gary Marx, and not him, although he (Wayne) had himself made the phone call at Eldritch's instruction to tell the founder member of the singer’s decision. This is very much at odds with Marx’s own 2003 account (as featured at length in my earlier blog post on the split) that it was his own decision to leave the band in April 1985.

Gary Marx, Hull March 1985 - from the collection of Bruno Bossier

Further insights into Marx’s views just before he left the band can be heard in the taped interview for Artificial Life fanzine which was recorded on Sunday March 24th 1985 (just a week before the final Brighton gig), a copy of which was kindly lent to me by veteran collector Phil Verne of the 1980-1985 Facebook fan page. Phil had acquired the interview cassette along with many other rare tapes from another well-known collector (Mark W) some years earlier, but most long-term fans were unaware that it contained much information not printed in the fanzine interview.

The musical differences which partly led to the band going their separate ways is hinted at in the discussions of the band’s sound. Marx states that (in his opinion) fans have heard all of the different styles which fans are likely to hear from the band, including “The Reptile House, which sort of suggests that we might do something like that again in the future. You know, that sort of darker, more mysterious… the opposite to the LP which is more accessible, poppy.” Like many of the original fans of the band, Marx clearly hankered after a return to the earlier (pre-WEA) sound, whereas the other three members all wanted the band's sound to evolve to encompass other influences, from Fleetwood Mac (Eldritch) to Deep Purple (the two words most uttered by Adams in 1985 interviews!).

On the two sides of FALAA, Marx was clear that there were two different styles at play, telling Artificial Life of Wayne’s “more immediate songs, single-y type songs” whereas “the other side’s where you hear things the more you listen to it, the slower side, you might play the first side for the first month and then that [the other side], that sort of grows on you.”

More interestingly, conversation turns to the next Sisters single, which was under active consideration at the time, with Gary still at this stage clearly seeing himself as part of that future. “We aren’t thinking of doing anything else off the LP so it’ll have to be a new song that doesn’t exist. The next single will do well, especially if it’s new.” (NB The previous single, No Time To Cry, had stalled in the 60s in the Top 75 as most fans simply bought the album). He then expands upon the thought process of the typical TSOM fan deciding whether or not to buy this mythical single, which would include the question “Is it going to be really bland and wimpy?”. Whether Marx had a particular song in mind (Body and Soul? One of the Hussey singles from FALAA?) when suggesting that potential issue is not clear, but he obviously had some doubts about the lighter material, and more than a little sympathy with his old Wakefield chums who had drifted away from the band since the change of musical direction.

On the other hand, he was clearly already thinking not only about the next single, but about the next album too, a section of the taped interview which did make it into Artificial Life: “I’d like to see the second LP go to number one in the LP charts...Second and Last and Always.. we’ve got the title already… I’d just like to see us become like an important band, like a couple of bands that people consider important, that no-one sort of scoffs at. I’d like to be in that respected position…. Immortality ? That’s quite useful for us old fellas, that’d be nice.”

The most interesting section of the interview remained on the fanzine cutting room floor, however, as by the time of publication events had already superseded these plans. Gary was asked about what would happen at the end of the current British tour, which of course was due to finish one short week later with the Brighton Top Rank gig which would turn out to be the guitarist’s memorable orange-shirted swansong with the band he had co-founded with Eldritch some five years earlier.

Marx told the interviewer “We’re doing this tour which finishes on the 1st April. Then we’ll do the Whistle Test on the 2ndhave about a week in a studio somewhere …seeing if we can write this new single, then go to Europe for about a month. Then depending on certain things, America for about the same, there’s a slight thing about when we’ll actually do America because they haven’t actually put the record out yet.. so we’ll go to America but quite when … but after that it’ll be feet up for a while.”

There will inevitably be speculation about what this new single might have been, but my information is that the instrumental version of what became The Mission’s first single “Serpent’s Kiss”, which first came to light on a bootleg cassette of TSOM studio out-takes in the mid-late 1980’s, was not in fact recorded at Strawberry Studios in 1984 during the FALAA sessions as has been previously assumed, but was instead the result of a different studio session in that early part of April 1985. Listening to that instrumental version, it is hard to tell exactly who was present in the studio, so whether Marx (or indeed Eldritch) was present must for now remain a matter of conjecture. Whether the lack of vocal is because Eldritch was unhappy with the riff, was suffering from writer’s block, was exhausted by the lengthy "Tune In..." tour, had left the studio in a huff or because of some other reason is equally unclear.

Some have speculated that Marx’s end of UK tour finale, where he climbed the speaker stack at the end of the Brighton Top Rank gig, suggests that he knew that it was his final gig, and some fans who were present confirm this version of events. What is certain is that by the time I saw the band in Gent (12th April 1985) just a few days after that studio recording, Marx had left the band, initially with (as he told Glasperlenspiel in 2003) a consideration – “a brief moment of folly” as he put it – that he would re-join TSOM for what would become the Royal Albert Hall finale.

Inevitably, the question of Marx’s whereabouts cropped up regularly in interviews during the gruelling subsequent five-week Armageddon tour of Europe, with Hussey usually having to explain the founder member’s absence. In a Zurich radio interview one week into the tour, he said, clearly tongue in cheek, "We’re not quite sure what’s happened really. We got the boat over here, over to Europe, and Gary wasn’t on the boat, so we just suppose that he’s at home, somewhere” before going on to add “And I don’t think we’ll replace him at all actually. I think what will happen is we’ll keep the basic nucleus for recording and writing, to the three of us, and then see… the tour so far has been going very well with just the three of us, there’s enough noise with the three of us, and we’ll see how it goes we’ll see how we feel at the end of it, if we feel that we need to additional musicians for “live” work we’ll bring them in in the future, but it’s too early to say.”

A month later, on the day of the final gig of the tour at a Press Conference in Stockholm on Friday May 17th, Hussey (in his role as band spokesperson because a sleepy Eldritch misses the first ten minutes of the event) again initially gives a flippant answer when asked about the reason for Marx’s departure. “He left just before we came out to Europe. Erm, we couldn’t get a work permit for him in Europe”, before going on to offer a more sympathetic tribute to the guitarist, his heartfelt tone evident in this extract uploaded onto YouTube by Phil Verne , “He’s been in the group for a very long time. People change, and they go off in different directions and it’s…after a while, the thing which held them together snaps…and it snapped….It’s just a difference in attitude to making records and a difference in attitude to concerts.”

Typically, Eldritch himself was more dismissive of his fellow founder member in an interview with francophone Belgian journalist Pascal Stevens (available on this French fansite) in which the singer explains, "I believe that he wasn't happy any more, but he never tried to tell us why. At the moment Wayne is covering both guitar parts. He doesn't make the same "noise" at all as him, he's more one-dimensional and dynamic. I think that the songs will benefit from this in the future."

Throughout the March 1985 recorded interview for Artifical Life, Marx comes across as everything those who encountered him in his time in TSOM describe him to be: warm, friendly, modest, disarmingly frank – basically a thoroughly decent human being. Whilst the interview contains more hints than hard facts about the cause and exact timing of the split, the sudden and unexpected nature of Marx’s imminent departure is evident, with the guitarist still clearly seeing himself as part of the band’s future. The events of the following week (last week of March 1985) would therefore appear to hold the key to unlocking the real truth about what exactly happened. Hopefully 2017 will see further revelations on an issue which continues to fascinate.

My thanks for this post are due to Mark “Songs of Preys” Musolf (check out his online radio shows and the regular UK tours he promotes for bands from the 80's goth scene) for the informed and interesting recent YT interview with Wayne Hussey, to Bruno Bossier for sharing the wonderful Gary Marx photo and to Phil Verne of the 1980-1985 Facebook fan page for supplying me with the fanzine and cassette versions of the Artifical Life interview, the former of which has been shared in full over on the Facebook fan page, as well as other material from the Armageddon tour. Thanks also to LG for his continued support and to the French TSOM fan page for the scan of the French interview.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Stairway to Heaven - Blackburn, March 1985

Many fans believe that the early incarnations of the band reached their zenith in the spring of 1985 on the “Tune In, Turn On, Burn Out” tour, the Hussey era line-up’s third major UK trek with a fuller range of songs to choose from. Most aficianados would agree that the Disguised in Black bootleg recorded at Newcastle Tiffany’s on Weds 13th March is technically the best recording from that era, but in my view a far more interesting gig took place at Blackburn’s King George’s Hall just over a week later on Thursday 21st March.

(generic photo of King George's Hall, not from the TSOM gig)

King George’s Hall was in many ways a typical piece of Northern British civic architecture, a large neo-classical public hall with an original capacity of 3500 in the main auditorium designed by the architects Messrs Briggs, Wolstenholme and Thornley (some familiar surnames to members of the Heartland Forum!) whose foundation stone was laid by the then King (hence the hall’s name) in 1913, although the facility didn’t finally open until 1921 because of the Great War.

The Pennines region (for those unfamiliar with the North of England, these are the hills which separate the historic rivals of the Wars of The Roses, the red rose county of Lancashire and white rose county of Yorkshire) had always been a Sisters stronghold, with early gigs in the smaller towns of Keighley and Colne, but whether it was the fact that it was a Thursday night, the fact that Blackburn was by far the smallest town (in terms of population) visited on the tour, or whether the gig in nearby Manchester two nights earlier was more convenient for many North-West based fans, it was evidently clear that the gig was heavily undersold – there were probably fewer than (atrocious John Lennon lyric pun ahoy!) a thousand souls in Blackburn, Lancashire’s finest concert venue that March 1985 evening, a fact referred to by Eldritch after the opening track, “First and Last and Always”, the singer light-heartedly telling the faithful, “Don’t worry, we ain’t going to take it out on you because the rest of Blackburn didn’t show up,” as can be heard at the end of this You Tube upload kindly once again provided by collector supreme Phil Verne. This recording also gives an impression of the wonderfully resonant acoustics in the cavernous concert hall, with the natural echo adding to the usual added reverb effects to enable the band to truly “rise and reverberate”.

Faced with a smaller crowd and largely preaching to the converted, Eldritch seemed particularly relaxed throughout the gig (as did the rest of the band, judging by the number of technical errors made by West Yorkshire’s finest musicians), enjoying the inter-song banter with the usual motley band of hecklers, barking “One at a time! You with the yellow flares!” in the style of legendary contemporary Question Time presenter Sir Robin Day, and later telling one audience member who has particularly riled him “Look, there’s a bus that goes now from out there, and you’d be advised…”

The gig is also memorable for a couple of rarities amongst the tracks played, including one of only three 1980’s playings of the album closing classic “Some Kind of Stranger”, Eldritch’s vocal straining against a particularly weedy guitar backing on this occasion, and most famously, the only Eldritch vocal on the opening section of “Stairway to Heaven”, a track which had featured on several occasions in instrumental form as part of the “Ghost Rider” medley (as in this example) over the previous twelve months, but which was strictly a one-off for this Blackburn show, having been also played in the sound-check according to eye-witnesses. At the Blackburn gig Eldritch introduces the Led Zeppelin cover with the words, “You’ve never heard us play this before, have you? Probably never will…This is a song which requires a respectful quiet introduction” in an attempt to pacify those crowd members frustrated at the customary lengthy guitar re-tuning episodes. Gary Marx recalled the unusual cover version in the Artificial Life interview recorded a week later, “We got about two verses into it and Andy said “etc.” because he couldn’t remember any more, so I don’t think we’ll do that again!” At the end of the second verse, the drum machine kick started the set-closing Sister Ray medley, and the rest of the encore seemed to proceed without incident.

However, a previously untranscribed section of the Gary Marx interview with Artificial Life sheds some light on a curious recollection of Eldritch’s in a 1987 interview, “The BBC would ring us up and ask, “What’s new, boys?”. We’d say, “Do you want the stories with or without the vomit?”. They’d reply “Without” and we’d say “Ha, we haven’t got any!” Listening to Marx’s Blackburn anecdote, in response to the interviewer's request for amusing tour stories, one imagines that this is the kind of thing which Eldritch had in mind: Nothing funny’s happened. We’ve thrown up a few times on various people but that gets tedious…In Blackburn I think it was, we were doing Sister Ray. Craig’s usually, well not introverted, but just sort of stands there on stage, quite happy to stand near his amp so that he can hear what he’s playing…In Blackburn, we were doing Sister Ray, he’s really going for it, he’s running about all over the place and suddenly it’s one of those bits where we all go all quiet for a bit, there’s the dry ice and I’d lost him for a minute, I couldn’t see where he was. I was looking all over, and then he starts playing again, and he’s up on top of the stack (of monitors/speakers) at the back. It’s all slowly building up, it comes up to the bit where we’re all going to crash back in, and he jumps off the top, off this thing to land perfectly in time, which would have been great, but because it shook him up so much when he actually jumped to the floor, he threw up, so he did this massive jump, threw up, then started rolling around in it. So I think he’ll just be stood there tonight, back to his usual position,” Marx laconically predicted, in the interview recorded on the afternoon prior to the first London Lyceum show (24th March 1985, just a few days after the Blackburn gig).

The Sisters have never subsequently visited the East Lancashire former mill town, but this unique visit will continue to live long in the memories of those lucky enough to have witnessed it. Like the band themselves, King George’s Hall is still going strong, hosting the usual current touring round of stand-up comedians, tribute bands and hypnotists, a combination which rather strangely reflects the unique act on stage one night thirty-two years ago.

I would like to thank all those who have contributed to this post, especially Phil Verne for the FALAA YT clip and the loan of the 1985 interview cassette, those who uploaded the other YT clips, and to Phil's fellow collector Bruno Bossier, from whose extensive collection the photo of the gig ticket is taken.