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!