Monday, 29 October 2018

First West Coast US gig - L.A., 29th October 1983

Today sees the thirty-fifth anniversary of The Sisters of Mercy’s first-ever gig on the West Coast of the USA, one of three concerts the band played as a three-piece following the departure of Ben Gunn after the East Coast shows the previous month. Just three days after the Stockholm show, the remaining jet-lagged Sisters arrived in California with just their instruments for equipment, as Craig Adams told The Quietus for this excellent feature by Mark Andrews: “We didn’t even have guitar cases. You had a guitar in a plastic bag with your cable, fuzzbox and your other cable. That’s how we landed in L.A.”

Adams’ fuzzbox was of course one of the key elements in The Sisters’ sound, and one which would take an even greater role in these three gigs where they were just down to the one guitarist. As Gary Marx drily observed to Mark Andrews in the same Quietus article, “The idea to carry on and do the few shows we’d got booked in the autumn may have been partly to do with whatever relationship was going on between Andrew and Patricia Morrison.” Eldritch and the Gun Club bassist had become close friends when the two bands had toured the UK in April that year, and this may well have been a contributing factor in the very well-informed preview that appeared in the prestigious L.A. Times the week before the gig, which stated that The Sisters’ use of drum machine, throbbing bass and fuzztone guitar re-energised “the often dreary gloom of Britain’s post-punk sound with a revitalizing charge. With his deep low voice, Eldritch summons a psychodrama theatricality in the best Jim Morrison tradition. The Sisters’ set ranges from kinetic, melodic melodrama to dreamy, eerie textures.”

The author of this purple prose was none other than Craig Lee, a former bandmate of Patricia Morrison in seminal L.A. punk band The Bags, who was then playing his trade as a writer best known as the editor of Flipside magazine, as well as his regular contributions to the L.A. Times and L.A Weekly. Lee, who sadly passed away in 1991, wrote an equally positive review of the gig itself, published two days after the show, ending with the comment: “The recent loss of a second guitarist has left the band sounding a little thin. However, with strong originals like “Temple of Love” and an inspired reworking of Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray”, The Sisters exhibit a vibrant rock’n’roll heart.” Marx too felt that the slimmed-down line-up still worked well. He told The Quietus, “The shows were actually great with the three of us. I knew I was going to be more exposed as a guitarist but by then it wasn’t quite the problem it would have been in ‘82”.

(items from the collection of Bruno B and LG respectively)

Apart from Craig Lee’s enthusiastic pre-publicity, another factor for the gig’s popularity would have been due to the promoter Gary Tovar'sGoldenvoice, who produced a plethora of flyers and posters for the show, many of which have survived and are now in the hands of well-known TSOM collectors. Goldenvoice went on to become major players in the gig promotion world, as Wikipedia will testify, but back in 1983 they had only been around for two years and were an enthusiastic team desperate to give punk bands the opportunity to play. Nowadays, they are AEG’s “cool” subsidiary which promotes the world-renowned Coachella Festival.

The Sisters’ LA gig featured no less than three support bands, all interesting in their own right. Legion, playing their first gig, featured future members of better-known bands whilst Cathedral of Tears was the new post-punk/new-wave outfit of legendary punk vocalist Jack Grisham, former leader of the band T.S.O.L, which had broken up earlier that year. The final act listed is the most intriguing, Unit Three featuring Venus. This was an incredible act, a kind of punk Partridge Family making music in the style of the B52’s, featuring Mom Patty Bondage on bass, Dad Henree Herd on keyboard and their pre-teen daughter Venus DeBaun on vocals. The latter had been only eight when singing B.O.Y.S.on the 1981 compilation Rodney on the Roq, which also featured the likes of Black Flag, Social Distortion, Minutemen and Redd Kross. The band is probably best remembered for “(I don’t like) Beer”, the single of the following year. Thanks to the wonders of social media, I managed to track down Venus, who went on to have a career as a PE teacher. Understandably, given that she was only ten at the time, she sadly had no recollections of the show.

(Pics - an early postcard view of the original lobby, and a fan photo courtesy of Paula H)

Craig Lee’s contemporary review of the gig makes reference to the “less-than-exclusive downtown” surroundings, and Craig Adams’ memories of the show, quoted in the Quietus piece concur : “It was a no-go area”. This might come as a surprise to those who have seen photos of a bearded Eldritch at the show, performing under an incredibly ornate ceiling. The Hotel Alexandria had been the jewel in L.A.’s crown when it had opened in 1906, playing host to Presidents and Hollywood stars alike, drawn to the Egyptian-themed opulence of its public areas. As can be seen from the above postcard, the roof under which Eldritch performed was originally above a two-storey lobby, but an extra floor had been inserted in a 1930’s re-design, leaving an incongruously low mixture of lighting fixtures and pipes, and has over the years, the "Green Ballroom" has become a favourite of film-makers and rock video crews (as in these famous examples featuring Lenny Kravitz and Adam Lambert). The Alexandria continued to operate as a hotel until earlier this decade, and the room where the Sisters’ played can be seen (renamed the “Mezz”) on this video footage of a tour of the hotel by a well-known chef, Ilan Hall (4 minutes 20 in). Since the 2015 redevelopment, with the upper floors turned into condos, the Mezz is now one of the Alexandria ballrooms, an events space currently booking for 2020.

Back in 1983, however, the downtown area was, like the hotel itself, decaying rapidly, much like the infamous Tropicana Motel where Marx and Adams were marooned whilst Eldritch hung out with Morrison’s gang, as the guitarist told The Quietus. Adams’ memories of the show itself were that “the promoter had put out folding seats - well that didn’t last long!”

The gig was recorded and the bootleg tape is well-known to Sisters fans, containing a full record of the set, which opens with a reverb-drenched Burn, with Eldritch’s echoey vocal, which misses a few notes towards the end of the song, very much to the fore. The overall sound is impressively full and the song is well-received, despite the singer’s concerns about the lighting level: “Sorry about all these house lights, nothing to do with us.” Before launching into a perfect rendition of Valentine, he gives the audience his first impressions of L.A.: “People in Los Angeles have no legs – too many cars”. After the relatively slow start of a pair of songs from The Reptile House EP, the pace picks up immediately with a speedy version of Anaconda, with Eldritch’s vocal again very echoey, much like on the psychedelic demo version of the song a year earlier. Disaster struck in the middle section of the song, with Craig Adams breaking a string on his bass, leaving just Gary and the Doktor to carry the instrumental section of the song. Eldritch returns for the final vocal section, the first time the two (Marx and Eldritch) had been heard as a duo since the release of the debut single! There then follows one of the lengthiest pauses ever in a Sisters’ set, presumably whilst a new string is located and then fitted to Adams’ bass (we can all relive this episode thanks to Phil Verne of the 1980-1985 The Sisters of Mercy Facebook fan group who has uploaded the extract to YouTube). Eldritch complains about the mix: “I can’t hear myself”, before unwisely taunting those members of the crowd who are still seated – “You know you can get bed sores if you stay there too long.” To pass the time, Gary plays an extended solo version of Ghost Riders in the Sky, before Von shared the band’s latest news: “Next time we come there’ll be four people because we’ve got a new guitar player.” However, the crowd are clearly growing impatient, and bored punters begin to throw the chairs at the band. “Anybody got any more furniture ? I just stand here like a lemon,” quips the singer, clearly not fazed. Marx begins playing Yankee Doodle in a forlorn attempt to pacify the crowd, whilst Eldritch again tries humour to try to defuse the situation: “I’m perfectly happy with the number of teeth I’ve got, thanks. One less would not be very good for me. So that’s the last chair I’m going to accept up here. If you could just pass them the other way from now on….” Finally, Adams' bass is fixed, so the gig can resume, but sadly things get even worse. Flagship new single Temple of Love starts disastrously, with Eldritch missing his entry cue, and singing the opening line completely out of sync with Marx’s guitar. “We’re going to try again when this frank exchange of views has finished. We’re going to be very reasonable about this.... We’re blowing this amplifier up…We haven’t got another one you see...Maybe we should tell you some leper jokes, like we did in Boston. Are there any lepers in the house?” Not a “joke” which he would attempt in 2018, I suspect. After making their way – just – through Temple of Love, Eldritch jokes: “Sounded better like that, doesn’t it?”, before again complaining “I can’t hear myself up here. I can’t hear myself at all,” which evokes more jeering from the crowd, who even after an excellent Heartland are still very lively, as L.A. punk audiences were apparently wont to be. “So this is what sunshine does to you, huh? I think that I can live without it” is the singer’s cutting verdict, before announcing the “tear jerker” Emma, with its buzzing bass intro, and Gary using a flange effect on his guitar during the chorus to flesh out the sound, of the song, which nevertheless becomes a little loose towards the end.

With the next three songs the band finally win the crowd over, a punky Adrenochrome with a spectacularly good Eldritch vocal followed by Floorshow, with its usual powerful intro, but whose sound overall is noticeably thinner, suffering more than most from Gunn’s departure, and then a bass-driven canter through Body Electric . Eldritch engages in more banter with the audience who have requested songs which the band no longer play live “No we don’t play Jolene anymore.” Instead, the crowd are treated to Gimme Shelter, which works surprisingly well, with Marx skilfully switching between the two guitar parts, and it ends with a very lengthy Von/Craig drum machine-free coda. With the band having left the stage, there are enthusiastic cheers for an encore from an individual near taper, which are duly rewarded as the band return. “I’m Taurus” the singer replies to an unheard question, before the band launch into Alice, with the buzzing bass sound again dominant and the second guitar barely missed. Finally, Sister Ray brings what in many ways was a memorable show to an end, as wild as ever, and although the middle section is a little truncated and thin-sounding, Eldritch is at his Vega-esque best as he whoops and screams through the finale.

The Sisters would not return to LA until the late spring of 1985, when again they would be down to just the three human members, having not made it as far as the West Coast on their two 1984 visits to the States, although the California area had clearly influenced Eldritch's lyrics on Black Planet.

As ever, this post is very much team effort, with many fans having contributed to build up a picture of the events of October 1983 - especial thanks go to LG, Bruno B, Phil V, Paula H, Mark A, Venus, Being645 and everyone else who has helped.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Sisters Mysteries VII - Damage Done live, Leeds Warehouse January 20th 1983

Last week’s discovery of the location of the church featured on the sleeve of The Sisters of Mercy’s first single brought to an end one of the greatest Sisters’ Mysteries, and this week we can solve another one and finally definitively date some wonderful photos of the band playing at Leeds Warehouse in 1983. The Sisters of course played Mike Wiand’s legendary club no fewer than three times in the first four months of their “golden year”, but up until now, no-one was sure at which of the shows these photos were taken.

In them, Eldritch is iconically dressed in black, with Marx in a chequered lumberjack shirt, Adams in a floral print t-shirt, and Gunn also in a black shirt. This first photo, taken from the review of the band’s gig on 20th January 1983 published by the weekly newspaper Leeds Student, and which I recently rediscovered on their digital archive, is clearly from the same set, and allows us to confirm the date of those that follow, which have emerged from various sources since that date.

Additional photos courtesy of Steve B and “’Appy”

That gig was the first time that I had paid to see The Sisters, having stumbled across them by default three months earlier, and this show was very much the triumphant homecoming for the band, with the double A-sided single Alice/Floorshow everywhere at the time –  riding high in the indie charts, on Radio One’s evening shows, and even increasingly on the dancefloors of generic (i.e. not specifically “indie”) student discos - and this was the first hometown gig since the early October '82 gig in the University Union's Riley Smith Hall, prior to the ground-breaking single's release.

I was not the only one there to see the new name on everyone’s lips, with hundreds turning up to pay tribute to the hometown heroes. The following year, Eldritch would tell Mr Spencer in an interview : “ I don’t pay actually much attention to my physical appearance… There was a distinct time I think it was about January, a couple of years ago [i.e. at this gig], where the audience’s attitude changed to me, I could feel it over a period of six months, it changed drastically to the way I looked, particularly the way the girls were reacting changed a great deal, and I didn’t know whether to put it down to a change of wardrobe, or a change of venue, the fact that I was older, or the fact that I was healthy or not healthy or whether the status of the band was sufficient to turn me into a sexier person than I was before. But I knew that I hadn’t actually done anything in that six months.”

The contemporary review from Leeds Student by Sara Clarke clearly acknowledges the rapport between band and audience, and the reverence with which the former “joke” band was now being treated, alongside the complaints of “monotony” and “heavy metal” that still occur in live reviews of the band thirty-five years later! Clarke refers to the two encores, but omits to mention that the second of these was a virtually unique outing in the Gunn era for Damage Done, the band’s first single (in fact we know that it was also played at York university three months earlier). This was referred to by Gary Marx in an interview about the first single with Record Collector magazine in 2007 : “We only ever played Damage Done once to my recollection, and that was a hastily slung together third encore at Leeds Warehouse with me having to switch instruments with Craig because he always hated the bass line and refused to play it.” (Craig’s legendary stubbornness in this regard would prove to be the last straw in the band’s final implosion in 1985).

Fortunately, the gig was recorded and a superb quality version of Damage Done (despite the switching of instuments!) was shared on YouTube by Phil Verne of the TSOM 1980-1985 Facebook fan page, along with the photo above of an autographed poster of the gig, which if memory calls cost me two pounds to get in, with no support band. The poster was priced significantly higher when this photo was taken, in Vinyl Solution record store in London in the early 90s as Phil recalls : “I have never seen this poster since. I remember that had to put my wife on my shoulders to let her take this picture because the poster was set up very high on the shop wall. The guy who worked in the shop wouldn’t sell it to me because it belonged to the boss of the shop who was not there at the time.”
The whole gig can easily be found on download sites, and is best enjoyed along with these wonderful “listening notes” by another moderator of the 1980-85 Facebook group, Ollie C, who had kindly allowed me to share them here. Ollie correctly pinpoints this gig as a turning point in the band's history and writes :
This gig is special in several ways. The first thing is that the Sisters are playing in front of a “home” crowd, which creates a particular, familiar atmosphere. On the other hand, it is a headline show, not a festival gig or a support slot. So the Sisters can play an extended set, not the 30-minutes shows we know from the late 1982 recordings e.g. at the "Christmas on Earth" Festival some weeks previously.
The Sisters are at a turning point at this gig. If you read the fantastic article in the Quietus about the "Golden Year" 1983, this show presents us with the climax of how the Sisters were up to this point. It contains most of the very early classics in driving versions, including songs that will be kicked out of the set soon, to be replaced by the later highlights like "Gimme Shelter", "Jolene" or "Emma", so none of the latter are included here. So it's actually more of a 1982 setlist, very early in 1983. But it shows us what a perfectly oiled live machine the Sisters are at this stage. Some 1982 problems have been resolved - just think of the roughness of "Anaconda" and "Alice" as reported in Nik's post about the "worst gig" of the Sisters, just 3 months earlier.
Now let's have a closer look at the gig itself. Of course we start with "Kiss the Carpet", with a little trouble in the intro part, some "Mr. Marx trying to find the right tone"-thing, and some different views on the timing between Gary and Ben regarding when to start the guitar-riff, but when Andrew kicks in with the vocal, he sets the right cue point and the guitars follow. Proof that it’s the vocalist who keeps it all together, showing the right path to his sidemen.
Without a break we move into "Floorshow", a live classic from the very beginning and a great way to say "Here we are, move your asses" after the crawling intro track...and it works, as you hear people yelling after Andrew's introduction.This is even a kind of "extended version", as Andrew misses his cue to kick in in time after his screaming part. But the band waits for him and plays on...a good reaction, guess nobody in the audience at the time even noticed that.
The next song, "Watch", is introduced as an "old one"...yes from the very first single, originally sung by Marx, but here in a driving version carried by the Doktor's beat later recycled for "Heartland" and by a very groovy bass from Craig. Andrew’s vocals fit very well for this song, and I personally like this live version much better than the 7" version.
 The “classics” then follow with "Adrenochrome" and "Alice", both well-played standard versions. "Alice" again being welcomed by the audience after its introduction, showing that the audience already have their favourite tunes. And this time it's presented without any “off-piste” fretwork by Mr. Marx!
The following "Valentine" is presented as a "new one". There are only two known versions played before this gig, in the late 1982 Christmas setlists, so we can really say that it's genuinely a new one. After the previous two fast tracks, the audience gets confronted with a slow, dragging beat from the Doktor, leaving a lot of space between lines and chords; so the guitar lines can build an intense atmosphere, as they work brilliantly together. A Sisters piece par excellence, showing in which direction the new songs will go and giving a little taste of the soon to be released "Reptile House EP". Andrew’s vocal lines are demanding and hard to sing, and here we can notice him getting in a bit of trouble trying to reach the high notes...but he solves it very professionally, always getting back on key.
The next track is introduced as being the new single, "Anaconda", a song which had been first played several months beforehand in a more embryonic version which was played very it works much better, but also here we have some fine moments of the "Mr. Marx trying to find the right tone"-thing. I can clearly see him running around on stage, hitting his string(s) nearly without looking at it and so sometimes missing the right fret when playing the famous melody. Andrew seems, when he starts to sing, to decide in the last second to sing it an octave deeper than in the October versions, making the song getting closer to the recorded and released version. It already shows the potential to become a Sisters classic, I guess the Sisters are convinced of it at that stage as well, as they put it into the later section of their main set, although it's an unreleased and still quite a new song.
Suddenly we move towards the end section of the main set. It starts with a routinely but roughly played "Body Electric", that morphs straight into the beginning of "1969", also a classic Sisters live track from the very first days. We can even talk of a medley here, as there is absolutely no break between the two.
"1969" is presented in the "extended" version, with Andy screaming to the Doktor's tricky programmed beat during the long intro section. In this song the Sisters show how great they are, although (or even because?) it's a cover song. Andrew’s high sung lines and screams above the driving bass and the stoically played power chords by Ben, together with Gary's wildly tortured guitar string...this is The Sisters at their absolute best! Raw power!
After a short encore break the Sisters return to the stage with the slow and creepy "Lights", a song that we know is from 1981, but up to this point only rarely played live in some encores. It shows again that the Sisters are also at home in more quiet and atmospheric tunes, a fact that will soon be proven with the release of the "Reptile House EP", including this song and of course as we all know, the opener and the "new" Valentine played earlier in the set. The song finds its climax in the end, with some desperately screamed vocals by Andrew. Shortly after its end, an audience member screams for "Good Things" with is answered by Andrew with an unfriendly "No!". At least he answered, you could say. But why was "Good Things" skipped completely, as it's a catchy song? It was played live in 1981 and even presented in their first Peel session. And people frequently ask for it. Maybe one day we will know the answer...
The following and usual last encore track is, as we know since 1981, of course VU's "Sister Ray". A highlight of any Sisters show that can't be missed. Of course again a great, wild version. But one little tragedy: the taper, obviously not expecting the gig could be longer than 45 minutes, did not use the encore break to turn over the tape. Aaaarrgghhh!!!! So the improvised guitar parts in the middle section are lost to the tape flip. But we are lucky enough that it was auto-flipped (or did the taper realize and turn it up? we never know), so we have the strong end with some heavy guitar and bass parts and Andy's screamed outro.
That would have been it - normally. But here, at home in Leeds, in another short encore break, the DJ encourages the audience at least to try to get the Sisters back on stage...and it works! As most tape collectors know, an encore after "Sister Ray" is extremely rare.But, what are the Sisters going to play for us? It's a groovy, floating live version of their first single, "The Damage Done" .It's introduced by Andy with the words "This is our first...greatest hit", covered by some feedback noise probably because he gets too close to the monitor box with his mike as he still does today, and when the Doktor starts, obviously a bit too slow, his speed is corrected while the song has already started. The first tones of the bass-riff are lost because the fader was down already and is put up in the last second. This all sounds a bit improvised and unrehearsed, I guess that "The Damage Done" was officially removed from the setlist already and it was played here as an absolute exception. But why? This version here is so great and groovy. I really love it! The "Glitterish" drum pattern, the melodic bassline, Andy's very cool vocals here, we even get some trashy high guitar notes. What an end to a gig! 
But as I mentioned earlier, we can see this gig as a turning point. Some of the songs presented here have been in the set for two years and are going to be replaced soon. We can say goodbye to "Watch" and of course "The Damage Done", and even the two famous covers "1969" and "Sister Ray" are going to be kicked out of the set. "1969" will be played the last time two months later at the famous Brixton Ace gig, also here we have a fantastic recording shared on YouTube from Phil's archive , it is introduced as being played for the last time. Also "Sister Ray" is announced also as to be played the last time, it will be partially replaced by the new cover-medley "Ghostrider" by their famous heroes Suicide, crossed over with the 1950's rock and roll classic "Louie Louie", originally performed by Richard Berry. But unlike "1969", "Sister Ray" was allowed to celebrate a comeback.
But back to the point. As this is more a 1982 setlist as I said earlier, this is a great document of how the Sisters were before the "Golden Year" started. The typical songs played since 1981 are presented in such perfection and routine, and the band are so on fire that it even hurts listening. You can smell the development burning under their skins. In the near future the set will consist of even more slower songs like "Heartland" and "Burn", the before mentioned new covers that will help them to get more attention, proving their sense of humour and courage ("Jolene", "Emma") and of course changing rock history by showing the Stones how their song goes ("Gimme Shelter").
To me, it's absolutely amazing how great the Sisters already were even before these milestones, and here we have a fantastic document of that!

My thanks for this blog post are due to all those who have contributed, whether directly or indirectly - Phil V, LG, Richard N, the Leeds Student team, Rob C, 'Appy, Steve B and of course Ollie for the wonderful review. As usual, a fantastic team effort to try to keep the unique memory of this wonderful band from Leeds alive!

Monday, 15 October 2018

Sisters Mysteries VI - The Damage Done sleeve church found!

Ring out the bells! Release the bats! Let there be joy throughout the Kingdom of Goth! At long last, the “The Damage Done church” has been located, after years of searching be eager fans desperate to the first to identify the building featuring in the background of the cover photo of The Sisters of Mercy’s legendary debut single, copies of which regularly sell for more than £500 on online auction sites!

The Sisters were probably as famous for their record sleeves as for their music in the first three years of their existence, with the band relying on word of mouth to spread their fame. With little radio play, token coverage from the London music weeklies and no PR support, the stark iconography of the covers of the earliest TSOM releases played a key role in establishing the band’s identity. Looking back at the first single, created because Marx and Eldritch wanted to hear themselves on the radio, the sleeve seems incredibly professional compared to most contemporary debut releases, which were more amateurish cut’n’paste, fanzine style.

In stark contrast, even on their debut release, the Sisters used a distinctive font - Caslon Antique – selected from a book on typography by Marx and Eldritch in the Leeds Central Library, and borrowed other images – a classic dissection diagram from Gray’s Anatomy for medical students for the Merciful Release logo, and an old black and white photo for the single’s front cover, allegedly taken from a book on photography found in the same library.

With the advent of the internet, a search began amongst Sisters fans in response to a seemingly innocent enquiry for the location of the churchyard photo, initially in the Leeds area, but soon spreading to Southern and Eastern areas of England on account of the flint construction of the wall surrounding the church. As the months and years went by, fans became experts on the ecclesiastical architecture, and traded ideas on Heartland Forum as to clues which may ultimately reveal the church’s identity, but to no avail. Even Gary Marx could no longer remember where the photo came from exactly.

The search began to take on epic proportions, heightening further a couple of years ago with the first real piece of evidence, tracked down by Robert John Fakes. Fakes later told Phil Verne, curator of the TSOM 1980-1985 FB group about how he discovered the photographer’s identity entirely by chance:  “Essentially, a few years ago on Charing Cross Road while buying several books related to the author Frederick Rolfe I picked up a copy of issue five of the 1940s/50s periodical The Saturday Book, which was a mine of articles on unusual Victorian and Edwardian literature, early photography and English eccentricity. Almost immediately I noticed that it included the uncropped original of the photograph featured on the cover of Damage Done. At the time I just shared it among my friends on FB who I know from gigs of the modern Sisters as a light hearted "I wonder if this is where Von found the photo?" post. When the subject came up again I shared an old mobile photo to the 80/85 group, but unfortunately the Saturday Book's only image attribution was the photographer's name: Paul Martin and the title Sunday Morning (alongside The Policeman's Funeral, a different Paul Martin photo).”

With the photographer identified, it seemed only a matter of time before the church would be found, but this was not the case. What did become apparent is that Martin was a major figure in early urban photography. Many of Martin’s photos had ended up in the much-respected Hulton Picture Archive, now part of Getty Images: he was famed for his “hidden camera” technique which enabled him to take realistic shots of London life, specialising in “street urchins”. This was in stark contrast to other contemporary snappers, whose pictures had a staged, lifeless quality to them – much like the Damage Done cover photograph in fact. The uncropped image of the latter featured an extra person in the tableau, a boy in a white shirt, but also revealed an extra porch section on the church, and an unusually angled tree outside the churchyard, closer to the photographer, but despite the number of fans now involved in the search, none of these features enabled the church in question to be identified. 

With the trail again cold, it would take the discovery of another book of French-born Martin’s photos, Victorian Snapshots, to narrow down the geographical search. The same (Damage Done) photo appeared in this publication, but this time the photo bore a caption “And so to church. A photographic gem of forty years ago, near Portsmouth”. With this revelation, the search went into overdrive, with obscure Hampshire Church Buildings groups suddenly receiving a plethora of emails from all over the world, demanding to know the location of the church in question. Incredibly, no-one seemed to know the answer to the mystery. Perhaps it was slightly further afield, say on the Isle of Wight, or could it be a private chapel of a long-demolished country house?

Never one to give up, long-time collector LG decided to have one more go, showing pictures of his Paul Martin collection on the TSOM 1980-1985 FB group last weekend and launching an appeal for further information. After 24 hours of the usual semi-informed speculation and “nearly but not quite” lookalike churches, veteran fan Robin Wardell posted an old image of St Andrew’s Church in West Tarring, Worthing, West Sussex, which seemed to feature both the distinctive gateposts and the angled tree, plus another antique photo of the same church from a different angle which showed the equally distinctive windows. Although not particularly close to Portsmouth, it was clear that at last, the search was at an end.

Other posters quickly added other images of St Andrew’s Tarring, revealing that a few years after the DD photo was taken, the gateposts were replaced when a Lych Gate was added, although otherwise the church remains remarkably similar to the way it did in 1906 (the date attributed to the original photo by Getty Images), although large leylandii-style trees now sadly obscure the view from the gate. The angled tree on the original uncropped photo remains however, and can clearly be seen on Streetview.

Robin Wardell told Phil Verne how he had finally tracked down the church : "I looked for something that would identify the building: the most obvious was the window so I Googled "church window designs" and found that it was called a "lancet window". Then I Googled "lancet windows" and looked through lots of pictures until I found one similar, and the description said "13th century". Robert John Fakes had posted "There's very little further info' than the photographer's name in the book as their image attribution was amazingly haphazard as a publication." This made me think to ignore the Portsmouth tag especially as many people had already checked that area. I started near "Ely" as that was Andy's [lead singer Andrew Eldritch] birthplace but soon decided that the style of churches was wrong, so I moved to "13th century flint churches south coast" and found that one. I searched for about another hour looking for older pictures and different angles but decided that that was all the evidence I needed”.

So the search is finally over, and a pretty church in a quiet seaside resort near Brighton can brace itself for unlikely visits from goth tourists, leading local resident Tim H to quip that Worthing will become “the Whitby of the south”!  

Congratulations to Robin Wardell on tracking down this goth holy grail, and many thanks to all who helped significantly in the search, such as PiB/Ez Mo (who drove the search on over many years), Mark Fiend, LG, Phil Verne, Jost 7, Being645 and Robert John Fakes.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Fuzz and Feedback - Leeds, 5th October 1982

Thirty-six years ago tonight, I was one of several hundred expectant fans queuing in the narrow entrance corridor to the Riley Smith Hall, just through the main doors of Leeds University Union building on the left hand side, waiting to see the Furs for a free Fresher’s gig, the first time that I would see The Sisters of Mercy who were the support act that night. I’ve previously already covered this life-changing (for me!) event twice on this blog, in the very first post back in 2011 when my aim was just to record a few personal reminiscences about life in Leeds in the early 1980’s, in case anyone might be interested, and again more recently in a post about the fact that the gig featured the band’s first-ever encore, with the blog now focusing on third-party eye-witness accounts of the band’s halcyon days.

Whilst researching another gig recently, I stumbled across a digital archive of the Leeds Student newspaper, which as its name suggests was a publication written for and by students at the city’s Higher Education institutions, primarily the University and the Poly, and to my delight discovered that the archive contained an edition from mid-October 1982 containing a review of the show, which mentions the Sisters at some length, on their return to the Leeds stage after a summer which had seen them raise their profile by recording their first session for John Peel on BBC Radio One.

Although back in 1982 I had soon acquired a recording of the gig which got very heavy rotation on the Lagartija music centre over the next few months, it wasn’t until more recently that I realised that the gig started with the first (recorded) rendition of Kiss The Carpet, which was to become such a successful set opener over the next few months. Not only did it allow Eldritch the self-indulgent rock’n’roll cliché of a solo entrance after the band have established a hypnotic almost krautrock backbeat, but as Gary Marx told Mark Andrews for The Quietus, “it certainly made good sense to introduce elements one by one to leave plenty of time and space to sort out technical problems. It gave me a little time to feel my way in. I can hardly overstate the fact I was often playing stuff that was tricky for me to do sitting down and concentrating, never mind when I was revved up and trying to throw a shape or two.”

On this occasion, KTC does indeed (as The Leeds Student review states) begin with some squalling feedback and a very muffled Doktor. There are also slightly discordant guitar parts, and around 2 minutes ten seconds into the version Ade M has kindly uploaded to YouTube (click on the song title links to access these), there is a very un-TSOM style bit of guitar riffing that sounds not unlike U2’s The Edge’s signature style. However, within seconds the drum machine backbeat moves up a gear, and a small cheer and an “‘Ello” signifies the arrival of a black-clad Eldritch on stage, every inch the Joey Ramone clone many others commented upon. The unison riff kicks in, and although Eldritch misses his first cue, the song soon picks up pace. In this early version of the song, the singer omits the words “the carpet” in the “Next time I’ll look” section, allowing him to linger on the sibilance of “kiss”.

Pete Turner on the sound desk has rectified any lingering sound issues by the end of the song, and the Leeds Student reviewer ("Hugh Elitist") was right to be impressed by the storming, almost note-perfect version of Floorshow which follows. Another future single, an early version of Anaconda is next, with the Doktor in full effect for the intro, and a scuzzy bass sound underpinning Von’s impassioned shout of “We will, we will walk away” in the early version of the lyrics. There is further vocal riffing as Von either can’t remember or hasn’t yet come up with a full lyric, including the Joy Divisionesque “We will walk in silence” at one point. With the song almost reduced to an instrumental, it’s another chance to hear how tight the three instrumentalists and drum machine are becoming as a unit, particularly as this, too, is the earliest known recording of the song.

The recently recorded Alice came next ("We are The Sisters of Mercy and this is called Alice", the singer intones for the benefit of us freshers over the intro), the relentless drum machine assault reaching its zenith, as the contemporary reviewer noted. Eldritch is on fine vocal form, covering up further guitar errors and feedback. Even Craig Adams seems to get lost towards the end, forcing Eldritch and then Marx to temporarily lose their place, although they just about back on track for the end of the song.

A muscular Watch follows, arguably the track which has the most in common with the Furs’ debut album which had a such an influence on Eldritch and Marx. As probably the most played song in the band’s repertoire at the time, it is understandably the “tightest” song of the night, the different elements combining in a way that has so much more impact and power than the debut single version, particularly in the final “Watch us fall” section with only Adams and the Doktor providing a backing to Eldritch.

The gig ended with a trio of cover versions, two of which, famously, were 1969, the second being the band’s first ever encore. Eldritch says “Last one” to the crowd as the now familiar backbeat to Sister Ray begins. I don’t recall this being a particular highlight on the night – the improvised wall of noise was probably a bit much for a tender fresher, but listening back to it now, it sounds truly magnificent. Even Eldritch can’t help carrying on for a while having said “Goodnight!” whilst the Doktor himself has a little extra rattle over the applause at the end, almost drowning an amusing conversational snippet between the taper and a friend. “Sister Ray!” "Aye, it wasn’t easy to tell though, was it?” The encore reprise of 1969 (prefaced with “This is the last time you’ll hear us play this one” was indeed well-deserved (thanks Jeremy!), and is a unique version with an extended introduction.

A memorable gig for all of us who were there, particularly with a slightly under par (and under power, in comparison) but incredibly it would be a further eighteen months before they would play at the university once again, once again at the Riley Smith Hall on their first tour with Wayne Hussey. They were very much a different band by then, but the opening line of the excellent Leeds Student review perfectly sums up the band’s appeal to me at the time – “Fuzz and Feedback with The Sisters of Mercy”.

My grateful thanks for this post to the Leeds digital archive, to Ade M, and (for thirty six years of pleasure) to the band themselves. For fans of the band, I can strongly recommend Heartland Forum and the wonderful TSOM 1980-1985 Facebook fan page.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Danceteria, New York, Saturday September 17th 1983

Whilst most of the recent posts on this blog have sought to confirm that gigs listed on The Sisters of Mercy gigographies sadly did not in fact actually take place, it is pleasing to be able to report further confirmation of one of the less well-known dates from the band’s inaugural US tour in September 1983.

Initially, it was believed that only date had been played at New York’s legendary Danceteria venue, the show on Thursday 15th September that year, as this was widely advertised at the time and flyers confirming the date have been known about for many years. Indeed, one was found in one of the boxes of artefacts which belonged to one of the twentieth century’s most iconic figures, Andy Warhol. The artist had a long-standing interest in music, and the Danceteria flyer for that September week, which lists TSOM’s Thursday show prominently (but makes no mention of any gig on the Saturday), was mentioned in this blog post about the contents of one the many boxes in the Warhol archive. This has led to speculation that he may have attended the show, although no evidence of this has yet emerged.

However, a radio interview recorded with Eldritch that month suggested that the band had in fact played two nights at the Danceteria, the second on the Saturday night, two days after the first - “Thursday was better than the Saturday”as Eldritch told interviewer Ann Clark from Music View on WNYU radio the following April. Sadly, no other evidence surrounding this gig had ever emerged, but contemporary confirmation from the horse’s mouth, as it were, was sufficient to concretise the gig’s firm place in gigographies.

Further potential information about this show came from Russ Tolman, lead singer of True West, who supported the Sisters at their San Francisco show the following month. When I contacted Russ about that date, he confirmed that his band had indeed played the I-Beam show in San Francisco, and that the Leeds band had in turn supported them at the Danceteria, as Eldritch had suggested in his on-stage comments in San Francisco. This additional Danceteria show must therefore have been a last-minute arrangement, presumably referring to the Saturday 17th September show, occasioned by the band’s continued presence in New York and the wholly positive response to the Thursday night show.

The fact that the late Ruth Polsky was responsible for booking the bands in Danceteria at that time, and that the Sisters were being heavily touted by the equally influential Howard Thompson, a key figure on the A and R scene, would also have made this last-minute addition a smooth and natural process.  As Eldritch himself told a Canadian interviewer about the band's success in the US, “We have a few very good friends with a little bit of clout over there.” But over the last thirty- five years, no further corroboration had emerged, whether in terms of audio, photos or reviews. However, Howard Thompson recently discovered a tape of the show, his own recording, and shared pictures of the artefact with well-known TSOM archivist Phil Verne, founder of the popular and dynamic The Sisters of Mercy 1980-1985 Facebook group. and gave Phil permission to share this knowledge more widely (hence this blog post). The text used for the tape cover was from a review of the Sisters’ gig at London's ULU (with Laughing Clowns supporting) earlier that year (6th May 1983), a very favourable review described by renowned TSOM journalist Mark Andrews as “five of the best paragraphs the band have ever had written about them.” 

There would have been a veritable galaxy of stars at the Danceteria that Saturday night, as Russ Tolman of True West recalls that Tom Verlaine, punk icon and lead singer of the band Television, had come along to their Danceteria show in order to see if he would like to follow up on his initial interest in producing the band’s next album (which did not in fact ultimately happen),whilst also at the show with Howard Thompson was one of Eldritch and Marx’s heroes who had inspired them to form a band in the first place, Alan Vega of Suicide, who would go on to work with Eldritch on Gift. Sadly Thompson’s recording of the show contains lengthy passages of conversation between himself and Vega, which is why the audio recording has naturally not be shared. Howard Thompson also revealed that the enthusiastic Vega is audibly singing along to some of the Sisters’ songs!

However, Thompson very kindly listened through the cassette and provided the following setlist for the show: Burn (Instrumental), Valentine, Burn, Anaconda, Heartland, Alice, Emma, Temple of Love, Floorshow, Adrenochrome and Gimme Shelter. Although technical problems were the norm rather than unknown with opening tracks at many 1983 gigs, this was the only time that Burn got two airings at a TSOM gig, although there was a second occurrence at Nottingham Rock City in October of the following year. The Saturday show is also lacking the final encore from two days previously, with Body Electric not played this time, but otherwise the setlist is the same as for the widely-known Thursday evening show. Thompson also commented that the recording itself is of poor quality, being recorded in mono on a portable Sony cassette device.

Howard has no recollection of True West playing the show (but Tolman does state that they didn't come on stage until 3 a.m.!!), nor does he recall seeing Tom Verlaine at the gig, but it may be that he and Vega were only there to see the Sisters and left before the headliners took to the stage. Vega certainly showed up backstage to meet the band, as Gary Marx told The Quietus’ Mark Andrews : “He was wildly funny and could quickly take over a room, but he was drawn to Andrew rather than to the band.”

The gig was reviewed in a New York City based fanzine, All The Madmen, a snippet unearthed by top TSOM collector Trevor R, and it gives a real insight into the impact which the band had had on their first sojourn Stateside. The author writes, “Last time I saw him [Andrew Eldritch] was at Danceteria, the final night of the Sisters’ first tour of the US. The band was vicious, oh lord. Temple of Love was the new number and I remember thinking this band could take over the world with bone crushers like that. And attitude like that. At Danceteria they murdered the crowd, which was exploding after word got out about their electric performance in the same room the night before [sic]. Every death rocker, gutter punk and biker from the five boroughs made the pilgrimage to hear the Sisters, and we’ve all be living in Andy Eldritch’s world since then, (im)patiently awaiting the Sisters’ final ascent into rock and roll heaven.” A further review, in East Village Eye also referenced the shows : “Their riveting performances at Danceteria were highlighted by a haunting rendition of the old Hot Chocolate tune, Emma, and a straightforward cover of Gimme Shelter,” more evidence of the impact of the pair of Danceteria shows on that first East Coast jaunt.

Any further info about this gig – photos, flyers etc would be very gratefully received, but for now massive thanks are due to Howard Thompson for sharing the images and setlist of this landmark New York gig, and Trevor R for searching his extensive archive for some great finds!

Friday, 7 September 2018

Ahlen Summer Night Festival - 8th September 1984

Those who attended the 1984 York Rock Festival and witnessed The Sisters of Mercy’s lacklustre daylight performance, complete with technical issues and windswept sound may believe that they saw by far the worst gig by the band during the increasingly professional Hussey era, but those who attended the 7th Golden Summernight Festival at Ahlen in (then West) Germany two weeks earlier on 8th September clearly endured a significantly worse experience.
The Sisters were, truth be told, not in the best of shape in the run up to the gig, a time when they were supposed to be putting the finishing touches to the debut album First and Last and Always. Eldritch had collapsed in the studio as, according to Gary Marx, “He was completely exhausted; hallucinating. Despite this, part of him still wanted to carry on, although the other part knew that he had to stop because he was so ill.”

However, the decision was made to honour the commitment the band had made to three September outdoor festivals, with York following a fortnight after the back-to-back “Golden Summernight” one day festivals at Ahlen and Lorelei. The former was booked to take place in a Motocross Stadium on Am Morgenbruch in the southern suburb of the small town of Ahlen in Westphalia, just north of Hamm.

As journalist Alf Burchardt said in his review of the gig for German rock magazine Spex, “Whoever had been involved in drawing up the line-up must have had no musical common sense. Blancmange fans were also treated to Rory Gallagher, and followers of The Alarm were given the chance to see Frank Zappa. With such a bill, those who had come just to see the Sisters of Mercy had little chance to make new acquaintances, but nevertheless, this group made up a sizeable part of the audience because The Sisters, who often have two or three songs simultaneously in the upper reaches of the UK independent charts, have built up a respectable circle of fans in Germany with their records and (so far two) tours. Despite adverse circumstances, the band's followers were also satisfied on this particular day.”

Events were to conspire to make this unlikely line-up even less of a success than the infamous Public Enemy/TSOM joint headlining tour in the US in the 1990’s. First, the weather literally put a dampener on proceedings, with a contributor on a Zappa forum recalling that “it was raining heavily all day – we were drenched,” whilst in a recent discussion on the TSOM 1980 1985 fan page, Thomas Wübker stated that he had also attended, “but all I remember was the slippery surface. I fell in the mud and was dirty all over,” before drily adding “That was my last Open Air Festival.”
Spex reviewer Burchardt also emphasised that aspect in amusing fashion : “Name a relic from the sixties with fifteen letters? – That’s right: outdoor festival. The masses dozing to musical entertainment in the sunshine. But you can tell a lot about the meteorological quality of a 'golden summer night', when grog and glühwein turn into big sellers.”
So a near empty venue (Spex estimated that only around a thousand fans witnessed the TSOM performance), bad weather, and of course another enemy of The Sisters, daylight. Wübker recalls “The Sisters played in the afternoon in daylight. That was totally different to what happened in Hyde Park. No fog, you saw the guys clearly.” This aspect was not lost on either the Spex reviewer or indeed Andrew Eldritch himself : “Asking for the band’s opinion of the gig was therefore an obvious question to ask during the interview which took place afterwards in the caravan behind the stage. But songwriter Andrew Eldritch nobly held back from any criticism. After all, these performances are also an economic necessity. Yes, it was cold. Yes, a few more people had been expected to attend. But no, the bill was not that bad. He wasn’t bothered about Lake or The Alarm, but he would love to see Blancmange or the Waterboys. First and foremost, Andrew was bothered by the fact that a cloud-filled sky had resulted in only an inadequate blackout. Although the Sisters are not the “creatures of the night” that many believe them to be, they tend to operate best in the dark. "The element of darkness is not that important to our image or our music, but if you play in the daylight, it's hard to feel the music, there’s no room for imagination," Eldritch opined. It’s true, ruthless daylight really does not suit the band: only when darkness falls does the music reveal its full morbid beauty.”

Despite these multiple setbacks, the gig could and should still have been a success, but as so often in 1983/1984, technical problems were to disrupt the set. As Burchardt wrote, “Guitarist Gary Marx broke a string per song, and since he had already successfully combated the cold with alcohol, fitting a new one always caused him considerable difficulty.” (!) This is clearly audible on a sharp audio recording of the gig, shared in various formats in recent years by Ollie C, who says that around the taper there are some German guys in the audience who do not like the Sisters and are booing and shouting...but this doesn't really affect the listening pleasure.”
Eldritch’s opening vocal line is also virtually inaudible in the set-opening Burn (the setlist having more in common with the Spring gigs than York or the subsequent Black October tour), before the singer introduces the second song : “This one’s called Heartland. [Cheers from the crowd] I don’t know why…. I don’t care”. However, the first guitar problem arises suddenly some fifty seconds in, leaving bass and slightly out-of-tune rhythm to fill in for a few seconds. There are more problems with the top guitar line towards the end, but Eldritch himself is in fine vocal form with strong upper notes in the song’s climax.
Before Body and Soul which follows, Eldritch addresses TSOM’s long-term live sound engineer Pete Turner with the question ”Can you hear me, Peter?...You wouldn’t remember Stanley Holloway would you, he had this catchphrase which was ‘Can you hear me, Peter ?’” Eldritch is clearly thinking of another music hall star, Sandy Powell, whose catchphrase “Can you hear me, mother?” was already out of synch with modern humour by the 1980’s. A fast-paced Anaconda wins the crowd back over, despite further problems with the sound balance of two guitar lines, then more problems with Gary’s guitar solo between the first and second verses as he attempts to make light of having one string fewer than usual. This gives the opportunity for Eldritch to indulge in further banter with the crowd before Walk Away, “Do what?   Don’t talk to me about Manchester, I can puke that far...Football rears its ugly head.” There are further major tuning problems with the guitar in the middle section of the forthcoming single, but again Eldritch rescues the song, singing the middle eight an octave higher than usual.
Marx’s problems reach their zenith in Emma, which features a lengthy flanged introduction without the usual solo initially, and then there are further guitar issues when it is finally attempted some two minutes in. However, the singer delivers his usual impassioned performance, and the crowd respond raucously and positively at the song’s end.
Whilst the guitars sound much better (despite some feedback) on the following Floorshow, Craig’s seminal bass intro is nearly inaudible, and the sparse bass sound is also very low in the mix in Alice, which sounds unusually minimalist with only one fully functioning guitar.
Barely pausing now, the band head straight into Body Electric, both guitars now functioning fully again, and although not perfect, it’s the best performance of the show so far. As the intro to Gimme Shelter starts up, Eldritch announces “One more”, and again the band give a near perfect rendition of the Stones’ classic. Anyone arriving at this stage would have had no idea of the technical problems that had dogged the set. The encore is Sister Ray, the guitars still relatively cacophonous but Von continues regardless, ad-libbing more than usual, and ending the show with a cheerful “Goodnight” and a heartfelt “Danke” to loud cheers and whistles of approval.

The whole bill played again the next day further south at the somewhat more picturesque location of Lorelei on the Rhine, in the Nazi-built amphitheatre which still hosts concerts to this day. There appears to be no trace today however of the Ahlen Stadion, however, as Google maps shows a housing estate on north side of the Am Morgenbruch road and an industrial estate on the south side. However, an old autocross video on YouTube of the Morgenbruch Ring from 1984 reveals that the word "stadion" is a little euphemistic for what was little more than a dirt track around a field, and the electricity pylons visible at the far end of the track, which can also be seen on some photos of TSOM from the gig (behind the stage, as on the Eldritch photo above), still stand today, a hundred meters south of the Am Morgenbruch road, allowing us to pinpoint more accurately the location of the gig. The Sisters did return to nearby Munster later in the year, with the equidistant Bielefeld also receiving a visit in 1985.
My thanks for their help with this particular post are due to Phil Verne, LG, Ollie C, Thomas W and others who have provided information or memorabilia.