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.