Thursday, 24 January 2019

Second and Last and Always Pt 2

(This is the second 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)

Of the three elements into which The Sisters of Mercy fractured in 1985, the pairing of Wayne Hussey and Craig Adams were the first to show publicly how the second TSOM album may have sounded had the band stayed together. Despite the long-term disputes within the band, followed by Marx’s departure in April, and the increasingly frosty atmosphere between Eldritch on the one hand and Hussey/Adams on the other, it appears that all three remaining members were still prepared to give a second TSOM album a go, and history records that they gathered together initially in Hamburg in the late summer of 1985 to work on demos. Hussey later told Sounds magazine (January 1986) “As far as Craig and I were concerned, we’d resigned ourselves..we’d not been enjoying it for a while, but we’d resigned ourselves to sticking it out, and maybe it would’ve got better. But in fact it was getting worse. I went to Hamburg for a month with Andrew to try and write songs for the second Sisters album, and we came back with all my ideas rejected and Andrew’s very skeletal…Andrew said, “I’m not singing any of your songs. That’s what it boiled down to. Craig walked out of rehearsal [having famously refused to play the bassline for the song which became “Torch”] and a day later I did.” The following year he would tell Germany’s Spex magazine, “Andrew rejected all my songs and let me work on one single chord the whole time – E minor!”

On Hussey and Adams’ return to the UK, they immediately went into a new 24 track studio which had opened in Yorkshire, Slaughterhouse Studios in Driffield, a sleepy market town between Hull and York. It was both cheaper and nearer than Stockport’s Strawberry Studios, and given that Ghost Dance and Eldritch also recorded (separately) at the Driffield studios in the latter months of 1985, it is clear that this was the venue where the band had planned to record the follow-up to FALAA during late autumn (Sounds in November 1985 reporting that the departure of Hussey and Adams “has scuppered recording plans for a new album this month”). Presumably WEA had booked the studio time in advance, and therefore by design rather than coincidentally all three shards of the early 1985 incarnation of The Sisters of Mercy independently recorded their first post-split demos there before the year was out!

(Slaughterhouse Studios)

With what at the time seemed almost indecent haste to some, although more understandably given that Hussey had a whole host of almost finished songs ready to go, the band that would become The Mission were first through the recently-opened Slaughterhouse doors. At this stage (October 1985), the group had no permanent drummer as Mick Brown had yet to officially join from Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, doing so formally after one final RLYL gig on 29th November 1985, but he played drums on the Slaughterhouse sessions. These sessions would yield the songs Wake and Naked and Savage, both of which feature in their original form on the B-side of the debut Mission release in May 1986 on the independent Birmingham-based Chapter 22 label, along with A-side track Serpent’s Kiss, which as we discussed in a previous post, he had already recorded as an instrumental in preparation for Eldritch’s added lyric and vocal on Easter Monday 1985, immediately after Gary Marx’s departure, with a view to it being the next Sisters “A” side. The October 1985 version (this date features prominently on the back of the record sleeve of the first Mission single) of course features Hussey’s own lyric and vocal, and rather than the next TSOM single as originally intended, it became the lead track to launch the new band, picking up the airplay which would see the vinyl release rocket up the indie charts the following spring. 

Wake (RSV) in particular attracted attention because of its lyrical content, which has been interpreted as a (very) thinly veiled attack on both Eldritch's inactivity and his increasing isolation ("Pillar of wisdom and soul of iron, Alone in the crumbling tower of power" etc). The fact that the title is the same as the name Eldritch had given to the Royal Albert Hall gig, that there was an RSV (Revised Standard Version) of the Sisterhood's debut single and these three letters did not appear on the demo tape version of Hussey's song, and the run-off groove of the A side stated "Keeping the Faith, not Giving Ground", another seemingly direct reference to Eldritch's rushed post-split single, only served to confirm these suspicions. Presumably Hussey penned these waspish lyrics in the studio and sang them over a melody originally intended to have Eldritch's words on top - "It's a taste of your own medicine. God's Own Medicine for you!" Hussey was obviously particularly pleased with the latter lyric fragment, using it as the title for the Mission's debut LP, even though Wake (RSV) wasn't selected for the album! Conspiracy theorists with a detailed knowledge of the events of this era will also spot the words "victim" and "circumstance" in close proximity to each other in the lyric, plus a reference to "revenge", all of which presumably did not escape Eldritch's notice either.

Also recorded at that initial Slaughterhouse session was another song presumably intended for The Sisters, Bridges Burning (a different version of which would be on the debut LP God’s Own Medicine) and the original Slaughterhouse demo (Burning Bridges) finally saw an official release in 2007 on the extended reissue of the band’s The First Chapter compilation album. Wayne Hussey makes it clear in his sleeve notes for that release that ex-Artery guitarist Simon Hinkler had not yet joined the band for the Slaughterhouse session, although he does feature on the sleeve for that first Mission EP, having joined the group in late December 1985 (Hussey told Sounds “We only got Simon three weeks before this tour” when The Sisterhood’s live dates began) between the recording of the first single and its eventual release once the Sisters/Sisterhood name wrangle (a very well-known tale) was resolved. The lack of a second guitarist for these first recordings, and the presence of a stand-in (at that time) drummer, are furtehr evidence of the good faith of Hussey and Adams in attending the initial writing sessions with Eldritch, as they clearly had no fully realised Plan B at that stage.

A fifth song which Hussey had originally intended for the Sisters was of course Garden of Delight, which would ultimately become the Mission’s second single and their final release for Chapter 22 before they signed to the major Mercury label. An earlier version of Garden of Delight featuring Eldritch singing Hussey’s lyric had been recorded at Strawberry Studios earlier in 1985 following the recording of FALAA (and not during the FALAA recording sessions in 1984 as is often claimed), and is one of the best-known TSOM bootlegs. Of all the existing material, this track gives the biggest (and indeed only definitive) clue as to how “Second and Last and Always” might have sounded had Eldritch been in a more democratic mood and accepted Hussey’s songs (including lyrics) without question. Incidentally, Eldritch himself referred to his Garden of Delight vocal directly in a Swedish TV interview in the early 90’s, saying “There are a few bootlegs in existence of me trying to sing Wayne’s words, and you can hear that I’m not convinced by them. I can’t breathe any meaning into them!”

(Mass Murder fanzine interview)

Eldritch was not the only one unconvinced, with WEA rejecting the initial Slaughterhouse demo recordings because Hussey’s vocal was not deemed to be strong enough. Hussey had hoped that the single would be released as early as January 1986 on WEA according to an interview conducted in early November 1985 for Mass Murder fanzine, but “we’ll know at the end of the week, they haven’t heard the tape yet.” In the same interview, Wayne states that “There’s a 12” which will have two tracks on each side,” which explains why there was a finished Bridges Burning in the vaults, as the ultimate Chapter 22 release only featured the one track (Serpent’s Kiss) on the A-side. He also states that the band will be called “The Sisters, just The Sisters, me and Craig. It’s going to be really good, it’s going to be brilliant” he adds, in the style of a certain modern self-praising president!

Speaking to Mark Musolf for a YouTube interview a couple of years ago, Hussey explained the process by which he ended up fronting the project, light-heartedly acknowledging that his vocals were at least initially not the best : “At that point [having split from Eldritch in September 1985] we wanted to get someone else to sing…We auditioned a couple of people, it didn’t work ,it didn’t feel right and Warner Brothers suggested a couple of people, and we said “Really? You’re not really getting this are you?” So Craig and I went to see Simon Denbigh and he said “You do it. [jokingly adds] You’re better looking than him.” I looked at Craig and [said] “Shall I?” and [he said] “Yeah go on. Don’t worry about the words, you can string together any old rubbish, it’ll be fine. It’s only journalists and other singers that worry about the words.” And I said “Ok, I’ll have a go.”  I came into it by default and it took me a while to warm to the role.” Within a couple of years, Hussey would be winning “Best Singer” accolades in readers’ polls in music magazines, so it was little surprise that when I posted a link to the video of the Musolf interview on the TSOM 1980-1985 Facebook Fan page, highlighting March Violets’ singer Simon Denbigh’s part in Hussey becoming the frontman, the former commented “Je ne regrette rien!”.  

There will have been many other ideas which the Hussey/Adams combination had in mind for The Sisters’ FALAA follow-up, and one of these surfaced as recently as 2017 on The Complete Another Fall From Grace, the deluxe repackaged (fan-fleecing!) version of the recent Mission album which Hussey had trailed as a return to the mid-80’s sound of The Sisters, even suggesting that it was “the missing link” between FALAA and God’s Own Medicine. The bonus track Sleeping Pills was in fact a new vocal and guitar over-recording of a demo made for the Sisters in 1984/5, and a most intriguing track it is too. Featuring a much slower and more languid melody, with psychedelic tinges, it has more in common with, say, Body and Soul than with the Hussey-penned tracks on FALAA. The track starts with a Dr Avalanche-style drumbeat followed by a repeated minor scale guitar riff which is typical of that period. When Sleeping Pills first emerged, to a disappointingly muted reception it has to be said given its historical significance, I likened it to one of the tracks on (Salvation’s MR album) Clash of Dreams, or a low-fi Poison Door, as it had a B-side feel to it, ironically not unlike Giving Ground in fact. Hussey played the song several times live, and videos of these performances have been shared on the web (including on the Mission Fan Club Fan Page) for those who want to hear it in its refashioned form.

Phil Verne, the main administrator of the TSOM 1980-1985 fan site and a TSOM obsessive who also keenly followed the Hussey/Adams-led new ensemble, has also shared (originally from the same tape as the Some Kind of Stranger instrumental version) this incredible rare version of the epic Wasteland, which would go on to become The Mission’s breakthrough hit (and fourth single overall) when it reached the UK Top 20, far outperforming any of the TSOM releases up to that date. The multi-layered instrumental demo version which Phil shared was recorded by Wayne alone in 1985, and therefore the tune presumably featured amongst those song ideas offered to Eldritch. What is particularly interesting is that it features a drum machine, meaning that it not only pre-dates Hussey’s work with Mick Brown, but that it was clearly intended for The Sisters. There is informed speculation that this was just one of many songs which Hussey had worked up into almost complete demo versions for (what we are calling for the purpose of these blog articles) “Second And Last And Always”, but this version of Wasteland is the only song to have been shared. This version of the Mission’s breakthrough hit is therefore very likely to be the very one which Eldritch rejected! God’s Own Medicine indeed! 

Hopefully Hussey’s much-anticipated forthcoming autobiography will shed substantial and definitive further light on the precise chain of events of autumn 1985 and what his (and largely silent partner Craig Adams’) contribution to the potential second Sisters album might have been. However, as we have seen, the contents of The First Chapter and God's Own Medicine clearly give a very precise indication of how the musical backing and structrues, if not the vocals and lyrics, of the songs of "Second And Last And Always" would have sounded after Gary's departure, had Eldritch's FALAA writer's block continued and the susequent split not occured. 

The final of this trilogy of blog posts about the likely sound of a follow-up to FALAA by the 84/85 line-up will focus on the relatively recent major revelations about Eldritch’s own plans for this sadly mythical release –  which he gave the working title “Left On Mission And Revenge”.

My thanks for this post are due to collector LG, DJ Mark Musolf, legendary Sisters fans Lee EMWK, Nigel W, Kutna H, and Phil Verne of the 1980-1985 TSOM Facebook fan group, and to ever-affable Mr Hussey himself who has patiently confirmed some of the above details to various fans over the years.

Fans of early-era TSOM who have not yet done so should seriously consider subscribing to Mark Andrews' forthcoming history of TSOM.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Second and Last and Always – Part 1

(In a series of four previous posts, we examined the events that resulted the definitive splits in the band in 1985, shortly after the release of debut album First and Last and Always. In this and two subsequent posts, we are going to look at how the band’s follow-up might have sounded, if the “classic” line-up had managed to stay together, beginning from the perspective of the first member to leave that year, Gary Marx).
“I’d like to see the second album go to number one in the LP charts…Second and Last and Always…we’ve got the title already!” – Gary Marx, Artificial Life fanzine interview, March 1985. Although founder member Marx was clearly joking about the LP’s title, it was obvious that for a long time he still planned to stay in the band before his decision to leave the band after the Old Grey Whistle Test recording on April 2nd 1985.

Had he stayed, and had the format adopted on FALAA remained the same (i.e. a side of largely Hussey compositions, followed by a side of tunes primarily penned by Marx), then we can have some idea of how the songs may have sounded, thanks to the very detailed notes which Marx produced for a Recording Diary for the sadly now defunct Ghost Dance website, for followers of the band which he formed with Ann-Marie Hurst, former vocalist with Bradford band Skeletal Family who had been the support act on TSOM’s legendary Black October tour the previous Autumn.

In these detailed accounts, Marx explains that a number of Ghost Dance tracks had their genesis in riffs which he had originally created for use with The Sisters, and although Eldritch’s lyrics and melody would clearly have been different to the finished GD versions, these nonetheless give an insight into the direction in which Marx would have wanted to take the band.

(Leeds Student preview April 1986, written by Gordon Taylor)

Yesterday Again (recently played live again by the now-reformed Skeletals) is one such song which had a noble lineage, as Gary explained: "The Sisters minus Eldritch had actually recorded a version of the song which became Yesterday Again in Strawberry [Studios}. It was originally titled Frail and Torn and Wayne sang my half-finished lyric one afternoon along with the first draft of The Mission’s Garden Of Delight. We used to refer to Frail and Torn jokingly as a potential Christmas single for the Sisters." This would indeed have been a welcome alternative to 1985’s actual Christmas number one hit, Merry Christmas, Everyone by Shakin’ Stevens. Sadly, no version of Frail and Torn has yet surfaced amongst collectors, so we will just have to take Gary’s word for its commercial potential, which does not seem over-fanciful given the typically epic spaghetti western guitar riff underpinning the song.

Another relic from the Strawberry Studios sessions for FALAA was Ghost Dance’s debut single in 1986, River Of No Return, of which Marx wrote : “The songs and the recording came about fairly quickly and Anne Marie and Etch pretty much stepped into ideas I carried over from the Sisters. The lineage is fairly evident in the songs and the packaging. I had the ideas for the original songs mostly in place by the Summer of 85 - I came up with the riff which features in the middle section of River… sitting in the reception area in Strawberry Studios during the first phase of recording for First And Last And Always. At the time I thought it would form the main part of a new track, but I played around with some variations and came up with the bass line which is the real focus for the verses in RiverThe chorus guitar line is pure Sisters (‘ ..all on one string and job’s a good un’ as Choque from Salvation was keen to point out). The way the riff steps up a string halfway through the verse was also something we did on the early Sisters stuff - Floorshow, Alice, Good Things…kind of a nod to bands like the Cramps who we all loved. The artwork followed the formula the Sisters had used to some extent with the famed Lady Of Shallot unceremoniously nicked and planted on the front cover. The back featured the wings logo I’d drawn based on a picture I’d seen in a book about American architecture (the full photograph formed the cover for Gathering Dust).”

(Live review by "Papi" in Leeds Student, May 1986)

A third idea originally sketched for the Sisters which Gary may have developed for the FALAA follow-up had he remained in the band surfaced in a further Ghost Dance song, Cruel Light, and the recording notes (written in the early part of this millennium) shed further light on one of the more curious episodes of 1984/5. “"[Ghost Dance producer] Steve Allen ... originally had a tiny studio in a rehearsal complex off Armley Road where I’d been with Wayne to record some new demos with him singing. We attempted the track which became Cruel Light but never finished it....The lines ‘I see them cut and die, see the flowers bleed..’ from Cruel Light was actually first used as part of a draft of another Sisters’ song I’d written called Temple Of Love (not the song we now know and love by that name)." You certainly don't need to be a musicologist to spot this as a Sisters-style riff. Whilst Eldritch may have suffered (and still does) from writer's block, Marx's creative juices were certainly flowing strongly (albeit with variations on a similar theme) in the mid-1980s. Eldritch mentions in a later interview (in Q magazine in 1988) how the other members of the band had had a go at singing at a time in 84/85 when he was thinking of withdrawing from the role to become the band's svengali manager (“and so discreetly, abroad, everybody had a go at singing, and decided that they weren’t very good”) and the original Cruel Light demo with Wayne singing may well be the kind of experiment he was referring to, albeit much closer to home.

A fourth Ghost Dance song which in a different guise might have featured on Second And Last And Always is A Deeper Blue, one of the strongest melodies in the Ghost Dance canon. It obviously made a similarly positive impression on Wayne Hussey, who borrowed the chorus melody (with song title repeated) note-for-note on The Mission’s UK Top 40 hit Beyond The Pale a couple of years later. The intro has shades of FALAA’s title track, but Gary’s comments in his Recording Diaries reveal that a different song of that era was the main source : “A Deeper Blue was one of the last of the ‘carry-overs’ from the Sisters. I had written a lyric to the tune which became Nine While Nine which started with the lines ‘the colours fade somewhere inside…’ I had the tune in my head long after and just finished it without a guitar while walking in Wakefield – it all happened very quickly, I was imagining the guitar hooks and coming up with the words at the same time. I always think of it as a Wakefield song. I went back to the guitar and figured out the riffs I’d been whistling and found they worked with roughly the same chords as Nine While Nine.” Intriguingly, a later post (by Marx) on the Ghost Dance Forum revealed that A Deeper Blue has more in common with an early demo for Nine While Nine with a different working title which has yet to surface: “I have often wondered how the Marianne (Red Skies Disappear) song leaked out on bootleg, and naturally assumed that if it was doing the rounds, then the Nine While Nine version recorded at the same time was out there too. It has the working title Child of Light and contained a line which mentions “the children of the dust.” When we were deciding on a title for FALAA I pitched that one in, even though it didn’t seem likely that the [i.e. Marx’s own] lyric would surface on the finished version. Quite reasonably, Von then pointed out that we were over-egging the “something of something” being called The Sisters of Mercy after all.”

The final Ghost Dance song with a TSOM link is probably the one which would have been most likely to gain Eldritch’s approval back in 1985, given that he was listening to a lot of soft rock in the Stevie Nicks vein, and is evidence that the original duo’s musical tastes were not that far apart. When the song When I Call finally came out in 1987 on the A Word to the Wise EP, Ghost Dance were still on indie label Karbon, but had they saved this song for a few months until they had the commercial might of Chrysalis behind them, they might have achieved the chart success which The Mission, All About Eve and The Sisters were by then achieving, a source of considerable frustration to the band. In his Recording Diaries, Marx states that When I Call was one of three tracks on the EP that "were among the first I’d written and date back to that period in ’85 when it wasn’t clear if I was going to carry on in the Sisters or go my own way....When I Call was there from day one of Ghost Dance – we played it in the first gig when we were still a three-piece, we demoed it in the Slaughterhouse in late ’85, and although it assumed epic proportions in the final recording, the core ingredients were much the same. Again there are fragments of lyric which had surfaced on Sisters demos – the original version of the song FALAA [Marianne (Red Skies Disappear)] had contained the line ‘only you can say the words I need to hear’ which forms part of the chorus to When I Call...The version of When I Call [on the EP] included multiple guitar tracks, Hammond organ and guest vocals from Daniel Mass of Salvation. Richard and John both proved to have decent voices so they feature on backing vocals as well. The producer allowed Anne Marie to sing in the control room without headphones, something she’d been keen to try for a while and he got some good performances out of her."

Poignantly, there is one further Ghost Dance song with a clear link to The Sisters of Mercy, but not musically. Gary Marx's birthday thirty three years ago might have been a personal celebration with friends rather than the expected final appearance at the RAH with the Sisters, but at least we got another great song out of it. As he later explained : "Celebrate was sort of written in my head on my birthday while out in the Black Swan in Wakefield. My birthday was the same day as the Sisters’ Royal Albert Hall Show, recorded for posterity on the Wake video. I was going to play the gig and then didn’t (far too hideous a tale to go into here). I knew by then it was going to mark the end of the Sisters as a real band and knew a good many of the crew and the following who would be at the gig and the emotion surrounding the evening – Celebrate was sort of a song for and about the event I wasn’t taking part in. I viewed it fairly positively – it wasn’t meant to be a rant by the injured party or anything. Lines like ‘and on this hallowed ground..’ were really about the reverence the venue and the occasion seemed to invite and a sort of mental picture I had of the human pyramids, arms aloft and the smoke reaching up into the dome. I probably wrote the first verse separately at a later date after I’d sobered up!" 

Imagine if Gary had had a change of heart and had rejoined the Sisters after the Albert Hall gig, and the band had kept the same songwriting split as for the first album: what better way to close the second Sisters’ album than with a song about their greatest live show?

My thanks for this post are due of course to Mr Gary Marx for his wonderful recollections on the old Ghost Dance website, and to the many fans (Don, Martin, etc) who are always keen to ensure that Marx's key role in the band is fully acknowledged. This one's for you! The next post will look at the Hussey/Adams pairing and what their contribution to "Second And Last And Always" might have been.