Wednesday, 22 August 2018

The Sisters of Mercy gigs in Bradford area 1982/83 update

Inevitably, with more and more information and memories about 1980’s gigs being posted on the internet, new facts about concerts played by The Sisters of Mercy in the early 1980’s continue to emerge, so much so in the case of three gigs in the Bradford area in 1982/1983 that I have decided to pen this separate update to the previous blog posts on the gigs in question.

Whilst researching the show at Leeds Warehouse on 6th May 1982 where TSOM had allegedly supported The Birthday Party, I looked in more detail at the website of The March Violets, who had actually opened the gig as confirmed in the subsequently posted article of this blog, including the image gallery which has been uploaded there. This contains some flyers from early Violets gigs, including one which took place at Caesar’s in Bradford in November 1982. The buzz around the Violets was considerable at this particular time, with Grooving In Green just having been released to rave reviews, and they feature prominently on the advert on the flyer for their support slot at Caesar’s, a “new showcase venue for Yorkshire” according to John Keenan, who was behind this new venture. The Violets gig was one of the first of these promotions by Keenan in the cavernous Bradford venue, supporting none other than Dead Or Alive, who of course featured one Wayne Hussey on guitar at that time.

This gig took place just three days before The Sisters’ own support slot at Caesar’s, opening for legendary chanteuse Nico, the subject of a recent post on this blog.Looking carefully at the flyer, it soon became clear why no evidence of this gig had ever emerged apart from a pristine ticket, as Keenan had scrawled “is in hospital – concert postponed” after Nico’s name. So another 1982 gig will now have to be removed from The Sisters of Mercy’s gigography, thanks to the discovery of this new information. Although marked as “postponed” on the flyer, there is no evidence that the gig was ever rescheduled, at least according to online gigographies devoted to the 60’s singer.

Knowing his loyal Leeds-based following well, promoter Keenan had taken the wise precaution of listing the times of the last train and bus back to Leeds from Bradford, a city well provided for in terms of gigs by up-and-coming act by Nick Toczek, former author of the Wool City Rocker fanzine. Toczek promoted headlining gigs by The Sisters of Mercy twice around this time, and both of these concerts (March 1982 and January 1983) have already been covered in this blog.

Research for the afore-mentioned Birthday Party post had confirmed my published supposition that the gig at the Funhouse venue in Keighley on 29th March 1982 was in fact the first ever concert played by The March Violets as support to the Sisters, and this week further information has come to light, as Nick Toczek continues to add information and memorabilia regarding gigs which he promoted in this era on his fantastic new website, initially launched in July 2018.

Toczek reveals that he had the support of local music journalist John Liddle of The Keighley News, who helpfully published articles on forthcoming shows. The Sisters of Mercy’s show was only the second which Nick had promoted, but he tells me that he had been impressed by a demo which he had heard by the band, who had also impressed Steven “Seething” Wells, punk performance poet and NME journalist, who was also on the bill that night. Toczek had reviewed the Sisters' disastrous (from a technical perspective) support slot to Altered Images the previous March, the band’s Leeds debut and third ever gig, and described them in The Keighley News as “modernistic, experimental pop”! He was presumably less familiar with The March Violets, who was simply listed as “an exciting new band”. 

extract from a larger cutting on the Nick Toczek website 

On his new website, which is well worth a lengthy perusal, promoter Toczek reveals that he paid just “eighty quid” for the services of both bands, and that The Sisters were “the loudest band I’d ever heard”, some accolade from a man who had spent much of the previous five years trailing round every West Yorkshire venue selling copies of the Wool City Rocker.

(Another extract from the Toczek website)

 Toczek notes that the venue was “full”, which, along with the considerable success and wider publicity afforded by the Alice/Floorshow single, was presumably why he booked the band to open a series of gigs at another new venue for him, the Manhattan Club, in January 1983. On his website, Toczek provides an affectionate tribute to the club’s late owner, known to all as “Bibi”, a West Indian migrant who ran the club and whose multi-cultural, all-inclusive door policy is still sadly far from being the norm over three decades later. To my personal delight, the new website features a scan of the flyer for Toczek’s new ventures for 1983, which I referred to from memory in my blog post on The Sisters’ Manhattan show. As well as the “Fatal Shocks” series of gigs at the Manhattan, Toczek also operated a new club night at Leeds Warehouse called 1984 (which switched to Brannigan’s after only six, poorly-attended shows) and had had thousands of flyers printed for these, one of which I must have picked up in Jumbo Records in very early January 1983, but frustratingly just a couple of days after the gig had taken place. As previously recalled, the flyer was however, for me at least, the first indication of the forthcoming new single Anaconda/Phantom,and is final evidence that 3rd January 1983 is the correct date fro this gig..

Discussing the Sisters’ Manhattan slot on his website, Toczek reveals that Seething Wells was again the support act, and that (contrary to my expressed expectations) “the new club was impressively full”. He also mentions that he was “on good terms with Andrew Eldritch”, although The Sisters were soon to move on to a different circuit, and this was therefore the last time that Toczek would promote the band.

With Toczek’s new website and this week’s Anniversary Concert to celebrate 41 years since the founding of John Keenan’s F Club, it’s great to see these two figures who took risks to promote exciting new talent in West Yorkshire in the early 1980’s (and up to this day in Keenan’s case; Toczek’s promotions lasted for four years) getting recognition for their key role in allowing the unique pool of talent in the area at the time (Southern Death Cult, New Model Army, The Sisters of Mercy, Skeletal Family, The March Violets, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, The Three Johns and others) to access their natural audience. Having subsequently lived in cities lacking promoters with drive and an eye for talent, I for one am most grateful to these two gents for their key role in the musical education of myself and countless others in West Yorkshire.

Friday, 17 August 2018

The Birthday Party, Leeds Warehouse, 6th May 1982

That Andrew Eldritch was a huge fan of Australian post-punk band The Birthday Party was a matter of public record in the early 1980’s, with the TSOM singer name-checking Nick Cave’s ensemble alongside the likes of The Stooges when discussing influences or contemporary bands which he admired in magazine or radio interviews.  A source close to the band in those days told us in an earlier post on this blog: “Most of The Sisters lived in a typical Woodhouse Terrace [studentsville Victorian terraced house] dump with the windows covered up….I was good friends with Craig so I went by frequently. They just listened to The Stooges and The Birthday Party all night, smoking copious amounts. Even in the dark room Andrew never took off his leather jacket or his dark glasses, and never said a word. He was like a god to the collected masses! Someone would say, “I think Andrew wants to hear Junkyard [The Birthday Party's 1982 album] and someone would dutifully put it on! Later, someone would say, “Andrew wants everyone to go away.” So everyone did! It was hysterically funny, the disciples really followed the piper...” As we saw in another previous post, TSOM had the privilege of supporting their heroes at London’s ZigZag club in July 1982, but did they also support the Antipodeans a couple of months earlier in early May of that year, back in their Leeds heartland (pun intended)? This was the question recently asked to me by Phil Verne, administrator of TSOM 1980-1985 Fan Page on Facebook, and de facto leader of a long-term ongoing loose project to tie down as definitive a TSOM gigography as possible for the 1981-1985 era.

The initial evidence for the gig having taken place with TSOM as support band appeared mixed. On the one hand, the Sisters were listed as the support band to The Birthday Party for their gig at Leeds Warehouse on 6th May 1982 on the Songkick website, as the Oz band toured the UK in support of their current album Junkyard. On the other hand, no other evidence had yet surfaced to support this claim, and the events of the July ’82 London gig (with Eldritch asking The Birthday Party via a third party if they liked TSOM) implied that this would have been the first time that the two bands had played together.

However, further evidence was soon forthcoming, thanks to Dino Wiand, son of the late Mike Wiand, the legendary American-born entrepreneur who created the Leeds Warehouse. Following his father’s sad passing a couple of years ago, Dino has set up a FB page devoted to the club’s golden era of the 1980’s, building up an impressive archive of material and using his father’s own records to piece together the history of the club. Dino kindly checked the Warehouse calendar for the month in question,  and noted that TSOM were indeed pencilled in as the support act for the night. “But it's from 4 weeks before the gig. It’s possible that it was changed after the booking,” he added (to a discussion on the topic on the TSOM 8085 group).

This latter possibility was confirmed by Si Denbigh, lead singer of the March Violets and long-time Nurse to the Doktor in more recent years, who joined in the discussion. “The Violets definitely supported the Birthday Party at the Leeds Warehouse,” he stated confidently. “I know for a fact that we supported them at the Warehouse, it was one of the high points of my life. I don't know if the Sisters ever opened for them at the Warehouse or not….It was a very early gig [for the Violets]. They [BP] were one of my fave bands. I remember Tracy [Pew, BP bassist] told me we blew them off. I believed him - it made my year!”

Although this first-hand eye witness account seemed to be the definitive proof that the Violets were the support act, Si’s mention of BP bassist Tracy Pew left open a small window of doubt. Pew was in fact in prison at the time of the May gig and therefore unable to travel to the UK, with band member Rowland S Howard’s brother Harry filling in on bass for the Warehouse gig. When asked about this, Si very reasonably replied : “ Maybe it was Rowland or his brother or someone else on bass. In my hazy memory I was sure it was Tracy, though to be honest they were f---ed up days and the Birthday Party were the most f---ed up band going. But brilliant. I saw them many times.”
Further doubts as to whether the Violets support slot was on this particular date were raised by Dino, who recalled that from his reading of the Warehouse records, The Birthday Party had played twice at the Warehouse. However, the wonderful archive site which lists all known BP/Bad Seeds gigs has The Birthday Party playing only three times in Leeds, the first time being at Tiffany’s supporting Bauhaus in early 1981, and the third time being in late 1983 at Leeds Poly, with the May 82 Warehouse date under discussion here sandwiched in the middle.

That it was the Violets and not the Sisters who supported The Birthday Party on that May evening was finally confirmed by two other sources. The first was top TSOM researcher Mark Andrews, currently preparing his forthcoming book on the band’s early days. Corroborating Si Denbigh’s recollections, he confirmed that “in ‘Leeds Student' newspaper, there was an interview piece with the Violets in late May 1982 which mentions a recent support slot with The Birthday Party at The Warehouse.” Andrews also recalled a recent interview which he has done with Violets guitarist Tom Ashton, who also had very clear memories of an early support slot with The Birthday Party at The Warehouse.

Further confirmation came from Geoff T, a regular contributor to Dino’s excellent Warehouse FB group. He too had very strong memories of this particular gig, despite attending many there over the years. “It was definitely the March Violets who supported The Birthday Party that night,” he told Phil. “I remember Roland Howard had one of his guitar pedals stolen from the stage at that show - it was quite a big deal - so it's easy to recall that night.” This was a tale which Geoff had earlier recounted on the Warehouse FB page, an incident which other contributors also remembered. “They went offstage at the end of the gig, and as usual the audience cheered for an encore. In that short gap before they came back on, someone in crowd down the front stole one of Roland Howard's guitar effects pedals. Despite an eventually very exasperated and pissed-off appeal by the band, to the crowd for its return, (and a request for security not to let anyone leave) it never was, at least to my knowledge. I recall that the culprits were holed up in a cubicle in the gents’ toilet but don't recall the outcome...”

After some Googling, I stumbled across the relevant issue of Leeds Student, and discovered the article which Mark referred to, plus a review of the gig itself (headline act and support band reviewed separately), fully corroborating the evidence above in every respect, with the additional detail that the Violets were rewarded for their efforts at only their second ever gig with an encore. There was also a letter complaining (justifiably?) about the review of the Warehouse gig:

The stolen pedals story may explain why the setlist on the Birthday Party archive site seems particularly short at just six songs! But sadly, these recent revelations mean that we must remove another gig from the TSOM gigography, but on the other hand, there is now fully documented evidence of the first three Violets gigs - supporting the Sisters at Keighley in March 82, the Birthday Party at the Warehouse on 6th May and then headlining at the Up-Zone Videotheque at Belinda's on 17th May.

Thanks to Si, Dino, Mark, Phil, Geoff and others who have helped to clear up another question mark about the “early days” as we creep ever closer to a definitive gigography for the Sisters.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Theatre of Hat - Leicester, December 1982

It’s been a while since we added a long-forgotten date to the known Sisters gigography from the 1981-1985 era, so I was very excited when long-term collector Bruno Bossier informed me last year about a poster which he had tracked down, for a gig featuring a four band line-up with The Sisters of Mercy listed to play. The gig in question was due to have taken place at Leicester’s De Montfort Hall on Friday 10th December 1982, with post-punk legends Spear of Destiny playing one of their first-ever headlining dates following their line-up and name change (from Theatre of Hate).

This would have been a very quick return to Leicester by TSOM, just two months after playing at the town’s Polytechnic on their support tour with Psychedelic Furs. The poster itself, which Bruno was hoping to purchase at the time, was very similar in style (and indeed line-up) to a gig TSOM played in London two weeks later that December in London, also promoted by Head Music, so it seemed entirely plausible.

De Montfort Hall on Leicester’s University Street is entirely unconnected with the modern De Montfort University, which confusingly is the rebranded name of Leicester Polytechnic, mentioned above. Both are named after Simon De Montfort, a thirteeth century Earl of Leicester responsible for one of Britain’s first attempts at representative government, and one of the city’s most famous sons. De Montfort Hall was (and continues to be) a major concert venue in the English East Midlands, and was at that time a regular stop-off for established bands touring the UK, so this would have been one of the largest provincial venues the band would have played up to this point. The 2000 capacity hall was originally built in 1913, but like many other civic halls its comfortable and cavernous interior remained popular with rock as well as classical musicians until the advent of the more modern arenas from the mid-80’s onwards.

(picture from Wikipedia)

However, my contacts in the Leicester area had no memories of such a concert having taken place, but one of them Ali H, who had helped me with the research for the post for this blog on the Poly gig, went to the trouble of contacting Kirk Brandon, frontman of both Spear of Destiny and Theatre of Hate, to see if he could be of any assistance. Unfortunately, he too was unsure of whether the gig had taken place, although he did recall The Sisters supporting his band around that time (presumably the London gig). Incidentally, Kirk continues to gig (and record) successfully with both Spear of Destiny and Theatre of Hate, and this blog post is timed to coincide with Theatre of Hate's most recent live return to Leicester this very evening (1st August 2018).

Despite requests in Leicester music FB groups, there seemed to be no further news on this potential addition to the TSOM gigography until earlier this year when Bruno (who had originally discovered the poster) decided to contact the venue directly to see if they had any record of the gig in their archive. They were able to confirm that the gig was in fact scheduled but then cancelled, which would explain both the poster’s original existence and the fact that local fans had no recall of the gig having taken place, and so fittingly despite all of those who had become involved in the fruitless search for information about this potential gig, it was Bruno himself who both started and solved this particular Sisters Mystery. With legendary post-punk band UK Decay also on the bill, this line-up would have been one of the most spectacular events of the genre to have taken place, and for the princely sum of just £3.50 a ticket, but the Luton band did at least support Spear at the following evening's gig in St Albans according to their website.

The list of cancelled TSOM gigs from the early 1980’s is a relatively short one, including dates planned for the autumn of 1983 in the UK (prior to Ben Gunn’s departure) and a Paris date (issues with the promoter), but thanks to Bruno’s efforts, another concert can be added to the "cancelled" section of the gigography. Another friend of this blog, Rob C, unearthed the following announcement for the abortive Spear of Destiny tour, and it is of course possible that the Sisters were also booked for other dates at the larger venues on the list, as they were for the final night at the London Kilburn Ballroom.

My thanks for this post are clearly largely due to Bruno, but also to Ali H, Kirk Brandon, and all those (including Rob C) who helpfully became involved on discussion on this issue in Phil Verne’s ever-intriguing and highly-recommended The Sisters of Mercy 1980- 1985 Facebook group on which recent posts have including a snippet of the rare video referred to in the post on the Gothenburg 1985 gig, and information about the major fire which will sadly lead to demolition of the venue of the famous Glasgow Night Moves gig of April 1983, another gig which has previously featured in this blog.