Saturday, 25 June 2022

TSOM at the Free Concert, The University of Sheffield, Saturday 25th June 1983

 (This is a second post about this particular gig, to be read in conjunction with what was one of the very earliest posts on this blog in its embryonic phase)

My favourite Sisters show of the 81-85 era took place on the last Saturday of June 1983, at the very end of the university year, and the finale to my own first year of living away from home whilst a “fresher” at the University of Leeds, three terms gradually but increasingly illuminated by the music of local bands The Sisters of Mercy, The March Violets and The Three Johns, who were all starting to make waves on the national alternative music scene. Many students had already left Leeds to return to the welcoming arms of (the bank of) Mum and Dad by the time exam results were published in mid-June, but I’d managed to eke out my grant with a few meagre savings and was able to continue to enjoy  the student lifestyle with my new-found friends to the bitter end (of the accommodation contract), the lecture-free weeks punctuated still with regular trips to the Phono.

With funds running low, you can imagine our delight when lurid lime green posters began to appear in studentsville (aka the Headingly/Woodhouse/Hyde Park districts of Leeds) advertising an appearance of The Sisters of Mercy just down the road in Sheffield, at a free end of term gig at the rival redbrick university there. Having already embraced the Yorkshire dictum of never refusing “owt for nowt”, the chance to see the Sisters again was too good to miss, so we quickly made plans to attend, working out the cheapest way to travel and organising someone’s house to crash at. Although I’d already seen the band five times that academic year, TSOM hadn’t played in Leeds since the Gun Club joint tour in April and would not do so again until the following May, so this turned out to be a wise decision.



The poster, a copy of which is now (in all places) in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (which hosts the national design archive), made it clear that there would be “no entry restrictions, all welcome, no union cards needed”, so with the new band of a founder member of The Jam (my first musical love half a dozen years earlier), Rick Buckler’s The Time (U.K) also on the bill, we decided to make sure that we were there by the 7 p.m. “doors open” time to ensure we didn’t have a wasted journey.

Indeed, by the time we arrived, the queue already snaked all the way from the main door to the university’s Students Union, over the broad footbridge which led to it and onto the pavement alongside the road which ran past it. Looking around, there were a lot of familiar faces, and it seemed as if half of Leeds had decided to head down the M1 for the gig, with very few “neutrals” or obvious fans of soul diva Ruby Turner, new romantic great white hope Matt Fretton or mod revivalist Rick Buckler on what was a typically eclectic bill for that time.




For geographical context, on the attached pic from Google Maps 3D, the Union is the building bottom right, with the Octagon Centre, where the band would play on future tours to the left. The Octagon was, if memory serves, still being constructed at the time of the June 1983 gig. The handsome red-brick Edwardian buildings higher up the hill on the other side of A57 (the main and very picturesque route from Sheffield to Manchester, passing Ladybower reservoir and the infamous Snake Pass over the Pennines) by Weston Park are original university building Friary Court and its neighbouring Rotunda, once the university library and clearly the source of architectural inspiration for the Octagon.

After about half an hour’s wait, presumably whilst the final band loaded in and soundchecked, the crowd was finally allowed into the venue, which was the downstairs refectory. Once inside the main doors, it still took an age to get down to the venue, but it soon became clear that the blockage was due to one Mr A Eldritch, who was chatting to his then-girlfriend Claire Shearsby and a few others from the God Squad inner circle halfway up the stairs, with people either stopping to gawp or engage with the diminutive singer as they made their way down.

Eventually we made it into the hall, hoping that TSOM would be on first, but to our disappointment the compere first introduced Matt Fretton (cover star of that week’s edition of Smash Hits). He wailed and nervously posed his way through his then minor synthpop hit It’s So High over a backing tape (featuring an Oberheim DMX of all things) to a mixture of jeers and indifference. How he must have wished that night, during his mercifully brief set, that he had stayed true to his punk rock roots, rather than becoming the latest major label clothes horse. After his very short-lived pop career, Fretton later had a successful career as a classical music agent, but tragically he passed away in 2013.


                               Pic of Andrew Eldritch onstage, Sheffield University June 1983 by NVL


Back in Sheffield, with the growing crowd becoming ever more impatient by the minute, The Sisters came on next, to the then-traditional set-opener Kiss The Carpet, that on-stage opportunity to complete the pre-set tuning up (which always needed repeating between virtually every song, such was the punishment Marx inflicted on his guitar), with Eldritch musing “Back in the smelly city…” at the end, as this was just two months since their show at the city’s Dingwalls in the city known around the world at that time for its pungent metalworks. With bright sunshine streaming in through the gaps in the already inadequate garish curtains, it was a strange mixture of lighting compared to the usual near darkness, but neither band nor followers seemed to care.

If you’ve heard the recording of the show – and thanks to one of my fellow moderators on The Sisters of Mercy 1980-1985 Facebook fanpage, you can find the entire gig song-by-song on YouTube, you’ll know that Eldritch was in fine form that night, not just vocally but in terms of the inter-song banter, none more so than when Doktor Avalanche lost the plot at the start of Emma (with a sheepish Ben Gunn banished to the back of the stage to sort the problem).



The whole atmospheric was euphoric, a celebration of a band who “knew what they were fighting for” with their “God Squad” followers, an air of invincibility and a certainty that here was a band that would make it big. There was an air of camaraderie and of friendly banter which those who still go to see The Mission these days report, but with the crucial difference that we knew that this band was at the cutting edge, the very epitome of cool and almost certainly the next big thing, all on its own terms. Eldritch really was in imperious form, the band were now technically suitably proficient (with the notable exception of the good Doktor!) but still looked like they were enjoying themselves, and the venues were still small enough for the band and audience to feel that essential electricity between them. I managed to sneak a couple of photos for posterity when down at the front, one of which is also attached to this post, before the set ended all too soon, apparently with an electrifying Body Electric (but I had to look that up, so there could have been a further encore).

As soon as the band had finished, the black-clad masses headed for the exit, leading to the desperate compere’s futile attempts to coax us back with promises of “the legendary Ruby Turner”. I’m sure that she was excellent entertainment (and I feel a bit guilty that the four hundred strong crowd the compere was no doubt excitedly promising to the artists backstage had dwindled in a matter of minutes to a mere handful of locals), and I would imagine that The Time (UK) were also not bad but rather dull (as they were on record), but like many others we headed down the road to the Leadmill club instead for what was an excellent night, until we unwisely stayed on the dancefloor for what turned out to be a “winner takes all” Sisters fans versus bare-chested (although my memory might be exaggerating somewhat here!) flat-topped locals slamfest which suddenly erupted in the chorus of “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?”. We quickly decided on self-preservation and therefore the latter of the options suggested by Mr Jones, but we still ended up getting chased half-way back to the house of the local who’d offered us floorspace for the night. A strange end to a great night!


Flyer for The Sisters of Mercy's May 1984 show at the Octagon, University of Sheffield.

 A recently rediscovered flyer for TSOM's next visit to Sheffield the following May attests to the success of the June 1983 show, stating "Those of you who saw them in the Lower Refectory last year will already have bought tickets. Not only did they delight their hardcore fans but they also made many more friends with their classic Alice and Temple of Love. Look out for their version of Dolly Parton's Jolene." Of course, The Sisters hadn't in fact played Temple of Love live in 1983 (indeed, it wasn't played at any UK shows in the 1980's), and Jolene had been retired from the setlist almost immediately after the Lower Refectory show, but this hand-written tribute (clearly to drum up further sales for the Octagon visit) captures perfectly the impact of that memorable night.

Thanks as ever to Phil Verne, Ade M,  LG and other archivists, collectors and members of the unofficial 1980-1985 TSOM fan page for their contributions to this post.

 

 

 

Sunday, 15 May 2022

Rare radio interview with Andrew Eldritch from March 1985

 To celebrate Andrew Eldritch 63rd birthday today, the blog is publishing the summary of an extremely rare radio interview conducted during the March 1985 UK tour.

Discovering an interview with The Sisters of Mercy from the 1981-1985 era which you’ve never come across before is always a real treat, and even more so if it’s an audio recording, where you get to hear Andrew Eldritch's words uncensored and unedited by a journalist looking for an “angle” on The Sisters’ story, which was so often the case “back in t’day”. In most audio interviews Eldritch, contrary to the ridiculous taciturn-yet-rude “Godfather of Goth” stereotype, invariably comes across as extremely patient, tolerating the most ridiculous of questions and slowly and carefully reciting his well-rehearsed masterplan for sometimes barely-interested interviewers, although on rare occasions his legendarily sharp tongue does get the better of him and the journalist is put in his/her place with a piece of withering sarcasm.

When Phil Verne of the unofficial 1980-1985 The Sisters of Mercy Facebook fan page (a private group whose membership is now well into five figures - genuine new members always welcome!) told me that he had been given temporary streaming access to a digital copy of a rare cassette marked “Leicester interview 1985” to listen to and authenticate, I offered to transcribe the interview, particularly as Phil had told me that the quality of the recording was not great and that as a non-native speaker of English there would be sections and subtleties that would be difficult for him to decipher. The owner (the collector LG) generously agreed that the contents of the interview could be shared via this blog as a gift to TSOM fans, in order to add to the archive of contemporary interviews about the band.

This somewhat fuzzy partial recording of what sounds like a radio interview for a BBC/independent local radio station (BBC Radio Leicester? Mercury?) starts in the middle of a sentence with Eldritch clearly talking about the city of Ely, his place of birth back in May 1959.  Although under 60 miles as the crow flies from Leicester, the apparent locus of the broadcast, Ely is in the neighbouring region, East Anglia, and therefore not particularly within the daily consciousness of a Leicester resident, but clearly conversation had strayed onto this topic. “Most people get to see where they were born,” intones Von, pausing for dramatic effect. “But not me.  I was only there for a week!” the singer comments, in a rare reference to his early life pre-Sisters as mere Andrew Taylor, whose family was nomadic as a result of his father's career.

As tracks from the then recently released First and Last and Always album continue to play in the background (a well-known radio trick for eking out a short interview into a longer segment whilst simultaneously allowing listeners to experience the music under discussion – in this case a longer interview had clearly been edited out-of-sequence with short bursts played between tracks from FALAA) the next interview snippet covers life on the road, with the interviewer asking, “Having been on the road for a bit, do you feel..?” only to be interrupted by a clearly relaxed Eldritch, who in a jocularly overdramatic tone replies “I feel stateless.” Joining in the badinage, the journalist suggests other words with the same suffix. “Stateless? Homeless? Witless?” Cackling, the vocalist’s retort is “Talentless!”, a summary which even his harshest critic (the NME’s Paul Morley) would have disagreed with.

It’s unusual to find the singer in such openly good-humoured and self-deprecating form in an interview, and he clearly feels that he is on the same wavelength humour-wise as the interviewer. The discussion has obviously now moved on to the band’s fanbase, and from the next extract it sounds as if the DJ has passed comment on the people who had attended the then recent (and now infamous) Blackburn gig. Given that the Leicester gig on that March 1985 tour took place the following week, it’s perfectly plausible that the journalist had travelled to East Lancashire from the East Midlands to witness the Blackburn gig and conduct the interview, to be broadcast shortly before the gig at Leicester’s Mr Kiesa’s club, to drum up interest in the latter show.



Photo of the Leicester Haymarket shopping centre from the late 1980's showing Mr Kiesa's "International Discotheque and Night Club" on the first floor behind the bus.

“(There’s) weird hippies in Dusseldorf, you know, and there’s sort of crazed [“fans”] in Japan some place, and there’s a few strange people everywhere that get off on it and they’re not all like the people you’ll see turning up in Blackburn. That’s just a part of it.” The interviewer immediately picks up on this point, asking somewhat philosophically “Do you think that the people turning up in Blackburn are particularly strange, because inevitably however strange they may look inevitably they’re all very ordinary…?” Again, Eldritch talks over the end of the question: “Everyone’s very ordinary, people generally just get marked out by the way they dress which doesn’t mean very much at all. It’s not the fault of the [“fan”] in Japan or the weirdo rocker in Dusseldorf that that he looks the way he does. Although I dare say it involves a fair degree of training! We just go out and play songs with good tunes, loud and somewhat violently and we leave it up to everybody else to form tribes or wash dishes or whatever the hell people do out there when they listen to our records.”

This is typical of Eldritch’s rejection of the black-clad hordes at that time, and he always liked to stress the broad range of the band’s appeal. Incidentally, I have substituted the word “fan” to describe the archetypal Japanese aficionado the singer refers to here, although he appears to use a word which would nowadays be considered to be an unacceptable racial slur. However, the audio quality of the tape is not perfect and I may be doing Von a disservice as he may in fact have used a different word. For those with more fevered imaginations, as far as I am aware “wash dishes” is meant literally and not a euphemism for one of the more rock’n’roll activities which Eldritch and in particular the other members of the band of this era were normally associated with. In fact, Eldritch referred to this fantasy of being a “housewife’s favourite” several times in interviews of that period.

Following Eldritch’s claim that the Sisters play “loud and somewhat violently”, the discussion then turns to The Sisters of Mercy’s contemporary WEA labelmates, East Kilbride’s finest, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and again Eldritch’s playful mood is very much to the fore. When the interviewer asks him, “Do you think that violence is returning to rock music, with The Jesus and Mary Chain, and you talk about your band..?” Eldritch is yet again not in the mood to allow him to finish his question. “It’s not returning because of four pre-pubescent Scottish wimps who are probably trying to prove something, God knows what, probably something everyone proved ten years ago,” the singer says, scathingly. “No! Not that we’ve got anything at all against The Jesus and Mary Chain, God bless their little cotton socks,” he quickly adds in a faux-chummy tone before whispering close into the mic what appears to be “I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you”!

Sticking to his original theme, the DJ asks Eldritch “Do you think that you have an overtly violent..?” only to have the singer again start speaking over him, this time in a fake angry voice, “Isn’t it strange that you can really learn to hate some people really quick,” before adding, sotto voce, “but of course, nothing to do with The Jesus and Mary Chain,” continuing in a mock angry tone “I really want to kill them bad!”. Rather than steer clear of the topic, the interviewer gamely sticks to his guns, again mentioning The Jesus and Mary Chain. “Fine boys!” interrupts Eldritch, continuing the banter, “Always said so, fine boys!”. “But going downhill very fast,” counters the journalist, before adding either ironically or sycophantically, “unlike The Sisters of Mercy who are on the way up, and up and up”. Suddenly, Von is back in regular interview mode and spitting out the soundbites most fans of the band will have heard many times before. “Everyone gets their fifteen minutes (of fame), we just decided to play the game by a different version of the rules and try to get rather more.”

After another short musical interlude, the interviewer questions the singer’s typically grand plans and self-important sense of place in the rock pantheon: “Do you think that you have to do everything on a grand scale? Do you think that you deserve it?”. Without pausing for thought, Eldritch retorts “That’s just our taste, we were brought up that way,” a familiar theme which he will return to later in the interview.

Those (especially Andy R!) whose interest in TSOM began more with the band’s image than with the music will be delighted with the rather more prosaic next line of questioning, with the broadcaster asking the singer a more Smash Hits-style query, “Where do you get your taste in hats from?” There is an ominously long silence from Eldritch, one which those who interviewed him at the time always found very disconcerting. Presumably, this was when he was asked a question for which he hadn't pre-rehearsed an answer, rather than saying something off-the-cuff which might come back to bite him. Eventually, he retorts: “Stealing, mostly. I mean, there’s some Leeds phrase which runs something like, ‘Thieves can’t be choosers’ [the last phrase said in a very poor approximation of a Craig Adams-style Leeds accent]. We’re not very good at stealing from, like, really flash places and you make do with what you can get. This one was stolen from Birmingham, this one…” (presumably on the Black October tour the previous year).

Returning to a more intellectual line of questioning more likely to engage Eldritch in lively debate, the journalist asks “Where did you get this love of ritual from, is it too much religion at an early age?”. Eldritch returns to the theme that none of this was his choice, that it was in his DNA: “It’s part of the English subconscious, it’s like people going out of a weekend and parking on a common, it’s amazing that they’ll park in regimented rows, in the middle of nowhere they’ll do it. Can’t help it, an accident of birth, heritage...”

At this stage, the interviewer cleverly picks up on Eldritch’s last word to delve even deeper, sounding like Anthony Clare on famed BBC Radio Four programme In The Psychiatrist’s Chair: “Tell me about your heritage. Do you class yourself in the mould of the greats of English literature, Byron, Keats, Shelley..?”. This line of questioning is right up Eldritch’s street and he continues the list with a few of his sporting heroes: “Grace, Boycott…Don Revie. Yes, is the answer, simply. Not too grandiose for you? Thought not, Yeats, Eliot, Shakespeare, Joyce, Eldritch. It sort of fits, doesn’t it?” Is the singer being tongue-in-cheek here, or does he genuinely believe that his lyrics are worthy of such comparisons. Either way, Yeats, Eliot, Shakespeare, Joyce, Eldritch would make a great t-shirt slogan in the style of the recent copyright-side-stepping band member list vests (I for one would certainly buy one - Etsy rip-off merchants please note), or perhaps the title of the next TSOM album...

However, on this occasion the singer has seemingly met his intellectual match, with the DJ drolly replying (quoting a well-known English saying), “If the hat fits, wear it!” For once, Eldritch is out-bantered, his own instant reply “If your head’s not too swollen today, if you don’t have those funny growths coming out of the side..” falling somewhat short (even if it does interestingly hint that he would not permanently sport a titfer out of choice, an issue covered at length in recent books about the band, or perhaps a reference to the singer’s occasional cuts and bruises allegedly caused by jealous boyfriends…), especially as the interviewer is able to extend the analogy with his next question, “Do you think you may have stolen the crown off them, I mean, ..” Eldritch angrily interrupts, warming to a familiar theme, his dislike of the music weekly, the NME: “What have they got to compete with at the moment. Steven Wells? [a journalist] It doesn’t bear thinking about. It might as well be us, really.”

The radio interviewer sees this as his chance to dare to ask the one question on everyone’s lips at the time: “Do you mind being classed as a gothic rock band, because if you think of who the gothic writers were, I mean it’s good, isn’t it?” the latter phrase faltering somewhat, as if the journalist feared a vituperative response. Eldritch is now back on familiar territory: “Yes. Unfortunately, David Quantick [whose review of FALAA which mentioned Joy Division no fewer than five times had just been published] and the NME have got an awful lot to answer for. I hate the whole bastard ‘positive punk’ genre. I think the whole band does. As soon as we realised that we were lumbered with it, it’s a coincidence of time, when we were playing London at the same time as those bands did [this is probably a reference to the shows around Christmas 1982 in the UK capital when the band played gigs with UK Decay, Theatre of Hate, Sex Gang Children, Alien Sex Fiend and less well-known scene bands within the space of one week]. As soon as we realised that we were lumbered with it, we started playing at being really severe hippies to see what that would do to the media, but they don’t seem to have actually picked up on it, they don’t look at our records they don’t look at our shows enough anymore to see beyond their original impression which we definitely… .. don’t understand it, “quick, find a bracket” for us, “find a pigeonhole”.”

Having clearly not fully understood the “playing at being severe hippies” comment, the DJ refers to how the band had reacted to being lumped in with the black-clad gothic artists: “Is it fair then to say that perhaps the longer hair and the pink shirts is a conscious move?” Eldritch agrees, saying “Yeah, we always had ‘em, we didn’t use to look for them quite so hard!”.  Continuing the theme of the band’s current attire, the journalist wonders whether TSOM are looking further back in time for influences: “Do you see yourselves as a kind of return to the Doors kind of mystical aspect of rock, very ..” Yet again, the singer interrupts his question: “Yes, yes. We don’t go full-scale return to the Altamont, Woodstock era, hippy trash, which isn’t really very mysterious or very intellectual or even good at all. [this is a clear contradiction of other Eldritch statements about that era].  Not …even …good…We just don’t really pay much attention to our contemporaries. They’re very puerile, they’re very facile, they don’t excite us on any particular level, we find that in the older music there’s a good portrayal of some more levels, something that’s completely bozo, something ridiculously intellectual.”

The recording of the interview extracts end with a humorous exchange of further Eldritchian mock outrage about that NME review of the debut album, with the interviewer pretending to be very coy at bringing the topic up:

Interviewer:       “People often say that there’s a tendency..”

AE:                       “But well of course we’d kill them for saying it, wouldn’t we? But be careful, you bastard!”

Interviewer:       “But that there is quite, perhaps just a little, a tiny little bit, you probably wouldn’t notice it…”

AE:                       “Careful. Be nice.”

Interviewer:       “You wouldn’t notice…perhaps something that separates you from others, that you follow the better aspects of, perhaps some..”

AE:                       “He’s putting his guard up...getting his armoured clothing on…”

Interviewer:       “…some of the..”

AE:                       “…the boys have just come in with a baseball bat…”

Interviewer:       “.. just …”

AE:                       “…it’s looking bad…”

Interviewer:       “a little bit…”

AE:                       (imitating the public school teachers he had clearly endured as a teenager) “Spit it out, boy!”

Interviewer:       “…an insignificant little bit… … of Joy Division!!”

AE:                       “AAARRRGGGHHH!!!”

That would have been a perfect end to what has been an enjoyable interview for DJ, musician and listener alike, but instead there’s a further short extract that may have taken place earlier in the interview after one of the previous snippets (“older music”?), with Eldritch saying, seemingly a propos de rien: “We’re talking well early here, we’re talking Tyrannosaurus Rex”. “What’s going to happen next, do you think…?” asks the interviewer, leaving Eldritch with the final word: “We’ll probably hit you.  Do you mean after that? We’ll probably hit everybody else…”

 My thanks for this post are due to the indefatigable Phil V and to the collector LG, both of whom have been instrumental in keeping interest in the classic era of TSOM alive over the past thirty years.

Sunday, 1 May 2022

Forty Years Ago this Spring ... the release of the Body Electric/Adrenochrome single

This Spring marks the fortieth anniversary of the release of The Sisters of Mercy’s seminal second single, the Body Electric/Adrenochrome double A side, the band’s only release on the CNT label, to which they had signed almost a year earlier according to the announcement in Music Week trade magazine, in May 1981.




The band’s relationship with CNT, and the details of the recording of the second single, are recounted in wonderful and precise detail in Mark Andrews’ essential biography of the band’s early years, Paint My Name In Black And Gold, published last year. Andrews tells the tale of the band’s first visit to the KG Studios in Bridlington in early November 1981 (around the time of their one and only gig with Tom Ashton of The March Violets guesting on rhythm guitar, at the University of Leeds) the studio where the majority of their other pre-WEA releases would be recorded, but also reveals other details of the studio session which would help to explain the significance of the Body Electric/Adrenochrome single to the band’s future. The fact that the expected one-day session required a second visit to Bridlington later that month at the singer’s insistence is an early indication of Eldritch’s perfectionist streak, whilst an interested visitor to the extra session (a fortnight after the original recording) was none other than Ben Gunn, who had recently agreed to join the band and would play a significant minor role in the band over the next twenty months. Even more presciently, there was the feeling amongst the band themselves that they finally had “something”, as revealed by Gary Marx in this quote from Paint My Name In Black And Gold: “There were points within the actual recording of the second single where we sounded great”, before admitting that this doesn’t necessarily come across well on the finished product.

Nevertheless, the band was clearly satisfied at the time with the sound of the second single, which Eldritch would in future take as the band’s debut release, dismissing The Damage Done as effectively the work of a previous band. This was underlined when Richard Newson interviewed The Sisters of Mercy in late November 1982 for their first cover feature in one of the UK music weeklies, Sounds, a story he recounted on Phil Verne’s excellent The Sisters of Mercy 1980-1985 unofficial Facebook fan page: “The interview began awkwardly. I mistakenly described Alice as the "second" Sisters single when it was actually the third, after that April's Body Electric - which I'd loved - and 1980's The Damage Done, which predated my interest in the band and had somehow escaped my notice. Eldritch clearly wanted Body Electric to be treated as their debut release, and was eager for The Damage Done to be airbrushed from history. But despite this, my ignorance of the Sisters' early history led to mild irritation on Eldritch's part, followed by giggles from Ben Gunn.”

The band clearly shared the tape of their new single far and wide as they sought to obtain gigs and press features, with X Moore (the nom de plume of Chris Dean of the band The Redskins, who were also about to release their debut single on CNT and would perform alongside The Sisters at the 1984 York Rock Festival) referring to the then-forthcoming release of CNT002 in his review for the NME of the band’s performance at Vanburgh College at the University of York in early February 1982: “The band whip out the single (Body Electric), flash both sides (…Adrenochrome), and the dancers call for more poison”.




However, the test pressing from French pressing plant MayKing (this photo is from the vaults of renowned TSOM collector Erzsebet von Rona) is clearly stamped 16th March 1982, some six weeks after the York gig, a further indication of the slow pace of progress at CNT that would frustrate both band and label.




Curiously, one week before the test pressing, the single featured in the Top Ten Independent Singles in Melody Maker’s chart, which was supplied that week by guest retailer Jumbo Records (of the Merrion (shopping) Centre in Leeds, which always seemed to acquire new Sisters’ releases in advance of their official outing. Even by their standards, selling copies of a single that has yet to be pressed seems somewhat far-fetched, so one can only assume that the chart’s compiler was doing the band a favour by once again getting their name in the music press.






The official release date for the single is usually given as Friday 23rd April 1982, and it was touted as such in that week’s music press (see above), although the reality of precise national release dates for independent records at that time is unclear. The label's own publicity (below, from the collection of Bruno Bossier) claims that the release date was March 1982, so it may be that the record enjoyed a local release in advance of the official release date.




The single had received a major accolade the week before the official release date in April in being awarded “Single of the Week” in the Melody Maker, being treated to the kind of hyperbole that even Eldritch himself would have struggled to match: “Adrenochrome…sounds like the greatest four-chord sequence ever invented. Look, the Stones, the Kinks, the Byrds, the Pistols, the Stooges, the Clash and all the other morons were just testing out a few ideas. THIS was the riff they were looking for….go and purchase.”




Other reviews were largely equally as positive. In May 1982’s edition of ZigZag magazine, reviewer Marts, spoke of the band’s “unbridled potential”, and that “with a better choice of producer and a supportive record company, this band WILL work wonders”. Sounds joined the praise, stating that “Motorhead compared to SOM are Mickey Mouse material. These two songs drill into your skull with the sort of electric persistence that the Human League tried early on.” The only dissenting voice, beginning a pattern that would continue pretty much throughout the 1980-1985 phase, was the NME, who complained of the “choked voice” and “monotonous passages” of a release that was “not remarkable enough”, even though they too praised Adams’ and Marx’s efforts respectively, with an “inventively insistent bass” on a song with “quite a few Buzzcockian echos [sic] to recommend it”, stating that Body Electric “throbs like punk with some of the rough edges ironed out.”




Although Adrenochrome was one of the band’s earliest compositions, and had featured on their demo cassette of 1981 in a segue with their cover of Leonard Cohen’s Teachers, Body Electric (treated as the lead track by reviewers) was a new song, which according to Mark Andrews was still untitled when the band went into the studio. In Paint My Name in Black and Gold, Andrews additionally explains that despite the music press accolades, the record sold barely more than The Damage Done had done, leading to some disillusionment with the music press, whose influence seemed to be less great than the band had imagined. The new single did however catch the attention of John Peel, although whether or not the tongue-in-cheek bribery attempt with his legendary producer John Walters (see cover sheet below, from the collection of Dav E Cheris) had any part in this is open to conjecture.




Peel played the single’s A side (Body Electric, with Adrenochrome the AA side) several times, as recently digitised episodes of Peel’s shows on the British Forces’ Broadcasting Service reveal. BFBS was a service aimed at British military personnel based primarily at huge bases in (West) Germany at that time (providing a ready audience on the continent for touring British bands at that time, as TSOM would discover over the next few years), and Peel would play a typically eclectic mix of tracks on the John Peel’s Music show, including Body Electric on at least three occasions, 19th May, 2nd June and 25th August 1982. On the first occasion, Peel pre-announced the track by The Sisters of Mercy, who come from somewhere like, erm… York, I think…the band’s debut single, I think it is”, clearly forgetting that he had in fact played the band’s first release on his Radio One show some eighteen months earlier. On the 2nd June show, Body Electric followed Peel’s then-favourite reggae artists, Eek-a-Mouse: “I think I’ve played you this one before, well worth playing again though” the DJ enthused as he cued up The Sisters’ track. On the third and final show which has surfaced from that year, after allowing the full fade, as was his wont, Peel merely added “They do sound as though they care” before moving onto something more mellow. Peel would almost certainly have also played The Sisters on his BBC Radio One show in the UK, but the tapes of those shows from April 1982 (presumably) have yet to surface.

Body Electric and Adrenochrome would ultimately feature on The Sisters’ compilation of early tracks Some Girls Wander By Mistake, but in 1985 the tracks also featured on the CNT (cash-in?) compilation They Shall Not Pass, which completists will wish to track down as the version used is a slightly longer edit, with the fade coming about eight seconds later than on the original single. Body Electric would of course also be the first of the early songs re-recorded for WEA releases (Alice and Temple of Love would follow many years later), allowing fans the opportunity to see if the earlier ZigZag reviewer’s view that better production would result in a better version holds water. Almost forty years later, the jury is still out amongst TSOM fans as to whether or not this is the case.

What IS clear, however, is that the Body Electric/Adrenochrome single (a copy of which in mint condition would sell today for £150+ ) was an important staging post in the band’s career, opening the door to London support slots, a John Peel session (in August of that year), and most importantly, a self-belief that this project had potential and was worth the considerable sacrifices the band was making to ensure its survival. In Eldritch’s world view, the real The Sisters of Mercy started here, and on this occasion, it is hard to argue with his perspective.

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Further information about this release can be found in Mark Andrews’ Paint My Name In Black And Gold. My grateful thanks for this post are also due to old friends and contributors of artefacts on numerous occasions to this blog Phil Verne, Tony J Pooley, Erzsebet von Rona, Dav E Cheris, Bruno Bossier, Richard Newson and others who have shared reminiscences about this release on the TSOM 1980-1985 unofficial Facebook fan page. Thanks also to those who curate and contribute to the wonderful John Peel wiki.

Sunday, 24 April 2022

Goth heaven - Nick Cave, Ian Astbury and Andrew Eldritch on the same bill, forty years ago tonight?!?

To commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the first of these, for the next two posts on the blog, continuing an irregular series, we’re going to focus on some of the noteworthy advertised gigs which never actually took place during the golden period of 1982/1983, a time when The Sisters of Mercy stepped up live duties and honed their unique sound. At that time, the band’s gigs seemed to be arranged on a fairly hap-hazard basis (via the band's manager and the boss of Merciful Release, Mr Andrew Taylor himself), with the dates supporting The Gun Club in April 1983 the first which resembled anything which could be dignified with the term “a tour”, and as we have seen in previous posts, for a variety of reasons, some billed concerts from those early years failed to take place in reality.

Since we last covered one such gig on the blog a couple of years ago – the proposed Spear of Destiny show at the De Montfort Hall in Leicester in December 1982 -  several more flyers have re-surfaced from that era advertising shows which never actually took place, and the earliest of these dates from 1982 and is significant as it would have been the first (near) home-town gig for Mark Pearman (aka Gary Marx), who several years earlier had left the hinterland of the culturally somewhat dull (at that time) city of Kingston-upon-Hull (to give it it’s official name, although then as now most people simply refer to it as just “Hull”) for the bright lights of Leeds.

The Sisters’ first actual gig in Hull probably took place the following year at the city’s recently opened branch of the Dingwalls venue chain on Thursday 31st March 1983 (although that date itself is still in doubt for many TSOM historians), but thanks to the research skills of renowned gig archivist Chris B (author of the seminal coffee-table book 16 Years: Gigs in Scotland 1974-1990), we now know that The Sisters’ debut on Humberside should in fact have taken place eleven months earlier. Whilst researching another “positive punk” band, Theatre of Hate (who would have split and transformed into Spear of Destiny by the time of the Christmas 1982 gigs – such as the cancelled Leicester gig referred to in the previous paragraph, in addition to the London gigs later that month), Chris unearthed this ad for a gig by the band (featuring future Cult guitarist Billy Duffy at that time, as he had joined the band shortly after the album Westworld - which as the ad states, was in the UK Top 40 Album Chart - had been recorded), which took place at the Tower venue in Hull on Thursday 1st April 1982, which listed on the right hand side (and written at 90 degrees) a couple of forthcoming attractions...




Incredibly, one of these featured The Birthday Party with support from not only The Sisters of Mercy but also The Southern Death Cult! Looking into the gig further, Chris gathered that the concert must not have taken place, despite the fact that a) The Birthday Party were on tour at the time and b) with the Australian act having played Edinburgh the night before, and Reading the next night, it would have been logistically ideal. He shared the ad in the TSOM 1980-1985 Facebook group anyway, to see if anyone could shed any light on the mysterious advert.



Well-known Sisters fan and Hull post-punk gig expert Richard J was quick to respond, confirming the disappointing news that the gig never actually took place: “It very definitely didn't happen, I'm afraid! Theatre of Hate played there twice, and I saw both gigs. The first one was in '81 and it was VERY poorly attended, but an amazing gig. This was the second one in '82, and it was after they'd been on Top Of The Pops [performing Do You Believe In The Westworld?] and it was considerably fuller! I saw this flyer with the Birthday Party touted as "upcoming"... I ran home from the bus after school and phoned the Tower, and they weren't entirely sure what was going on, and didn't know it was confirmed... [but] it didn't go ahead. I'm not sure if it ever deserved the term "cancelled", to be honest, as even the venue seemed unsure about whether it was happening beforehand. It would have been a hell of a gig to see here in humble old Hull, that's for sure! Killing Joke were billed to appear with 1919 for the Revelations Tour as well, but then Jaz went off to Iceland and that fell through as well! I saw some great gigs at the Tower though. It was a lovely venue, a classic old cinema/theatre conversion... UK Decay, New Order (early on when there was only the Movement LP and a couple of singles out), Stiff Little Fingers (good but not great), and Bauhaus on the Mask Tour. I still have the original flyer for the 1981 Bauhaus gig.”

Looking at the Theatre of Hate ad in detail, it seemed to bear the hallmark (i.e. handwritten additions to attract the wavering punter) of Leeds promoter John F Keenan, who had given the Sisters their first Leeds gig some thirteen months previously. Although I knew that Keenan had briefly promoted gigs in Bradford, whose outer suburbs are contiguous with those of Leeds, I was unaware of any link he might have with Hull, which although historically in the East Riding of Yorkshire, was one hundred kilometres away from Leeds, and the flyer appeared to mention a different company - “A Last Minute Promotion”. John has been very helpful to this blog over the years (as indeed he was to The Sisters in their early days), so I decided to bother him once more to see if he had indeed promoted this series of gigs at the Tower.

Typically, John (who still promotes to this today, having promoted many thousands of gigs over the intervening decades) kindly got straight back to me with what he could remember of events which took place nearly forty years ago. “Yes, it was one of my flyers!” he told me. “The Theatre of Hate gig was Thursday 1st April 1982 and it did mention The Birthday Party for 24th April and Crass for 1st May (which did happen). The ToH gig was literally a last-minute promotion and not the name of the promoter!! I cancelled very few shows in those days. I promoted The Tower in Hull and bands such as Bauhaus, New Order, The Slits, The Au Pairs, Crass and Theatre of Hate were all my promotions. Whenever I could, I gave the support spot to local bands. ToH support was Nyam Nyam [Peter Hook protégés who later signed to Situation 2] . However, Claire (Andy's girlfriend at the time) DJ'd my gigs. So there is some kind of connection... I'll rack my brain, but I don't remember a Birthday Party / Sisters gig in Hull, although it is on my flyer in my handwriting. If it was cancelled, the cancellation would have come from The Birthday Party, because I always tried to make my shows happen, no matter what.”

The reason for the gig failing to happen therefore remains something of a mystery – it could be that The Birthday Party were offered a media engagement that day, or simply that a tour manager, like so many others at that time, had a look at a map of the UK and decided that Hull was just a little too far off the direct route between shows. Either way, the cancellation robbed the Sisters of the chance to promote their then brand new single "Body Electric/Adrenochrome" (whose official release date was FRiday 23rd April 1982, i.e. the eve of this proposed Hull gig), which would be well-reviewed in the music press, at a time when out-of-town gigs were still relatively hard to come by for the band: apart from various shows in York and Leeds, TSOM's only other gig to that date had been the Futurama festival in September 1981 in Stafford, again promoted by John Keenan, apart from a short trip to exotic Keighley to play at Nick Toczek's Funhouse club night one month earlier. Keenan's willingness to promote new bands and ear for talent was also clear in the selection of Southern Death Cult as potential second support. This April 82 proposed gig was a month before the Bradford act's debut Peel session, and the band's first single would not be released until the end of that year, hardly likely therefore at that stage to attract the punters, although both The Sisters and Southern Death Cult were starting to stir a buzz in West Yorkshire at that time.



Incidentally, although now over one hundred years old, the Tower continues as a club venue to this day, having changed names and hands numerous times since 1982. It would have been better named “The Twin Towers” as like its Wembley Stadium namesake of the same architectural era, it features twin domed towers topping its wonderful (and B-listed) Art Nouveau façade, and is situated on Anlaby Road next to the main railway station near Hull city centre. The domes sadly fell into disrepair and were removed, but then (at the insistence of the council) replaced by beautiful reproductions around a decade ago, at a time when there was a campaign to return the venue to its original use (from 1914 to 1978) as a cinema.

As for The Sisters of Mercy, they would eventually get to play with their heroes The Birthday Party at a gig at London’s Zig Zag Club not long afterwards, an event covered in an earlier post on this blog. But sadly TSOM never shared a stage during the 1980’s era with any incarnation of [The Southern] (Death) Cult (although when still called The Sisterhood, Craig Adams and Wayne Hussey's post-Sisters band would accompany The Cult on their first tour), so this advertised but never-played gig can be put down as one of the alternative rock world’s “what might have beens", as the gig-goers of Hull sadly missed out forty years ago today on what would have been a unique opportunity to see arguably the three iconic frontmen of what would become the “gothic” scene, Nick Cave, Ian Astbury and Andrew Eldritch, gracing the same stage on the same evening.

My thanks for this post are due to Chris B, author of 16 Years, original promoter John F Keenan, TSOM fan Richard J and Phil Verne of the 1980-1985 FB group.

Wednesday, 29 December 2021

Discussion with Trevor Ristow and Mark Andrews, recent biographers of The Sisters of Mercy

 

Ten years ago, after a few years of interested but furtive lurking, I finally joined Heartland Forum, the venerable online chatroom for those obsessed with The Sisters of Mercy, and began to post half-remembered details of gigs by the band which I had attended in the early 1980’s. From comments made by fellow fans who hadn’t had the good fortune to see the earlier iterations of the band, there seemed to be quite an appetite for examining the band’s history in greater detail than had been provided in Andrew Pinnell’s excellent Heartland journals, so I tentatively began to write this blog, I Was A Teenage Sisters of Mercy Fan. Early posts garnered only forty or so views each (nowadays a new post will clock up a couple of thousand views within days), but I was hugely encouraged by being contacted by fellow fans, historians and collectors from around the world who were only too happy to share their own reminiscences, artefacts and audio rarities via the blog, a process which accelerated significantly once Phil Verne began the wonderful The Sisters of Mercy 1980-1985 Facebook fan group, and some of the cloudier episodes of the band’s past began to become clearer.

Since that time, historical interest in the Leeds scene in general and The Sisters in particular has snowballed, with documentaries, fanzine compilations, and some fantastically researched and well-written articles by Mark Andrews for The Quietus giving rise for calls for a full biography of the band.

This stirred Trevor Ristow, the compiler of the legendary Romance and Assassination cuttings compilations, into revamping his long-abandoned biography of the band’s early years, culminating in the publication of the superb Waiting For Another War last year, neatly halfway between the original crowdfunding launch and the recent publication of Mark Andrews’ own meticulously-researched book about the band’s first five years, Paint My Name In Black And Gold.

This month sees the tenth anniversary of the launch of this blog, so when Trevor suggested a three-way chat with himself and Mark to discuss their books, the band and its legacy, it seemed too good an opportunity to miss! My grateful thanks are due to Mark and Trevor for their fascinating replies during our Transatlantic conversation.





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Nikolas Vitus Lagartija (NVL): Congratulations, guys, on your books which have been, rightly, fantastically well-received by Sisters fans. Our forty-year wait for a full biography of the band has ended in spectacular style, with the books coming out within a year of each other. When you first learned about each other’s project, did you feel any fear that your own book might be devalued by the near simultaneous publication of the other? 

Trevor Ristow (TR): On the contrary, I always knew that these two books would complement rather than compete with one another. I have tons of books on the same or overlapping subjects. I’ve read probably seven or eight books on the Manson Family. I own – and have read – three books on post-reunification architecture in Berlin alone, to choose a more obscure subject. And on and on. Every history book has its own perspective, its own facts, its own takeaways. So I’m used to reading widely on things that interest me, and I know that multiple books by different authors offer a fuller picture than a single book by itself.

Mark Andrews (MA): There are 820 books about Bob Dylan – that’s just the ones in English – so by that measure there aren’t nearly enough about The Sisters. When Trev told me about his, I was sure the two books would be very different, even though we were writing about an almost identical time period. I was intending to have original interviews do most of the heavy lifting, and to include more material on Leeds. Both of those approaches were set at the very beginning in that first article I wrote for The Quietus in 2016.

TR: Also, I think if you can honestly say that one book on this band is sufficient, then you don’t really know what it means to be a Sisters fan. We need every detail.

NVL: Amen to that! You have both made very positive comments about each other’s book. What did you like most about the “other” book? 

MA: That it's a book created with absolute care and respect for the source material. I specifically enjoyed the material from obscure fanzines and reviews, and the American interviewees - basically, the things I didn't know about even though I was deep into writing my own book. In fact, you can probably tell which bits of Waiting For Another War I really liked because I put them in Paint My Name In Black and Gold! The Sisters crashing Joe Jackson's party in San Francisco in 1983 was an obvious keeper...

TR: Thanks, Mark. I love Paint My Name’s on-the-ground, in-the-van perspective. It’s so rich with anecdotes from people who were there that you can almost choke on the fog. And, as I’ve said before, I love all the Gary Marx. I think his thoughtful perspective has long been absent from the story of the band’s first five years and your book is a perfect corrective. I also really enjoyed the focus on the Leeds music scene – the overlapping bands, the social connections, the clubs and bars. You painted a detailed portrait of the place that nurtured The Sisters which really adds a layer for diehard Sisters fans, many of whom have made the ‘Haj’ to Leeds, and a lot of those specific addresses, in years past.

NVL: You both became 'older dads' while trying to write and publish your books. Are you crazy or what!? Or can Sisters fans thank some synchronous trans-Atlantic mid-life crisis for these two books?

TR: Ha! It sure has been a weird time. Since I sent this book to the printers I’ve moved three times, packed and unpacked my belongings, and welcomed my second son. Yes, it’s been difficult. But occasionally you get an email or read a comment online from someone who says how the book made lockdown bearable for a week, or even just took them out of themselves for a few hours, and you realise that everyone has had a tough couple of years. Then the whole project feels worth it.

MA: I just checked the timings: crowd-funding for Paint My Name began two weeks before my youngest daughter was born. Therefore, pregnancy, birth and her early years run virtually concurrent with writing and publishing my book. Both have brought me great delight and have considerably reduced the risk of some mid-life or pandemic-induced meltdown.

TR: I’m curious, does your family also love The Sisters?

MA: To be quite clear, my wife could not give two shits about The Sisters of Mercy! Therefore she is quite rightly acknowledged at the end of Paint My Name for her support during the researching and writing of the book. Our tastes for chain-smoking singers intersect at Serge Gainsbourg and Jacques Brel rather than Andrew Eldritch. Out of all my family, the one with any interest in the band is my 82-year old mother. She has actually heard them live. She caught the end of Sister Ray one time while collecting me from a gig as a teenager. The band were so loud that the car she was in outside the venue was vibrating, like the bit in Jurassic Park when the T Rex appears, but over and over again, in 4/4 time.

TR: I am fortunate that my wife loves the band, and my kids are learning to love them too. My son once asked for Flood in the car. I put it on and he said, “no, Flood Two.” No joke. He was three. Nik, what about you?

NVL: Mrs L is probably the most “un-goth” person you could meet, and my kids never wanted to listen to the “guy who can’t sing” so it was headphones for me all the way! Instead, they would ask to listen to “Angela” – the growling then-singer of Arch Enemy! I have failed as a father …

MA: Trev, we're both - in different ways - connected to film. Tell me about the film version of your book.

TR: Man, I’d love to do a feature film on The Sisters. I’ve thought about it. All I need is someone to underwrite it. Maybe a William Gibson/Simon Pegg co-production.

MA: Stunt casting: get Kristin Stewart to play Eldritch. She was a terrific Joan Jett, so she’s halfway there.

NVL: Back to the books - you both interviewed many people from the band’s entourage at the time. Who was your best interviewee? 

TR: Everyone I spoke with was extremely helpful. Some of my “interviews” were conducted very casually. Like, shouting over music in a venue with someone I’d just met. Some were done more formally. Among the most helpful were the New York contingent – friends of the band who really opened the door for me on the band’s time in the US. Saadia Tiare, Jenny Foster, Lisa Levine, David Arnoff, and a handful of other intimates from those fun, early trips stateside. It was a real pleasure to speak with everyone for this book.

MA: The obvious answer is Gary Marx but the most memorable was Dave Beer. His interview took place at his house in Headingley. I ended up with nearly four hours on tape – not including the numerous breaks: one was to get firelighters and more wine from the nearest petrol station, another was to eat leftover take-way and another was to locate a record player so we could hear the tracks that he’d recorded as The God Squad in the 90s based on Sisters samples; whether the record was supposed to play at 45rpm or 33rpm took a while to work out by that point in the evening. While I was talking to him I was under the impression that he was highly intelligent, screamingly funny and was providing me with countless quotable anecdotes and great insights into The Sisters and the West Yorkshire music scene. However, regrettably, I had a noticeable hangover the next day and couldn’t face transcribing the tape for months afterwards for fear of whatever drunken crap I might find on it. When I did listen back, I was shocked to discover that not only was I entirely lucid throughout, but he was an even better interviewee than I thought he was at the time.

NVL: Did you find most people you contacted were proud of their connection to TSOM and were willing to talk freely? 

MA: People were very willing to talk. The only people who turned me down for an interview, both through intermediaries, were Tony James and Si Denbigh. For several interviewees, particularly some of The God Squad, pride would be too weak a word to describe their feelings about the band, the music and that part of their lives they gave over to The Sisters of Mercy. Of course, many interviewees had complicated and not always entirely pleasant relationships with the band, particularly with Andrew Eldritch …

TR: I also had a few people turn me down despite multiple overtures. But, for the people I did speak with, their time spent in The Sisters’ orbit was really meaningful and memorable to them. That’s one of the defining characteristics of this band and it partly explains their rabid fanbase.

NVL: Was there anyone whom you’d have liked to have spoken to but weren’t able to? 

MA: Other than Denbigh and James, Ben Gunn. I'm not sure I even successfully got a request through for him to say no to. He seems to have been well and truly done with The Sisters for close to 40 years now, so I'm not sure it would have been a good interview even had I winkled him out. To make up for that omission, I think it's him I follow him on Twitter - and if it's not him, I still like reading about this other guy's commitment to urban cycling. And I'm fairly sure I saw Gunn on YouTube in a recording of a Zoom meeting of his local council. I didn't interview Eldritch but I was always convinced a book without a new Eldritch interview would work very well regardless, so I was never that concerned whether he talked on the record or not: a large number of people "talking about (him) like they know" would create interesting ways of filling in that Eldritch-shaped hole. Readers of Paint My Name, I think, can see the Eldritch they want to among the smoke and coloured lights of those various testimonies ... I've spoken to Eldritch more since the manuscript was submitted to Unbound than I did before: he does indeed seem to be a charming, intelligent, funny and highly likeable fellow. Therefore he did me the great favour of not talking to me before I wrote the book: I did not have that wholly favourable impression of him hanging over me when I had to write about the Eldritch of 1984-85.

TR: Ben Gunn would have been a great interview. For me, I’d have liked to connect with Bryan Christian, with whom I share many mutual friends but who rather persistently declined to speak with me. And, of course, Andrew Eldritch. Mark, I think I remember you telling me that you visited 7 Village Place – the inside of it – during your research. What was that like?

MA: I was checking out some Leeds landmarks and drove out to Burley. Rather than just look at the exterior of this mythical location, I thought I’d ring the bell and see if anyone was in. The door was opened by a young woman in her dressing gown. This was about midday. I explained why I was there and, realizing how odd this sounded, took two steps back and offered to show her some ID. I then noticed her boyfriend in bed behind her – in what was once the infamous blacked-out sitting room. So I then explained to him the significance of the room he was lying in. And they still let me in, bless them!

It turned out 7 Village Place was being rented by three young women from Leeds University and was quite clearly better decorated and cleaner than in its heyday. I had a wander around and stuck my head into what had once been ‘Mark’s Room’, ‘Claire’s Room’ and ‘Andy’s Room’. I asked about the cellar where so much musical history was made. I was informed that no-one went down there, as it was the final resting place of the landlord’s mouldy fridge and freezer. As I was leaving, the couple asked me to tell them the name again of the famous Leeds band from the 80s that used to live there. “The Sisters of Mercy,” I proudly announced. “I’ll ask my Gran, she might have heard of them,” said the young woman in the dressing gown.

NVL: Both books included some amazing, never previously seen photos of the band from the 1980’s. How difficult were these to track down? 

MA: Some were really easy; some took aeons to arrange. I remember first phoning Tony Mottram from a hotel room in Manchester in February 2019; we closed the deal for five of his excellent photos over two years later! At the opposite end of the spectrum was Jon Langford. I commissioned an original piece of Sisters-themed art from him and he suggested using one of his own photos. This is the one he let Unbound have for the book without charge. I had excellent tip-offs from Phil Verne and Bruno Bossier who showed me images in their collections. Thank you, Phil and Bruno!

NVL: Seconded! And I’d add the collector LG to that list by the way, he’s also been incredibly helpful with the blog. Tell us how you sourced the photos in WFAW, Trevor.

TR: I wanted to find some completely unseen photos of the band. Not just unpublished – by which I mean, maybe they’ve never been printed in a magazine but everyone’s seen them online anyway – but really, genuinely unseen. Also offstage photos. Live photos of the band are pretty common and can feel slightly samey to someone who’s spent a lifetime as a Sisters fan. So yes, this was a big challenge. And I can confirm Mark’s comment that it takes time and, above all, persistence, to unearth these kinds of photos. In some cases it took me years to chase them down. I was thrilled not only to find, but license, never-before-seen photos by outstanding photographers like Ulf Berglund, Daryl-Ann Saunders, Fred Berger, Larry Rodriguez and David Arnoff.

And then there are the photos that aren’t necessarily of the band but add context to the story. I am also proud of these, like Saadia Tiare’s photo of Jenny Foster with her friends in Washington Square Park. It’s such a great artefact of the times; I look at that photo and think, this picture says more than my two or three pages of description of the New York scene that The Sisters stepped into in 1983, 1984. These young, hopeful, kind of gothy girls sitting in the very heart of New York’s Greenwich Village. Jenny Foster with her thousands of bangles that would soon be immortalised in A Rock And A Hard Place. That’s one of my favourite photos in the book.

NVL: What was the most difficult aspect of getting your book to publication? 

TR: Apart from the photos, it was my own busy schedule. I had planned a huge volume, basically 1980 to the present. I was going to write it all, then reach out to the band, do interviews with everyone I could from every period, integrate all that material, track down photos, etc. Let’s be honest: this book would have been 2000 pages and I may never have finished it at all. So here I have to say a big thanks (again) to Mark because my book likely wouldn’t have seen the light of day without his encouragement to push past my natural inclination to sit on an incomplete manuscript, maybe forever.

MA: The crowd-funding phase. It seemed at one point in 2019 that it wouldn’t fund and that there would be no book.

NVL: The response to both books indicates the enduring appeal of TSOM compared to many of their contemporaries. Why is it that the band seems to exert such a hold over its followers, in your opinion? 

MA: They were much, much better than their contemporaries is the short answer. Beyond that you have to wade into the complex emotions and psychology of why some people have long-lasting and deep relationships with songs and bands: the ancient Greeks needed an eighth word for that kind of love. I mean, what is the correct word for what I feel when I hear the Funhouse album by the Stooges and am close to tears by the time TV Eye comes on? I could tell you why have maintained a relationship with The Sisters all this time: I wrote a book about it - and that only really goes up to 1986-ish. There's another 35 years after that which needs explaining. That I'm a committed and unapologetic Eldritchophile explains a lot. Has it been plain sailing over those decades for those of our ilk? Good God no! But "with Swann, you forgive a lot, you know."

TR: I’ll co-sign Mark’s answer that The Sisters enduring appeal rests on the quality of the work. The music connects to you, the heart or the knees, usually both. Not every band can do that.

NVL: You both chose a lyrical fragment as title to your book that only firm fans of the band would recognise, rather than a more obvious “Tales From The Temple of Love” type title. Did you consider any other titles, and why did you eventually plump for your final choice? 


(pic credit: Trevor Ristow)


TR: My book has had three titles. First it was Mission And Revenge, but that title is really only suitable for the version of the book that goes to the present day. When I decided to print 1980-1985 as Volume I, I renamed it Heaven And A Hope Eternal, a Body And Soul lyric. But I scrapped that at the last moment, after designing the cover and everything. Waiting For Another War recommended itself to me for a few reasons. Fix and Valentine have always been two of my favourite songs. My old Sisters ‘zines from the 80s were called Romance And Assassination, a highly evocative lyric from Fix, so I thought, why not try to find a title from Valentine for this one? “Waiting for another war” is a great line, very Sisters. It’s a little violent: a subtle, anticipatory violence that’s more threatening because it’s controlled, restrained, like the band. It’s a bit pessimistic, a bit hostile, a bit droll.

MA: At one point it was Shot With A Diamond Bullet – that ended up in one of the opening quotes. Then it was Heartland when it was going to be even more a Leeds-y book than it is now but I was really looking for something like Meet Me In The Bathroom, the title of Lizzy Goodman’s book on the New York music scene. That’s how I ended up at Paint My Name in Black and Gold, which I couldn’t top. I still really like it.

NVL: Both books have also received great praise for the writing style. How important was it to you to get the prose style right? 

MA: My style is based on the assumption that readers are more interested in The Sisters of Mercy (or any other band I choose to write about) than they are in me and any literary flourishes I might choose to foist upon them. It's a safe assumption. I like the process of editing my own writing. I don't have a problem cutting my own crap or 'killing my darlings': if it's got to go, it's got to go, whether that's thousands of words or a comma. I don't find re-reading and re-writing over and over again remotely tedious. And I was very happy to get into it all over again with the editors - and the lawyer! - Unbound provided.

TR: The writing in both books is pretty straightforward, so a reader can kind of get lost in the narrative without thinking about the style.

MA: Trev - we both have some background in academic History as students. Do you think we wrote -- accidentally or on purpose -- history books rather than music bios?

TR: Maybe, yeah. A lot of music bios are hagiographies masquerading as history. I didn’t want to write that kind of book, and clearly you didn’t either. Two of my favourite historians – at least when I was younger – were AJP Taylor and Michael Howard. These were towering figures in British academia for good reason. Both wrote wonderfully simple prose, not ornamented or prolix, but the substance of their work was always challenging. After reading pretty much everything these guys wrote I must have copied their approach to some extent, even subconsciously. I think my love of the band comes through in the book even if I didn’t use a lot of superlatives and exclamation points.

MA: I certainly didn’t want to pretend I’m a music journalist, that’s for sure. I most definitely am not; I have no interest in reviewing bands or live shows for a start. But I do like research and I was quite happy to go down various rabbit holes when I was working on Paint My Name, just for the hell of it. Case in point: I spent a Saturday morning in the Brotherton Library of Leeds University reading their special collection of documents on the foundation and development of the Chinese Studies course. After dragging myself through a BA (Hons) Modern History degree between 1986 and 1989, I do actually feel like I have redeemed my history credentials with Paint My Name In Black and Gold!

NVL: The look and feel of both books have also garnered praise. How much say did you have in the appearance of the final artefact?

TR: I did everything entirely myself.

MA: Other than writing it and going through the sundry editorial processes – and sourcing photos – I did none of it. I had no reason to insert myself into the working practices of professional publishers. The exception was early on when I suggested that the cover should be a Sisters-as-the-Stooges pastiche of the Funhouse gatefold cover. That was never seriously considered, especially once the Head of Publishing at Unbound got in contact with Ruth Polsky’s brother and obtained the rights for the ‘Detroit’s Finest’ photo. I haven’t actually seen or touched my own book yet. My copies are in the UK and I live in Belgium. And no way am I risking the post-Brexit charges BPost might stick on a box of books coming into the country. And I’m not complaining about the Belgian postal service, I’m complaining about the lunacy of Brexit.

TR: I think Eldritch paid homage to that Funhouse collage style on the back cover of Vision Thing.

MA: I reckon Tim Bricheno got Photoshopped in (or whatever the equivalent was in 1990) at the last minute.

NVL: Neither of you saw the band in its very early days, although you did both see them for the first time just before the 1985 split. If you could jump in a time machine and go back to witness one of the concerts from the 80’s, which would you choose? 

MA: I saw The Sisters at the Lanchester Polytechnic in Coventry on 14 March 1985. It was my first ever gig. I remember nothing about it. So for old time's sake I'd like to see that one again. I remember the minutes before the band came on: the smoke being pumped out  - especially the fruity smell - and the Head and Star logos lit up at the back of the stage but when the Doktor started up, all hell broke loose: a significant portion of the audience seemed to be trying to kill each other and take me with them. I remember forcing my way to the back of the sports hall the gig was in to get away from them ... and then: nothing. This I now realise was God Squad-induced shock. I had no idea what ferocious chicken dancing was at that time (For context: my second gig was Tina Turner supported by Bryan Adams at the NEC; I was there for Bryan Adams.) I guarantee that me and my mate Clark were the squarest people at that Sisters gig at the Lanch: I was there in my grey school trousers and he was almost certainly there in some stone-washed blue jeans. He's still a Sisters fan too.

TR: This is definitely the hardest question so far. I remember almost everything about the Kabuki gig in 1985, so I’d leave that one off my list. Naturally I’d prefer to choose one gig from every period or line-up. For example, I’d be thrilled to transport to the Paradiso in Amsterdam on 28 August 1983. But you asked about one, so I’d narrow it down to the line-up I really wish I’d seen: Eldritch, Hussey, Marx and Adams. I could be predictable and say Tiffany’s Newcastle 1985 but actually I miss Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door in that gig. So if pressed I’d probably visit Leeds University on 16 March 1985. It’s maybe not the best quality bootleg recording but I think it’s got to be one of the best performances and setlists. If I had a bit more gas left in the time machine I’d hit Münster Odeon on 17 November 1984. These are the gigs I have often dreamed of being at. There are also some later Sisters gigs I was at that I barely remember, so I wouldn’t mind going back and reliving those without having to crawl out of them.

MA: If we looked at your tastes and interests pre-Sisters, Trev, what clues would we find this would be a band that would really get their hooks into you?

TR: Great question. I grew up in a kind of hippie, dreamcatcher, Grateful Dead San Francisco. I found that whole scene irritating. I discovered The Sisters at a time of enormous change in my life, in my very early teens, a period of intense exploration. I guess most people would simply call this adolescence. My big touchstone albums at the time were Adam Ant’s Friend Or Foe and Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell. OK, not exactly transgressive music, but I was a kid. From there I went backwards into Adam And The Ants and Generation X, and I wanted to keep exploring. I was ready for something deeper than pop-punk.

Punk – real punk – was a middle finger raised to the establishment and mainstream culture, which was stultifying for kids in the late ‘70s. The appeal of punk is no mystery. But I missed it, or it missed me. I really wasn’t interested in the simple fuck-you of punk, in the same way I wasn’t interested in the flowerchild jam-band bullshit of The Grateful Dead. The Sisters spoke to me in a completely different way. They had some of the energy of punk, but an intellectual side entirely absent from The Sex Pistols. Everything about them just seemed cooler, more intelligent, more original and a shade darker than other bands.

My parents were definitely not hippies. My dad used to take me to gun shows around San Francisco, which I loved. Hard to believe San Francisco ever permitted gun shows, but in the ‘80s it did. So I inherited from my dad an interest in weapons, and military history. Anyway, at these gun shows I’d see these military medals I could afford to collect, old World War I medals, $5 each or something. I thought, what a cool idea. I still collect old medals and militaria. My dad also always said that if Russia nuked us, he’d climb up on our roof and just admire the mushroom cloud. He still has a huge coffee-table book of nuclear explosion photos. Our home was filled with books. I was always a big reader. Not that my parents ever liked The Sisters, or could name a single song, but when I discovered the band, they fell on very fertile ground. Eldritch talked in interviews, or wrote in lyrics, about a lot of the things I was already interested in: sex and drugs – perennial preoccupations of city boys – weapons, propaganda, even shopping for militaria in Hamburg with Lemmy. Half the girls I grew up with were Alice. The band reminded me a little of San Francisco hometown legends Chrome, who I loved. And Eldritch was very witty. I had a lot of identification with this band from the beginning. I think about that Craig Adams quote in Paint My Name, that Eldritch “talked all kinds of shit all the time,” that all his high-concept theorising was “twaddle.” But all that stuff he said in interviews was fascinating to me. I was a Cold War kid, 13 or 14 years old, and here was a guy who made great music and had some theory about how to enjoy life under the threat of nuclear annihilation, among many other things. Was he trying to find something shocking for a pull-quote? Probably. But it was better than reading a Robert Smith interview. And then there was a community around the band that I opted into. Fanzines, collectors, traders, tapers. I still have four or five big files with old correspondence and trade lists from them. It was a whole world that was simultaneously comfortable and stimulating to me. It made sense.

MA: Same question to you too, Nik!

NVL: Me? I suppose the biggest clue is that I tended to be a fairly obsessive fan of all the bands I’d really got into up to the point – The Jam and The Stranglers in ‘78, The Banshees in ‘79, Killing Joke in ‘80, then Bauhaus and UK Decay in 1981, before The Sisters – but catching The Sisters before they’d even made the indie charts definitely made them more special, “our” band. Musically, I’d love to say I’d been a huge fan of The Doors, the Velvets and The Stooges, but I had Jym at The Phono in Leeds to thank for that essential pre-punk part of my musical education, which had been strictly post Year Zero (of punk) up until then. How about you, Mark?

MA: Pre-1984, you would have found nothing like The Sisters amongst my records. Even post-1984, they are still a bit of an outlier. The Sisters ensnared me at 16, at a major transitional moment in my music taste – the next big one was when I was 30 and got heavily into funk and disco thanks to Barry White – it’s a beautiful story, trust me! In 1984 I was coming out of a Heavy Metal phase: Iron Maiden’s fourth album had finished me off, but I was still looking for something with fuzzy guitars and heavy drums and theatrical – and what I would now describe as camp – so I was ripe for the plucking when someone put Floorshow on the record player in the Sixth Form Common Room at my school. Before that, I think there are some pointers, albeit quite tangential ones, that I would fall prey to The Sisters: I had the Morricone Dollars soundtracks; Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town – and his sideburns; Joan Jett’s Bad Reputation – two Glitter covers on it and she was leather-jacketed Ramones fan; and it was obvious Motorhead were the best thing on Axe Attack Volume 2 by miles. I was also obsessed with the Giorgio Moroder soundtrack to Cat People.

Talking of songs: which songs really grew in status for you during the process of producing your book - and Nik, researching your blog posts? And which remain lesser works. I could commit multiple acts of heresy when I answer this!

NVL: Whisper it quietly, but like a lot of the ‘82/’83 Sisters fans, I was never a fan of the Hussey era at the time, with a particular loathing for Body And Soul and No Time To Cry. However, I’ve really learned to appreciate the subtlety of the latter in recent years, but the former is still almost unlistenable for me in its studio version. Of the earlier songs, I have rehabilitated Watch, which again I never had much time for, and studying it in detail for a blog post, I really got into Driver.

TR: I’m not sure how much my personal feelings about the songs were shaped by writing the book; for the most part I’d been thinking about and living with my ideas about the lyrics for years by the time I wrote about them. But I do understand how the songs can rise and fall in a listener’s estimation over the years. Because of the complexity of the language, the songs are living things.

MA: Those that already had a seat at the top table and which just blew my mind some more were Fix and Nine While Nine. And Heartland really rocketed up my charts. I think for decades I’d undervalued it because in my mind it was sandwiched between Temple of Love and Gimme Shelter on the 12”. One track which I had never been overly keen on which asserted itself when I was writing the book – lyrically and musically – was Black Planet. I’m convinced it’s about numerous kinds of obliteration: Armageddon, the Decline of Fall of the American Empire and personal altered states best achieved in the hours of darkness!

NVL: Time for the “multiple acts of heresy”, Mark!

MA: Is that firewood and a stake I see before me? My nerve has failed me, but I will say that I’ve never much liked A Rock and a Hard Place and Burn has always seemed to me the least interesting track on The Reptile House by some distance and writing the book did not change that. These surely can’t be anyone’s favourite Sisters tracks, can they? Answer: bloody right they could. The Sisters are a broad church.

I have another question for you both. Beyond the period of your book – and blog – what are your feelings about the band?

TR: I love them.

NVL: Like Trev, I’ve enjoyed all the phases of the band, but I particularly enjoyed 90-92 when The Sisters became a real band again. What about you, Mark?

MA: There was a period about ten years ago where I deliberately abandoned the band – I caught them on a bad night two gigs running. It was your blog Nik that was my route back, to where I find myself now – not just as the author of Paint My Name - but as a full-on Sisters fan again. I’m very grateful for that. I absolutely loved the Floodland singles and seeing Eldritch and Morrison on TV. Plenty of Sisters concerts over the last 30 years have been sensational – and I include the three Belgian ones in 2019 in that.

NVL: A lot of the band’s initial growth from just another post-punk band to cult icons seems to have been due in part to the cloak of mystery that seemed to surround the band, partially as a result of their stage presence. Did you worry that telling the history of the band “warts’n’all” might reduce their appeal? 

TR: Not really.

MA: Their appeal is unassailable and Eldritch, by and large, remains a mystery – to me at least. And of course, on the Richter Scale of rock band atrocities, there’s nothing that awful in Paint My Name, nor on the cutting room floor that the lawyers hoicked out. No-one arrives at Victoria Station and gives a Nazi salute, or kills the drummer of a Swedish hair metal band in a car crash; or shacks up with a underage girls; or chokes on their own vomit in a Mini.

Now the dust has settled, what would you change about your book or blog – this could be cuts, additions or simply corrections? Or by making all copyright and libel laws disappear?

TR: In some future edition I will correct a couple errors. But there are some events that are simply presented differently in the three books we now have about The Sisters. You know, the major protagonists in this saga will have different memories, and I don’t consider any one account necessarily canonical. So, to me, having three or four slightly different takes on the same event is another strength of having three or four accounts in print. I’m sure the truth of any one specific story lies somewhere between these versions.

The only material I sometimes wonder about having excised is lyric analysis. The book used to have more of that – a theory about a cryptic crossword clue in Possession, another about “Baby buy the number three” from Anaconda, a bit about Crash And Burn in the introduction, and so on. But I decided that most of these ideas were better suited to comments on a forum. In the end I left in only what I thought was defensible.

In terms of personal details, I don’t regret anything I cut, or never wrote. One insider related a shocking story to me about Doktor Avalanche rolling into Hamburg Hauptbahnhof in ‘83 and giving a Nazi salute. But I’m not one to trash an otherwise spotless reputation for sport.

MA: Damn right, I had to pull loads because Unbound were fully aware of the Doktor (and his solicitor's) savage reputation. Beyond that, I would note that Eldritch insists he’s never met Nick Cave or Brian James, contrary to what is written in Paint My Name. And beyond that kind of thing, I’m aware of three outright errors.

NVL: I suppose that the good thing about a blog is that you can go back and make edits, although there are still plenty of errors to correct. When I retire from my “normal” job, I plan to revamp the blog a bit and update some of the earlier posts.

MA: The Sisters are still alive and well, but who do you think are the inheritors of their crown? Who’s carrying that particular baton?

TR: This is a tricky, personal question because I’ve found that Sisters fans react to all different aspects of the band. One guy’s favourite track might be Vision Thing and his other favourite band is Taake, and another might be a huge Sisters/Celine Dion fan, and there’s no real contradiction there. They cover a lot of territory. The only two remotely recent artists who have moved me in a similar way are Zola Jesus and the Pink Mountaintops’ album Outside Love.

NVL: I agree, this is a really tough question, as The Sisters were so unique. I’m not ashamed to admit that I like some of the more obviously TSOM influenced artists, such as Miazma or The Cascades, and I’m still very much into the contemporary goth scene, and run a second blog where I review and interview current bands. There are so many great bands around, from Then Comes Silence to Whispering Sons, She Past Away to Ground Nero, Kentucky Vampires to Black Angel.

MA: For me, in terms of peak Eldritchian camp, artifice and persona, it has to Lana Del Rey!

NVL: Since publication of your books, have you had any feedback (direct or indirect?) from band members? 

MA: Marx and Adams read full drafts before Paint My Name went to press. Hussey read the bits with him in. I didn't hear any complaints. Marx and Adams have had hardback copies sent to them. The West Yorkshire-bound one has arrived; Marx read it during a power cut and I'm more than delighted with his review. Eldritch declined to be sent a copy.

TR: I’ve had feedback from here and there, direct by email as well as indirect, and it has been very positive.

NVL: What is your next writing project? Do you intend to write any further books about TSOM? 

TR: I have enough fuel in the tank for one more. I also have another non-Sisters project planned for way down the road. I’ve found that I enjoy the process of writing.

MA: In my very early notes – which I just had a look at - I seem to have jotted down the titles of a five-book series on The Sisters! This was when I was originally going to stop at 1984 and call the first one Heartland, so these other titles are: White Line Fever 1984-90; Jet Black Leather Machine 1990-1996; Empire Down (or Ozymandias) 1996-2005; and Distance Over Time 2005-. I will not be writing any of these.

However, I will write White Rose Babylon, a history of punk and postpunk Leeds – the city and its music. For years I’ve toyed with writing something about the music scene in the East Village in NYC in the 80s and 90s. I’m a huge fan of Pussy Galore, Boss Hog and the Blues Explosion, pretty much anything Jon Spencer does. I’m also considering pitching a book to the publishers of the 33 1/3 series called The Sisters of Mercy’s Long-Awaited Fourth Studio Album.


Paint My Name in Black and Gold was published by Unbound (from whom the ebook version may be purchased) and the hardback is still available from some online booksellers.

Waiting For Another War was published by GKW and a special limited edition paperback version is currently available from Rough Trade.