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!