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!