Friday, 28 April 2017

Imperial Leather Jacket - London, 29th October 1982

As we have seen before, researching old TSOM gigs at a distance of thirty odd years can be a frustrating and often trying experience, but gradually information emerges that enables the obsessive fan to assemble the key details about a particular show and its idiosyncrasies in comparison to other gigs of that era.

One curious anomaly of the half a dozen or so London gigs the band played as they increasingly tried to impress the self-appointed metropolitan musical elite (crucial backers if the band were to break out of their northern stronghold) was the gig at Imperial College in the capital on Friday 29th October 1982. This gig is listed in all the usual gigographies usually accompanied by the phrase “nothing is known about this gig.”

This is not strictly true in this case, as the gig was reviewed towards the end of the band’s short breakthrough interview piece in the NME entitled “Do The Apocalypso”, eventually published in the first week of December. The paper’s editors had clearly sat on the piece for a wee while, given that the show had taken place five weeks earlier, but had clearly been hastily resurrected when rival paper Sounds stole a march on them by having TSOM as cover stars.

In the very positive “Do The Apoclaypso” piece, journalist Don Watson curiously refers to the audience as “unsuspecting students”, a phrase which had intrigued me since first reading it when it was first published, but which I now hope to be able to fully explain.

What had always been surprising about the Imperial College gig was the fact that there appeared to be none of the usual flyers and adverts, and that no photos, tickets or audio had emerged either, a situation totally different to the TSOM London gigs either side of it in those final months of 1982 as the word of mouth about the band began to really spread with the release of the ground-breaking “Alice/Floorshow” double A sided single. Indeed, all of the other gigs in London around this time seemed to feature two or more other bands, but on this occasion curiously no other band seemed to have been mentioned.

Like other colleges of the University of London, Imperial was a fiercely independent branch of the major institution, and like the other colleges had its own Students’ Union building (in this case housed in the magnificent red-brick building below) as well as having centralised services in the larger University of London Union (ULU), where TSOM were to play supported by the Smiths in June 1983.

On this occasion at the end of October 1982, however, I can now reveal that the band were booked at short notice to play at the Halloween Party of the Imperial College Students’ Union taking place that Friday evening. The attached advert, from the Imperial College student newspaper Felix, back issues of which are now digitised online, states that for the princely sum of £1 students would have access to the Halloween Party which would now feature a performance of TSOM (contrary to what had been previously advertised). One shudders to think at what an already “anti-goth” Eldritch would have said had he seen the amateurish witch with black cat illustration which accompanied the ad in Felix, surely the worst promo for the band since the classic “waving nun” on a John F Keenan poster some eighteen months earlier.

One can therefore imagine that many of the students attending would have been oblivious to the fact that there would be a band performing at all, let alone Leeds’ finest, and so the three-way split the journalist describes in the crowd is all the more understandable. “The audience becomes a mix of bouncing psychobillies, restrained consideration and open antagonism.” Eldritch later tells Watson “We always do that to an audience, there’s always the three distinct groups. We always get cut and dried reactions.”

Watson agrees with Eldritch’s assertion that the band are a different prospect “live” than in the studio, stating “Where the records restrain the power, the live sound takes it to almost ridiculous levels, as the band teeters on the edge of parody.” Little did he know that this was only the end of the beginning …

By the time the piece was published, the Sisters were a bona fide cause celebre in the musical world, being added to bills left, right and centre in the hectic pre- and post-Christmas gig rush in the capital, and no more would they need to effectively gate-crash student parties just to provide an opportunity for journalists and others to see them. If anyone was at the gig, or has any ephemera from it, the six thousand diehard fans over at the unofficial 1980-1985 The Sisters of Mercy Facebook group would love to hear from you!

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Iggy and Spiggy - Leeds, 2nd July 1981

If time travel is invented during my lifetime, I know exactly when and where I will set the dial for : the evening of Thursday 2nd July 1981 at the Warehouse club, Leeds. As I would discover a few years later, early July was a joyous time in Leeds when the tens of thousands of students would leave the city for the summer at the end of the academic year, leaving the locals back in charge of the cultural scene.

Thursday 2nd July was the night of a gig by one of Eldritch’s chief inspirations, Iggy Pop, at the local university. Pop was promoting his Party album with lenedary platinum-selling French band Téléphone in support, and their gig in Leeds came in the same week as I saw the tour myself in Nottingham at the Rock City venue. It was the strangest gig I have ever been to: Téléphone, accustomed to selling over half a million albums per release and playing stadia in France, being almost totally ignored apart from one would-be comedian shouting out the only French phrase he knew ""Machine à laver" between each song, and Iggy for me being a huge letdown, flouncing around in a bad mood, fleeing the stage when someone threw a plastic glass vaguely in his direction, baiting the audience in a half-hearted manner and (choosing my words carefully here) clearly not on great form (unlike the gigs later in the 80s when he had re-become the ultimate showman). 

I can't imagine that the Leeds show was much different, and most of the audience from the Leeds University show were enticed to the Warehouse after the gig, a venue where Claire Shearsby DJ’d, and TSOM were billed to play a late night set to capitalise on the large number of punks in town. Simon McKay of Newcastle fanzine Eccentric Sleeve Notes was one of many (“Not a night to forget” as he reminded me earlier this year) who made the short trek from the university after the Iggy gig past the Fav(ersham pub) and the hospital, through the city centre and down to Somers Street for the Sisters show at the Warehouse, a venue which was allegedly the inspiration for the song “Floorshow”. Also down at the Warehouse that legendary night was Paul “Grape” Gregory of the Expelaires, who remembers Iggy himself putting in an appearance at the gig. “The Warehouse gig was an amazing night,” he told Sisters fans on Facebook earlier this year. “The Sisters on stage, Iggy dancing all around the upstairs bar and all the best of LS6 [Headingley’s post code] in the house. Music For Pleasure had played Amnesia that night too so the place was jammed with everyone from these gigs….the beer, the gear, and everyone dancing like loons, an epic night followed by epic hangovers.”

(Contemporary advert for the Iggy gig at the university from the York fanzine, Beaten to the Punch. Note the self-publicity by Union Ents secretary and future radio DJ Andy Kershaw on the right)

According to an interview with promoter John Keenan on the now defunct "North Nights" website, Keenan himself was largely responsible for what happened that night. "Iggy was playing at the university on the same night [as the Sisters gig at the Warehouse which I was promoting] so I went up to the gig to hand out some flyers. The Sisters used to do a version of the Stooges' 1969 so I invited Iggy and the crew down. After the gig we were all having a few drinks together in the bar when Iggy got up and walked over to a poster on the wall advertising a New Romantic night. He went up to it and went "New Ro-f**king-Mantic" and ripped it off the wall. At that time, the Warehouse had a big gay barman called Chris who was about 6'4" but as camp as ever. He went over, picked Iggy right up off the floor, held him against the wall and in a really unexpected camp voice shouted, "That's my boyfriend's night!" Of course, Iggy was really shocked, but they're the kind of rock and roll stories you don't always hear."

The above press advert, which featured in the anthology of Heartland fanzine (and thanks to Phil Verne of the essential TSOM 1980-1985 unofficial Facebook group for this pic) shows just how far the band had come, less than six months from their live debut, with respected promoter Keenan sufficiently impressed to put them on at the Warehouse as headliners under the Fan Club banner after the band had played only half a dozen or so gigs. This July night is therefore a significant staging post in the band's history, the night they began to stand out from a very talented crop of local bands as the one with the potential to make it big. With the success of this gig and the buzz now beginning to build around the band, their relatively late addition to the line-up for Futurama 3 is all the more understandable.

When TSOM became more famous, stories circulated that the band had given Iggy a copy of a demo cassette which included 1969, but that the great man had been unimpressed. Presumably this incident also took place that night, as Eldritch had form for this sort of thing. Just six weeks earlier, the singer had pressed a copy of the tape into the hands of Psychedelic Furs’ saxophonist Duncan Kilburn who handed it on to guitarist and subsequent "Alice" producer John Ashton, an event recounted in some detail by the genial guitarist in a video interview last yearHowever, according Mark Andrews' definitive account of the early life of TSOM published last year, Iggy and Spiggy did not meet. 

The Warehouse remained a second home for some of The Sisters for a number of years, with the band playing their three times in the first four months of 1983. Later that year, Wayne Hussey was astonished to be treated like “a mini celebrity” on visits to the club just by virtue of having joined the band, as he recounted to contemporary DJ Mark Musolf in a video interview last year (twelve minutes in).

If time travel were invented, I would certainly take a Sony Walkman with me to record the gig on 2nd July 1981, as everyone was having such a good time (as Grape recounts) that as far as we know no-one thought of recording the Sisters’ appearance for posterity, either in audio or pictorial form (not even the John Keenan flyer mentioned above), a point on which (as ever) I would be only too happy to be proved wrong!

My thanks are again due to all the many people involved in the lives of TSOM in the early 1980s for their willingness to share their recollections of those special days.