Sunday, 26 January 2020

Gnome Time To Cry - Zurich, 26/4/1985

When The Sisters of Mercy arrived in Switzerland for their first ever gig in the cantons towards the end of April in 1985, one can easily imagine their state of mind. The first leg of the gruelling Armageddon tour was now behind them, with ten gigs in Belgium, Holland and (West) Germany completed in the past thirteen days, their first as a three-piece after Gary Marx’s departure, so there must have been a palpable sense of relief. This was evident a few days beforehand when Wayne Hussey had taken part in a phone interview with a Swiss radio station, where he discussed how well the band were coping with him as sole guitarist, to the extent of the very strong likelihood that Gary would not replaced. Wayne was even compos mentis enough to correct the radio DJ on the date of the forthcoming Zurich gig.

The Zurich gig (advertised on Swiss copies of FALAA by this sticker, from the collection of LG) was very much in the middle of a brief lull in the middle of the touring schedule being the only gig in a four day spell between gigs in Munich and Milan, with  a further dozen dates in sixteen days in Italy, Germany (again) and Scandinavia to follow (tour book extract courtesy of Graeme Salt who shared it on the TSOM 1980-1985 FB group). One can imagine how relieved Eldritch and co must have been to see the words "Band and crew: NO TRAVEL". 

The band certainly seem to have been in relaxed mood during interviews around the gig, with a further Swiss radio interview featuring all three remaining members also broadcast and with this presumably also being the venue for Judith Ammann’s interview with Eldritch which featured in her 1987 German language book of interviews with post-punk acts, Who’s Been Sleeping In My Brain? (Ammann being originally from Lucerne).

The interview focusses on the lyrics of two of the tracks on the recently released debut LP, No Time To Cry and Possession. A live version of the latter was one of two tracks (Body and Soul being the other) which have been widely bootlegged from the gig at the Zurich Volkshaus on Friday 26th April 1985, featuring on both the Echoes series of LPs and the Acid Rain 12”. Eldritch, clearly tiring of touring and feeling overwhelmed by the responsibilities of the figurehead position which he had rapidly attained, speaks with great candour about the “Possession” lyrics (the Zurich version of which has been kindly uploaded to Soundcloud by Phil Verne of The Sisters of Mercy 1980 – 1985Facebook group) in the Ammann interview.

Lines in the song such as :

I'll be your imagination
Tear apart what you believe
Make a mess of your conviction
Take away my pride and leave
Nothing, but the debris
Cuts, two ways.

take on extra meaning in the context of Eldritch’s comments in reply to Ammann who had asked him if he felt like a screen on which the audience projected their own dreams and desires that were not a true reflection of Eldritch himself. “Not if you play the game the way I do,” the singer replied (if my approximate translation of the German is correct). “Our song Possession is about this very subject. I’m simply trying to show an image of the relationship between the writer, the singer, the song and the audience. If singers and audiences continue to insist on sticking to their roles as they are normally understood, nothing remains [after the end of the song].” Ammann asks Eldritch what he IS trying to project, eliciting the answer: “I'm just trying to be a responsible puppet for other people’s emotions; no matter what you try to represent, this is what it always comes down to. That's what the audience demands and understands …It can be soul-destroying. Sometimes you almost feel contempt [for the audience]. In this particular song [Possession] I was trying to say: Please don’t trust me too much, because this is still me [Andrew] and not something that you want to see in me. Be careful, because if you trust me even more, I may just become what you want to see in me, and that won’t help anyone. So there’s this balance between contempt and the responsibility that anyone feels when standing up there and singing about pain. That's exactly what we sing about.” This probably helps to explain why the vocal on the FALAA version of Possession sounds particularly raw, as Eldritch strove to convey the extent of his emotion on the issue, rather than the more polished and enhanced vocal on most of the rest of the band’s canon.

But back to the puppet show. Possibly as a result of the radio pre-publicity, the fact that it was the band’s first ever show in Switzerland, and this rather fine and unique advert for the show which appeared in Swiss magazines, the show at the Volkshaus was very well-attended, as can be seen in the wonderful contemporary photo below ((c) Sonja Flurry)  According to reports from those who were there, it wasn’t just the cramped audience conditions and the apparent heat (see the sweat on the face of the Jordan Pickford lookalike at the bottom right of the photo) which made the gig an intense experience for those in attendance, but also the sheer volume at which the band played that night.

Tom G Warrior of contemporary and highly influential Swiss “extreme metal” band Celtic Frost (and therefore something of an occupational expert in loud concerts) was at the gig, and spoke about it in an interview with The Quietus’ Jimmy Martin in 2017. “I saw The Sisters of Mercy with Martin Ain from Celtic Frost in Zurich in April 1985 on the tour [for FALAA]. It was the loudest concert I’ve ever heard in my life. It was so loud that you had to leave the hall periodically because it was so painful. But at the same time we witnessed something that we had never witnessed before. When we stood there and we saw Marian and …First And Last And Always live, with that heaviness, that darkness, that volume, it was amazing.”

Blogger JHG Shark was also at the gig, and also found it a unique experience amongst the many shows catalogued on his website : “It was a strange gig, because people screamed and whistled between the songs, but there was no applause! I’d never experienced anything like it. I don’t think it was because of the band’s sound or the show on stage, it’s just how Sisters fans were. I personally really enjoyed the gig, even though the sound was thinner than on the record.” [This could of course be due to the fact that there was only the one guitarist, with Marx back in West Yorkshire] “After the gig I had to go to the Big Apple Club to do my DJ shift. The Sisters and some of their fans also found their way to the club, and some fans requested that I play a few TSOM tracks. I thought, “No way,” and just played the usual records. Eventually, the members of the band got up to dance … and to the great astonishment of all their fans present, they were dancing to… SIMPLE MINDS”. Sadly no video evidence of this event has yet surfaced…

The gig itself was however recorded by several attendees, and listening to a copy of the show (kindly provided to me by Phil Verne of the TSOM 1980-1985 Facebook fan group) the volume issues and the strange atmosphere are immediately apparent. Doktor Avalanche is incredibly high in the mix, the beats bludgeoning the senses, and this is probably the only gig of this era I have heard where Eldritch doesn’t utter a single word during the entire show between the songs, save for the title of the next number. The Volkshaus acoustics are particularly effective on Body and Soul, with Hussey’s guitar reverberating around the arena, whilst the thin-ness of the guitar sound is all too apparent on Walk Away. Hussey makes a guitar pitch error during his “No…No…No…” backing vocals section on No Time To Cry, but Eldritch makes an even bigger gaffe on Amphetamine Logic, coming in two lines early and singing the chorus over the verse backing, leaving Adams and Hussey to play the chorus as an instrumental on the first play-through. The singer was in notably finer form on Emma and Marian, and the recording ends with the best live version which I have heard of Train, sadly and suddenly curtailed on this copy of the recording. 

So a distinctive as much as a legendary gig in one of the more attractive venues on the tour (pic above, credit Wikipedia) and one which I'm pleased to report is still going strong today (as is the Seegarten Hotel where they stayed, now charging around £175 a night for a standard double room - the band had clearly arrived!). Having originally opened back in 1910, The Volkshaus’ 1200 capacity hall hosted recent gigs for As I Lay Dying and Vampire Weekend amongst others, but many bands, including TSOM, now play at the city’s “Rote Fabrik” (“Red Factory”) instead.

My grateful thanks for this post are due to LG, to Phil Verne of the TSOM 1980-1985 Facebook fan group, to Graeme Salt, to JHG Shark and all others who have contributed.

Sunday, 5 January 2020

The Sisterhood - interview with Lucas Fox

Lucas Fox was Andrew Eldritch’s right hand man on The Sisterhood project in 1986, helping the Sisters’ vocalist to rush-record and release the Giving Ground single to wrest control of The Sisterhood band name from Wayne Hussey and Craig Adams, and then working on the follow-up Gift mini-LP, a remastered version of which is due to be re-released on Cadiz Music in 2020. Fox, who famously was Motörhead’s first drummer before also being a founder member of London punk band Warsaw Pakt (whose only LP was released within twenty-four hours of being recorded in 1977 – a useful experience for the Giving Ground project!) and a touring and session drummer and producer for countless other acts before supporting The Sisters as a temporary member of The Scientists in 1985.

Thereafter Fox relocated to France where he became a well-respected industry figure,  resurfacing as a musician when drumming on the Pink Faeries’ new album for Cleopatra Records in 2018. Now writing his musical autobiography, Lucas Fox gave a series of interviews last year in which he spoke in some detail about his involvement with The Sisterhood (notably in this Croatian interview) amongst many other projects, and when his old friend and music paper lensman Tony Mottram kindly suggested to The Sisters of Mercy 1980-1985 Facebook fan group administrator that he would be happy to pass on any questions to Lucas Fox, I jumped at the opportunity to find out more about one of the most fascinating periods of both his and Andrew Eldritch’s very different forty year musical careers.

Lucas very kindly provided full answers to my questions below, which help to confirm many aspects of The Sisterhood project and to add some extra details in places. I am very grateful to Phil, to Tony and of course to Lucas, and hope that you find the latter’s answers as interesting as I do.

NVL: What can you remember of when you first met the Sisters?
Lucas Fox: We were based at the same office Ladbroke Grove in London. Like other Gothic bands of the time they wore only black, as did I.

NVL: What were your first impressions?
Lucas Fox: Andrew was austere and aloof, but Wayne and Craig and I got on straight away. Andrew and I warmed to each other as we got to know each other.

NVL: Eldritch has often stated that he was a big Motörhead fan – did he regularly grill you about your time in the band?
Lucas Fox: Not “grill”… but he would ask questions about Lemmy occasionally - about sulphate consumption,  about our musical interests when we (Lemmy and I) started the band…

NVL: Could you hear much of a Motörhead influence in the Sisters’ sound?
Lucas Fox: Not really. There were/are far more dynamics in the Sisters’ song arrangements. At full tilt there are some likenesses, but I couldn’t really say that I see a lot of influence.

NVL: Eldritch drummed on the first TSOM single but has employed a drum machine ever since. Did you often discuss this issue with him, the merits of human versus machine?
Lucas Fox: After he’d seen me play with The Scientists and knew I’d been producing. My drumming style with The Scientists intrigued him and I think he had a yearning.

NVL: When you toured with The Sisters as last-minute replacement drummer for the Scientists, was that your first major tour for a while, as it was seven years since Warsaw Pakt split up?
Lucas Fox: I worked with Carl Groszman’s White Lightning, recording and touring, with SPYS (same), Walking Wounded, Freddie “Fingers Lee”, Fools Dance (Simon Gallup of the Cure)… I played, recorded and toured with Martin Stephenson (& the Daintees)... and many sessions..

NVL: Were you aware on the Scientists’ tour with The Sisters that the band was on the verge of splitting up?
Lucas Fox: No

NVL: When you were asked to join the Sisters for Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door [at the Brighton Top Rank gig on April 1st, 1985), was that pre-planned, or just a last-minute spur of the moment thing?
Lucas Fox: On the moment, it was Andrew’s idea.

NVL: That gig was Gary Marx’s last show with the Sisters. Did you know that this would be the case at the time?
Lucas Fox: No, I didn’t.

NVL: Was it a surprise when Andrew contacted you to work at the beginning of 1986 to work on the Sisterhood project, or had he already mooted the idea the previous year?
Lucas Fox: No, it was a reaction to Wayne & co wanting to use the name Sisterhood (the Sisters fan club)...

NVL: As you may be aware, Andrew has the reputation of being something of a perfectionist in the studio, and some have found him difficult to work with as a result. How did you find him in that regard?
Lucas Fox: Complicated, fascinating, sometimes difficult, always obsessive...

NVL: Were you aware of the importance of rush-releasing the “Giving Ground” to secure the band name and the publishing deal advance when you were recording the song?
Lucas Fox: Yes, but not the publishing advance part.

NVL: Was there a lot of pressure?
Lucas Fox: Well, I just went for it as usual.

Was the atmosphere different when you went to Fairview to record “Gift”?
Lucas Fox: Yes it was just me and Andrew and Roy the engineer for 6 weeks, only at night, apart from when James Ray or Patricia were there.

NVL: Were the songs in a fully finished form and it was just a case of recording them, or were they basic ideas which were then worked out in the studio?
Lucas Fox: Most didn’t exist at all!

NVL: Were you surprised by the content of The Sisterhood material, which was very different to The Sisters of Mercy’s output?
Lucas Fox: No, it was still obviously Andrew’s work and style.

NVL: Have you listened back to the album much since?
Lucas Fox: Yes, quite a few times.

NVL: Did Alan Vega visit the studio or did he contribute via tape ?
Lucas Fox: No, it was by tape.

NVL: Was there any other times subsequently when you worked with Andrew?
Lucas Fox: No, just the mixes at Eel Pie [Pete Townshend’s studios in Twickenham near London] after the sessions at Hull.

NVL: More recently, The Sisters of Mercy have covered Motörhead’s Capricorn and Larry Wallis’ Police Car in live shows. Have you heard either of them (easily findable on YouTube) and if so, what did you think of them?
Lucas Fox: No, I must listen to them!

NVL: Where do you rank The Sisterhood in the various musical projects you have been involved in over your career?
Lucas Fox: As a very interesting project.

NVL: You drummed on some old Motörhead songs at a show with a Greek tribute towards the end of 2019 ….
Lucas Fox: Yes, it went fabulously well, hundreds of autograph signings (+selfies etc) and I got to play 3 Motörhead songs that hadn’t been played in that version since 1975, an awesome experience! Greek metal fans are great and know all the words ...

NVL: And would you like to work with Eldritch again one day? Are you still in touch with him?
Lucas Fox: Yes, I wouldn’t mind but I can’t see it being likely, and no, we’re not in touch.

Thanks again to Lucas for his reminiscences of a facinating time in TSOM history. Keep an eye out for his musical autobiography which will be a wonderful insight into the early days of metal, punk and goth!