Thursday, 8 August 2019

Andrew Eldritch's Leeds, pt 2 - Campus culture

(This is the second of a three part series looking at Andrew Eldritch’s Leeds from the air, thanks to the wonders of Google Maps)

When Andy Taylor arrived in Leeds in October 1978 to enrol at the city’s university, it represented a fresh start for him after what must have been the disappointment of dropping out of Oxford University. Leeds had been chosen almost by chance, as it was one of fewer than half a dozen universities in the UK at the time offering an undergraduate degree in Chinese, and possessing the impressive A Level grades required for entry to his previous academic institution, being accepted by the University of Leeds was something of a formality for the confirmed Southerner.

However, once again fate would take a hand, and a combination of factors (not least the requirement to spend a heavily-chaperoned second year of the course studying in Beijing) would lead to Eldritch dropping out for a second time after a mere year's study, but not before he had immersed himself in the city’s emerging punk culture and the more centralised fun offered by a large city campus.

The left-hand side of this aerial photo of the campus is virtually unchanged in the forty years since Eldritch completed his matriculation in the formal surroundings of the Parkinson Building, which features an Italianate/phallic (depending on your level of maturity) white tower in the upper centre left of the picture, just above the circular Brotherton Library. The lower part of the campus however has changed significantly since the 1980’s, as can be seen by comparing an aerial photo from the early 80’s (recently shared by the University online) with a similar view from Google maps.

The first stop-off for a TSOM heritage tourist however would most likely be St George’s Field (labelled with a number “1” on the image), one of the few remaining areas of greenery on an increasingly dense campus, for it is here that one of the most iconic images of the band was taken (by Tom Sheehan in early 1985), oft-reproduced because of the graveyard feel which reinforced the media’s goth stereotyping of the band. The stone memorial has become a place of pilgrimage for Sisters fans (the bottom photo below, for example was taken by noted Belgian collector Bruno Bossier and is reproduced with thanks), and TSOM tribute band The Marching Men (with The Blogging Goth curator Tim in the Eldritch role) recreated the classic shot during their own all-too-brief heyday (middle photo), a photo often confused with the real McCoy (write your own goth pun).

(Tom Sheehan photo of TSOM, 1985)

(TSOM tribute band The Marching Men)

(Photo of St George's Field by Bruno Bossier)

Central to campus life for all Leeds students was the University Union, a social and cultural centre for students which was – and still is - one of the largest and most dynamic in the country. On this image, it’s the group of buildings (of different eras and styles) to the right of the red number “2”. The Union houses the Riley Smith Hall, where TSOM gigs played in 1981, 1982 and 1984, and this can be seen (with a dirty red roof) just under the “Lee” of “University of Leeds” on the aerial photo at the top of this blog. The Refectory, the canteen-cum-concert hall where they played on the Black October tour and then again in March 1985, is also part of this collection of buildings, the long thin red-roofed building just to the left of the red number 3. In a very early piece on this blog I described it thus: “The Refectory was basically the respectable student and staff self-service restaurant serving glorified school meals and salads during the day, but transformed into a rather unconvincing concert venue in the evening. The balcony added some atmosphere, and also gave more extrovert performers like Bono and Lux Interior somewhere to climb up to during the inevitable “Look at me!!” phases of their gigs”. This was also the hall where The Who recorded what is considered to be one of the best-ever live albums, “Live In Leeds”, and there is now a blue plaque outside the building commemorating this fact. The Riley Smith Hall was (according to the same blog post) “the union’s main debating hall and home of the weekly political bearpit, the OGM (“Ordinary General Meeting”), where party hacks of the future lined up to take on the all-powerful Socialist Workers’ Party”. All gigs at the university were put on by the Union’s “Ents” and “Events” committees, dedicated groups of music-loving students who volunteered to cook, steward or do a variety of other jobs to keep ticket prices down for students and non-students alike.

Also visible on this aerial image at the top of the page are the two pubs indelibly linked with The Sisters of Mercy. The building just underneath the red number 4 is the Faversham (known to one and all as the “Fav”), literally a stone’s throw from the campus edge and immediately next to the most upmarket and therefore expensive of the student residences, Charles Morris Hall (known as “Charlie Mo” to its upper middle-class inhabitants), which provided most of its clientele. Allegedly because of its late night bar and its pool table (and according to Mark Andrews’ article on TSOM for The Quietus, Eldritch’s girlfriend Claire was a real pool shark), the “Fav” became the unofficial base of the band and its entourage, and on my one visit to sup the over-priced (compared to the Union) beer there Ben Gunn was at seated at an adjoining table and Eldritch was over by the bar with a group of fawning acolytes. It was also probably the closest pub to Eldritch’s early 80’s flat on Bellevue Road, undoubtedly another reason for its popularity with the singer.

(Faversham advert from Leeds Student newspaper, 1985)

The other pub with a heavy TSOM connection is The Fenton, indicated by the red number 5 on the aerial shot and directly opposite the sandstone church on Woodhouse Road. Eldritch spoke enthusiastically of the Tetley’s pub when reminiscing with Mark Andrews for his Quietus piece: “It was the pub you went to before gigs at the uni. Everybody thought fondly of the Fenton. Going back to the days when there was street fighting, the Fenton was very unwelcoming of Nazis and welcoming of the likes of us. The whole atmosphere was very politically-charged and we were very clear which side we were on.” It was no accident that The Fenton for the warm-up gig (billed as “Near Meth Experience”) when TSOM returned to gigging after a three year hiatus to tour as main support to The Sex Pistols on their own legendary comeback tour in Germany in 1996.

The other number marked on our photo of the university campus (“6”) marks the location of the university’s Chinese department in the late 1970’s. The singer would spend only last one year of the four year course in the then modern building before dropping out for the second time.

The third and final post in this trilogy on Andrew Eldritch's Leeds will focus on the city centre. My thanks for this post are due to Bruno Bossier, Phil Verne of the 1980-1985 TSOM FB fan page, and to others who have helped.

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Book Review – It Ain’t Peters & Lee! – Richard Rouska

When I started this blog towards the beginning of this decade, my aim was to shed a bit of light on what life was like in Leeds in the early 1980’s, so that The Sisters of Mercy fans from other cities or countries, or those who had only discovered the band more recently, might have a better understanding of the context in which the band was formed and developed. Ignored by mainstream media or derided (along with the rest of the goth “movement”) as a joke, it seemed as if future generations would only have TSOM’s records and the few surviving Eldritch interviews to try to piece together the band’s rationale and genesis.

Unlike other Northern British cities (in particular those on the other side of the Pennines), the typically modest and self-deprecating Leeds character had discouraged any belief that the wider world might have an interest in what was happening in ther city in the post-punk era when its bands were (albeit briefly) at the forefront of British cultural life, developing a unique musical and political aesthetic that continues to fascinate to this day.

Over the past five years, however, a variety of high-quality works have sought to correct the imbalance in this regard (compared to the scenes of Liverpool and in particular Manchester), more searingly honest and less self-congratulatory in tone than those examining other cities. In particular, there’s been the Sound City documentary, Mark Andrews’ articles for the Quietus (and more recently Dave Simpson’s piece in the Guardian), the recent volume reprinting the issues of seminal contemporary Leeds fanzine Whippings and Apologies, Wayne Hussey's autobiography and a series of self-published tomes by former Leeds resident Richard Rouska, the latest of which, “It Ain’t Peters and Lee – The Leeds rock, pop, punk, new wave and indie scene 1977-87” has just been published.

Leaving aside the dreadful title (and cover), this latest work is wonderful treasure trove of detailed information about what was happening in the city over that crucial eleven year period, presented in almanac form, taking one month at a time. Amongst the train-spotter facts – for example, the list of gigs in the city which appears at the end of each month’s entry – there are mini pen-portraits of pretty much every band on the scene, however successful or short-lived, detailing the band’s members, their record releases and a brief but honest appraisal of their place in the overall scheme of things. For those not intimately involved in the Leeds scene at the time, much of this information will be of little intrinsic interest, but it does show the vast array of different musical strands being developed at any one time, and will be of real interest to future researchers into the Leeds scene.

There are also highly readable mini-essays and opinion pieces throughout, about the crucial role of promoter John Keenan, for example, or the relative merits of other fanzine writers. In many ways this is where Rouska is at his best, as was always the case with his own fanzine which he ran in the city in the mid-80’s before launching his own record label which notably brought goth/EBM legends The Cassandra Complex to a wider audience. Possessing tremendous drive and enthusiasm, Rouska carved himself a central position in the Leeds music scene and his knowledge of that era is unrivalled. Through his contacts at the time, he even got to perform (as a punk poet) between the bands at the 1984 York Rock Festival.

But what about The Sisters, I hear you ask? Rouska has always been aware of his potential market, and therefore TSOM do indeed have a central role in the book. Using rarely seen but excellent Steve Drury photos, Rouska charts the familiar chapters of the band’s history in the appropriate months (see the example below quoting this very blog), helpfully listing at the end of each entry when the band next appear in the book. Although very few new facts about the band emerge, there are many insights into Eldritch’s character from those who knew him at the time, plus little-known quotes from reviews from the contemporary independent magazine Leeds’ Other Paper (LOP), a periodical which I must confess I never once read during my years in the city.

Rouska also gives prominence to other bands on the 80’s scene, from Red Lorry Yellow Lorry to The Rose of Avalanche, and the earlier bands (GO4, Mekons, Delta 5 etc) are also covered in appropriate detail. Other well-known local bands who were unheard of outside of the LS postcode area (e.g. Xero Slingsby, The Prowlers etc) are also recorded for posterity in the book. But again, it’s in the analysis of the scene that Rouska is at his strongest, as he builds a convincing picture of what was a very fragmented scene where people stayed within their own circles rather than it being one big happy post-punk family, which is very much how I also personally remember it.

Inevitably, some will find this labour of love a little disjointed given the almanac approach, or quibble with minor details (there are a couple of common inaccuracies regarding the Sisters for example), but these two hundred and twenty pages of densely packed information create a real sense of the reality of life in Leeds in the decade under discussion, and this book is an essential purchase for those with an interest in the Leeds music scene at that time whilst further whetting the appetite for Mark Andrews' forthcoming biography of the early years of The Sisters of Mercy

It Ain’t Peters & Lee is available directly from the author’s own website for £15 (with free p and p for UK purchasers). Mine arrived within three days so you can order with confidence!

Friday, 28 June 2019

The Arsonist Entertains - review of Salad Daze, Wayne Hussey's autobiography

Barely a month goes by without my local Waterstone’s displaying a new tome devoted to one of the cult bands of the 1980’s, be it The Smiths, Joy Division or even Motley Crüe. Yet curiously not one major book has yet been written chronicling the history of one of the most wilfully mysterious, most avidly collected and most revered bands of that era, The Sisters of Mercy.

The endless fascination of both TSOM fans and media alike has been with a brief period of the band’s near forty year existence, between the release of the Alice single in late 1982 and the acrimonious split in the band in 1985, shortly after the release of debut album First and Last And Always, often referred to as the cornerstone of gothic culture.

A couple of years ago, a fan commented on the Heartland TSOM fan forum that he had wanted to answer questions on the band for his specialist round on BBC TV’s Mastermind quiz programme, but had been prevented from doing so because of the lack of any formal books published about the band. However, this situation is finally now changing with the future publication of Mark Andrews’ crowd-funded history of the band, and this memoir from guitarist Wayne Hussey, whose career is always seen through the prism of the two years which he spent in the band between the autumns of 1983 and 1985.

Salad Daze is the first of his two-part autobiography, and charts the Mission frontman’s life from his birth and early years in Bristol through to his departure from the Sisters of Mercy thirty-four years ago. The eagerly anticipated book promised to lift the lid on Hussey’s time in the band, and given his penchant for amusingly provocative yet self-deprecatory soundbites, it was clearly going to be an unmissable read for all Sisters fans.

I have to confess to being disappointed on receiving my copy and discovering that two hundred of  the three hundred and fifty pages dealt with his life before he joined TSOM, but I expected that I would skip through these chapters at some pace in order to get to the “real deal”.

However, this mood changed instantly as I began to read the Prologue, an incredibly moving account of the circumstances of his mother’s pregnancy and of his birth, which was both well-written and a coruscating exposé of the moral double-standards of the late 1950’s. Indeed, rather than flicking rapidly through them, I really savoured the early chapters, which would strike a chord with anyone who grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, with its everyman tales of family holidays, conflicting emotions and chance encounters with minor celebrities from Specimen/Banshees guitarist Jon Klein to former Villa winger Ray Graydon. Wryly observed and well-expressed, Hussey’s memoir is both engaging and thought-provoking, and he is (retrospectively at least) generous in his assessment and evaluation of those who played key roles in his formative years. I can well imagine that even the resolutely non-goth Mrs L will enjoy reading these early chapters when I pass the book to her.

So it’s over one hundred pages in before Wayne joins his first really serious band (Ded Byrds) having moved to Liverpool, and each subsequent band up to and including Dead or Alive is dealt with in impressive detail, with Hussey’s memory untainted by the ravages of drugs and alcohol at this point, as he stayed true to the teachings of his strict Mormon upbringing. This means that we get an insight into the legendary Eric’s scene and the development of Scouse luminaries such as Echo and the Bunnymen, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and, erm, A Flock of Seagulls, plus the development of Planet X club where Hussey used to DJ.

During his latter years in Liverpool and his time in Dead or Alive in particular, the guitarist began to dabble in drugs, discovering the joys of speed in particular, and his touring experiences thereafter become a bit of a haze. Sadly, this is particularly the case during his stint in the Sisters, and Hussey himself confesses that for some tours he remembers virtually nothing! For others he has vivid memories of the sex and the drugs, but sadly very little of the rock’n’roll, so what should be the most fascinating chapters of the book become a tedious litany of whizz and groupie reminiscences, which nonetheless reveal that Eldritch would not have had to use much imagination in coming up with many of the lyrics for the songs on FALAA (“nothing but the knife to live for”, “And I don’t care what you’re called, tell me later if at all” etc).

However, Wayne is never shy of an opinion or an amusing anecdote, and is particularly strong and surprisingly objective at analysing the subtext of the group dynamic, stating that with hindsight the band’s ultimate 1985 split(s) seemed almost inevitable from the moment he joined the band, and providing a great deal of evidence to back up his assertion.

Although he acknowledges that it is difficult to reconstitute with total accuracy events of almost thirty five years ago, Hussey presents his recollections of the reasons and issues which finally saw him leaving Eldritch and forming his own band with Craig Adams, accepting that the “real truth” would emerge from an amalgam of the reminiscences of all four members, rather than just his own “truth”. His account is however the only one published in detail to date, and is sufficiently honest and candid to give a highly credible breakdown and timeline for the band’s demise, which is incidentally largely similar to the version (factual or otherwise) uncovered by “enthusiastic online sleuthing by a fan”. In particular, his portrayal of the complex character and behaviour of Andrew Eldritch is laudably even-handed given both the huge frustration which this had caused him at the time, and the way in which he has been subsequently viewed by a zealous faction of rabidly pro-Eldritch Sisters fans (whom he describes as “a bigoted, sour bunch”) who continue to hold him (Hussey) solely responsible for the 1985 break-up. Although proud of the fact that (like Craig Adams) he refused to change his name to join the group (as Andrew, Mark and Ben had done), it has to be said that Hussey like Eldritch becomes a rock’n’roll caricature with his shades, hat and black clothing, enthusiastically adopting the trademark lifestyle far removed from his previous and subsequent existence.

Even for the most obsessed TSOM fan, there are plenty of new facts and anecdotes in Salad Daze about Hussey’s time in the group, from technical details of the guitars he played through information about song-writing credits to stories about the likes of Jez, Danny and Grape which some of them might wish had remained private. And certain long-standing mysteries, such as why Eldritch began wearing hats, the circumstances in which Marx and Hussey had a trial at replacing Eldritch as vocalist and the origin of the phrase “Victims of Circumstance” are elucidated en passant.

By turns entertaining, enlightening and though-provoking but always disarmingly frank, Salad Daze is a great read despite some sloppy editing which has failed to remove some basic errors, contradictions and repetitions. But these are minor quibbles with what is a highly recommended publication, which comes with its own WH curated Spotify and YouTube playlists and a variety of editions including a deluxe package which contains previously unheard recordings from Wayne's early years in bands in Liverpool. Chapeau, Wayne!

Salad Daze is out now, published by Omnibus Press, and is available online from The Mission's website.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Andrew Eldritch's Leeds - part 1, red brick studentsville

(To mark Andrew Eldritch’s 60th birthday, this blog is publishing a three-part guide to the frontman’s most famous haunts of the early 1980s)

Californian lo-fi indie folk band the Mountain Goats gained some press inches and media hype last year with their single “Andrew Eldritch is moving back to Leeds”, a witty song about the general indifference that would surround the prodigal son’s return to the self-proclaimed capital of the People’s Republic of West Yorkshire. Whilst the song’s central concept is based on a false premise, in that Eldritch has maintained a presence in the Leeds area over the years despite spending much of his time on mainland Europe (primarily in [West] Germany, the Netherlands and Spain according to his own interviews), there was one section of the lyrics (“Guys in Motorhead jackets, Who knew him way back then, Haven’t raised a drink in years, But now meet up again”) which reminded me that goth nostalgia tourism was once a thing in Leeds. Indeed, the very university from which Eldritch dropped out at the turn of the 1980s began to use the city’s “birthplace of goth” image to market itself at impressionable Sixth Formers less than a decade later, and even now I (as no doubt are many others) am occasionally contacted by fans of the band from all over the world who are making a pilgrimage to the city and want to know the best places to visit.

One day in the future, long after Eldritch has shuffled off this mortal coil, the city will belatedly embrace the legacy of a rare creative flourish within the metropolis and will hopefully site “black plaques” on some of the key buildings to help goth tourists eager to spend the “dark pound” in the city to navigate their way around. But until then, hopefully these few annotated aerial photos from the ever-wonderful Google Maps might be of use to some.

Photo 1 – Studentsville

To those who have never lived in Leeds, the northern suburb of Headingly is synonymous with sport, being the home of and giving its name to the back-to-back rugby league (Leeds Rhinos) and cricket (Yorkshire CCC) stadia labelled at the bottom left of the image above. But to Leodensians the suburb and the neighbouring districts of Hyde Park and Burley have in recent generations been first and foremost linked to the city’s transient student population which has colonised the seemingly endless rows of red brick terraced streets originally intended to house the workers from city’s many cotton mills back in the days when the city dominated the British Empire’s rag trade. These streets dominate this aerial image, and one of these, marked at the bottom of the red number 1 on the image, was (and indeed still is) Village Place, a cul-de-sac in the Burley area down towards Kirkstall Abbey, where Eldritch and Marx lived at house number 7 (along with Eldritch’s girlfriend Claire) in the mid-1980s. This unprepossessing house was effectively the headquarters of Merciful Release records, and its address famously featured on the lyric sheet of The Reptile House EP. Gary Marx described the house superbly in Mark Andrews’ piece for The Quietus: “The popular myth appears to be of Hunter S. Thompson taking over Bruce Wayne’s Batcave, with high-tech excess being the order of the day. The curtains downstairs stayed closed at the front of the house all the time, which no doubt gave it the air of a drug-den. The reality was that it was in a quiet street of about 20 houses and our neighbours – Jack and Nora – were people we got on with, amazingly given the racket they had to tolerate.” 

(Photo credit - Mike Read)

The house was also the scene of Wayne Hussey’s infamous audition to join the band in October 1983, as humorously recounted in the first volume of his autobiography published in May 2018, Salad Daze. Incidentally, Si Denbigh inherited the house’s sofa (which seems to feature in most stories about 7VP) when Eldritch moved on from the house, and he himself in turn gave it away just a couple of years ago having advertised it on Facebook thus: “This is the sofa that used to reside in 7 Village Place, also known as The Reptile House. Many songs were written upon it, much excess performed, schemes hatched, dark games played, and many a famous arse has sat upon it. At some point I inherited it. This sofa is more gothic than anyone! If it could write a book …A bit of Leeds history”. Hopefully the sofa has been preserved for posterity (although not necessarily, given its condition, for more posteriors), as one wag commented at the time “Ben Gunn is probably still down the back of it.”

Anyone wishing to make a pilgrimage to Village Place from central Leeds could either take a bus up Burley Road or take the train just one stop from the main Leeds railway station on the Harrogate line, alighting at Burley Park station (marked with the British Rail symbol on the Google aerial photo), which is just a few minutes’ walk from 7VP. Incidentally, Wayne Hussey would move into a house directly opposite this station when he himself came through to live in Leeds after the successful audition. Burley Park itself (i.e. the actual park, not the station) is the site of one of the more famous TSOM photoshoots of the Hussey era, when Tony Mottram snapped the group there in full gothed-up hat regalia on a chilly but sunny day, prints of which can still be ordered from the photographer in question.

(12, St John's Terrace - Google Streetview)

Our Sisters tourist could then walk south (although it looks north on this image) past the wonderful contemporary venue The Brudenell Social Club (where Near Meth Experience – who may or may not be relevant to us - played a benefit gig for Si Denbigh a couple of years back) towards Woodhouse Moor, the large park at the top of the image which is effectively the dividing line between residential Headingly/Hyde Park area and the university precinct beyond. No. 2 on our map marks the location of 12, St John’s Terrace, where Eldritch lived before moving to 7VP, much more conveniently situated for the university and indeed the city itself. This address featured on the band’s first promotional demo tape, and Eldritch was based here for the first couple of years of the 1980s. Jon Langford (or The Three Johns, who guested for the band at some live shows in early 1982) recalled in a 2016 interview, “Andy lived in the same street as me…On Bellevue Road.” (St John’s Terrace being one block of large terraced houses on that road).

The other numbers (3, 4 and 5) on the bird's eye view of Leeds' student residential district refer to places either on or in the vicinity of the university campus itself, being St George’s Field, the University Union and the Faversham pub respectively….but these will feature in the second part of our aerial guide to Eldritch’s Leeds.

(Thanks to Mike for sharing the photos of his pilgrimage to 7VP with the 1980-1985 TSOM FB Fan Group, and to Ed, Phil , Bruno, Si, Wayne and others who have helped either willingly or inadvertently with this post.)

Sunday, 5 May 2019

The prodigal son returns - Leeds, Sat 5th May 1984

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and that was certainly the case in May 1984 when The Sisters of Mercy arrived back in Leeds for the fourth date of the tour to support their forthcoming major label release, the "Body and Soul" EP which would finally arrive in the record stores the following month. After the fan club gig in Birmingham in early April 1984 to introduce new guitarist Wayne Hussey to the fanbase and literally get the show back on the road after a six month hiatus, the band had undertaken a second East Coast US tour, playing half a dozen shows in as many nights as they prepared for what would be their first major headlining UK tour, with Flesh For Lulu as opening act.

Despite their relative inactivity over the preceding six months, since the last TSOM gig in Leeds a year earlier the band had released the Alice 12”, The Reptile House EP and the Temple of Love 12”, played extensively in London and in Europe, played their first dates in the US, lost guitarist Ben Gunn and replaced him with Hussey, as well as eventually signing a distribution deal with Warners after lengthy negotiations, and with the band's records now staples in even the most mainstream of Leeds clubs, the hometown gig was particularly eagerly awaited.

(backstage pass for the show kindly shared on FB by Paul Y)

(the prices on this Leeds Student advert from March 1984 show The Sisters' relative place in the musical pecking order as they inked their first major label deal)

The tour book (issued to band members and crew, detailing hotels, timings, stage dimensions, load in times and the like) for this Spring trek across the UK bears the title “British Pilgrimage”, presumably a reference to the religious connotations of the band’s name, but this featured in none of the publicity surrounding the tour and I have never seen it quoted anywhere else. The Leeds date came after excellent shows at Nottingham’s Rock City (where Gary wrecked his guitar), Middlesbrough Town Hall, and a legendary alcohol-and-banter-filled show in the upstairs hall at Manchester University Students’ Union, and was their fourth show in the Leeds University Union Riley Smith Hall, the main theatre/debating chamber used for smaller touring bands (the band's three previous appearances being the two Music For The Masses gigs in June and November 1981 and the Furs support in October 1982).

A live recording of the May 5th 1984 show has survived and confirms that there was a sizeable audience present for the homecoming, with Eldritch referencing their lengthy time away from the Leeds live circuit in a semi-audible comment before the gig starts with the usual Doktor Avalanche introduction to “Burn”. Whether Gary is struggling with his new guitar, or whether the chemistry between himself and Hussey had yet to develop to telepathic levels, there are some technical issues in the opening song, after which the first predictable chants of “God Squad” can be clearly heard. After Eldritch has informed a heckler that the band no longer plays “Jolene”, the customary second song “Heartland” begins, with Eldritch in final vocal form despite tuning and tone problems again from Marx’s guitar.

The first of the new songs, “Walk Away” follows, still in very embryonic form and with lyrics which bear little relation to the version ultimately released as a single some five months later. After muted applause, the band launch into “Anaconda” which receives the loudest cheers to date, but before any real rhythm can be established, forthcoming single “Body and Soul” gets an airing, with further guitar pedal and volume issues. There’s also a rougher, choppier than usual guitar sound on “Floorshow”, although the Doktor, Adams and Eldritch see the song to a successful conclusion as usual. So far in the gig the band’s sound quality, to judge by the surviving recording, is less polished than at any time since 1982, but the loud cheers at the end of the perennial alternative dancefloor favourite show either that the audience couldn’t care less or (as is often the case to this day) that it sounded better in the hall on the night than on a tinny recording many years later.

After the kind of lengthy minor guitar retuning break which regular TSOM bootleg tape listeners will be more than familiar with, the booming bass intro to “Emma” rings out, both guitars now intertwining more successfully than earlier in the set. Eldritch is of course in wonderful form, recounting Errol Brown’s wonderful lyric, allegedly about his (Errol's) mother’s untimely death.
The pace picks up immediately again with a superb “Adrenochrome”, which proves that the sound issues have been largely solved, and as with the other gigs on the tour, the “oldies” see the set through to a successful conclusion, with “Alice” and “Body Electric” played back-to-back. To the delight of the long-term fans in the audience, the traditional covers of “Gimme Shelter” and “Sister Ray” are offered as encores, with a confident Hussey improvising a little more than Gunn had done in the former, whilst the latter (kindly uploaded to Soundcloud by Phil Verne of the 1980-1985 The SIsters of Mercy Facebook unofficial fan group) is as experimental and focussed as I have ever heard it, with Eldritch primarily singing rather than screaming and screeching, certainly far removed from the seriously unhinged versions of the early gigs or in 1985 for example.

The Leeds Student newspaper digital archive contains a review of the gig that was published at the time, by “Sister Morphine”, but which has not been widely circulated amongst fans. Interestingly, rather than focussing on gig itself, bar mentions for a couple of song titles, the “review” is instead fixated on the increasingly important figure of Andrew Eldritch, his stage persona and his relationship with the band’s devoted followers. The journalist seems convinced that Eldritch too is contemplating the theme of the returning messiah, which seems entirely appropriate given the reaction given to the band for what was clearly far from one of their best live performances.

On their return to the University Union during the Black October tour later in the year, The Sisters of Mercy would finally get to headline the university’s main stage, The Refectory, as their fame and legend spread and with Hussey becoming firmly ensconced within the band. By then however, the various pressures that would lead to the cracks that would split the band apart in 1985 had already began to appear. Back in May 1984, with the ink barely dry on the major label deal, a new single in the can and a new guitarist fitting in well, there seemed to be only unlimited potential.

My thanks to all who have helped with this post, including Circle, Phil Verne of The Sisters of Mercy 1980-1985 FB group, collectors LG and Paul Y, and to my own brother whose ticket is displayed here.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

F-Club Finale - Leeds, 30th March 1982

One of the more surprising aspects of the early days of The Sisters of Mercy is how infrequently they played in their home town as they attempted to establish themselves on what was a dynamic live music scene. In the band’s first interview, for Whippings and Apologies magazine in March 1981, only one month after their live debut in York, Andrew Eldritch explained to interviewer Mark Johnson that the band “don’t see the need to play in every toilet every week, ‘cos there’s no percentage in it. We could play the Pack Horse or the Royal Park [two Leeds pubs on either side of Woodhouse Moor which put on ‘live’ bands on a regular basis] every week, but it just wouldn’t be worth it.”

With future radio DJ and confirmed TSOM loather Andy Kershaw in charge of booking bands for Leeds University, the main outlet for the band in their home city were the gigs put on by promoter John Keenan, who was only too happy to put the band on to his bills. Of the six times the band played in Leeds in 1981, four of them were Keenan/Fan Club promotions, with the other two under the auspices of Si Denbigh’s Music For The Masses society at the University Union.

1982, the breakthrough year of the critically-acclaimed “Body Electric/Adrenochrome” and follow-up breakthrough single “Alice/Floorshow” saw the band play only twice in their native city, with Eldritch reluctantly realising that the only way to grow the band further at this stage was to create a “buzz” in London. The second of the two Leeds shows in 1982 was the much-documented support slot to The Psychedelic Furs in thefirst week of October, the first time that I personally saw the band live, whilst the first gig had taken place back in Spring, as part of Keenan’s multi-band F-Club Easter Party on March 30th 1982.

Given that Easter was celebrated on April 11th that year, the party may seem to have been a little premature, but that would have been around the time of the end of the second academic term at the city’s main two higher education institutions (the university and the polytechnic), and a good chance to grab a final slice of what remained of students’ meagre grants on a quiet Tuesday evening before they headed back home with sackfuls of washing.

The multi-band bill was a Keenan speciality at Christmas and Easter, and this particular bill bears a close resemblance to that which had been scheduled to play at the F-Club’s Christmas party the previous year, only to be cancelled at the last minute because of snow. The impressive flyer which survives from the “Easter” gig and which is in the collection of legendary Sisters aficionado LG prominently features a band called “The Three Gingers”, an addition from the original December line-up. 

I contacted a few well-known people who would have been at the gig, but worryingly, there seemed to be doubts as to whether it had actually been played. Dave Wolfenden (Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, Expelaires), had no recollection of the show, and thought that it might have been cancelled. John Keenan the promoter also had some doubts, telling me “I know that I cancelled one of those multi line-ups, but I think that it was because of snow [so presumably the December show]. I remember that line-up though. I recorded most of it on cassette, The Three Johns, The Sisters etc, but someone nipped into my house and took them (but nothing else). I never saw any bootlegs, so they may have been destroyed.”

John was also able to shed some light on the prominence of the little-known Three Gingers on the poster, commenting on the Sisters of Mercy 1980 – 1985 Facebook fan page, “It was my gig, but you can probably tell that I didn’t make the flyer, even though my logo was used. One of the Three Gingers worked for a printer, that’s why it looks more professional than any of my leaflets”.
Further light on the band is shed by another well-known BBC DJ Martin Kelner, who was also working for Radio Aire at this time (along with shock-jock James Whale, host of the infamous Wayne Hussey interview some years later). A member of Kelner’s production team was also a member of the Three Gingers group, which never developed as a project beyond this stage, and is recalled by Kelner in this blog post, which also mentions another band on the bill that night with a penchant for self-publicity, Mutants Of The Holocaust.

MOTH played a brand swamp punk that had elements of The Gun Club and The Birthday Party (extracts are available online here and here - the latter with introduction by Martin Kelner), and they managed to forge for themselves a controversial reputation thanks to self-publicity such as this, an extract from a local paper that features on the MOTH tribute website and which refers to this particular F-Club gig.

I tracked down the erstwhile singer of MOTH, Paul A, who was only too happy to reminisce about his brush with fame: “Mutants Of The Holocaust were reported as being the worst of the bands that played that night! The Sisters of Mercy followed us on stage, and Eldritch swapped a look of disgust with me, but we were asked to send them a demo with a view to putting out a single on Merciful Release, an offer which we turned down as a “sell-out”!! I remember that one of The Sisters’ covers was “1969”. There weren’t many more than the bands and their hangers-on in the audience.”

Paul also told me that MOTH’s blue-dress wearing guitarist “Boss” (who allegedly couldn’t play a note) made quite an impression on the Sisters (insert your own Patricia joke here), and additionally recalled that the best-received band on the night were “The Hurtling Bones”, who didn’t feature on the blue flyer but did feature in the press advert for the gig at the top of this article, which is taken from the “Leeds Student” digital archive. Between the two different posters, one of the artists on the nine-band bill had changed their name, with Vena Cava now playing their first gig under the name St Christopher, a moniker under which they eventually enjoyed much success towards the end of the decade, primarily on the legendary jangle pop Sarah record label.

With The Danse Society, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, The Sisters of Mercy, The Three Johns and The Expelaires all on the bill, this gig was arguably the biggest selection of Yorkshire post-punk talent ever assembled, and all for a miserly £2 entry fee, and one certainly deserving of more than a spartan attendance in an echoey superclub in a shopping centre (the same on which hosted the legendary Le Phonographique club in the basement), where a couple of years later Keenan would host the cream of the then popular goth scene on his “The Dungeon Club” nights.

As John Keenan pointed out, the gig was taped, and it is still hoped that one day these recordings will surface, as the other Spring gigs (Keighley and York) featuring the new guitarist (Gunn) seem not to have been recorded. Any further information about this or any other early gig would be gratefully received, but in the meantime my thanks are due to Paul A, JFK, LG, Phil Verne and others who have helped us to find out more about a very rare 1982 hometown live appearance by The Sisters of Mercy.

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Second And Last And Always Pt. 3 - Eldritch's Left On Mission And Revenge

(This is the final of three posts on what the second album by The Sisters of Mercy might have sounded like in 1986, had the First and Last and Always line-up continued to record)

In the first two posts (here and here) on the likely sound and content of what Gary Marx had jokingly called “Second and Last and Always”, we’ve looked at riffs and demos which the band’s twin songsmiths in the 84/85 era, Gary Marx and Wayne Hussey, would have brought to the recording sessions for the follow-up album at the end of 1985.

For the third post we will look at the very different vision which singer Andrew Eldritch had for the band. By the summer of 1985, he was certainly heading in a very different direction than the rest of the band: as Wayne Hussey said, “He was listening to things like Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks and Foreigner and there was us listening to Motorhead or whatever. And it showed.” However, this had often been the case in the past, and can be seen in the very eclectic range of cover versions which TSOM had attempted in the 1980-1985 period, not to mention the many different musical genres over which the band’s output ranged, from Afterhours to Sister Ray.

Up until very recently, only two things were known about Eldritch’s vision for the Sisters sophomore studio set: first, the title, Left On Mission and Revenge, which was referenced in an arch Merciful Release press release in February 1986 when The Mission’s new name was announced (“We assume that their choice of name is entirely unconnected with the forthcoming Andrew Eldritch album that for some months has had the working title Left On Mission And Revenge”). And second, that the song Torch, which would figure as a b-side on the This Corrosion comeback hit of 1987, was being worked on when Craig Adams walked out on the band (shortly followed by Hussey). As Eldritch later recalled, “"The others didn't want to play my new songs, such as 'Torch' for instance. The song has some unusual chord changes. Craig thought it was crap, he said 'I'm not playing it, I'm going home.' And there he stayed."” Other than that, there was mainly just speculation that the songs which ended up forming the core of The Sisterhood's Gift LP (Eldritch's next release, in 1986) would have been on LOMAR, whilst others claimed that the non-release of This Corrosion, though much demo'ed around the time of Gift, was a sign that he was saving the better songs for a more fully rounded next TSOM LP.

However, three recent revelations on social media by close friends of Eldritch at the time have added a lot more detail to how the Machiavellian Eldritch saw the LP. Daniela Giombini of the Italian Tribal Cabaret fanzine shared a photo of a Merciful Release compliments slip which she had been given in the summer of 1985 at MR HQ by Eldritch, with the track-listing of the second album written on it in Eldritch’s own hand-writing! After being kept private for thirty years, this photo was re-shared by Phil Verne on his The Sisters of Mercy 1980-1985 Facebook fan page to great excitement, as there were a further nine (NINE!!) tracks alongside the afore-mentioned Torch !

One of these, Bury Me Deep, was well-known as it had already been released as the b-side of the final FALAA single, No Time To Cry, in March 1985 as Eldritch rediscovered his taste for song-writing after recuperating from the exertions of physical illness and mental exhaustion as well as the stresses of the subsequent lengthy UK and European tours in October and November of 1984. Eldritch had written and recorded Bury Me Deep and Blood Money (the other b-side on that release) virtually as solo projects, and their critical acclaim despite (because of?) the departure in style from what had come before will have encouraged him to reassert his status as lead songwriter.

Other familiar titles are also present on the LOMAR tracklisting: Giving Ground would of course become the spoiler Sisterhood single to lay claim to that band’s name and to guarantee continued access to lucrative publishing details, and both This Corrosion (which was almost released as the second Sisterhood single with James Ray on vocals in the Spring of 1986) and Driven Like The Snow eventually made it onto Floodland in 1987.

The exact identity of the other five songs, and whether or not they made it onto Gift or Floodland under a different title, has been a source of much speculation since this document was discovered (and will remain so until Eldritch breaks his silence on the issue), but even if no recordings of these demos have seen the light of day, this tracklisting shows just how far advanced Eldritch’s vision for the second album had already become.

Inevitably, there were some who refused to believe the authenticity of this artefact, but any such doubts were extinguished when Howard Thompson, an A&R man close to TSOM and Eldritch in particular in the early 80’s, shared a similar image on his Instagram account. This tracklisting, written out in front of him by Eldritch on a napkin at the Gramercy Hotel in New York in 1985, not only features exactly the same songs and running order, but also identified the singles to accompany the album, with b-sides listed for both 7” and 12” versions!

To most fans’ great surprise, these b-sides featured tracks not known to have existed as early as 1985, such as Untitled (later a b-side of Dominion/Mother Russia), Avalanche pts I and II (presumably although not necessarily Flood I and Flood II) and Dominion, meaning that most of the songs which would eventually feature on the global breakthrough album (Floodland) and its accompanying singles had already been written or at least conceived by the suddenly prolific Eldritch by the time of the final split.

Even more incredibly, there was also to be a release of a Hussey-penned lyric, Garden of Delight (see previous post), in which Eldritch could clearly see some merit, although it was to be relegated to a b-side. Furthermore, it is clear that Eldritch intended to finish the Wide Receiver demo (which has subsequently surfaced). For many years many fans doubted whether this was in fact a Sisters demo, but on Heartland Forum, chief administrator Quiff Boy obtained confirmation from Gary Marx that it was indeed an Eldritch original, reporting: “Not long after they’d got back from the States, circa 1984, the band had begun writing material for FALAA. The story goes that Von was really into American Football after this trip and he turned up at rehearsal one day with a cassette tape, saying that he had this fantastic track he wanted to work on. It was Wide Receiver. The only lyric Von had come up with was something about a “wide receiver,” and then some dodgy sixth-form rhyme about “…deceive her.”” Despite the derision of his bandmates Eldritch clearly thought that there was sufficient merit in the track to include it on a planned single over a year later.

Even at this stage, with the track list now widely debated, there was some speculation (probably based on the very few new songs to have been written by the singer over the past twenty-five years) as to whether Eldritch had actually done anything other than come up with titles for songs, but Thompson shared a further photo on Instagram which proved beyond doubt that Eldritch planned to continue with his plan for LOMAR at this point: a tape of a recording session which Eldritch had undertaken at Slaughterhouse Studios in December 1985!

The MR statement about the break-up reported in Sounds at the beginning of November 1985 suggested that Eldritch might even employ Hussey as a session guitarist for his next release, as it seems that the pair were still on relatively amicable terms. However, by the time he himself headed into Slaughterhouse studios the following month to record some demos, Hussey and Adams were talking more boldly about their plan to use first The Sisters and then The Sisterhood as their new band name, and this plan had clearly been shelved. Back in that first week of November, Wayne Hussey was asked about the news in Sounds of him possibly contributing to Andrew’s new album as part of an interview for Mass Murder fanzine, to which he replied “I would have helped if it had been a Sisters of Mercy album, but it’s not, it’s an Andrew Eldritch album, so I’m not helping.” In the same interview, Wayne also (helpfully for us) comments on the new material that Eldritch was working on: “The stuff Andy’s doing now is softer and slower”, before adding a more surprising comment: “music you can dance to.” He confirmed that “We really did split up because of musical differences. I’ll reserve judgement on what he’s doing until he’s finished. He’ll pull something out of the bag – he always does!” Hussey was not quite so charitable after the subsequent legal battle over the band name, penning a cuttingly negative and deeply personal (but very amusing) review of “Gift” for one of the music weeklies.

On Thompson’s cassette (labelled once again in Eldritch’s distinctive handwriting), the singer refers to the artist as “Andrew Eldritch” and not “The Sisters of Mercy”, giving some credence to his claim at the time that there was an agreement that neither side of the split would use the TSOM name in the future. Eldritch told Melody Maker in September 1987, “The people who are now The Mission and myself had an agreement that no one would use the name when the band went its separate ways.” Wayne further acknowledged this in the February 1986 Sounds interview, “Andrew wanted to start making songs as himself, and to kill off The Sisters.” However, when Hussey and Adams began using the names The Sisters and The Sisterhood (the latter with the expressed permission of the ex-TSOM fan following of the same name), the well-documented legal battle over the name began.

Although Thompson revealed the photo, he could not recall the contents of the cassette, but hopefully one day he will find time to listen to it and report whether Ritual is a familiar song (Rain From Heaven ?) under an unfamiliar title or a previously unheard song. What the tape also proved was that all three groupings from the former Sisters of Mercy had indeed worked in the same provincial studio within a couple of months of the final split.

(the building formerly housing Slaghterhouse Studios)

(contemporary photo of Slaughterhouse Studios)

As its name suggests, the Slaughterhouse in Great Driffield was indeed a former butcher's shop and abattoir which had been converted into a residential recording studio, one of very few in the North of England. It was run by Russell Webster, who was barely older than Eldritch himself, with on the sound-desk an equally youthful sound engineer Colin Richardson, who was beginning to make a name for himself, having worked with The Chameleons at Cargo Studios in Rochdale. He had also worked at KG studios, and knew Pete Turner (Sisters live sound mixer since 1981) who also worked at Slaughterhouse occasionally, meaning that it was only natural that the post-punk bands would gravitate to the unlikely setting of Great Driffield.

The studio subsequently became famous as the venue of the legendarily crazy recording sessions of “Bummed”, the seminal Happy Mondays album produced by Martin Hannett, and then as the home of hardcore metal as Earache records stars (Napalm Death etc) flocked to have their work produced by Richardson, an equally legendary name to metal fans.

Vinyl evidence would tend to suggest however that both engineer Richardson (on drums) and studio manager Webster (on vocals) were more personally impressed by their earlier customers, as the pair became unlikely stars on the European goth circuit in the early 1990s thanks to the ever-increasing popularity of the song Shadow Dance by their studio project Eyes of the Nightmare Jungle, a “band” still remembered fondly by many German goths in particular (their FB page has been “like”d by a number of high profile Sisters fans who are probably unaware of the connection – until today!).

By the time that The Slaughterhouse suffered a devastating fire and closed in the 1990’s, Eyes of The Nightmare Jungle were touring Europe, although they split shortly afterwards. Lead singer, studio owner and serial entrepreneur Webster was last in the news (in the Bridlington area at least) a couple of years ago, as he sought crowd-funding for his latest venture, a family board game which sadly never reached mass production.

(picture of Russell Webster launching his board game from Bridlington Free Press, 2015)

So, to summarise the last three posts, by mid-1985 Gary Marx had a head full of riffs but few finished songs (which would ultimately resurface in very different form in the recorded output of Ghost Dance) and no desire to work with Eldritch, Hussey or Adams ever again; Hussey (and his faithful side-kick Adams) had a whole host worth of commercial goth pop/rock riffs, some with lyrics attached, which would make up both The First Chapter and God’s Own Medicine, whilst Eldritch had at least in embryonic form a whole further raft of rather different songs, which would go on to fill most Gift and Floodland.

As a result, in 1986/1987 fans were able to enjoy simultaneously three different acts, two of whom (The Mission and with Patricia Morrison on board, a new version of The Sisters of Mercy) would become fixtures in the charts, whilst a pair of them (Ghost Dance and The Mission) were popular ‘live’ acts on the UK and European circuits.

However, it is clear that the musical and personal differences between the four were such that no magical synergy would be likely to take place, and that rather than being a compilation of the best of the five albums-worth of songs which we have analysed in these three posts, an album that in all probability could have propelled the band to long-lasting global superstardom, the actual “Second and Last and Always” would have been a tortured mish-mash of influences and opinions (not unlike Bauhaus' famous 1983 break-up album, Burning From The Inside) by a group of highly talented individuals who were clearly at their creative peak, yet were, in the words of the bootleg which contains some of the fragments, Victims of Circumstance.

My thanks for this final post in the Second and Last and Always trilogy are once again due to HT, to LG, to Daniela G, to Ade M, to Graham C, to Praver B and to Phil Verne of the 1980-1985 TSOM Facebook group, and to all fellow TSOM fans who continue to support this blog. Fans of The Sisters of Mercy should definitely consider subscribing to Mark Andrews’ very exciting project, a biography of the band’s formation and early days. This will be an essential read and a definitive independent account of one of the most interesting and enigmatic rock phenomena of the past forty years. Rise and Reverberate!