Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Rain from Haven - Oslo 16th May 1985

Despite the herculean efforts of Andrew Eldritch during lengthy negotiations with experienced major record labels to ensure that the Sisters’ future releases would be managed in a way that met his own exacting standards with Merciful Release, the singer famously ended up (like so many musicians before and since) at war with the label to whom the band signed, culminating in the contract ending SSV (non-)release in 1997.
The seeds of this growing unrest with Warners can be seen very early in the relationship, although in 84/85 interviews Eldritch seems to seek to placate fans unhappy at the hook-up with a major corporation by stressing that all was going well. Although that may have been the case in the UK, and the band continued to get on famously with certain individuals at Elektra (WEA’s US imprint), in others territories the band’s relationship with the label was already at breaking point.
This was certainly the case for arguably the least successful of the Armageddon tour in 1985, the stop at the Vikateateret in Oslo on Thursday May 16th, the penultimate night of TSOM’s European tour. One can imagine that the band would already not have been happy that the itinerary caused them (and their alleged) contraband to cross country borders two nights in a row (Gothenburg in Sweden to Oslo in Norway then back into Sweden for the Stockholm finale) at the end of an exhausting pancontinental trek, but to arrive for the under-advertised show to find that the Norwegian branch of the record label had unilaterally decided to delay the release of FALAA really aggravated Eldritch, as he confessed in an interview recorded immediately after the Stockholm press conference the following day.

As a result, the band’s Norwegian debut drew only a small crowd compared to the adulation which they had received earlier in the month in Germany (Wayne Hussey telling “Wot!” fanzine that they had had “a Duran Duran type reception” which he described as “funny”). Even worse, those who did attend further invoked the singer’s wrath by indulging in the traditional punk habit of spitting at the band to show their appreciation, an occurrence which had died out in the UK some five years earlier. They had clearly not read the contemporary interview in Kerrang, in which the singer had railed at the entire Welsh nation for a similar reason: “No, I mean to be fair to the Welsh,” begins Eldritch, stops, considering and starts anew: “No, let’s not be fair to the Welsh at all! You spat at us, you! We’ve only ever played in Wales once and you spat at us. Give me one good reason why we should EVER play in your God-forsaken country again!” Some thirty-two years later, TSOM have not returned to Wales, despite playing many times in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Eire.

The Norwegians were still very much in Eldritch’s mind several weeks after the Vikateateret gig, when the singer was interviewed in early June for the American Rockpool magazine. During a discussion about whether the band would continue to play gigs in the near future, Eldritch said. “We commit ourselves so easily to doing people favours like playing in Norway to 211 people who only spit at you and you have to be hospitalised”. Sadly the conversation then takes a different tack, and we never get to hear of the reason for the hospitalisation, unless Eldritch is speaking in general terms about the strains and stresses of touring, rather than any specific incident in Norway. Although the singer did turn up so late to the following day’s Stockholm press conference that Adams and Hussey started without him, subsequent answers that day reveal that he had travelled through from Norway with the rest of the band as planned, and no direct mention is made any mishap the previous evening. However in the interview recorded straight after the official conference, Eldritch said “Oslo got rained off pretty much (sniggers from the other two). We thought that Oslo was a capital city until we went there (more sniggers). They spat at us in Oslo so we hit them...So they spat some more so we hit them again. And then we went off….The idea of Norwegian punk rockers is somewhat strange to us...(more sniggers)..I think it was a bit strange to them… They did what they thought they were supposed to do, but didn’t realise that we would hospitalise them for doing it. And they’ll know better next time, if we let there be a next time. I don’t think that there will be…. I’d rather not talk too much about Norway.” It may therefore be that the final “you” of the Rockpool quote is superfluous.
A bootleg recording of the Oslo gig does exist, but contains a truncated set ending in Floorshow. It is generally assumed that this is an incomplete recording, with the taper’s cassette running out towards the end of Floorshow, 45 minutes (the length of the average cassette tape) into the set. Eldritch expresses his displeasure with the spitter(s) in his usual style, during No Time To Cry (kindly uploaded by Phil Verne of the unofficial TSOM 1980 - 1985 FB fan group): two minutes into the song, Eldritch interrupts the middle eight to tell the offender that if they do it again, whoever they are, he will “have” them with the microphone stand. He then misses his cue for the final verse, presumably still occupied with the other matter. The next few songs seem to pass without incident, but at the end of Logic the singer mysteriously announces that “We’ve decided that you can all go home now.” Again the gig continues, with Eldritch reassuring the (otherwise appreciative) crowd that he likes them at the beginning of the final recorded track, Floorshow, only to again miss his cue for the song’s opening verse, almost certainly the result of a further incident. With the final section of the gig possibly unrecorded and definitely uncirculated, what happened thereafter is anyone’s guess, but Eldritch’s later comments (quoted above) would tend to suggest that the gig didn’t end happily. Anders R recalls meeting a fan at the 2009 Oslo show who had been at the 1985 gig, and thought that the band had ended with either Sister Ray or Ghost Rider (or possibly both).Only one photo purportedly from the gig has ever surfaced (and is reproduced below), and as ever it would be great to see any other ephemera (poster, ticket stub, reviews etc) from this gig. The photo came from Heartland Forum member”psy”, who added that “the Norwegian music magazine Puls reviewed the concert, but I can’t remember what they said. Probably hated it.”

The audio recording was only rumoured to exist for over twenty years and only surfaced after another Heartland Forum member “tripleson” shared it in 2008, adding “I’ve been told that Harald A Lund from NRK radio station had a deal with the band to record and transmit parts of the show. Just minutes before they got on stage, Andrew ‘changed his mind’ and no recording was allowed.” “Tripleson” also mentioned that “17th May is the national day here in Norway and traditionally on the 16th youngsters drink themselves totally wasted. This reflects on the atmosphere in this recording” and the problems which Eldritch himself was referring to in the afore-mentioned Stockholm interview. The “Russefeiring” is a noble end of high school rite of passage for Norwegian youngsters that even merits its own Wikipedia entry, a bacchanalian tour de force lasting more than two weeks and with levels of alcohol consumption that should have drawn approving nods from the equally excess-prone band.
The venue for the gig, the Vikateatret (“Bay Theatre”) was in the Aker Brygge area down by the seafront in the Norwegian capital, an area that was modernised and restyled in the late 1980s, leading to the theatre’s demolition as the surrounding traditional industries were swept away. One Norwegian blogger, bemoaning the modern shopping centres now based in the trendy area, reminisced about the previous factories and warehouses in the district, claiming that “you had to travel through an area of rusty metal to get to the Vikateateret.” The venue’s interior can be seen in two concerts from 1986 available on the state broadcaster’s on-demand service (although I would recommend turning the sound down!), and it was the scene of the recording of some of the tracks on Husker Du’s live album, “Makes No Sense At All”, recorded in September 1985. Alan Vega, Jeffrey Lee Pierce and Nick Cave (all of course associates of Eldritch) also appeared at the venue around this time, which respected Norwegian journalist Guttorm Andreasen described as “the best rock club in the world” at that time. Rather than a traditional theatre, the Vikateateret appears to have been a relatively short-lived affair based in one of the disused workshops of the "Akers mekaniske verksted", the abandoned former traditional shipyard at the Aker Brygge, which was being demolished in the mid-80s. Pictures available on the "oslobilder" website certainly show the "areas of rusty metal" which the hardy gig-goer would have had to traverse, as well as some early shots of the shopping centre. The Vikateateret gig was Hussey's second visit to Oslo, having previously played there on a 1981 TV show which he probably wishes hadn't recently been uploaded to YouTube, and in which he hears an uncanny resemblance to Ben Gunn! The Sisters eventually returned to Oslo in 2009 for a sold out gig at the Sentrum, and have been back again since then, having clearly forgiven the Norwegians for the May 1985 madness. 

My thanks for this and other posts in this Scandinavian Armageddon mini-series of blog posts are due to the usual triumvirate of Phil Verne, Bruno Bossier and LG, and especially to Anders and other Scandinavian Sisters fans who have provided fascinating info. Rise and reverberate!

Friday, 16 June 2017

Who put the Goth in Gothenburg – May 15th 1985

Like many second cities, Sweden’s Göteborg works hard to keep up with its more illustrious rival Stockholm, and in particular revels in a musical past that has produced the likes of Ace of Bass and current melodic death metal darlings At The Gates, In Flames and Dark Tranquility. A visitor to the city’s premier museum anytime between November 2015 and January 2018 will have had the chance to see the major exhibition on the city’s music scene between 1955 and 2018, emphasising both the past and the present of this vibrant port which works hard to dispel the “safe but boring” tag associated with the city’s major employer, the Volvo corporation. Although featuring the city’s punk scene, the exhibition is disappointingly light on the Sisters’ main contemporaries from the area, Leather Nun, whose knowing guitar-and-iconic vocalist swagger, history and attitude made them worthy rivals of Leeds’ finest.

Gothenburg has become a semi-regular stopping point for the current incarnation of The Sisters of Mercy in their gigging-only mindset, possibly as a result of their first visit there back in 1985, towards the end of the Armageddon European tour following Gary Marx’s departure from the band. The Gothenburg gig took place in the Mudd Club on Kungstorget, which in an earlier life had been The Cue Club, an organisation which was based in a series of venues over the years and hosted gigs by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple and Yes.

The Mudd Club was the brainchild of the late John Lindholm, who brought Johnny Thunders, Nick Cave and a host of metal bands to the venue in the mid-1980s. On the occasion of his untimely death at the age of 56 in 2010 (in a bizarre accident in which he was hit by a tram trying to save the life of his dog which had strayed into the vehicle's path), local paper GT included a tribute which contained a section about the Mudd Club, stating that he painted the whole club black (a feature which means that there are some excellent photos of many of the bands who played there) and put on mud wrestling events (giving the club its unusual name) in the venerable building, which is now home to the Tranquilo restaurant and the (Some Kind of?) Stranger Bar.

The Sisters' gig at the Mudd Club, which took place on Wednesday 15thMay was memorable for several reasons. Of course it was Eldritch’s birthday, which meant that the FALAA reference to “twenty-five years of ever after, ever more, more more” needed to be updated by one for the first time, a lyrical change which was repeated in some of the US dates and at the Royal Albert Hall. Phil Verne of the ever fascinating TSOM 1980 1985 unofficial FB fan page has kindly uploaded this first "twenty-six years" FALAA to YouTube for us all to enjoy. As Eldritch explained at the Stockholm Press Conference later that week, “We had a lot of problems in the afternoon [in Gothenburg]….all the barriers collapsed.” However, a lively and supportive crowd resulted in a memorable show “Gothenburg was ok, a good audience…It was still a good show because the audience were good in the end….The Swedish audience is fine”, was the singer’s considered (if slightly repetitive)  opinion. Encores Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door and Train from this gig later surfaced on the well-known Opus Dei bootleg double vinyl live collection, and a high-quality cassette of the full gig is in circulation amongst the usual collectors. It reveals an enthusiastic audience who not only clap along to the Doktor’s opening drumbeats for the set-opener FALAA, but cheer when Hussey begins the “Scottish” riff, like Sinatra fans applauding their approval after the opening line of a song. Their enthusiasm is maintained to the end, continuing to attempt to sing the “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” chorus after the singer has left the stage at the end of the first encore, making tapes of this show easy to identify. Eldritch is in fantastic voice throughout but is uncharacteristically quiet between the songs for the first 45 minutes, but before the encore (KOHD and Train) he does address the crowd with the legendary “Hey, Eengleesh, why you no play Temple of Love?” before answering in his own sotto voce "Because we played it last time", referring to the Stockholm 1983 gig. Craig’s bass is particularly prominent on some tracks, particularly towards the end of the main set with a rapid-fire punky Floorshow/Alice and an arguably never-bettered Gimme Shelter (bizarrely introduced by a possibly not-all-there Von as Body Electric), where it buzzes towards the end in a style rarely heard since 1983. Hussey responds as he did throughout the European tour with some virtuoso psychedelic rock soloing of his own, wigging out big time in a mesmeric version of the song. With Wayne also rocking out on the next song, KOHD, the amused (annoyed?) singer drily comments “Sorry, this one doesn’t have a guitar solo…much” before the “Train” finale. There has been no mass copying of a video of the show which is said to exist, as the alleged owner of the master has apparently kept it in his private collection, although this could be an apocryphal tale.

Most photos of TSOM shows of that era are grainy shots taken by an eager fan from the moshpit with a basic instamatic, yet from the Gothenburg gig not one but two sets of excellent black and white prints have emerged. The first collection, taken by Per-Ake Wôrn is well-known as it contains some of the best in circulation of the band at their best, and feature the author’s copyright watermark in the bottom corner. Arguably even better is a set of photos taken by Henrik Rylander (later of the band Union Carbide Productions and still a major figure on the Gothenburg arts scene) and feature on his excellent tumblr archive “Welcome to Gothenburg 80s 90s”. Posted on the internet five years ago, the silhouetted shots of Eldritch against the dry ice, dramatic stage lighting and the club’s monochromatic décor make for a memorable and powerful reminder of the importance of the singer’s iconic appearance at this stage of the band’s career, such as the example reproduced below.

The Sisters of Mercy have become semi-regular visitors to Gothenburg since this initial visit in 1985, and later this year they are returning once more, for a show which is already sold-out. If it’s anything like the 1985 gig, the fans are in for a real treat. My thanks for this and others in this Scandinavian Armageddon mini-series of blog posts are due to the usual triumvirate of Phil Verne, Bruno Bossier and LG, and especially to Anders and other Scandinavian Sisters fans who have provided fascinating info. Rise and reverberate! 

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Scared to Dance – The Skids and the Scottish Punk Revolution, 1977

[Apologies to those whose only interest is in The Sisters of Mercy – normal service will be resumed later this week ;-)]

Anyone spending a few days in Edinburgh over the next month could do worse than hop on a train over the iconic Forth Bridge to visit the Scottish nation’s ancient capital, Dunfermline, burial place of Robert the Bruce and birthplace of arch capitalist turned philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

The “Auld Grey Toon”’s modern claim to fame was as the home of punk legends The Skids, and this week saw the opening of a new exhibition (which continues until July 2nd) to mark the fortieth anniversary of the arrival of punk in Eastern Scotland as it broke free of its London roots. There are some who feel that for the movement to celebrate an anniversary goes against its founding principles, but for those of us with an interest in musical history and ensuring that it is fully and properly archived, this small exhibition is totally welcome.

The location of the exhibition could hardly be more appropriate, in Dunfermline’s Fire Station Creative, a recently opened arts co-operative housed as its name suggests in the town’s city centre art deco former fire brigade headquarters. Not only has Skids frontman Richard Jobson been one of the Creative’s most prominent supporters, but the gallery (the white building on the right of this photograph) is almost directly opposite the old Kinema Ballroom, home of the earliest punk gigs in the town in 1977, which can be seen the left of the photo sporting the name of its most recent incarnation, Velocity, although it has been closed for a number of years.

The Fire Station Creative hosts a number of resident artists in the upper floors, with the ground floor given over to a combined café and gallery space. On my visit to the exhibition, it seemed slightly incongruous to be looking at photos of wide-eyed young revolutionary idealists whilst almost trampling over the predominantly middle class clientele who had just popped in for a skinny latte, but the venue does a slightly bohemian alternative buzz not found in your average Costa, in keeping with punk’s art school roots.

“Scared to Dance – The Skids and the Scottish Punk Revolution 1977” has been co-curated by Jobson and fellow Scot Ronnie Gurr, a name I remember from his journalistic strapline in the Record Mirror in the late 1970’s. Gurr went on to manage Simple Minds before moving on to manage Culture Club at the height of their fame, but in 1977 he was a fanzine editor who documented the East of Scotland punk scene with his pen and his camera, and about one third of the exhibition features his small monochrome prints of the great and good of the London punk scene – Pistols, Clash, Stranglers etc – on their first visits to Scotland’s capital, as well as more local acts such as Johnny and the Self Absusers (who would famously resurface as Simple Minds). These crowded images successfully capture punk's whiff of excitement and revolution in an increasingly regressive 70’s society, and are more in tune with the punk ideal than the professional and impressive portraits of punk icons from Lou Reed to Jean-Jacques Burnel, large prints of whom ornament the gallery/café’s entrance area and make up a further third of the exhibition. These large and frequently inconic prints (Sid and Nancy, anyone?) are primarily the work of Steve Emberton, a snapper for the London music weeklies, and they are embellished here by comments from Jobson on their influence on him and their dealings with him. Appropriately, Jobson’s commentary is presented as stark back typeface on white paper blue tac’ed under the prints, rather than the more fancy Perspex adornments preferred by modern galleries. Jobson speaks of the long-lasting friendship The Skids have enjoyed with the Stranglers, and reminisces fondly about filling in briefly for Hugh Cornwell when the latter was infamously jailed, but also speaks about the power of Iggy Pop and Patti Smith and their influence on his own performances. There are also some Paul Slattery pictures from an early Skids photoshoot which capture their looks of youthful incredulity of four young lads from Fife getting the superstar treatment as they pose in front of the afore-mentioned rail bridge.

For me, the highlight of the exhibition is a new piece of work by Jobson and Gurr themselves, a wall-to ceiling collage spelling “1977” in a punk fanzinesque stencil font. Each of the figures is richly decorated with fascinating artefacts from the era – press reviews, tickets, hand-written Skids lyrics, even a page from a personal address book listing Captain Sensible’s then phone number – over a backdrop of reproduced button badges of bands from that era (on the "9"), and is a powerful reminder of the do-it-yourself cut-and-paste aesthetic that punk brought to the fore, and which was concretised as the same generation brought about the realisation of the ultimate democratic tool, the internet.

The re-formed Skids are celebrating their own fortieth anniversary with their first new album for thirty-five years and a lengthy tour, and this exhibition highlights their importance in the Scottish scene. Those wishing to explore the late 70's Scottish punk scene further will find plenty to satisfy their curiosity at this wonderful website which includes scans of the late Johnny Waller’s Dunfermline-based punk fanzine, Kingdom Come.