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.